Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Roughriders’ Johnson enjoys giving back to game of football

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Evan Johnson, left, helps coach at Playground To Pros.
Evan Johnson will always have his calendar open for Playground To Pros and tries to make room in his busy life to give back to the sport of football as much as he can.

Johnson is best known for suiting up as a right guard on the offensive line of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. In Saskatoon, he is remembered for taking the field from 2012 to 2016 to play in the trenches on offence for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Football Team in the U Sports ranks.

During the off-season, Johnson makes his home in Saskatoon with his wife Dallis and son Maverick. He trains for the upcoming CFL campaign at Ignite Athletics at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds. Having obtained an engineering degree at the U of S, Johnson also works with Pinter & Associates Limited, which is a Saskatoon based company that provides a wide range of engineering services.

Along with training on the football front, Johnson plans to always have his calendar open to help coach with Saskatoon Minor Football’s annual Playground To Pros camp that is usually held in April. The Playground To Pros camp helps develop skills and fundamentals for young football players at the grassroots level. This year’s Playground To Pros camp ran from April 11 to 13 at the Indoor Training Centre.

“It is awesome,” said Johnson, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 290 pounds. “I love coaching.

“The kids are awesome. This is my second year with Playground To Pros. I had it circled on the calendar for a long time.

“I was just waiting to get back out here. I just have such a good time with all the kids. It is a good time.”

Johnson said his experiences at the Playground To Pros camp have been rewarding.

“I like teaching them new skills,” said Johnson. “I like having those lightbulb moments where they kind of get it.

“Football is obviously a difficult sport. It has lots of adversity and lots of physicality to it. Some kids really get it.

Evan Johnson, second from left, gets a chuckle while overseeing a drill.
“Some kids learn it along the way, and it is just kind of fun to be part of their journey.”

On top of helping out with Playground To Pros, Evan and Dallis, who is originally from Canwood, Sask., donated to the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League last year to cover the fees for one player. They donated to the Huskies last year too and plan to donate to both the Valkyries and Huskies again this year.

Dallis played defensive back for the Valkyries from 2016 to 2020 and helped them win WWCFL titles in 2016 and 2019. Evan helped out as an assistant coach with the team during that time. Dallis also served as a Valkyries board member in 2020 and 2021.

Evan would like to help out a little more on the coaching front, but he is doing as much as his hectic life will allow at the moment. He also enjoys taking part in the Rider Reading Program that the Roughriders run through the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation.

“The Roughriders do have a program called Rider Reading, where players are able to go to different schools and different communities,” said Johnson. “I was able to spend a week going around Saskatchewan visiting different schools, reading to the young kids and kind of teaching them the importance of literacy and kind of the joy that myself and others get out of reading.”

One of Johnson’s great joys has been the fact he has played for the Roughriders the past two seasons. He broke into the league in 2017 with the Ottawa Redblacks, who selected Johnson in the first round and ninth overall in that year’s CFL Draft.

Johnson began starting with the Redblacks as a rookie and helped them make the Grey Cup game in 2018, where they dropped a 27-16 decision to the Calgary Stampeders. In February of 2021, Johnson signed with the Roughriders as a free agent and later agreed to an extension with the team in December of that same year after the club fell 21-17 in the West final to the eventual Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Evan Johnson enjoys coaching the next generation of players.
“You know what they say there is no place like home,” said Johnson, who parents Marlon and Laurie reside in Regina. “I love being back in Saskatchewan.

“I was born and raised here. I plan to grow my family here. Saskatchewan has always and will always have a special place in my heart especially being a Roughrider and being able to do these things and give back to the community and just be around it.

“I still have family down in Regina too. I’m Saskatchewan through and through, and this is exactly where I want to be.”

During the off-season, Johnson said it has been a huge help to be able to train at Ignite and work with the coaches there to prepare for the upcoming CFL campaign.

“I love Ignite,” said Johnson. “I love the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“This indoor facility has been awesome for us as well. It really gives us a chance to elevate our training. We have guys from all across the league from all over the place, we come here.

“We train together. We compete with each other. We make each other better, and I can’t think of a better facility to facilitate that.”

Johnson and the Roughriders will be on the Complex’s grounds on Saturday, May 20 as the Roughriders hold their annual Green and White Day at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Roughriders President and CEO Craig Reynolds, Vice-President, General Manager Jeremy O’Day and Head Coach Craig Dickenson will give the Roughriders State of the Nation address and host a fan question and answer session at 1 p.m.

The Green and White game follows at 3 p.m. The afternoon will be great for families as there will be many kids’ activities include face painting, music, inflatables, performances by the 620 CKRM Pep Band, the 620 CKRM Rider Cheer Team and Gainer the Gopher. Following the Green and White game, fans are invited to line the fences for a player autograph session.

The Roughriders will hold rookie camp from May 10 to 12 at Griffiths Stadium at the U of S and open main training camp at that same location on May 14.

Evan Johnson, second from left, hangs out with a group of coaches.
While the Roughriders missed the CFL post-season in 2022, Johnson believes the upcoming 2023 campaign will be a great one for the team. Johnson will once again be blocking for veteran quarterback Trevor Harris. The two were teammates with the Redblacks in 2017 and 2018.

“It is optimistic,” said Johnson, who will turn 29-years-old on August 21. “It always has to be at this time.

“We’re starting up some meetings, and getting some things going. We’re getting the playbook figured out and distributed. We’re just chomping at the bit to get going here now.

“The countdown is on, and we can’t wait to start up camp in Saskatoon here.”

Spring season happenings finally hit high speed

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Haley Girolami makes a catch for the Valkyries on May 7.
When spring arrived, it arrived quickly, and the outdoor facilities sprung into action on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

For the longest time, it seemed like winter was content to just hang around. As of April 20, most of the outdoor facilities at the Complex were under the cover of snow. Around that time, football groups were getting practices and training sessions done in snowy conditions at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

With the snow development, baseball and softball teams along with some football groups continue to train and hold modified scrimmages in the friendly confines of the Indoor Training Centre waiting for the weather to warm up.

At the start of the final week of April, spring conditions finally took hold. Football groups were able to use Saskatoon Minor Football Field in dry conditions. The mix in weather created the opportunity to put together a variety of indoor and outdoor pictures for our photo roundup.

Our lead photo comes from the Saskatoon Valkyries WWCFL regular season opener on May 7 with a catch from star receiver Haley Girolami. Girolami hauled in nine passes for 111 yards and scored one touchdown in a 34-7 win over the Regina Riot.

The first part of our photo roundup features scenes from Saskatoon Minor Football’s annual Playground To Pros camp held at the Indoor Training Centre just before the midway part of April. Players of all skill levels had a huge amount of fun developing skills and fundamentals.

The photo roundup goes from there all the way to seeing the first action on the softball diamonds with a Saskatoon Selects under-19 team practice on May 1. Softball league action got going about a couple of days later.

Saskatoon Minor Football’s North Sask Academy started with league action, and SMF oversaw league action with the Rush High School Female Flag Football.

These photos capture some of the memories that are made on our grounds. In this photo roundup, all of these pictures were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke.

Without further ado, here is a selection of 13 shots we hope you enjoy.

Break on through

A young running back gets out of a tackling attempt while staying in bounds during a gauntlet drill at the Playground To Pros camp held on April 11 at the Indoor Training Centre. The young players at this camp run by Saskatoon Minor Football improved their skills quiet quickly.

Bullet pass

A quarterback at the Playground To Pros camp fires a pass to a receiver on a crossing route on April 12 at the Indoor Training Centre. The Indoor Training Centre allows for a variety of drills to take place at once, which is big for a camps like Playground To Pros, which develops skills.

Deep ball snag

A receiver shows textbook technique in hauling in a deep pass on the final day of the Playground To Pros camp on April 13 at the Indoor Training Centre. Players look forward to the final day of the camp as they get to show what they learned in a series of scrimmage games.

Coaching up the kids

Riley Pickett, who is a defensive lineman for the British Columbia Lions, gives a group of players instructions before calling a defensive play during a scrimmage on the final day of the Playground To Pros camp held on April 13 at the Indoor Training Centre. A number of players from around the CFL helped with the camp. Pickett is also an alum of the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Football Team in the U Sports ranks.

Off to the races

A Saskatoon Phantoms base runner takes off on the base paths during a scrimmage between two Phantoms squads on April 22 at the Indoor Training Centre. As a snowfall earlier in the week delayed outdoor practices, teams like the Phantoms enjoy being able to use the Indoor Training Centre to get work in.

In for the flag football sack

A defender from Bishop James Mahoney High School get the flag of a quarterback for a sack in a Rush High School Female Flag Football game on April 24 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The players from the Rush league jumped into the season with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Looking the ball in

A receiver tracks the ball into his hands at a Saskatoon Minor Football North Sask Academy practice on April 24 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The North Sask Academy program showcases some of the best players in Grades 8 to 12 from Saskatoon and area.

High point interception

Saskatoon Valkyries linebacker Emmarae Dale makes an interception during a drill at a team practice on April 27 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The defending WWCFL champion Valkyries are known for getting maximum results at their practice sessions.

Outdoor practice at last

An infielder makes a catch at third base during an infield fielding drill at a Saskatoon Selects Under-19 team practice on May 1 at Glenn Reeve Field #4. The Selects practice was one of the first outdoor sessions to take place on any of our softball and baseball diamonds this year.

Night time special at Bob Van Impe Stadium

It doesn’t matter the night of the week. For the softball/fastpitch community, it is always a joy to play under the lights at Bob Van Impe Stadium. In this game from May 4, a Dry Creek Penguins pitcher sends an off-speed pitch to the plate to keep a batter off balance. The Penguins beat the Saskatoon Padres 9-2 in this encounter.

Cool under pressure

A quarterback fires a pass downfield while under pressure from a defensive lineman during league action for Saskatoon Minor Football’s North Sask Academy on May 5 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Players in the academy league are drafted to teams, so you will often see players from the same school teams going head-to-head.

Eyolfson delivers again for Valkyries

Star quarterback Alex Eyolfson had another big game for the Saskatoon Valkyries in their WWCFL regular season opener on May 7 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Eyolfson completed 23-of-36 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-7 victory over the Regina Riot.

Gang tackle Valkyries style

A number of players from the Saskatoon Valkyries defence gangs up to tackle of Regina Riot running back Bethany O’Toole on May 7 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Valkyries defence held the Riot to 96 yards of net offense in a 34-7 win to open the regular season for both clubs.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

From the football field to lifting platform

Ignite coach Dale finds competitive outlet in weightlifting

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Donovan Dale is a competitor in weightlifting.
Donovan Dale found the end of his football playing career didn’t bring an end to his time as a competitor in the world of sports.

Best known as a former star defensive lineman with CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and University of Saskatchewan Huskies football teams in U Sports, Dale found a new sport to pursue that went hand in hand with the elite level coaching he does with Ignite Athletics located inside the Indoor Training Centre. Dale took up weightlifting.

During his relative short time in the sport, Dale was named the Saskatchewan Weightlifting Association’s Best Senior Male Athlete for 2021-22. The coach with the biggest smile among the Ignite Athletics crew has qualified for the Canadian Senior National Weightlifting Championships that are set for May 19 to 21 at Variety Village in Scarborough, Ont.

Dale, who is the head of strength and conditioning at Ignite Athletics, said the athletes he works with at Ignite get a kick out of finding out their 31-year-old coach is still a competitor in sports. His final season of football came back in the fall of 2016 playing on the defensive line with the Huskies. Following that football campaign, Dale joined the Huskies men’s wrestling team and won a silver medal at the Canada West wrestling championships in the 120-kilogram class in February of 2017 after being away from that sport for five years.

On the weightlifting front, Dale said he has found it easier to pass on information and help athletes, if they are having troubles with a lift during workouts.

“There is definitely a bit of a comradery process of when I see them struggling with things it really helps my coaching that I can tell them that, ‘Hey, you know I struggled with this exact same technical issue as well,’” said Dale. “I think it just helps me get on their level quite a bit more, because when they’re struggling with things, they can be confident that I too have also struggled with it and have had to come up with different ways to kind of tackle that problem and fix it.

“The big thing is it really helps build the trust. They trust that I want what is best for them, and I’ve been through the same issues that they’ve been through so that we’ll be able to get through it together.”

Donovan Dale makes a sack for the Huskies in 2015.
When football and his short return to wrestling wrapped up, Dale was finishing up his master’s degree of science in kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan and was focused on his full-time work at Ignite. Dale first joined Ignite Athletics as an athlete client in 2010 before coming on as a coach in a part-time capacity at first in 2014.

After completing his football career, Dale wasn’t looking for a new sport to join, but he didn’t want to stop working out.

“After my football career was done, I was obviously trying to stay active for myself,” said Dale. “I was pretty heavy when I finished my football career.

“I spent two years just losing some weight and just trying to get a little bit healthier. After those kind of years were done and I felt like I gotten my health and fitness kind of at a level that I was happy with, I was kind of going through the audit process of do I want to get back into some kind of competitive sport.”

During his football days at the post-secondary level, Dale, who stands 6-foot-1, had gotten his weight up to 295 pounds playing on the defensive line. He weighed 285 pounds during his final season with the Huskies, and his weight sits 230 pounds these days.

For weightlifting competitions, Dale competes in the 102-kilogram class, so he is able to cut his weight down five pounds to 225 pounds. He found weightlifting seemlessly worked into his lifestyle.

“Weightlifting was just such a natural fit for me, because there are a lot of aspects about weight lifting that I really love,” said Dale, who helped the Hilltops win CJFL titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012. “I love the aspect of technical mastery.

“It is unlike other strength sports where it is the only thing you have to worry about is how much weight your lifting. There are a lot more technical components when it comes to the Olympic lifts, so I love that. The other thing was it just really worked for my lifestyle.

Donovan Dale is going to weightlifting nationals.
“Having three young kids at home, it is harder to get out back into a team sport where you have to do your practices and games at weird times and things like that. The nice thing about weightlifting is Ignite is very well equipped. Essentially for my training schedule, I just show up a little bit early for most of my shifts, and I am able to bang out a workout nice and quickly.”

Dale said he got motivated to be in the sport watching videos of a former Hilltops teammate in receiver Graham Unruh take part in weightlifting. 

After seeing Unruh’s videos of being a national level competitor, Dale thought that was a sport he could pursue. Overall, the one-time prospect with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks is flat out enjoying his new sporting pursuit, and he is looking forward to going to nationals in May.

“It has been fun,” said Dale. “I definitely love that at 31-years-old now I still feel like I have a lot of competitive years left in me, so it has been cool to kind of enter the competitive scene.

“I’ve done enough meets now that I’ve qualified for nationals. I’m going to have nationals in Scarborough this year. That is going to be on May long weekend, so I have no idea what the result is going to be.

“It is just going to be fun to get on a national stage and compete again, because I haven’t been able to do that in a long time.”

Dale expects to be involved in weightlifting for a long time now too. He was a weightlifting coach at the Saskatchewan Winter Games that ran February 19 to 25 in Regina, and he has been involved with helping Ignite Athletics to get set to host its first ever Olympic Weightlifting meet on May 6. Looking to the future, Dale sees himself taking on a role in helping the sport to grow.

Donovan Dale is a popular coach at Ignite Athletics.
“I think I am pretty in deep now,” said Dale. “I just finished coaching in February.

“I was the head coach for the weightlifting team for the Saskatchewan Winter Games, so that was a pretty fun experience. Just seeing weightlifting in Saskatoon, it is pretty exciting. It is definitely a growing sport.

“Participation is on the rise. I would love to work with our provincial body in Sask Weightlifting and see what does it take for us to have to grow the sport. That just gives the kids more opportunities and things to strive for when they are participating in the sport.”

For more information about Ignite Athletics, feel free to check out Ignite’s website at igniteathletics.com. Weightlifting photos of Donovan Dale were submitted by Donovan Dale courtesy Joel Kingston Photography. Donovan Dale profile photo at Ignite Athletics is courtesy Ignite Athletics.

Back in the WCBL

SEG bringing summer league team to Cairns Field

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Everyone was all smiles for the return of the WCBL to Saskatoon. 
Starting in May of 2024, Cairns Field will once again be home to a team in Canada’s premier collegiate summer wood bat baseball league.

During a press conference on March 29 at the Indoor Training Centre, the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) and the Sask Entertainment Group (SEG) announced a new Saskatoon franchise had been granted to SEG. SEG is owned by Mike and Colin Priestner and is the parent company of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and the NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush.

The new WCBL squad currently named the Saskatoon Baseball Club will begin play at Cairns Field on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds in May of 2024. Saskatoon has been without a WCBL team since the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets ceased operations following the 2014 season. The Yellow Jackets played out of Cairns Field from 2002 to 2014, when the WCBL was known as the Western Major Baseball League.

“A lot of people ask me why the WCBL, and I ask why not,” said Steve Hildebrand, who is the President of the Saskatoon Baseball Club. “This has been a missing piece to this community.

“It is a strong developmental league and a place for high level collegiate athletes to come back home including those from in and around Saskatoon to hone their skills during the summer. We expect to have a strong contingent of Saskatoon and area players on this team.

“We want to make this a gathering place for the community during the spring and summer. This announcement is just another testament to SEG’s commitment to sports and entertainment in Saskatoon with the Saskatoon Blades, the Saskatchewan Rush and now the Saskatoon Baseball Club.”

Kevin Kvame, who is the President of the WCBL, is pleased that Saskatoon will once again be part of the circuit.

Steve Hildebrand is the President of the Saskatoon Baseball Club.
“We’re very excited at the WCBL to grant the 12th franchise to the Saskatoon Entertainment Group and an expansion team for the city of Saskatoon to begin play in the 2024 season,” said Kvame. “I’d like to thank Steve Hildebrand and the Saskatoon Entertainment Group for all their diligence and efforts to bring WCBL baseball back to Saskatoon after almost a 10-year absence.

“The WCBL values the Saskatoon market. It has always felt it was missing from our family since the Yellow Jackets left in 2014. The WCBL is now 12 teams strong in the 2024 season with some wonderful facilities around the league.”

Hildebrand said he had talks with Swift Current 57s President Brad Woods about bringing the WCBL back to Saskatoon and Woods provided a lot of insight and help in bringing a new team to Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Baseball Club President added SEG owners Mike and Colin Priestner played a big part in providing the resources to allow a new WCBL squad to come to Saskatoon.

Hildebrand announced the Saskatoon Baseball Club has hired Mark Campbell as the team’s Director of Baseball Operations, and that the team is in the process of hiring a coach and a recruiter.

On top of hiring Campbell, Hildebrand announced SEG had agreed to a 10-year deal with the Gordie Howe Sports Complex to use Cairns Field and the resources at the Indoor Training Centre.

“I have a couple of people I’d like to thank in (Chairman) Bryan Kosteroski and (Operations Manager) Johnny Marciniuk of Gordie Howe Sports Complex,” said Hildebrand. “(They did) unbelievable work to get this deal done, and they deserve a lot of accolades for this announcement.

“(SaskTel Centre Executive Director) Scott Ford, I couldn’t have done this without you. I thank you for all your help through this process.”

Hildebrand added the Saskatoon Baseball Club is committed to helping Baseball Saskatoon with their Executive Director Jesse Korte and President John Povhe to grow the game, and that there will be further improvements to Cairns Field as part of the agreement between SEG and the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

WCBL President Kevin Kvame is happy Saskatoon returns to the league.
“As a part of this deal, SEG in conjunction with Gordie Howe is really committed to Cairns Field,” said Hildebrand. “We’re committed to upgrading not only the concessions but new surroundings around the ballpark.

“All the changes will be in place for the start of the 2024 baseball season, and we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Tyler Wawryk, who is the Director of Team Business Operations for the Saskatoon Baseball Club, said the business side of the baseball team is hitting the ground running. 

He said the squad will be launching a name the team campaign to help name the club.

“We want to engage the baseball community and the fans here to name the team and help be a part of bringing baseball back to Saskatoon,” said Wawryk. “We will be beginning that here through the month of May and June engaging the community.

“Hopefully by the fall, we will have a name and then begin the process of deciding on team colours and uniforms and so forth.”

Wawryk said plans are in the works to start selling season tickets for the new team in June.

“With Cairns Field having a capacity of about 2,200 seats in the ballpark, we will be beginning taking season ticket deposits in June,” said Wawryk. “We will be utilizing our space at the Sask Entertainment Group Fan Experience Zone located at the corner of 51st and Faithful where we will have team apparel and merchandise and everything that you need to get your tickets to go to the baseball games for next summer.”

Looking forward to the 2024 season, Wawryk believes fans will enjoy the game experience put on by the Saskatoon Baseball Club.

Tyler Wawryk leads the business side of the Saskatoon Baseball Club.
“We can also assure baseball fans in Saskatoon that this is going to be a family friendly atmosphere and a family affordable event and entertainment for 28 nights and hopefully a little bit more in the playoffs for the summer of 2024,” said Wawryk. “We will strive on providing top tier and the best game presentation and production for fans when we do hit the field.

“We look forward to utilizing all of our resources that we have at Sask Entertainment Group.”

The Saskatoon Baseball Club can be followed on Facebook @SaskatoonBaseballClub, on Twitter @stoonbaseball and Instagram @saskatoonbaseball. Watch those accounts for new on the Saskatoon Baseball Club’s website.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Veeman, Dallaire lead Lions’ Canada Winter Games medal parade

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Luca Veeman, right, leads Fergus English down a straightaway.
Luca Veeman and Serena Dallaire thrived under the new experience of the Canada Winter Games spotlight.

Together, they led the medal haul for the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club and Team Saskatchewan at the Multi-sport event that took place from February 18 to March 5 across Prince Edward Island with long track speed skating taking place at the Halifax Oval in Halifax, N.S. Both were competing in their first Canada Winter Games.

Veeman, who was Saskatchewan’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies, took home five medals in long track speed skating. Dallaire captured a pair of long track medals.

In total, Lions skaters accounted for eight of Saskatchewan’s 20 medals at the Canada Winter Games. The medal wins gave Saskatchewan a fast start at the games as speed skating was held during the first week of competition from February 18 to February 25.

Veeman won gold in the men’s mass start race, silver in the men’s 1,500-metre race, and bronze medals in the 1,000-metre and 5,000-metre men’s races. In the men’s team pursuit, Veeman teamed with Lions members Bon Lowe, Fergus English and Daniel Pauli to claim the silver medal. Lowe captured silver in the men’s 5,000-metre race edging out Veeman by just over six seconds.

Earlier in February, Veeman skated for Canada at the International Skating Union’s Junior World Cup Final and World Junior Speed Skating Championships both held in Inzell, Germany. Those international appearances lead to Veeman being the flag bearer. Having represented Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Summer Games that were held in the Niagara Region of Ontario in August of 2022, the 17-year-old had a great appreciation for being named the flag bearer.

“Being nominated as the flag bearer is almost hard to believe,” said Veeman, who stands 5-foot-10. “I went to the summer games in Niagara in 2022.

“I got to do the closing ceremonies and walk out with Team Sask. It was cool moment where I kind of realized what it means to represent your province. It was a real cool thing to experience those closing ceremonies, and it just made it so much more special walking in and leading Team Sask at these games.

“It was definitely a little bit of added pressure being named the flag bearer, but it was a pretty incredible experience all in all.”

Serena Dallaire won two bronze medals at the Canada Winter Games.
Veeman was pleased he could live up to that honour by winning the medals he did. The men’s mass start race was Veeman’s final race at the Canada Winter Games, and he was pumped to close out with a gold medal win.

“It was such a great games,” said Veeman, who attends Grade 12 at Walter Murray Collegiate. “I think every medal just felt so special.

“In a sense, it almost felt like every medal was like a weight lifted off my shoulder. With the pressure of being the flag bearer, each medal was like a little bit of a weight off the shoulders. I’d say the gold at the end was just such a good moment.”

Dallaire went into the Canada Winter Games in search of personal best performances and wasn’t expecting to medal. The 17-year-old jumped into the spotlight for Saskatchewan capturing bronze medals wins in the women’s 1,500-metre and 3,000-metre races.

“I really didn’t have any expectations,” said Dallaire, who stands 5-foot-4. “I knew that I was in the middle of the pack.

“I just wanted to perform like what I knew I could do in Calgary (at the Olympic Oval). I just wanted to execute my race plans and do the best I could. I really just wanted to have fun.

“I didn’t really expect to get any medals out of it, so I’m happy with how it all turned out.”

Dallaire won her first bronze medal in the 1,500-metre race. She skated her race early in that day and was surprise to find out her time was going to hold up for a medal.

“I was the first race of the day,” said Dallaire, who is completing her Grade 12 studies at Walter Murray Collegiate. “I didn’t know I won until like a while after, so after the race, I was just kind of glad it was over.

“A few minutes after people were telling me they think I was third. It was like surreal, because I didn’t expect it. I was really happy.”

Luca Veeman won five medals at the Canada Winter Games.
She was pumped to follow up that skate with a bronze medal win in the women’s 3,000-metre race a couple of days later.

“I just wanted to skate the best I could and perform,” said Dallaire. “Because it was like near the end, we were kind of tired.

“It was still the same feeling inside. I was excited and really happy to win the medal.”

Veteran Lions coach Tim Comfort, who is the Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association’s provincial coach and technical director, served as the long track coach for Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games.

He was proud of the performances by all the Saskatchewan skaters and was happy to see the multiple medal wins by Veeman and Dallaire, who have put in a tonne of work at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval over the years.

“Saskatchewan speed skaters had a strong Canada Winter Games,” said Comfort. “In particular, Saskatoon club skaters really performed well.

“Luca and Serena’s success has come from hours and hours of hard work pursuing their dream.”

Veeman said his experience at the Canada Winter Games and the ISU’s Junior World Cup Final and World Junior Speed Skating Championships made for a memorable February. He said those experience’s will help his confidence going into big meets in the future.

“It was a big month for getting some big competitions under my belt like my international debut and Canada Games is a big one,” said Veeman. “It would help with my confidence going into the big meets just kind of reminding me of what I need to do to race my best.

“It is not changing things for the big competitions. It is just staying level headed and relaxed going into every race. That is what works.

“I know that if I get hyped up and I try and do something differently because I want this race to be so better than the last one, it is not going to work out in the end. I just have to stay relaxed and do what I always do.”

Serena Dallaire will reflect fondly on the Canada Winter Games.
For Dallaire, she said in the future when she is at big meets she can look back on her time at the Canada Winter Games to remember how positive experiences at big meets and events can be.

“It is a pretty big meet, because Canada Games happens every four years,” said Dallaire. “This was my only time to do it.

“It was just a fun experience.”

For more information about the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club, feel free to check out their website at www.slspeedskating.com.

Winter season stretch run brings fun in photo roundup

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The scene at the start line for cross country ski provincials.
Business picked up for winter sports on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds as the season with the snow and ice headed into its stretch run.

In both Nordic skiing and speed skating, the chase for medals hit its peak time. Skiers and speed skaters were busy training before departing for championship events or major meets.

The Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club got to host the Saskatchewan Provincial Cross Country Ski Championships on our grounds this past February 11 and 12. Skiers from all corners of the province made it to the trails that run across Glenn Reeve Fields looking to capture provincials medals. The action made for long and fulfilling days for race staff the oversaw the event.

Our lead photo from February 11 shows a busy start line for a race for skiers in a youthful age group. While a young skier takes off to take on the course, you can see three race officials with clipboards are present to ensure everything runs in an orderly fashion.

The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club held their final practices at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval to prepare for the last major long track races of the season. A number of Lions skaters attended the Canada Winter Games, which ran from February 18 to March 5 across Prince Edward Island with long track speed skating taking place at the Halifax Oval in Halifax, N.S. The speed skating portion ran from February 18 to 25.

The Clarence Oval Downey Speed Skating would close for the season this past March 2 after providing many great speed skating and public skating sessions.

At the Indoor Training Centre, athletes continued to train for sports that take place in the spring, summer and fall. As February came to an end and the calendar flipped over to March, some sports groups started to hold sessions for player evaluations.

These photos capture some of the memories that are made on our grounds. In this photo roundup, all of these pictures were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke.

Without further ado, here is a selection of 12 shots we hope you enjoy.

Finding the perfect pace

A skier focuses on a good start by setting a sound pace at the beginning of her race at the Saskatchewan Provincial Cross Country Ski Championships held on February 11 on the trails that run across the Glenn Reeve Fields.

Downhill speed

A skier jets down the side of a hill during a race at the Saskatchewan Provincial Cross Country Ski Championships held on February 11 on the trails that run across the Glenn Reeve Fields. Cross country ski races have many different dimensions, and for short spurts, athletes become downhill skiers.

Rounding the bend

A skier rounds a corner during a race at the Saskatchewan Provincial Cross Country Ski Championships held on February 11 on the trails that run across the Glenn Reeve Fields. This curved part of the track runs beside one of the outfield fences for one of the softball diamonds. You can see an outfield fence distance marker on the left side of the picture.

Paying attention to details

Jason Warick, who is one of the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club coaches, stands off to the left side of the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval while giving pointers to young speed skaters on February 14. The Lions have a number of stellar coaches working with athletes at various age groups.

Firing off the throw to first

An infielder at a Saskatoon Giants training session fires off a throw to first base on February 16 at the Indoor Training Centre. The Giants are putting in preparation work for the upcoming Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League season.

Family Day fun

A pair of skaters enjoy the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval during an extended public skating session held on Family Day on February 20. Public skating sessions were popular at the Oval again this winter season. The Oval closed for the season on March 2.

Bringing the heat

A young pitcher sets to deliver a heater during a training session for Baseball Sask’s female program on February 26 at the Indoor Training Centre. Baseball Sask delivers good programs for female players.

Getting cornered

A running back gets boxed in by a trio of defenders during a Saskatoon Valkyries training session on February 28 at the Indoor Training Centre. The Valkyries will be in search of their eighth WWCFL title this coming season.

No rest for the driven

After returning from the Canada Winter Games that were held in Prince Edward Island with long track speed skating taking place at the Halifax Oval in Halifax, N.S., Melissa Scutchings was back skating at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on February 28 with a small group of her Saskatchewan Lions Speed Skating Club teammates. Scutchings and her teammates worked on continued improvement while reflecting on the multi-sport experience they just took part in.

Aiming to impress

An infielder uses perfect form to field a ball and make a throw to first base during a Saskatoon Selects player evaluations session on March 5 at the Indoor Training Centre. The Selects will use the evaluations they collect at this session to help with roster decisions for the upcoming softball season.

Sweet stroke

A hitter works on her form during a Hitting Factory session run by the 222’s Fastpitch program on March 7 at the Indoor Training Centre. Players taking part in Hitting Factory sessions focus on mechanics, mental skills and situational strategies of hitting.

Coming right at you

A hitter drives the ball into the net hard at Hitting Factory session run by the 222’s Fastpitch program on March 7 at the Indoor Training Centre. The athletes taking part in these sessions get more efficient at the skill of hitting.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Machibroda puts fun back in baseball, signs with MLB’s Twins

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Nolan Machibroda hit 17 homers in 47 games for the Phoenix.
(Photo courtesy Nolan Machibroda)
Nolan Machibroda put the fun back in baseball, and the game took him to great places he wasn’t expecting.

Going into his final season of college eligibility in 2022, Machibroda joined the Cumberland University Phoenix Baseball Team in Lebanon, Tenn. The Phoenix play out of the Mid-South Conference in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). 

In 2021, Machibroda, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School, played for Lubbock Christian University Chaparrals Baseball Team in Lubbock, Texas. The Chaparrals play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II ranks. In 2020, Machibroda was with the NAIA’s Southeastern University Fire Baseball Team in Lakeland, Florida.

With Lubbock Christian and Southeastern University, Machibroda felt that the joy of playing the game had left him. Thinking he might be down to his final at bat for playing competitive baseball, Machibroda wanted the memories of his final college season to be positive ones.

“I just really went out there and tried to have fun my last year,” said Machibroda, who plays first base and a little bit in the outfield. “I’m trying to play to the best of my abilities and not really care about the box score or how I played at the end of the day and just go out there and have fun.

“It was my last year. I was like, ‘You don’t want to not go out there and look back at it and regret that you didn’t have fun.’ I wasn’t having fun the previous two years before that.

Nolan Machibroda sets up at first base for the Phoenix.
(Photo courtesy Nolan Machibroda)
“Once I changed my mindset about that and not looking at it as such an individual and more of a team aspect, I think that really helped me.”

Machibroda went out and had a career season. In 47 games with the Phoenix, the left-handed hitter went 69-for-150 at the plate for a .460 average, 17 home runs and 83 RBI. Thanks to those outstanding numbers, Machibroda, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds, was named the player of the year for the Mid-South Conference and an NAIA first team all-American.

After his season wrapped up with the Phoenix, Machibroda joined the Weyburn Beavers, who play out of the Western Canadian Baseball League summer circuit. Playing in his third summer campaign for the Beavers, Machibroda went 60-for-209 at the plate for a .287 average, seven home runs and 44 RBI. The 23-year-old was named the team MVP for the Beavers.

Machibroda earned an invite to the 2022 WCBL all-star game played at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Alta. He won the WCBL’s home run derby and was awarded a golden bat for the victory.

On December 20 shortly before 2022 closed out, Machibroda received an early Christmas gift signing as an amateur free agent with the MLB’s Minnesota Twins.

“It is just another opportunity to play the game I love at the end of the day, and I’m super thankful for it,” said Machibroda. “It just happens to be with an MLB team, which makes it even more cool.

Nolan Machibroda set to bat for Team Saskatchewan.
(Photo courtesy Baseball Saskatchewan)
“I’m just trying to play baseball as long as I can. I love the sport, so I’m just really thankful I can go out there and still be playing competitive baseball at this point in my life. I’m really excited to get down to spring training and start playing again.”

Machibroda reported to Fort Myers, Florida, on Monday to take part in a required training plan with the Twins minor league players. Fort Myers, Florida, is home to the Twins single-A affiliate the Mighty Mussels. Spring training activities begin in earnest on March 2.

One aspect of Machibroda’s game that went to another level in 2022 was his power hitting. Machibroda said the home runs started to come after he changed his approach at the plate, where he looked for fastballs and held off from swinging at off-speed pitches.

“I always kind of had power,” said Machibroda. “In batting practice, I could hit a lot of home runs.

“Really last year, I just kind of put it all together and went out to the plate with a better approach. I think that really helped me see a lot more pitches that I could drive out of the yard. I was swinging at those pitches more consistently.

“In my younger years, I would probably get too over aggressive and swing at some pitches that I wasn’t able to do damage on. I think last year the big for me was just refining the strike zone and swinging at big pitches I wanted to swing at instead of swinging at the pitches the pitchers wanted me to swing at and get me out that way. I always had power growing up, but once I figured out my approach and kind of stuck with it that helped me out tremendously.”

After his summer season with the Beavers was complete, Machibroda returned home to Saskatoon to train under the watchful eye of the instructors at the Going Yard Training Centre at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. 

Going Yard instructor Matt Kosteniuk was Machibroda’s head coach with the Saskatoon Diamondbacks under-18 AAA team and an assistant coach when Machibroda was a member of Team Saskatchewan in 2015 and 2016.

Nolan Machibroda (centre) played at the Baseball Canada Cup twice.
(Photo courtesy Baseball Saskatchewan)
Machibroda also worked with Greg Brons, who is the high performance director for Baseball Saskatchewan and Machibroda’s head coach with Team Saskatchewan.

Pitching and playing first base, Machibroda helped Saskatchewan win a silver medal at the 2015 Baseball Canada Cup held at Cairns Field and Leakos Field on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds and gold at the 2016 Baseball Canada Cup held in Fort McMurray, Alta.

The soon to be first year pro enjoys when he gets to come home and work with his former coaches.

“I got to know them really well,” said Machibroda, who has lots of good memories playing at Cairns Field and Leakos Field. “It is always fun going back there,

“I respect their input. It is always nice to hear what they have to say and help me out for sure still. They are people I still look to for guidance.”

Machibroda enjoys being able to use the battling cages, the field turf and all the amenities the Indoor Training Centre has to offer, when he returns home.

“I’m super thankful for that facility to go back to during the winter when I’m not able to get outside and do the things I want,” said Machibroda. “You can go in there and pretty much do whatever baseball wise, so it has been awesome.”

Nolan Machibroda (#24) enjoys a seniors day moment.
(Photo courtesy Nolan Machibroda).

Now the focus turns towards his journey in his first professional season. Machibroda said he will run in the pro ranks as long as he can in trying to make it to the MLB level one day.

“I just know that there is a long road ahead,” said Machibroda. “I just take it one day at a time here.

“I take every day knowing that I am still blessed to play baseball and go out there and have fun and leave it all on the field, because I get to play the game that I love for a living now and just try and play as long as possible. I know it is going to be hard, but there is nothing I would rather be doing than playing baseball right now with my life. I’m really excited to be able to have this opportunity.”