Saturday, January 9, 2021

Saskatoon Short Mat Club joins the Family

Indoor lawn bowling type sport newest addition to Complex

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Saskatoon Short Mat Club member releases a shot.
It didn’t take long for the Saskatoon Short Mat Club to get a liking for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

After years of conducting games in the basements of Saskatoon area churches, the Saskatoon Short Mat Club made a debut at an open house at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on November 1, 2020. The organization was able to conduct games in the pitching lanes of the Indoor Training Centre until pandemic related Provincial Health Orders put a pause on those activities.

Still, Robert Hackett, who is the president of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said the organizations members were blown away with the good first impressions of their new surroundings.

“Everybody that I have talked to they love it,” said Hackett. “There is plenty of parking, which is something that at the church was something that we hardly ever had.

“You never have to worry about the parking, and it is close at hand. We have a storage unit there that everybody knows. It is locked up, and it is secured.

“All our equipment is there.”

Hackett noted another perk was fact the members of his club were allowed to roll up the mats they play their games on and leave them off to the side of the pitching tunnels, as the rolled up mats didn’t interfere with any other activities.

At church facilities, they often had to clear everything out of the areas their competitions were held in to allow for church functions to happen.

The debut of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club brought a sport of precision and skill to the Complex. When short mat games are taking place, it is easy for those passing by to get caught watching the shot making that was going on.

The short mat game itself comes from the sport of lawn bowling. Lawn bowling itself can be traced back to the 13th century. Of course in countries that have winter climates for an extended time, the time you can take part in lawn bowling is limited.

The short mat game requires precision and skill.
Short mat brings the game of lawn bowling inside. In Saskatchewan, Bowls Saskatchewan governs both the outdoor lawn bowling and the indoor short mat games for the province.

“The mechanics and everything are pretty well the same,” said Hackett. “They are little bit different.

“The difference is on short mat the mats are six-feet wide and 45-feet long. When you are lawn bowling, your rinks are eight-feet wide and they are 120-feet long. There is a difference between lawn bowling on grass as to be short mat on carpet.

“When you lawn bowl, the rink can change on you just by the bowls going down there and kind of making little grooves in the grass. It is not really all that different. It is a matter of the weight, really.”

Hackett said the local club has an easy way to explain their game to newcomers.

“Whenever we get new lawn bowlers out, one of the questions that we ask is have you curled before,” said Hackett. “If they have, then we say ‘OK then.’

“This is no different than curling only instead of ice you have grass. You have interns and outturns in curling, and we call it forehand and backhand. It really makes no difference.”

The scoring in the short mat game is like curling in that the team that has their balls closest to the jack scores points at the end of each end. Unlike curling there the button can’t move, the jack in lawn bowling and short mat games can be used.

The jacks used in short mat games are a little heavier than those used in lawn bowling due to the fact the rinks in short mat games are smaller than those in lawn bowling games. A board obstacle is also placed in the middle of the rink in short mat games to add an extra challenge.

Team sizes in short mat games can be singles, double, triples or foursomes. Games usually last 14 ends, but they can be 10 or 12 ends in length.

Strategy is discussed before a shot is made in a short mat game.
Janelle Phillips, who is the treasurer of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said that release point and the weight of your throw are key to both lawn bowling and short mat, but those skills have to be adjusted for each discipline.

“It just takes a lot of getting used to is the little bit of weight you need to release it,” said Phillips, who has completed in the short mat game for 15 years. “That is why a lot of people in doing short mat don’t take a step.

“When you are bowling outside, you usually take a step forward when you are releasing the ball just to get more of your body into it. With short mat, most people just keep their legs static and just release it with just using their hand, because it takes so much less pressure. I think that is the biggest difference is just getting used to the correct weight that you need to deliver it.”

Phillips said the line of your throw is important in each game and avoiding the board obstacle in the short mat game is a special challenge.

“The board in the middle is always a bit of a challenge to people too, who aren’t used to that,” said Phillips. “There is not really a lot of distance between the edge of the board and the edge of the mat.

“There is only probably three-feet there and not even, that you have to get your bowl around. You have to be pretty accurate with your line.”

Phillips said there has been a national governing body for the short mat game for about the last five years in the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association, which has allowed for national championships to be played. She believes the Saskatoon club itself has been around for about 20 years.

Competitors can even take part international competitions as well. About five years ago, Hackett and his wife, Carolyn Jones, accepted an invitation through the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association to a world championship even in Manchester, England.

Hackett said the experience of that trip was an enjoyable one, and it was eye opening to see how well the short mat game was played elsewhere in the world.

A short mat rink set up in a pitching tunnel.
“We actually won one game over there,” said Hackett, who has taken part in short mat games for about 10 years. “The amazing part for us was that the quality of Short Mat bowlers.

“We thought we were good. Think again when you are going into a world championship.”

Overall, Phillips said the local club has enjoyed finding a new home at the Complex, and they can’t wait for the provincial government to allow competitions to resume.

“I think everyone has been pretty happy with it,” said Phillips. “We were pleased to find a space that we could spread out in.

“It was working out quite well. People were pleased with it.”

Going Yard enjoys new era

Baseball training centre grows at Gordie Howe Sports Complex

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A player works on fielding during a Going Yard training session.
The Going Yard Training Centre has come a long way from a simple origin.

In the early 2010s, Saskatoon resident Dan Demchenko agreed to send one of his sons to a baseball academy in Alberta. After spending a sizable amount of money in that endeavour, he wondered why Saskatchewan didn’t have a similar sort of training facility.

Demchenko proceeded to establish the Going Yard Training Centre in 2013. He then hired Jordan Draeger, Matt Kosteniuk and Brody Boyenko as instructors, who all have experience with high-end baseball.

Going Yard opened its first facility with a training warehouse located on Alberta Avenue. Demchenko would turn over Going Yard venture to his young instructors.

On March 1, 2019, Going Yard was brought on to the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“I find baseball in Saskatchewan and Saskatoon specifically has gotten a lot better, because of our programs,” said Draeger. “I think kids are taking the sport more seriously now that we have opportunity to train properly.

“When people recognize the opportunities that come with playing baseball competitively as opposed to contact sports and things like that, it is such a good alternative. Our skill level is getting much, much better.”

At Going Yard, the instructors work with players aged eight to 18 with the main emphasis being on players aged eight to 15.

A catcher gets off a throw on a bunt defence drill.
The instructors work with players to improve skills related to batting, pitching, catching, infielding and outfielding.

Players are put through a combination of basic and creative drills designed to improve skills. For catchers, instructors will teach skills like how to block the plate on wild pitches that might hit the dirt or the mechanics to get off a throw to second base to try and prevent a steal attempt.

For infield and outfield work, there are machines at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex which can fire off line drives through the infield or fly balls to the outfield to work on skills in those areas.

For pitching, players might do drills with a weighted ball to improve strength.

In the past during winter months, Draeger said the Going Yard staff wasn’t able to do any work with regards to fielding due to the limitations of their old indoor location. They also couldn’t do drills related base running, because there was not enough room.

The Indoor Training Centre at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex has changed that aspect.

“It (the training warehouse) was only large enough to pitch and hit, because it had such a low ceiling,” said Draeger. “For the last five years, we’ve gotten a lot better at hitting and pitching.

“Now, we are about to see our guys get a lot better at fielding too, because they love this. Being able to field the ball on a full-sized field is cool for them.”

Draeger said the fact local players can work on fielding year round will create more opportunities to continue the sport at the post-secondary level.

A second baseman gets a throw off to first base.
“We’ve had lots of pitchers get college scholarships, but we don’t send very many fielders on a college scholarship,” said Draeger. “I think we are going to see that change now that we’ve moved in here.

“Now not only can we develop hitting and pitching, we can do infielding, outfielding and skills on a larger level.”

On top of the skill development, Going Yard has developed what it calls its “Goats Programs.” Players who are part of Going Yard can be part of the “Goats Program,” where players are dived on to age specific teams.

At the moment, there are teams for players aged 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 years of age. Those teams travel, practice and play games against teams from other training facilities. Often, the Going Yard teams will play teams from the RBI Regina Baseball and Softball Indoor Training Centre.

When the teams play indoors, they take part in modified games. When the weather is nice outside, the teams can play in a full game setting at Cairns Field, Leakos Field or one of the three diamonds at the Geoff Hughes Baseball Park.

All of those diamonds are on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

“As soon as the weather turns and we can go outside, we can go outside,” said Draeger. “There is nowhere else that can really do that.

“We are pretty lucky to be in here and have that opportunity.”

Draeger said the Going Yard staff has enjoyed being on the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex for just over 21 months, and they look forward to what the future could hold.

A pitcher sets to deliver a throw at a Going Yard training session.
“Going Yard is happy to call the Gordie Howe Sports Complex their new home,” said Draeger. “We’re excited to be a part of the team, and we are looking forward to developing baseball in Saskatoon and raising excitement.

“Eventually, we’d like to see our Goats programs reach even more ages. We just want to see the competitive level of baseball just increase at all age levels old and young.”

If you want more information on the Going Yard Training Centre, the staff can be contacted by phone (306) 954-1544 or email at goingyardbaseball1@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Nordic skiing a natural lifelong sport

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A young skier works her way up an incline.
When Alison Meinert sees the youngsters she coaches in Nordic skiing, she hopes they realize the sport can truly be a lifelong love.

Meinert is one of the coaches for the youth high performance program at the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club. During some practice sessions that take place on the trails and hills that run through the Gordie Howe Sports Complex and neighbouring Holiday Park Golf Course, there are times the club’s young skiers will share those trials with competitive and recreational skiers from all ages.

While the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club coaches try to instill a love of the sport into their athletes, Meinert said it great for the young skiers to see a variety of adult skiers at various skill levels enjoy the sport, which is best known as cross-country skiing.

“We hope that we’ve instilled in them that it is a sport for life,” said Meinert. “A lot of the new long term athlete development, all those models across sport have an active for life section.

“I think cross-country skiing is probably one of the best sports for being active for life. We have kids from three-years-old and probably in the same park at the same time we might have an 80-year-old out skiing. It is for all ages, and that I think appeals to a lot of people and families that you can ski your whole life.

“I hope that the kids see it that way too. There is a future for them whether they want to ski race, whether they just want to recreationally ski, whether they want to be an official at a race, or whether they want to be a coach. There is lots of options.”

Ivan English, who is vice-president of the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club, said Nordic Skiing is just like the cross-country skiing you see on television when a Winter Olympics is on. On the trails, you can encounter all sorts of terrain.

“Cross-country skiing is basically up and down skiing,” said English. “You climb hills.

A young skier takes on a downhill part of a trail.
“You get a good workout that way, but you also want hills for going down as well, because that is fun. The sport is huge in Europe, especially Norway and Sweden and Finland. It is quite a popular sport.”

Within Nordic skiing, there are two different types of skiing in classic skiing and skate skiing.

Classic skiing is what most people think of for cross-country skiing. A person’s skis are parallel in a track, and you do a parallel or a diagonal stride so that the skis are in the track. It looks a bit like running with your arms moving diagonally with your legs.

In skate skiing, the track is wider and it is packed. You glide on your skies by pushing off at an angle similar to the skating stride of a long track speed skater. A skier pushed off at an angle and glides on their skies and uses poles.

English said the coaches try to get the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club members to try both techniques.

“You will have a race for classic skiing, and you will also have races for skate skiing,” said English. “For instance, some races you might have on a Saturday you might do a classic race and then the Sunday you will do a skate race.”

As for competitions themselves, Nordic skiing has a lot of options. Young children will do races anywhere from one to four kilometres in length.

Teenagers and young adults will take part in races 10 to 15-kilometres in length. Adults might take part in races anywhere from five-kilometres in length all the way up to 50-kilometres in length.

While those race lengths are used for traditional Nordic skiing competition, the sport also had sprint races, where racers go all out to finish first in a one-or-two-kilometre loop and there is a lot of jockeying for position. Sprint racers are very spectator friendly.

Besides the traditional and sprint races, Nordic skiing offers loppet ski races. Loppet ski races are conducted in a similar style to marathon or fun run races.

Those races can be anywhere from five to 10-kilometres in length and can run as long to 50 to 60-kilometres in length.

A coach, right, instructs a Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club skier.
Skiers take off in a mass start, and those races can attract skiers who want to compete and those that are there just to participate. There is usually a social gathering after those races.

“Skiing tries to offer something for everybody from the recreation skier up to those who want to race and have a sport and train hard at it,” said English.

The Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club has a pretty lengthy history in “the Bridge City” too. Back in 1928, Nordic skiing was first offered when the Saskatoon Ski Club was established.

In 1968, the Saskatoon Ski Club’s Nordic and Alpine disciplines were split up which saw the creation of the Nordic Ski Club of Saskatoon, which officially took on the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club name in 2011.

In the youth high performance programs, Meinert said they have a group of 30 skiers that come out and train multiple times a week.

“We’re pretty passionate about skiing and getting kids active and enjoying and loving the outdoors,” said Meinert. “We get exercise too, while we are out here.

“The kids have been really improving over the last couple of years. We’ve really made an effort to try and train more times a week, work on our technique. There is a provincial race series that we attend, and we’ve gotten some great results there.

“We’re just at the age with some of our older kids, our 14, 15 and 16-year-olds to try to get them to race a bit out of province and see what that competition is like in other places, because it is pretty steep. It gives them an idea of how hard they need to train here in Saskatoon to be able to compete out of province. They are great kids, and we always have lots of fun out here.”

English said the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club is looking forward to growing the sport at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, where the club will benefit from a new Multi-sport Centre that is currently under construction along with a timing hut and storage garage.

Nordic skiing is a sport that can be enjoyed for life.
“We’re super excited,” said English. “Our club for being around so long we’ve actually run youth programs basically out of very limited facilities.

“We had to bring in hot chocolate for the kids on a little sled just trying to make due. With the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, we are really excited that we’ll actually have a facility to call home to share with speed skating in the winter and other sports in the summer. We are actually going to have a place for kids to come in and warm up and bathrooms and change rooms and access to a canteen and be able to grow our sport.

“We’re going to have this great new home where we can really have a lot more amenities for all of our skiers.”

For more information about the Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club, feel free to check out their website at www.saskatoonnordicski.ca.

Johnny’s sweet construction photos - a collection

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Protective fencing goes up at the ball diamonds.
Construction action has hit another high gear here at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex in 2020 starting in August.

Crews have been building new buildings and working on improvements to the facility.

Since August, our Operations Manager Johnny Marciniuk has gone on a number of tours collecting photos of the construction action and improvements to the facility. We’ve featured the photos on our social media Facebook, Instagram and Twitter lines along with creating picture round up posts for our main gordiehowesportscomplex.ca website.

Johnny’s photos have proven to be popular. He has captured some sweet images, and they have all come from the camera on his mobile phone.

For the December upload of new content for Howe Happenings, we figured we’d show a collection of some of the coolest and sweetest photos Johnny took on his tours.

The lead photo for this post shows fencing that was installed at a diamond facility to help secure the site and protect athletes and spectators from errant balls for adjacent facilities.

Anyways without further ado, here is a selection of seven pictures from Johnny’s tours. We hope you enjoy.

More artificial turf goes in

In this early November tour photo, artificial turf is completed on both the north and south side of the track and field track to provide a level surface for the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval along with being a comfortable surface for track athletes to enjoy during their track meets.

Perimeter fencing up at track and field facility

This photo from early October shows the perimeter fence that was installed at the track and field track that doubles as the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval in the winter months.

Trees arrive on truck

Near the middle of October, trees that were locally sourced from Zoset and Pleasantdale arrived. They were planted around the new track facility a short time afterwards.

We should add Lakeshore Tree Farms from Saskatoon is also a major supplier of greenery for landscaping, and our landscaping architects in Crosby Hanna have been terrific to work with.

Leakos Field ready for bleachers

In this photo taken near the end of August, it shows an area at Leakos Field that has been mapped out to receive bleachers that will be relocated from Cairns Field.

Leakos Field gets bleachers

This photo taken on November 7 shows the bleachers installed a Leakos Field that were transferred over from Cairns Field.

Tournament building sits near completion

The Nordic Ski/Softball Tournament Building sits nearly complete in this photo taken on November 7.

Speed skating tiles sit ready

The Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval tiles sit installed in this picture taken near the start of November. The oval ice is flooded and put in place on top of these tiles.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Lions’ Lowe grows into new speed skating identity

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Bon Lowe skates at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval.
Bon Lowe has started to redefine his speed skating identity in his middle to late teenage years.

The 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Evan Hardy Collegiate has been part of speed skating since he was placed by his mom in a learn to skate program around age three.

Lowe used to play hockey too. He discovered in that sport he liked skating fast on the ice more than any other aspect of the game.

Feeling that need for speed, Lowe decided to focus on speed skating. The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club member enjoyed a fair amount of success in the sport, but as he grew into his current body size of standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 172 pounds, Lowe is finding his new comfort zone with long track events.

“Right now, I like long track just because I am taller than most short track skaters are,” said Lowe. “I have been able to do a bit better at long track.

“It just feels nicer to skate.”

Lowe is a member of the Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association’s provincial short and long track teams, and he is entering his first season as a junior level skater. He sees himself specializing in the 5,000-metre and 10,000-metre distances.

Due to his taller height, Lowe believes the longer strides he can make are a big benefit when it comes to racing in longer distances. He is also intrigued by the strategy that goes into planning out a race that covers a longer distance.

“When you skate the longer distances, you have so much time to think,” said Lowe. “It is not a race that is won by the start.

“It is how you skate all throughout. You kind of have to be able to think about your race in the middle of it. You have to think about how you are doing it and what you are doing good and what you are doing bad.

“It gives you lots of time to work on the race, while you are doing the race. You are not necessarily stuck with the result you get right off the start.”

Veteran Lions coach Tim Comfort has coached Lowe for 10 years and has enjoyed watching the young skater evolve. Comfort said Lowe reached the top of the podium quite a bit in younger age groups before he hit his growth spurt.

Bon Lowe aims to make longer distances his skating specialty.
“When he was younger, he won three out of four years in a row Western Canadian Championships in short track,” said Comfort, who is also a Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association provincial coach and technical director. “He was the absolute dominant skater.

“Nobody could basically touch him. As they grow, you can be really good when you are young, and then all of a sudden, the day comes when people catch you, and then you have to decide how much you like it. I love the character building in that.

“When there is a little bit of adversity and you are not beating everyone easily anymore, then you really, really, are tested as to how much you love what you are doing. Anybody that ever plays a sport will have a taste of that. To see them face that and to figure it out is very, very, fun.”

Comfort said Lowe had to adjust his skating the taller he grew.

“Every year he has to get used to a new height, because he has grown so much, and he just doesn’t ever seem to stop,” said Comfort. “He may be at his adult height, and there are adjustments you have to make to your new height.

“Speed skating is a highly technical sport. He is needing to be adaptable and keep learning, because of his new height.”

Comfort has enjoyed watching Lowe evolve and gain an interest for competing in longer long track events. With that noted, Comfort added Lowe is still taking his first strides in a bigger world there.

“He has had some success, but he will have to keep working at it for a longer period of time, if he is going to be really good at long track,” said Comfort. “He is really good compared to others his age in Western Canada and Canada.

“Really good doesn’t mean he is in the top two or three, but he is still really good. The long legs could help him quite a bit in long track, if he keeps training.”

To this point in his career, Lowe has had limited opportunities to skate in a distance as long as 5,000-metres in competitions. Early last February at long track meet in Regina, Lowe won the 3,000-metre race in his age category in a time of four minutes and 55.76 seconds.

Now part of the junior level of competition, Lowe expects to go through some learning curves going up against more experienced skaters.

“Now, I am sort of mixed in a bigger pool again,” said Lowe. “I’m kind of the small fish in the pond.

Bon Lowe enjoys being a part of the speed skating community.
“I think there is lots of experience that I can gather being around all the older skaters. I’m looking forward to it, when I get to compete again. Right now, I’m really enjoying being able to gather all that knowledge.”

He looks forward to taking on that adventure as a member of the Lions, because he has had so many great experiences being part of that club.

“It has been really great,” said Lowe. “Some of my best friends that I’ve ever had I’ve met with skating.

“Being able to have this community that follows me and supports me and I can support them back too, not only is it just here in Saskatoon, but the sport is able to foster a good community all across the country. I know people all across Canada.

“I think wherever I go, I am able to be apart of this community of speed skating and of sport in general.”

Lions a staple at Clarence Downey Oval

Speed skating club aims to live up to storied past

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Lions skate at the Clarence Downey Oval.
The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club has been one of those constant good things in “the Bridge City’s” sports scene.

The Lions are one of the oldest sports clubs in Saskatoon having been established in 1942. They have been a fixture skating on the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval, which was named after the club’s first head coach, for long track practices and the Lions Arena for short track practices for as long as most can remember.

As the years go by, veteran coach Tim Comfort said the goal remains the same, which is to help the club’s athletes become better people and improve in the sport.

“We have over 100 skaters in the club from three-years-old to 20,” said Comfort, who is also a Saskatchewan Speed Skating Association provincial coach. “Like any other sport, working with kids is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

“To see them going from hardly being able to stand up to making a national team, it is hugely rewarding. It is more about working hard and the relationships between coaches and athletes and athletes and athletes.”

Lions’ skaters have won numerous provincial and national medals over the years and have gone on to reach the sport’s highest levels.

Way back in 1944, Craig Mackay won a city and provincial championship representing the Lions. He went on to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics held in 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland and in 1952 in Oslo, Norway.

Following in Mackay’s strides, John Sands, Peggy (Robb) Mueller, Bob Hodges and Gordon Goplen would move on from the Lions to skate for Canada at the Winter Olympics. Kelly McRuvie competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 1997 in Toronto and in 2001 Anchorage, Alaska, in the United States winning two medals.

The Lions are the club where Catriona Le May Doan first honed her skills before embarking on a decorated career representing Canada internationally. She skated in four Winter Olympics from 1992 to 2002.

Lions skaters have filled Saskatchewan’s development team.
Le May Doan captured gold in the women’s 500-metre competition in 1998 in Nagano, Japan and again in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States.

She won world titles in the women’s 500-metre distance in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and world women’s sprint titles in 1998 and 2002. La May Doan broke the women’s world record in the 500-metre distance on a number of occasions.

“She (Le May Doan) grew up right here in the Lions Arena and the Clarence Downey Oval,” said Comfort. “This is where they learned.

“There were a lot before Catriona too.”

Comfort believes the Lions have a good group of skaters in the present day too.

“Saskatoon is blessed in that all but a couple of the development team in Saskatchewan are from Saskatoon,” said Comfort. “We’re blessed with a lot of good skaters therefore there had to have been pretty good coaches too.

“The provincial team is again primarily again Saskatoon skaters, but some of the best skaters in the province are from other clubs.”

Currently, the Lions have 18 to 20 coaches working with athletes divided into four groups. Group 1 is the club’s “learn to skate” beginner group, and the levels progress up to Group 4, which is the “advance competitive” group.

The Lions also have an adult speed skating group for those that want to continue the sport in a casual setting.

“The club has done really well,” said Comfort. “The club is a very successful club with a tonne of excellent volunteers.

“There are many facets to it. There is coaching, administration, running meets, doing big fundraising and working on a committee with Friends of the Bowl. We have just lots of good volunteers in all areas, so we’re blessed in that way.”

Starting in the 2018-19 campaign, the Lions have been skating on a Clarence Downey Oval track that is build on top of a new track and field track at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. The old building the Lions used that was built in 1971 for the Canada Winter Games has been torn down and construction has started on a new multi-sport operations centre.

The Lions have been a part of Saskatoon’s sports scene since 1942.
Last season, the Lions changed in a series of portables set up next to the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval. Comfort said the ice and conditions at the track were “pretty darn good” last season, and he is looking forward to Lions growing into a new era, when the new multi-sport operations centre is completed.

“You know what I see the biggest benefit of the relationship with Friends of the Bowl is it is bringing other athletes to this area and increasing exposure to our sport so that we can grow,” said Comfort. “Some great young, talented and motivated kids can come and see a tremendous facility, good coaching and they want to be a part of it.”

For more information about the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club, feel free to contact the club at communications@slspeedskating.com.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Harrison aims to hit new heights, leave no doubts with track

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Michelle Harrison is at home at the Indoor Training Centre.
Michelle Harrison could have left track and field on a high, but she didn’t want to have any doubts of what might have been.

Last season, Harrison had a dream campaign finishing up her fifth and final year of U Sports eligibility with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team.

At that Canada West Championships last February in Saskatoon, Harrison won gold in 60-metre hurdles, 60-metre dash and 4 X 200-metre relay. She ran her specialty in the 60-metre hurdles in a conference record time of 8.21 seconds.

Harrison captures conference honours as Female Track Athlete of the Year and the award for Female Outstanding Performance of the Meet.

At the U Sports championships held last March in Edmonton, Harrison won gold in the 60-metre hurdles in a record time for the meet in 8.15 seconds. She won two silver medals with the Huskies 4 X 200-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

The graduate of Saskatoon’s Evan Hardy Collegiate was named the U Sports Female Track Athlete of the Year and was the Female Athlete of the Meet at the U Sports championships.

On April 1, the Huskies announced Harrison as recipient of the Mary Ethel Cartwright Trophy as the athletic program’s overall female athlete of the year.

After completing her U Sports career, Harrison didn’t want to give up on track and field. She believes she has more potential to realize and didn’t want to wonder if she could have done more in the sport.

“It is hard, because the last indoor season was really good,” said Harrison. “I know right now I am a way better athlete than that.”

Age 27, Harrison is a mature athlete too, and she has had a lengthy and decorated career in track and field filled with ups and downs.

Way back in 2009, Harrison was a member of Team Canada at the World Youth Championships competing in the 400-metre hurdles.

Michelle Harrison in action. (Photo courtesy Louis Christ)
At the 2010 Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association track and field championships, Harrison won gold in the 100-metre, 200-metre, 400-metre and 80-metre hurdles races. She also captured gold medals as a member of Evan Hardy’s 4 X 100-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

After graduating high school, Harrison competed for three different universities and a high performance centre from 2010 to 2017. They included the Rice University Owls in Houston, Texas, in the NCAA ranks, the Huskies and the York University Lions along with the high-performance track and field hub in Toronto, Ont. She experienced a mix of highs and lows as she often battled injuries along the way.

One of the highs included winning gold in the 100-metre hurdles at the Canada Summer Games in 2013 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The 100-metre hurdles is Harrison’s specialty on the international track circuit.

Other highs during that time included winning gold in the 60-metre hurdles at the Canada West and U Sports championships in 2014.

The toughest of the lows included training in the high-performance hub in Toronto from 2015-17, where Harrison said coaches were getting fired and athletes were leaving. On top of the turmoil there, Harrison was injured most of that time.

During that time, Harrison had a cup of coffee stay with the Lions program.

She returned home to Saskatoon, got married to her long time boyfriend, Graeme Harrison, and was fairly disillusioned with the sport of track and field. With all of that going on, Michelle came into contact with Jason Reindl, who took over as the head coach of the Huskies.

Reindl, who is a former Huskies men’s track team athlete, had happened to just return home to Saskatoon too after being the head coach of the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds cross-country running and track and field teams in Fredericton.

Michelle Harrison starred with the Huskies. (Photo Courtesy GetMyPhoto.ca)
Harrison rejoined the Huskies, and it was like the perfect storm happened to rejuvenate her track and field career.

“I think just my coach Jason (Reindl) was a big part of it,” said Harrison. “When I was back in Toronto, I had lost lots of interest in the sport.

“I was about to quit. I just really liked working with him (Reindl). I just like the atmosphere of the team too.

“It was a lot more positive than what I have been used to. My performance improving as well helped too. I think it was just like a combination of a bunch of different things.”

After spending a season to train and get back up to speed, Harrison won gold in the 60-metre hurdles at the Canada West and U Sports championships in 2019. She picked up silver medals at the U Sports championships with the Huskies 4 X 200-metre and 4 X 400-metre relay teams.

In June of 2019, Harrison ran the 100-metre hurdles in a personal best time of 13.13 seconds taking top spot at the Speed River Track and Field Festival in Guelph, Ont. She placed third in the 100-metre hurdles at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in July of 2019.

That set the stage for her final campaign with the Huskies. Now, she has renewed aspirations to qualify for the Olympics.

Following her final season with the Huskies, Harrison was slated to go to meets in Asia and California, but the worldwide grip of the COVID-19 pandemic nixed all of that.

In June, she began working out at the Indoor Training Centre here at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. Harrison has done strength sessions at Ignite Athletes and run on the field turf with Reindl on hand to offer his coaching expertise.

Michelle Harrison is ready for new track and field challenges.
“Being able to lift here and get to full strength is huge,” said Harrison. “My strength is probably the best it ever has been, so I have been able to work on that a lot, which is good.

“Even just being able to run here, it is nice being able to train on a flat surface and not having to worry about stepping in a hole or whatever in the park. It has been a lot more consistent training.”

Harrison can’t wait to get back into live competition and is currently slated to attend the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, in March of 2021.

“I’m hoping there is like a season,” said Harrison. “I’ve qualified for the world indoor championships, which are in China in March, so I am hoping that is a go.

“After that, it will be just chasing down the Olympic standard again in the summer.”