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
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.”

Dale takes spotlight as Hilltops first female player

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Emmarae Dale is the Hilltops first female player.
When media from the big cities came calling, Emmarae Dale really realized just how big her addition to the Saskatoon Hilltops roster was.

On September 15, the Hilltops announced that Dale was officially added to the team’s roster at linebacker making her the team’s first female player. Having been a member of the Saskatoon Valkyries women’s football team and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team for four seasons each, Dale expected to be interviewed by members of the Saskatoon media, and she has interacted with a number of those media members in the past.

She did about seven or eight interviews on the day the Hilltops made the announcement.

When she started getting interview requests from media members all across Western Canada including big cities like Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, the significance of becoming the Hilltops first female player and what is believed to be the first female added to the roster of a CJFL team became greater.

“It definitely started to get real at that point,” said Dale, who has also done interviews for national outlets. “That was when it sort of sunk in this is something bigger than I even realize.

“I kind of realized this is a big moment in history. It is not anything I should be taking lightly at all.”

The 22-year-old played four seasons at linebacker for the Valkyries from 2016 to 2019 helping them win Western Women’s Canadian Football League titles in 2016 and 2019. After joining the powerhouse women’s tackle football team, Dale quickly became one of the squad’s best defensive players.

On top of playing for the Valkyries, Dale competed with the Huskies track and field team for the last four seasons at the U Sports level in throwing events. She helped the Huskies women’s team win the last three straight Canada West Conference titles.

Emmarae Dale dished out big hits for the Valkyries.
Her play for the Valkyries and athletic ability attracted the attention of storied Hilltops, who have won 22 CJFL titles since the modern version of the team hit the field in 1947. The venerable Hilltops have won the last six straight CJFL titles and nine of the last 10 CJFL championships.

Dale, who stands 5-foot-6, has been practicing with the Hilltops for the last five weeks, and she has lost count of how many interviews she has done since news broke that she was officially on the club’s roster. The graduate of Saskatoon’s St. Joseph High School has done interviews with various media outlets including newspapers, radio stations, television stations, webcasts and podcasts.

At first, she didn’t know what it was going to be like to be interviewed by media members from major cities.

“It is definitely a little nerve-racking,” said Dale. “You get kind of a feel for what the questions are going to look like and feel like just from all of the interviews.

“You still don’t really know what they are going to ask. I think the biggest thing for me is just trying to stay articulate and take my time in answering questions. You just don’t know what they are going to ask.

“Just trying to think of things on the spot can be a little bit scary, but I don’t get too nervous talking to people.”

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Dale is on the Hilltops, because she is good enough to be on the team. Sargeant added Dale is powerful, strong and quick, and you can tell she has done a lot of good work at her training sessions at Ignite Athletics, which is on the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

Dale also works shifts operating the front desk at Ignite, where most of the Hilltops also train and workout. She already knew a number of players on the team, and Sargeant she fit in right off the bat.

“She is very comfortable out here right now, and very relaxed,” said Sargeant. “There is always a smile on her face.

Emmarae Dale (#45) made big plays for the Valkyries.
“She is enjoying what she is doing. You can tell she is learning and feeling good, because we are teaching some systems and getting a feel for all that. There is some newness to what is going on, and we are all enjoying it.

“She is a great kid to be around, and she is embracing the situation she is in as we are. Now, it is our job to make her better, so that she can compete at a high level and make a lot of plays for the Hilltops.”

Hilltops defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie was Dale’s head coach during her first season and her defensive coordinator in second season with the Valkyries. He saw Dale playing flag football during her high school days at St. Joseph High School and was impressed with her athletic and playmaking abilities.

Yausie, who spent time as the head coach of Canada’s national women’s tackle football team, talked Dale into joining the Valkyries and was amazed by how quickly she improved in the game.

“You basically watch her mature and grow up each year and get bigger and stronger and get more comfortable in the football systems,” said Yausie. “To me, she has gotten better and better.

“From my experience coaching the national team, I looked at her and I identified her as a player that she can make that level, if that is what she wants and be dominate at that level. She has a great work ethic, and she is tough.

“Sometimes the intangibles of football make a good football player like toughness, mental toughness. At every practice, she works as hard or harder than everybody else.”

As Dale improved, she hit the point Yausie believed she could play and contribute with the Hilltops. He figured the announcement of her being added to the roster would perk up media interest, but he never expected how wide the interest would spread.

“I’m surprised the amount of attention it has got,” said Yausie. “To me, I don’t think it is that big a deal.

“For me as a person, I just want a player who can play. I don’t care if the player is male or female or whatever. It comes back to her character.”

Emmarae Dale is honoured to play for the Hilltops.
Yausie said Dale’s character is outstanding, and the Hilltops know her family fairly well.

Dale is following in the footsteps of her older brothers, Anthony and Donovan, who played for the Hilltops in the late 2000s and early 2010s. As the weeks go on, Emmarae said it feels more and more special to be a member of the Hilltops.

“It is pretty surreal, and it is a huge honour,” said Dale. “I honestly have no other way to put it other than it is just really humbling being on the team that is the best in Canada and the best in history.

“It is just a huge honour to be able to come out and run around with the guys and compete with them. They are amazing football players, and just to be able to be here is a huge privilege and honour that is not being taken for granted at all.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Homegrown Hofmann eyes future in MLB

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex


Logan Hofmann signs a ball for a young player in Saskatoon.
When Logan Hofmann started playing baseball out in his hometown of Muenster, Sask., it was all about the joy of just being on the diamonds.

The notion of becoming a Major League Baseball draft selection or going to the elite levels of the sport didn’t cross his mind until high school.

“Growing up, I just played it, because it was fun,” said Hofmann. “It never really was a thought of mine to play professional baseball, because I was a big hockey player too growing up.

“I thought I was better at hockey pretty much my whole life until about Grade 10. That is when I thought that if I keep improving in baseball I can eventually go to college and then from there have success in college and then move on to the professional ranks.”

The right-handed pitcher played for Saskatchewan’s provincial team as part of an extremely successful run from 2015 to 2017. 

Saskatchewan won silver at the Baseball Canada Cup played at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex in 2015, gold at the Baseball Canada Cup held in 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alta., and at the Canada Summer Games in 2017 in Winnipeg.

The standout with the Muenster Red Sox program also played catcher and shortstop, when he wasn’t taking turns on the hill.

Logan Hofmann pitching for Saskatchewan. 
(Photo courtesy Baseball Saskatchewan) 
After graduating high school, Hofmann pitched two seasons for Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. Following his second season, Hofmann was selected in the 35th round and 1,055th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2019 MLB Draft.

Hofmann elected to not to sign with the Cardinals deciding to play for the Northwestern State University Demons baseball team in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the NCAA Division I ranks. That allowed him to keep developing his pitching stills and re-enter the MLB Draft.

In the MLB Draft that was held on June 11, Hofmann was selected in the fifth round and 138th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He signed a rookie contact with the Pirates on June 27.

The 20-year-old said it was a thrill to be picked in the MLB Draft and to be able to sign with the Pirates so quickly after the draft.

“It kind of just seals the deal,” said Hofmann, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds. “It is official.

“It is kind of the same thing as getting drafted. It is a great feeling, and I guess kind of a big accomplishment to say that you’ve signed now, and you’re ready to get your minor league career started.”

While he is gaining big opportunities in the game, Hofmann never forgets his Saskatchewan roots. When he returns home after completing his post-secondary season, he can usually be found on the diamonds in Muenster or around the province helping younger players.

Logan Hofmann played shortstop and catcher growing up.
(Photo courtesy Baseball Saskatchewan)
Hofmann enjoys helping the generation coming up.

“It is just good to give back just to see I guess some of the young talent we have in Saskatchewan,” said Hofmann, who credits his father, Chad, on being the biggest influence in helping him in the game growing up. “I just want to help them be the best player and person they can be.”

Hofmann has good memories playing with Saskatchewan’s provincial program. He remembers winning silver at the 2015 Baseball Canada Cup in Saskatoon as being a big thing as Saskatchewan had won just one medal – a silver in 2011- in 18 years previous at that event.

“Going in it was kind of we were hosting it, and if we do good, that would be cool,” said Hofmann. “I don’t think anybody really expected us to go as far as we did.

“Obviously, we faced B.C. in the final, and they were really, really good that year. I think still even a silver medal for Saskatchewan and we were hosting it was really awesome to see.”

Ultimately, Hofmann thought that silver medal finish paved the way for Saskatchewan’s gold medal wins in 2016 and 2017.

Logan Hofmann, left, likes coaching baseball camp in Saskatchewan.
“I think it set up really well,” said Hofmann. “I knew we had a good age group for those couple of years there going into each tournament.

“A silver medal, it is tough to build off of, but at the same time, one more win and you have gold.”

Greg Brons, who is the high performance director for Baseball Saskatchewan, said what Hofmann has been able to accomplish is inspiring for young players in the province.

“It gives kids the idea that if they work hard the ultimate dream of playing the game professionally can really happen,” said Brons. “Logan is someone players in minor baseball in Saskatchewan can really look up to.

“When he is in the city he often comes back to workout with our academy players and our players benefit from his success as he puts Saskatchewan on the baseball map.”

Brons said it is special when Hofmann comes back to the province and helps out the younger generation.

“It is no surprise that he is willing to do this,” said Brons. “He is a typical athlete from Saskatchewan – raised right and wanting to give back.

Logan Hofmann has his sights set on an MLB future.
“(He) comes from a great community (Muenster) where they support youth sports, and I think this is just the Saskatchewan way – I have seen athletes in all sports giving back. This is why Saskatchewan is such a great province. People like Logan never forget where they came from.”

Hofmann developed strong command of four pitches in his fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. He aims to keep fine tuning all aspects of his game looking towards spring training in 2021.

“I am just getting stronger and also focusing on the mental game of baseball now too just because it is such a big part of it,” said Hofmann. “I am kind of improving everything a little bit every day and just working to prepare for next year.”

ZONE Sports Physiotherapy aims to better overall health

Clinic empowers clients with the “why” to their rehab

Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex


Mitch Dahl and the ZONE Sports crew aim to empower clients.
Knowledge helps power a person on their physical rehabilitation journey.

Mitch Dahl, who is one of the founding partners of ZONE Sports Physiotherapy, believes clients should know “why” they are doing something, so they know “how” they can become better.

Dahl is one of three ZONE team members who are at the company’s second clinic located at the Indoor Training Centre on the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. The ZONE founding partner said the team at his clinic aims to give their clients knowledge and tools that will help them recover from injuries and improve their overall health.

Dahl said the ZONE team’s goal is to help their clients move better, so they can live better.

“It is more of an approach of a very active based rehabilitation,” said Dahl. “We are really trying to educate people and engage them in the process.

“If you teach people things, the unknown is not as scary. All of a sudden, things make sense.

“I always tell young athletes don’t just do it because we tell you to do it. Understand what is going on. We try to give lots of people tools in their toolbox and empower them to get better so they are not dependent on us.”

ZONE’s first clinic that opened in 2011 is located in the Point 9 Building in University Heights in northeast Saskatoon, which is also home to the Saskatoon Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Centre.

One of the treatment rooms at ZONE Sports Physiotherapy.
The ZONE clinic on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds opened in May of 2019, and due to the nature of that location, they see a variety of athletes.

With that said, the ZONE clinic on the Gordie Howe grounds does see clients who are non-athlete every day and all day. People that utilize that ZONE clinic range in age from eight to 88 and come from all walks of life.

ZONE Sports Physiotherapy delivers individualized care and expertise for assessment, treatment and management of sports, orthopedic, personal, work and auto injuries including post-operative rehabilitation.

Dahl said he often fields questions from potential clients asking if they can come even if they are ‘not an athlete.’ He said everyone is an athlete to some extent.

If a person gets injured doing something physical at the work place or the injury occurs in an athletic environment, Dahl said in both cases the injured parties are trying to regain the ability to do a physical movement.

Dahl enjoys seeing both athletes and members of the general public come through ZONE’s doors and when they are doing physiotherapy programming at the gym run by one of ZONE’s long-time partners in IGNITE Athletics.

Another ZONE Sports Physiotherapy treatment room.
“It is actually a pretty neat vibe, because they kind of feed off each other sometimes,” said Dahl. “You can see it in the gym too.

“It is kind of neat to see the mix there, and I think it spills over to here too where someone comes in and they are a high-level athlete, and they start having a chance to converse with someone in the waiting room, where they are just making small talk. It creates a good sense of comradery and community.”

All three therapists on staff at Gordie Howe Sport Complex’s ZONE clinic can treat head to toe injuries, and they each have a specialty interest area too.

Dahl came over because he works with baseball and football athletes a lot, so it was a natural fit for him to be on site. He will do assessments for football athletes, so they can determine which weaknesses or physical areas they need to work on before going off to events like the CFL combine. In baseball, Dahl will do assessments for players in regard to how they handle things physically like their throwing motion.

Brad Spokes oversees the ZONE Performance Multisport program that is geared to helping athletes in endurance-based sports, along with some strength and explosive type sports athletes as well. The presence of track and field, speed skating and Nordic skiing athletes made the Gordie Howe Sports Complex location a draw.

Jennifer Browne runs the “60 Strong” program, which is a masters age level strength program. Those workouts run twice a week.

If a need arises where a client would be better served by seeing a staff member at the first ZONE clinic to access a specific area of expertise, such as vestibular/balance/dizziness rehab, a referral will be made.

Overall, Dahl said it is rewarding to work with the high-quality people that utilize the multisport facility on a daily basis.

Mitch Dahl and the Zone Sports crew enjoy helping clients.
“Being here on site at Gordie Howe with the people that we work with, the athletes that are here, the parents that are here and the coaches that are here, it is a great spot to come to work every day,” said Dahl. “You look forward to going to work.

“If you need to stay late and help people out, it doesn’t feel like work, because you are in a great place to be.”

For more information about ZONE Sports Physiotherapy, feel free to contact them via email at or by phone at (306) 477-9663.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Aiming for new future heights building on a storied past

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Softball is a mainstay sport at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
The Gordie Howe Sports Complex has been and will continue to be the place where memories are made.

For over 60 years, it has been the heart of Saskatoon’s amateur sports scene. Numerous elite level athletes from many sports have graced the Gordie Sports Complex Grounds including Gord Barwell, Erin Cumpstone, Dan Farthing, Logan Hofmann, Catriona Le May Doan, Samantha Matheson, Devon McCullough, Dione Meier, Steve Molnar, Jacki Nichol, Cliff Shaw and Larry Wruck.

Now under the management of not for profit Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, the fabled complex aims to build off its glorious past.

“The Gordie Howe Sports Complex is well-known across Canada and around the world,” said Bryan Kosteroski, who is the chair of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Incorporated and Friends of the Bowl Foundation. “We have now raised the bar to now have multiple more sports that will have the opportunities to bring in those national and international sporting events.

Baseball is a staple at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
“We’ve raised the bar. The pressure is on us now to bring in major national and international events to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.”

The Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation officially took over the management of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on March 1, 2019.

Before the non-profit came into existence, each sport was responsible for coordinating the activities on the various facilities on the complex’s grounds like Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the baseball and softball diamonds and the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval in winter.

The City of Saskatoon suggested it might help if there was a unified group that coordinated everything that went on at the sports park. The complex hosts events and training sessions for baseball, football, lacrosse, Nordic Skiing, rugby, softball, speed skating, track and field and ultimate disk.

Football has a storied past at SMF Field.
The Gordie Howe Sports Complex will accommodate soccer events too when those needs can’t be met by either the SaskTel Sports Centre or the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre.

The idea of having a unified group overseeing the operations at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex was something the sporting groups that used the park was a good idea and decided to run with.

Johnny Marciniuk, who is the operations manager for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, said their was a 90-day preparation period before the non-profit took on operational responsibilities.

“It has been exciting,” said Marciniuk. “We’ve been operating this for the last year and a half almost, and people are getting the routines down.”

Marciniuk said one of the learning curves involved the learning how work at all the various facilities on the park’s grounds. Before, you had situations where a group of people just worked the grounds of one facility like the softball diamonds.

The Clarence Downey Oval creates great sights.
Now, the maintenance crew at the complex can work the baseball or softball diamonds, prepare the football field or make sure everything is running smooth at the Indoor Training Centre.

“Virtually, all of our employees are athletes or have been involved with various activities either as administration or as a participant,” said Marciniuk. “Now those people whether it is working the track or working the diamonds or working in the Indoor Training Centre, there is lots of cross-training that was necessary to train staff, and we’ve been very fortunate.

“You are only as good as your staff, and we have some excellent people that assist us on a day to day basis.”

Marciniuk said user went through a learning process too, especially when it comes to the Indoor Training Centre. He remembered sports like baseball and softball would overbook for zone tryouts not realizing how much space the Indoor Training Centre had.

Lacrosse groups enjoy the Indoor Training Centre.
“A zone (tryout) may have been in three or four high school gymnasiums,” said Marciniuk. “Now they have one facility.

“We have pitching lanes and batting cages. They started reducing their time a little bit and gave opportunity for other activities to come in.”

Overall, Kosteroski said the driving force behind having a unified not for profit group oversee the operations of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex was that all the users want to see each other succeed.

“The Gordie Sports Complex is a family,” said Kosteroski. “Within our family, we have nine sporting organizations who all are part of the overall complex theme.

“We have representation from all sporting organizations who provide insight into the operations. This is a total team effort with all organizations involved. There is a board of directors that was developed with key people situated on the board with representations from all sports organizations and also First Nations representation and whatever needs we saw that were needed to move the complex forward.

Rugby groups practice at the Indoor Training Centre.
“At the same time, the management team was developed to oversee all the daily operational aspects of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.”

Under the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, it will be easier to coordinate major events held on the complex grounds especially if that event needs to utilize the track and field, baseball, softball or SMF Field all at one time.

Kosteroski said the potential for great things to happen at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex is endless. He said the complex is looking forward to making new partnerships with business in the future and is thankful and looking forward to continued partnerships with businesses and organizations the complex has worked with in the past.

“The Gordie Howe Sports Complex will have a major impact with tourism dollars now and into the future,” said Kosteroski. “That is a key role the complex will play for business in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan.”

McCullough’s day at Bob Van Impe

Saskatoon product powered Canada to golden comeback

Devon McCullough in 2015. (Photo by Louis Christ)
Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Devon McCullough wasn’t walking into an enviable situation, when he entered the championship game of the 2015 International Softball Federation Men’s World Championship tournament.

Playing in front of his hometown fans at Bob Van Impe Stadium, McCullough entered the contest to pitch relief for Canada in the top of the third inning against powerhouse and defending champion New Zealand.

New Zealand had just taken a 4-0 lead with one out and had a runner on second.

Despite the tough circumstances, McCullough remembered the 7,000 in attendance that night hadn’t given up on the Canadian side.

“The crowd was going nuts, and it was loud,” said McCullough, who was the youngest player on Canada’s roster at age 24 at that time. “It was pretty much the biggest moment I’ve been in I figure in my life especially up until then.

“I was definitely a little nervous going in, but I was also excited at the same time.”

McCullough’s first task was to stop New Zealand from potential running away with the game at that point. He got the first batter out he faced on a groundout.

He proceeded to hit the next batter he faced with a pitch. Following that development, the Canadian coaching staff elected to load the bases by intentionally walking the next batter.

After loading the bases, McCullough walked the next batter he faced allowing New Zealand to go up 5-0.

He proceeded to stop the New Zealand rally at that point with a strike out to end the top half of the inning. McCullough said getting that strikeout to strand three runners on base proved to be key to help his side start to get some traction.

Devon McCullough (#24) fires a pitch. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
“That was a big game changer,” said McCullough. “If I give up a hit there or something, they could have scored three runs right off of that.

“The game could have been done right there.”

Canada’s offence proceeded to come to life after that. The Canadians scored four runs in the bottom of the third to cut New Zealand’s lead to 5-4 changing the complexion of the contest.

McCullough pitched a scoreless top of the fourth, and in the bottom of the fourth, Canada scored four more runs to go ahead 8-5. The younger chucker said the excitement rose for the host country as momentum had totally changed sides.

“The whole atmosphere in the dugout had changed,” said McCullough. “Everyone was standing up and loud.

“I think we pretty much knew by that point that we weren’t going to be stopped that day. We were just on a roll.”

Canada scored two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to cement a 10-5 victory.

McCullough pitched the rest of the contest to pick up the win striking out eight batters while scattering one hit and five walks over four-and-two-thirds innings. Throughout the game, he heard chants of “Devo” coming from the crowd.

Devon McCullough was the hero. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
He put down the last two batters he faced in the top of the seventh with swinging strike outs. After he recorded the final out, McCullough couldn’t believe the energy rush.

“It was like a shock almost,” said McCullough. “It was like, ‘Holy (explanative) we just won.’

“It was pretty much just yard sale everything.”

Since age 13, McCullough played numerous games at Bob Van Impe Stadium leading up to that world championship win. He has continued to play many more games at his hometown park and remains a member of the national team at age 29.

He has played at two world tournaments win Canada since earning bronze medals each time out.

While McCullough would love to help Canada win another world championship, he doesn’t expect anything will surpass winning it all representing his country in his hometown. When you add in the fact he was winning pitcher that helped turn around a dire situation, it becomes a fairy-tale script.

“It was awesome,” said McCullough. “I’ve told everyone that it doesn’t matter whether I go out and play and win anything else in ball, but nothing will ever top that.

“That is the number one thing that you probably would ever want as any ball player would want.”

An artistic picture of Devon McCullough. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
McCullough believes he has watched the video of that championship game about 100 times since it happened. He said people in Saskatoon come up and talk to him all time about that world title win, especially if he is at one of the diamonds at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex at a weekend tournament.

“I see them in the beer tent just stopping for a beer,” said McCullough. “You are just talking about it like all the time.

“It is pretty special that is for sure. No one can ever take that one away from you winning the world championship at home. It is pretty awesome to think about.

“That was a pretty awesome day.”