Friday, April 9, 2021

Ignite cares, continues to help athletes grow

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Logan Hofmann trains in the off-season at Ignite Athletics.
The crew at Ignite Athletics have always taken a genuine interest in the lives of the athletes they train, and that characteristic has shown through in a more emphasized way over the past year.

Ignite Athletics was formed when Ignite Athletic Conditioning owned by Joel Lipinski and Jordan Harbidge and JB Performance Training owned by Josh Saulnier merged and located on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds when the Indoor Training Centre opened in March of 2019.

Ignite Athletics aims to be the best training facility in Canada located on the best sports complex grounds in Canada. The crew at Ignite want to help the athletes they train to improve every day, so they can meet their athletic goals.

As a result of the great work the Ignite staff does, they’ve attracted elite athletes from a wide variety of sports along people who just want to be in better physical shape.

The staff has created a welcoming atmosphere at Ignite helping make the phrase “Ignite Family” a reality.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has gripped the world since March of 2020, the family feeling at Ignite has come more to the forefront. Most of the clients that visit Ignite have seen their lives change in a sizable way.

Over the past year, many athletes have trained for seasons that started and ultimately got cancelled shortly after starting. Athletes have continued to train often not knowing for sure when their next season will start.

Despite those uncertainties, the day’s highlight will often include stopping in at Ignite for a training session. Lipinski said you can see athletes have an extra jump in their step, when they come to Ignite.

“To be able to provide a safe, fun and positive environment during this pandemic, it is something we are very grateful for,” said Lipinski, who is also a strength and conditioning coach at Ignite. “The feedback we have been given by our athletes has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lindsay Berglof is long time regular at Ignite.
“In a lot of circumstances, the trip to our facility is the only regular outing scheduled in their day. The fact that we can keep the athletes on track to reach their health and performance goals does a lot for them mentally as well.”

Lipinski said one of the more pronounced strengths that has shown through from the Ignite staff over the past year is the ability to care. The Ignite crew has always aimed to build friendships with the athletes they train.

Those friendships have given athletes trust that they can let staff know when they not having the best day.

Lipinski said the Ignite crew has had to show more heart and understanding over this past year than they’ve ever had to show before.

“We have seen and personally felt the toll this pandemic has had on mental health,” said Lipinski. “The relationships we have formed with our athletes over the years is a large reason for our success.

“People do not care what you know, unless they know that you care. We provide a space where athletes are allowed be vulnerable, and we can meet them where they are now. We have also teamed with Clint Moroz at The Shift - Counselling Services and are involved with the Matthew Baraniuk Legacy Foundation, so that when our athletes do need extra help, we have the resources in place to make sure they are able get the help they need.”

Besides creating a great training atmosphere for athletes in the high school, young adult and adult age groups, Ignite partnered with the Gordie Howe Sports Complex to create the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps for children.

These camps ran for the first time last summer with children split into age groups from 5 to 8 and 9 to 12. The week-long camps introduced children to a vast array of sporting experiences with a highlight of getting to run the “Ninja Warrior” course set up at the Spark Park located in the Indoor Training Centre.

The Spark Park Summer Sport Camps are returning this summer with weekly sessions running from July 5 to August 20.

“The Spark Park Summer Camps have been a fun addition,” said Lipinski. “The amenities we have available to us at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex make it easy to run an exciting summer camp.

Spark Park Summer Sports Camps return this summer.
“We had great coaches and Taylor McGregor was our Spark Park Manager leading a lot of the organizational requirements. She was instrumental in the success we had last year. It was fun imagining an environment that we would want to be part of ourselves and trying to create that environment.”

Lipinski believes the camps really helped the kids both physically and mentally as they seemed to energetically jump into activities.

“Last summer, kids had not participated in any structured physical education in schools,” said Lipinski. “Therefore, we think that being able to offer these camps was massive to get kids active and socializing after being deprived of those two things for so long.

“I am also sure the parents did not mind and entire week with the kids out of the house, knowing they were somewhere safe.”

Lipinski said the Ignite crew is looking forward to running the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps again, and he credits the community in Saskatchewan for allowing them to happen by doing their part to manage the pandemic.

“The fact we can run these camps again this year means that people across Saskatchewan are being diligent with the protocols set in place by the government,” said Lipinski. “It also means we can continue educating people that these camps exist and how positive they can be for their kids to get involved with.”

While the past year has provided some unique challenges to the Ignite crew, Lipinski said it has been special for Ignite Athletics to operation on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

“It sounds cliché, but it is a dream come true,” said Lipinski. “The facility is state-of-the-art while also being surrounded by one of the best sport infrastructures in Canada.

“We have had the privilege of being able to visit some of the top facilities in the world and I remember walking into each one with a sense of awe. I sincerely stop and look around with that same sense of awe everyday now. The merger with JB Performance and Josh has also been amazing.

Danielle Jasper has been a long time family member at Ignite.
“Josh and Jordan were good friends before the merger took place, which made things relatively easy. Josh has brought steadfast leadership, relentless work ethic, constant positivity and has become irreplaceable with everything he does on a day to day basis. I am grateful that somehow fate brought two of the best business partners I could ask for into my life.”


For more information about Ignite Athletics or to register for the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps, feel free to check out Ignite’s website at igniteathletics.com. All photos for this post are courtesy of Ignite Athletics.

Chartrand – a softball star on the rise

Jorde Chartrand perfects her throws at the Indoor Training Centre.
By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Jorde Chartrand defines love for the game of softball, meanwhile believing the game has loved her back.

Being a right-handed pitching ace, she is a recognized alumna within the regional 222’s Fastpitch program and the Saskatoon Phantoms Softball Zone. Joining the University of Central Arkansas Bears NCAA Division I program this fall, she has cemented her place as a role model for younger women who wish to pursue their dreams in the sport.

Within the many organizations Chartrand has been a part of, she has defined the terms; Dedication, Leadership, and Modesty. Appreciation is an “Understatement” of the opportunity she has of continuing her career with the UCA Bears.

Dreams have become a reality for this young lady, and she is definitely excited to set more goals within the sport.

She wants to win some championships with the Bears and would ultimately like to make the Canadian Women’s National Team one day and play at the Olympics.

She would love to play the sport professionally and to coach at the college level one day.

Chartrand knows she has already been able to pile up accomplishments in the sport, because her love of the game is grounded in basic things.

“I love the pressure and the rewarding feeling you get when you overcome an obstacle or win a big game,” said Chartrand, who will turn 18-years-old on April 22. “The people, the teammates and the coaches that have all become family over the years, all the connections that you make through the sport is just indescribable and amazing.”

Jorde Chartrand throws with the Phantoms in 2019.
Anyone who has seen Chartrand train with the 222’s travel team at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds will see her dedication to the game. She has mastered throwing four pitches in the curveball, change-up, drop ball and her signature pitch - the rise ball.

Chartrand has been clocked at throwing 67 miles per hour and is also pretty strong at the plate as a batter too.

She was born and raised on an acreage outside of Weyburn, Sask., where she still resides.

Chartrand started out playing baseball first at age of three before shifting over to softball within a year’s time. She played minor softball in Weyburn until age 10, when she cracked the 222’s under-14 team.

From that point, Chartrand played for the 222’s in the fall and winter months and bounced around with various spring and summer clubs located around Saskatchewan looking to play at the highest level she could.

In 2019, Chartrand joined the Phantoms under-16 program and attended Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate, where she started working with Trevor Ethier.

“I was very thankful to have the opportunity to work with Trevor through the Tommy Douglas softball program,” said Chartrand. “He helped me so much not only with the skills of the game, but the mental aspect of it as well.”

She helped the Phantoms win a provincial title and qualify for the under-16 Canadian Championships, which were held that year in Calgary.

At nationals, Chartrand won the top pitcher award posting a 0.00 earned-run average and 37 strikeouts, while giving up only three hits in 19 innings of total work as the Phantoms finished eighth overall.

While pursuing her softball dreams, Chartrand is thankful for the sacrifices her father, Russ, and mother, Caroline, have made.

Both of my parents have been my biggest supporters,” said Chartrand, who stands 5-foot-9. “They are always encouraging me to keep getting better at the sport that I love.

“They are always there when you make a mistake and you need that comforting comment or that little push of encouragement. They always supported me, affording me the opportunity to travel to many places playing the sport that I love.”

Jorde Chartrand signs with the University of Central Arkansas Bears.
Chartrand credits all the coaches she had with the 222’s program for helping her maintain her love for the game. Between the 222’s under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams, Chartrand spent seven seasons with that program.

She credits 222’s coach and former Canadian national men’s team pitcher Dean Holoien for helping her develop into the pitcher she has become. His mentoring throughout her ball career has been invaluable.

Chartrand was nine-years-old when she first met Holoien and continued to work with him since then. Keith Mackintosh, coach and co-owner of the 222’s, also played a crucial role in the development of Chartrand’s softball career as well as former Olympian Dione (Meier) Blackwell, Ryan Ray and the rest of the coaching staff.

“I would not be the player or person I am without that program,” said Chartrand.I am going to miss it tremendously but knowing that I am not only close with the coaches, but friends with the coaches makes it a lot easier to move to the next chapter in my career.

“They aren’t just a building block in my softball career but my life.”

Chartrand has always enjoyed playing at the various softball diamonds on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds and is thankful she got to use the pitching tunnels, batting cages and turf field at the Indoor Training Centre.

This past fall and winter, Chartrand appreciated and cherished every chance she got to use the Indoor Training Centre as the COVID-19 pandemic put the clamps on Canada’s sports scene including national team tryout camps for the gifted thrower.

“It has really helped me keep up my game,” said Chartrand. “It was always a place that I could go to work on my sport.

“It is really helpful with the 222’s program that we have the facility, because it allows all of us to train together the best we can while following the guidelines. It has been really helpful even with COVID just to keep playing the sport that I love that a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to do.

Chartrand is now back in Weyburn electing to finish off her Grade 12 studies at Weyburn Comprehensive High School. In June, she is going to go to Florida to play for the Tampa Mustangs-TJ under-18 to prepare for her upcoming University season.

Jorde Chartrand can hammer the ball at the plate.
The young hurler is looking forward to her future journeys in the sport.

“It is motivating,” said Chartrand. “It makes me want to be the best player that I can be and keep in shape to play the sport for as long as I can.

“It makes me excited for all the opportunities and people that will come into my life later throughout the sport.”


The photos of Chartrand pitching for the Phantoms and signing with the Bears are courtesy of Jorde Chartrands personal collection.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Softball A-programs get set for season

Junior aged teams flock to Indoor Training Centre

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Selects batter drives the ball in a batting cage.
For the Saskatoon Minor Softball League’s A-level programs, off-season work is in high gear.

Since January, the A-teams from the junior age groups of the Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional Saskatoon city zones have gathered for regular sessions at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds along with the city-wide Selects zone program. 

“Right now they are in the process of going through all their (evaluations) for the people that they have registered right now,” said SMSL President Vanessa Kosteroski. “They want to get their A-teams going and get them picked and get that part going.”

The zone programs are doing evaluations for their A-teams in the under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-19 age levels that make up the junior age group. Players heading to these sessions are put through position specific drills and are graded on how well they do.

The majority of the hitting and pitching drills take place in the pitching tunnels and batting cages at the Indoor Training Centre. The infield and outfield drills are held on the large indoor field turf fields.

“Right now as far as the (evaluations) go, our pitchers tryout for a pitcher,” said Kosteroski. “Our catchers tryout for the catchers program.

“The rest of them who are trying out for first base, second base, third base, infield and outfield, that is all part of the (evaluations). They are graded on that.”

A Hustlers player sets to throw the ball during a drill.
Kosteroski said the coaches from the zone programs have assistance when it comes to doing the evaluations. The zone programs bring independent evaluators in and some zones utilized the SkillShark athlete evaluation software program, which helps grade skills and athletic attributes.

“They go through all the performances,” said Kosteroski. “They enter it into the SkillShark program.

“Then, it spits out a number. It is really quite a good program. One or two of our zones don’t use SkillShark, but they have their own independent evaluators, which is fine, and they do that.”

This year Kosteroski said the zone programs have had to do a little more work in scheduling than in past years due to Public Health Orders brought in to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years, sessions could include anywhere from 20 to 30 players. This year zone programs are trying to get evaluations and training done with players split into groups of eight.

On top of that, the softball zones are trying to work the scheduling of training sessions in a way that respects the needs of other sporting communities that use the Indoor Training Centre.

“It is a lot different than normal,” said Kosteroski. “Once our A-program is created and our teams for A are picked, the players know who they are playing for.

A Lasers player fields a ground ball in the infield.
“Their coach then sets up times, and they get to go and practise and put all that to good use after that. They are trying to get as much in as they can before the actual season starts. It is not easy when everybody else needs the facility as well.

“Everybody is just happy to be out playing.”

Kosteroski it has been extremely valuable for the SMSL’s zone programs to use the Indoor Training Centre, which officially opened for public bookings in March of 2019.

Before the Indoor Training Centre opened, zone programs most often did evaluations and training in school gyms. In gyms, it was hard to do outfield work as the ceilings were usually too low.

When her children grew up playing softball, Kosteroski remembers that some of the sessions held in gymnasiums could be adventurous.

“Back in the days when my kids were in gymnasiums, you had balls flying everywhere and hitting kids in the head,” said Kosteroski. “It was chaos.

“Our zones are very appreciative of it (the Indoor Training Centre). We’re kind of spoiled now, because if we had to go back, we would be in trouble.”

Kosteroski said the ability to be able to use the Indoor Training Centre allows the zone programs to get a head start for the upcoming season.

“Our A-program, it helps them out immensely,” said Kosteroski. “We have some B-teams that book it as well and have their teams go in there and practise, because it is team bonding as well.

A Phantoms player fires a ball back into the infield.
“It becomes a very big deal when you can do that. It has been a really good thing that is for sure.”

In the past, teams have been able to hold scrimmages at the Indoor Training Centre. In 2019, the SMSL held its under-12 and under-14 city championships there, when heavy rainy weather made outdoor diamonds unplayable.

“We had our city championships in there two years ago, and it was great,” said Kosteroski. “The kids loved it.

“People created awareness in the community. Parents were aware of it that had never been in it, didn’t know anything about it and kind didn’t even know it existed. For things like that, you can’t go wrong.”

The Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional zone programs do run teams in the under-six, under-eight and under-10 age levels that make up the Timbits softball age group. Those teams don’t get going until the middle or the end of April.

The Saskatchewan North Central Softball Academy does run an off-season Timbits Saturdays program at the Indoor Training Centre, which usually runs from November to February, to give those players an extra chance to play the game.

Kosteroski said the Timbits programs focus on instilling a love for the game in players aged 10 and under. The A-level junior age groups do more off-season work as competition becomes a little more serious.

“With Timbits, it is a little bit different,” said Kosteroski. “They just want to go outside and be apart of something.”

A Raiders play sets to field a ball at third base.
Overall, Kosteroski said the SMSL zone programs enjoy the time they get to be in the Indoor Training Centre during the off-season taking part in the game they love.

“My zones are really appreciative,” said Kosteroski. “Our coaches just love it.

“They know it is a safe environment. They enjoy working with the people and the staff there. Everything has been really good.”

 

For more information about the Saskatoon Minor Softball League, feel free to check out their website smsl.ca.

More sweet Complex happenings in photos

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A young skater enjoys the  Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval.
Sweet made for photo memories continue to be created on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

Of course, a lot of cool moments of sports action can be captured at the Complex. Those aren’t the only moments that make great pictures.

Some of the cool photos might include some our staffers springing into action. They enjoy and take pride in making sure everything at the Complex runs as smooth as possible.

Some of the sports action includes pictures of athletes who are deeply focused in training sessions looking to improve a skill.

A number of these photos like the lead picture of this post were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke. The lead photo shows a young skater taking advantage of one of the final days for public skating at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on March 1.

One of these photos came from an ace contributor.

Without further ado, here is a selection of nine pictures from about the past three months. We hope you enjoy.

Focus on the next pitch

The crew at the Going Yard Training Centre put their athletes through a lot of unique drills to improve their skill in baseball. In this picture from Feb. 11, a young pitcher pays attention to detail with the mechanics of his throw while using a weighted ball. The pitcher improves both skill and gets physically stronger.

Wild pitch under control

This catcher at a Saskatoon Raiders fastball training session on Feb. 20 calmly stayed on top of a wild pitch that went in the dirt. The catcher easily tracked the ball into her glove.

Jetting down the back stretch

The Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club training sessions at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval were always quality runs. Here a group of young skaters speed down the back stretch during a simulated race on Feb. 15.

Right in the wheelhouse

This hitter at a Saskatoon Phantoms fastball training session on Feb. 25 is about to unload on a pitch she likes. The batting cages and pitching tunnels are a popular feature at our Indoor Training Centre.

“Who ya gonna call”

Our own Ashlie Borisenko was out sanitizing the turf at Ignite Athletics and on the main field at the Indoor Training Centre in this photo taken on Dec. 28, 2020. Our staff ensure no stone is left unturned these days in the safety department. Emmarae Dale, who works at Ignite Athletics and is a linebacker with the Saskatoon Hilltops and Saskatoon Valkyries, took this picture.

Perfecting infield defence

This infielder simulates trying to throw out a base runner during an infield drill at a Saskatoon Selects fastball training session on Feb. 26. Selects players were trying to show off their command of infield defence.

Art of the steal

In other unique drill run at a Going Yard Training Centre session on Feb. 11, this base runner slides into second base on a steal drill. Coaches were trying to teach base runners how to read pitchers for a steal opportunity in this baseball drill.

Making minor fixes perfect

Our own Jack Nepjuk, who is well known in Saskatoon’s football scene, attends to fixing a small detail at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on Feb. 27. Nepjuk was one of a number of staffers who ensured the Oval’s season was a great one.

A snowy good time at the Oval

A light snow fell on the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on Feb. 27, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of these young skaters from the Prince Albert Speed Skating Club. They enjoyed getting a taste of skating on a long track course.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Sentinels open doors to bigger lacrosse world

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Sentinels huddle up during a training session.
The Sentinels Lacrosse Club aims to expand horizons for elite players in Saskatchewan.

The field lacrosse program is still relatively new getting its start in 2018. It found a home on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds when the Indoor Training Centre officially opened on March 1, 2019.

The elite program operates in a fall season from September to December utilizing both the Indoor Training Centre and Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The Sentinels run a junior varsity team for players in Grades 8 to 10 and varsity squad for players in Grades 11 and 12.

“Any players that we work with, we want them to be leaders and role models and to be able to contribute to their minor associations,” said Sentinels coach Arden Wipf. “We want to be able to identify and invite those players to work with us in the fall.”

Wipf and long time friend and fellow lacrosse coach Luke Acton started the Sentinels at the request of the Saskatoon Field Lacrosse Association. Before the Sentinels were born, Saskatoon was home to the Scorpions elite program.

The Scorpions came to an end in late 2017 as the program’s coaches decided to step away from the game.

Wipf and Acton have a lengthy history coaching the game together spanning multiple levels since 2006, with some breaks sprinkled in. They grew up playing both field and box lacrosse in Saskatoon and played in the NCAA ranks with the Bellarmine University Knights in Louisville, Kentucky.

They were asked if they could start a program that could fill the void left by the Scorpions.

They came up with the concept of starting fall elite field lacrosse program for the province that would have a schedule that didn’t conflict with field and box lacrosse programs that usually run from May through to August.

Wipf and Acton wanted to start an elite travel team to give players a chance to further improve their skills outside of the regular lacrosse seasons. As part of the recruitment, players would be identified and invited to take part in the program.

The Sentinels focus on staying on top of their academics.
The team would take part in competitions traveling to elite tournaments in the United States.

Acton said a goal was to give the top players a bigger challenge in the sport and open their eyes to a bigger world in the game.

“They play a league game in Saskatchewan, and they score as much as they want to score and they do super well,” said Acton. “We go down to the States, and we have competition down there.

“We realize we are maybe not as good as we think we are.”

Wipf and Acton got the thumbs up to get the Sentinels program running. They ran just a varsity program in 2018 and 2019 before adding a junior varsity team in 2020.

The Sentinels evolved to becoming a private entity going into the 2021 season.

While there is a focus on developing elite lacrosse players, Wipf, who is also an elementary school vice-principal, said academics is a big focus for the Sentinels program too.

“We do put a strong emphasis on academic pursuit and keeping education a top priority,” said Wipf. “These kids are in high school.

“They need to know and their parents need to know that lacrosse is great, and it is wonderful. Lacrosse is not the only important thing. It can’t be the only important thing in people’s lives.”

On the field, the Sentinels program aims to give deeper instruction and guidance with understanding team concepts of field lacrosse. The coaches want to help their players gain a better understanding of the nitty gritty details of what makes others in their same position excel and really good.

When the Sentinels have a scrimmage or an exhibition game, the coaches break down the film and go over it with players.

Being on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds, the Sentinels take advantage of the services offered by Ignite Athletics to help their athletes improve their conditioning.

The Sentinels take part in training at Ignite Athletics.
“In the big picture of things like among their peers, these kids are really growing,” said Acton. “That is why we do it.

“We want these kids to get better. They are fun to be around. It is fun, because they want to be better and we want to be better.

“We can achieve that goal together. That is why we coach. That is the most fun part of it is hopefully teaching these kids stuff you’ve learned along the way that can help them achieve something in the sport that maybe they thought they couldn’t.”

Wipf said the Sentinels program brings on players from both field and box lacrosse, which are two different styles of the game that utilize a lot of the same skills.

In field lacrosse, teams use nine runners and a goalie. Each squad fields one goalie, three defenders who can’t go in the offensive zone, three midfielders who can go anywhere on the field and three attackmen who can’t go into the defensive zone.

Box lacrosse, which is played by the Saskatchewan Rush of the National Lacrosse League, features each side hitting the floor with five runners and a goalie.

“I’m a strong believer that any kid or any player that wants to be the best lacrosse player should be playing both,” said Wipf. “The sports compliment one another, and there are different skills that you can better refine in one as opposed to the other.

“If we have a player that comes to us and they only have box experience but they have a really strong skill set of lacrosse and an understanding of the game, we can teach them advanced skills sets for field lacrosse just like we can for a field player that has never played box and vice versa.”

Acton said the Sentinels program wants to open doors for players to earn opportunities to play with the various NCAA field lacrosse programs in the United States. In turn, those players may get chances to one day play professional in the field or box style games.

Back in May of 2018, Saskatoon product Brendan Rooney helped Yale University win an NCAA title playing in front of 29,000 in the home stadium of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Acton said everyone in the lacrosse scene in Saskatchewan has to better at showing those opportunities can be real.

“I don’t think that as a whole we’ve done a very good job in lacrosse of portraying that opportunity the right way,” said Acton. “A great example is Brendan Rooney.

The Sentinels look forward to many faceoffs in the future.
“He won a national championship and went to Yale, which is an extremely impressive school. He did these incredible things with lacrosse, but a lot of people don’t hear about it. It was the quietest national championship that I’ve ever seen.”

Looking ahead, Wipf and Acton are looking forward to taking the Sentinels into the future.

“We’re excited to get going mostly because we are really excited to get these guys an opportunity to get together as a team and start competing again and start growing as players again,” said Acton.

 

All photos in the post came courtesy the Sentinels Lacrosse Club. For more information about the Sentinels Lacrosse Club, feel free to check out their website sentinelslacrosse.com or email them at sentinelslax@gmail.com.

Sweet happenings at the Complex in photos

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Lions Speed Skating Club take part in a practice race.
It seems easy to create moments that are made for photos on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

Of course, a lot of cool moments of sports action can be captured at the Complex. Those aren’t the only moments that make great pictures.

Sometimes the sun might set in just a certain way it creates amazing colours and an artistic look, when one of the Complex’s facilities are pictured. The Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval seems to be the place where some of those moments can captured via a photograph.

Other moments might be candid ones. They could come from a social interaction that deals with instruction or a point in time where someone is just chilling out and being relaxed.

A number of these photos like the lead picture of this post were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke. The lead photo shows the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club holding a practice race in frigid conditions on January 23.

A couple of the photos came from two other contributors too.

Without further ado, here is a selection of eight pictures from about the past three months and a bonus one at the end too. We hope you enjoy.

Cool look of a flood

Johnny Marciniuk, who is our Operations Manager, captured this photo on January 11. He caught a crisp and cool look of the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval right after the ice was flooded.

Showing off some moves

These two skaters were working on some old figure skating tricks during a public skating session at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on January 31. They are two of many who have enjoyed being outdoors at the oval.

Grounder all secure

In this photo, a young softball player secures a ground ball during evaluation camp for the Saskatoon Hustlers on January 26 at the Indoor Training Centre. The Hustlers are one of many groups who enjoyed the confines of that facility.

Youngster takes on the slopes

A couple of hills have been built for the Nordic ski trails on the grounds of the Complex. For this youngster pictured here on November 29, 2020, the hills might actually seem as big as mountains, but she seems to enjoy perfecting her downhill ski skills.

Going Yard gets it done

The Going Yard Training Centre has a number of great programs to help players improve their baseball skills. In this photo, a young player fires off a throw to first during a rapid fire infield drill on December 12, 2020 at the Indoor Training Centre. The 15-minute drill was executed in a crisp and efficient manner by the young players.

Having fun with the camera

At a public skating session on January 19 at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval, this skater decided to put on a pose for the camera. She showed off just one example of the fun that can be had at the oval.

Looking good for Bell Let’s Talk day

Our own David Solie sports the Bell Let’s Talk toque in support of Bell Let’s Talk day on January 28. Solie can be found both managing the front desk of the Indoor Training Centre and making sure things run smoothly at the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval.

Beauty of the Oval at dusk

On January 14, Jason Warick, who is one of the coaches for the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club, captured this photo of the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval during an evening team practice. The colours Warick captured were just incredible. Warick showed how scenic the Complex can be.

Albers teaches skills, off to Spring Training

In this photo from January 20, 2020, left-handed pitcher Andrew Albers explains some tricks of the trade to some young baseball players in the pitching tunnels at the Indoor Training Centre. On Monday, Albers signed a Minor League deal with the Minnesota Twins organization and has received an MLB Spring Training invite.

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. You can check out Going Yards website at gytc.ca.