Terrific series on Wheat Kings wraps up . . . Robison says “95 per cent” of WHL players, staff fully vaccinated . . . Virus loose in Pil Country?

Vacation

After posting this, I’m outta here for a bit.

I’m taking some time off to prepare for the fourth or fifth or sixth wave, or whatever it is, that now has its tentacles all around us.

Health officials in B.C. revealed 717 new positives on Friday — up from 513 on Thursday — which tells me that we are headed back to mandatory masking and more restrictions. For what? The third time? Fourth time? I actually have lost count.

How many times do we have to go through this before the people who make these decisions reach the conclusion that we can’t just keep doing this? Open . . . close . . . open . . . close . . . on with the mask . . . off with the mask . . . on with the mask . . . off with the mask . . .

Oh, and by the way, one of these days it may dawn on the decision-makers that recommendations don’t carry a whole lot of water with a number of people. Yes, it’s far past time to ditch the carrot and go to the stick . . . make it a big stick.

I don’t know who said it first — “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” — but that someone surely had today’s society in mind. Because that is exactly what we keep doing. Over and over and over and over and over again.

I mean, really, are we any further ahead today than we were a year ago?

Of course we are, if only because there are a whole lot of people who are fully vaccinated. But B.C. is running more than 700 positives a day and Alberta is above 500. Alberta announced 582 positives on Friday, its third straight day above 500. Earlier in the day, the Alberta government backtracked on plans to lift most of its restrictions on Monday, saying that it will revisit things in six weeks.

What has become obvious is that the Delta variant is running the show now, and six weeks from now might not be much better, if at all, than what we are living with today.

While I’m away, get vaccinated, if you haven’t already, wear your mask when indoors and wash your hands . . . and stay safe.


If you haven’t already, you really should check out the 17-day series that Perry BrandonBergson put together for the Brandon Sun. It’s an oral history of the Brandon Wheat Kings’ 1978-79 season, the one in which they lost only five regular-season games, then went on to win the WHL championship before losing 2-1 in OT to the Peterborough Petes in the Memorial Cup final. That final game was to have been played in the Montreal Forum, but ended up in the arena in Verdun, Que., all of which is a story in itself. . . . Anyway, the gang at The Sun ran a whole lot of stories that appeared in the paper during that season, and Bergson interviewed almost every player who was on the Wheat Kings’ roster. Those interviews provide great insight into exactly what a WHL team goes through as it rides a bus through the grind of a championship season. . . . The series concludes in Saturday’s Sun, after which Bergson should take a bow.


Clubbing


Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, says that 95 per cent of his league’s players and team staff are fully vaccinated. He made that statement in an WHL2interview with Guy Flaming on The Pipeline Show.

At the same time, Robison said the WHL isn’t following the OHL and QMJHL in mandating vaccinations, although he admitted that may change.

“We have strongly recommended to our players, staff and hockey operations side to be fully vaccinated in time for training camp and start of the regular season,” Robison said. “We have not taken the position of mandating it yet. . . . Through education and discussions with players and staff we’re over 95 per cent currently vaccinated. We’re not sure we’ll need to take the mandated position.

“But, quite frankly, it’s in everyone’s best interest to be vaccinated in order to play in our league because of the cross-border travel with the U.S., and currently some restrictions that are in place in Manitoba for quarantine if you’re not vaccinated. I think it really speaks to the fact that everyone needs to be vaccinated; we’re hopeful we’ll be able to get to 100 per cent and we’ll deal with those circumstances where there are some exceptions along the way.”

The WHL’s 22 teams will be opening training camps on Sept. 1.

When Flaming asked why the WHL hasn’t mandated vaccinations, Robison replied:

“That’s something we are continuing to consider. We started out in the process (hoping) that the restrictions would be relaxed further. That hasn’t occurred so as a result of that we may have to take some further measures and mandate it. But at this particular stage we haven’t taken that big step.”

You are able to hear the complete interview right here, and you should know it covers a lot more than COVID-19.


Some headlines from Friday in WHL territory . . .

CBC News — British Columbia announced 717 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the highest daily case count since May 7 when the number was 722.

KIRO7 Seattle — COVID-stricken Oregon deploys National Guard to hospitals.

Daniel E. Slotnik, The New York Times — Oregon will deploy at least 500 National Guard troops to help its hospitals deal with a flood of coronavirus patients, as the state faces the largest wave of infections it has seen during the pandemic, the state’s governor said on Friday. . . . The governor, Kate Brown, said that hospitals were at risk of becoming overwhelmed, with 733 Oregonians hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19, including 185 in intensive care. . . . The surge comes despite Oregon’s relatively high rate of vaccination, a fact that Ms. Brown noted in a videotaped address. “I know this is not the summer many of us envisioned with over 2.5 million Oregonians vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms. Brown said. “The harsh and frustrating reality is that the Delta variant has changed everything.”


Salmon



The junior A Buffalo Jr. Sabres, who play in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, announced Friday that they won’t play in 2021-22 “due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on cross-border travel.” They also sat out whatever there was of the 2020-21 season. . . . If you’re in B.C., this makes one wonder about the immediate future of the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild and the junior B Spokane Braves of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Neither the Wild nor the Braves played in their respective leagues in 2020-21.


Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, was making a case one day this week for these being the Dog Days of August because, as he put it, “while we are sweltering in the heat and humidity, there is a dearth of juicy sporting attractions to take our minds off our discomfort.” . . . I was trying to find a way to disagree with him, but I gave it up after he wrote this: “Finally, to demonstrate what I mean by having a dearth of things to write about in these Dog Days of August, consider this headline from (Tuesday) at CBSSports.com in the world of college football — LSU’s live tiger mascot, Mike VII, is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”



Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, prior to Thursday’s Field of Dreams MLB game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa: “Wouldn’t it add a comforting realism if the White Sox players actually conspire with real gamblers to throw this game?”


Stretcher

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CTV News Regina — The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is warning of an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the Pil Country section at Mosaic Stadium at the Roughriders game on August 6. The SHA said a person or persons attended the game while infectious with COVID-19, between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Contact tracing is underway, however, the SHA added that the location of the case or cases in the Pil Country end zone makes contact tracing efforts difficult.

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CBC News — The University of Saskatchewan announced Friday it expects all students, faculty and staff returning to campus this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a move the U of S faculty association and student union have been calling for. (Note: The U of Saskatchewan was the first Canada West school to mandate vaccinations.)

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Global News — The University of Regina is following the steps of other Canadian universities by requiring all faculty, staff and students to have both doses of COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 1.

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A Friday afternoon tweet from Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada: “NHL sent a memo updating vaccination requirements to its teams: ‘Any person whose job, role, position or access entails or entitles them to have personal interactions (within 12 feet) with Club Hockey Operations personnel (including Players) are required to be Fully Vaccinated.’ ”

He added: “There are some limited exceptions — such as valet parking attendants. NHL/NHLPA protocols for players are not yet completed.”


Cure


If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney 

Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9

604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


Scissors

The strain of loving a critically ill child . . . Bedard scores twice in WHL debut, but Pats lose . . . BCHL prepping to play games

Ferris2
That’s Elmo from Sesame Street keeping Ferris company in her hospital bed in Vancouver. Ferris’s mother, Lindsey, says her daughter often crosses her legs in this fashion. (Photo: Lindsey Backmeyer/Facebook)

If you’re a parent with a young child, you will have known the helpless feeling that takes over when your youngster is ill. Still, you know that the illness will be gone in a day or two and your child will be back to running and playing and generally creating havoc.

But what if your child was four years of age and had been ill, seriously ill, for most of that time? What does that do to your emotional state and to that of others in your family? What about your family’s financial status when there have been numerous trips to Vancouver, along with a number of lengthy stays?

That is the situation in which Lindsey and Pat Backmeyer find themselves. Ferris, their four-year-old daughter, was diagnosed with Mainzer-Saldino Syndrome shortly after birth and has been on dialysis — peritoneal dialysis (PD) or hemo-dialysis — for most of her life. She now is in B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver after having undergone a kidney transplant a week ago. Unfortunately, the kidney began bleeding into Ferris’s abdomen and had to be removed a few hours later.

Ferris was moved from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit on Thursday but still has a long road ahead of her.

Lindsey is a respiratory therapist at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and hasn’t been shy about telling Ferris’s story, even if it means baring her own soul. It’s hard to read Lindsey’s writings without your gut tightening, your heart breaking and your eyes tearing up.

“We have felt an overwhelming cocoon of support by my work family . . since the beginning,” Lindsey wrote earlier this week after Alexa McMillan, a co-worker, issued a plea for financial help to the Kamloops business community. “They protect me, provide for me and my family and have provided endless emotional support.”

As someone who works in the healthcare field, Lindsey has “a pretty solid understanding of critical care medicine and the reality is Ferris has been critically ill for a huge part of her life.

“I’ve spent four years assessing her and caring for her and very few people actually know what it’s taking to keep our ship afloat. My immediate family, closest friends, home nurses and then my work people probably understand best.

“I’ve worked on the other side of what I witnessed Saturday. It was like the hardest night shift ever, where you just did all the things working on your patient for hours except I so rarely see people survive that. I’ve been scared for Ferris’s life before and every time I’ve had a work person by my side . . . through the night. Saturday night was no exception.”

Her training and understanding of all that she and her family — including daughters Tavia, 9, and Ksenia, 7 — have been through has Lindsey knowing full well what’s happening to them from an emotional standpoint, but also financially.

“I have ridiculous trauma to overcome,” Lindsey explained. “My work family would also attest that I’ve worked really hard to keep it all going. If we aren’t here or she’s not admitted, I’ve been at work. Lots of times it’s the very next day. The reality is Ferris’s life has been financially devastating and I really just want to be able to maintain the quality of life we’ve had. For my big girls and for Ferris.

“Even if we get to make our way home . . . I know now this will never be over.”

While the Backmeyers do have a home in Kamloops, they have been in a rental in Vancouver since the last week of December. Pat has been doing a lot of commuting as he attends Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, with plans to become a registered nurse.

The whole family, including Lindsey’s mother, Leslie, thought they were on their way back to Kamloops last weekend, but then the call came saying that a kidney was available and transplant surgery had been scheduled.

“Living in limbo is pretty accurate,” Lindsey wrote, “or like a marathon that you never get to finish but always have to run. Feels like we are on a runaway train. It’s bumpy and scary and makes you nauseous and every once in awhile we get allowed off and create life and memories and then the train comes and we have no choice but to get back on.

“If and when we get to go home I need to give myself a bit of time before coming back. I never have done that before. Ever.”

In her plea to local businesses, McMillan asked that they contact her or donate to a GoFundMe page that has been set up to benefit the Backmeyers. That page is right here.



The WHL’s Regina hub swung into game action with two games on Friday. The Pats dropped a 6-3 decision to the Prince Albert Raiders in the second game, with highly touted Regina F Connor Bedard, 15, scoring his first two goals at 5:01 and 5:49 of the second period. . . . In the earlier game, the Moose Jaw Warriors got past the Brandon Wheat Kings, 4-3, in OT. . . .

Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks announced that their final 11 home games of this developmental season will be played at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. Their first home game, on March 21, is to be played at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash. . . .

As first reported by Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post earlier this week, Shaun and Gavin Semple of the Brandt Group of Companies now own all of the Regina Pats. They had owned 50 per cent and now have purchased the other half from Todd Lumbard and Anthony Marquart. The move was unanimously approved by the WHL’s board of governors on Friday. Shaun Semple has replaced Marquart as the franchise’s governor. Lumbard, a former goaltender with the Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings, had been the team president; he remains with the organization as an advisor.


Menu


The BCHL has received the all-clear for the return of game play from provincial government and health officials. The league plans to set up pods in five league centres — Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Penticton, Port Alberni and Vernon — with three or four teams in each place. The abbreviated season will begin the first week of April and the hope is that each team will play 18 or 20 games before it ends. . . . The Wenatchee, Wash., Wild opted out of this season because the U.S.-Canada border is closed to non-essential travel. That leaves the BCHL with 17 teams that could being play in April, although the league has given teams a couple of days to make that decision. . . .

Meanwhile, the AJHL had 13 of its 15 teams back playing games on Friday for the first time since Nov. 21. The final all-clear came earlier in the day when it announced that its third round of testing featured 389 players and staff, and no positives. . . . The Canmore Eagles and Lloydminster Bobcats are the only two teams not playing, both having opted out. . . . On Friday, five games were played in five different venues with all teams playing in their home arenas.


Deadspin has put together a brief slideshow that provides some first-person information on a handful of high-profile athletes who have contracted COVID-19 and their experiences. It’s right here and well worth a look.

One slide features Demi Washington, a Vanderbilt basketball player. Washington, 19, had a mild case, but wasn’t allowed to return to play until she had a cardiac MRI. That test uncovered acute myocarditis.

“It’s horrifying to think that, without that MRI, I would have gone back out there and played and something could have gone wrong,” she wrote for The Athletic. “I could have passed out on the court. I could have died. I saw what happened to Keyontae Johnson and it terrified me. After he collapsed, he was ultimately diagnosed with acute myocarditis — just like me. I wonder how many other athletes are playing with it right now and have no idea.”


Quarantine


The Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball team had its season come to an end on Thursday with the news that one player tested positive. That knocked the Blue Devils (13-11) out of the ACC tournament and may have taken away any chance they had of qualifying for March Madness. The last time Duke was in the NCAA tournament was 1995. . . . “If they do get an invitation, it will be a basketball equivalent of a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award,’ Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, wrote on Friday. “This year’s Duke squad is not nearly as powerful as the ones that fans have come to expect for most of the Mike Krzyzewski Era in Durham.” . . . On Friday came word that No. 16 Virginia had to pull out of the ACC tournament because of a positive test, thus forfeiting a semi-final game to Georgia Tech. Virginia no doubt will get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Virginia won the title in 2019; there was no tournament a year ago. . . . Also on Friday, No. 11 Kansas withdrew from the Big 12 tournament after a positive test. The Jayhawks were to play No. 13 Texas in a semifinal game, so the Longhorns now are into the final. . . . Florida International and North Carolina A&T are among smaller schools that have had to withdraw from tournaments. . . . The 2021 tournament is scheduled to begin on Friday in Indianapolis. . . . The Sports Curmudgeon has more on the tournament right here.


You will recall that Clarkson shut down its men’s hockey program for this season earlier in the week and there was speculation that the move was virus-related. College Hockey News reported via Twitter on Thursday that it “was a school decision based not on positive COVID tests — but on a party attended by most of the team that broke the school’s COVID safety protocols.”

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College Hockey News also reported that the Bentley Falcons (5-11-0) had withdrawn from the Atlantic hockey tournament. One week earlier, Holy Cross pulled out before the first round began. . . . Bentley had beaten Air Force to move into a second-round best-of-three series against American International, which now gets a bye into the semifinals. . . . From CHN: “For its part, AIC hasn’t played since January, due to its own COVID-19 issues and that of other league teams. By the team of the semifinals, the Yellowjackets will have gone almost seven weeks without a game. Bentley missed most of January with COVID issues, though played most of February.”


Once again, thanks for asking how things are going in B.C., as government and health officials work on loosening some restrictions . . .

Robyn Crawford, CKNW/Global BC — 648 new cases; no new deaths; 255 in hosp, 67 in ICU; 5,070 active; 9,155 in isolation; 79 new variant cases (total at 717).

CBC News — Alberta is reporting 425 new cases of COVID-19 and 2 additional deaths. And 365 more people have recovered from coronavirus.

CBC News — Number of new COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan climbs again with 176. That pushes the province’s 7-day average up to 134; 3 additional deaths have also been recorded.

CBC News — Manitoba announces 104 new cases of COVID-19, the 1st time the number has been above 100 since February 18. The province’s 7-day average now rises to 74. Health authorities also say there has been 1 additional death.


——

If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney 

Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9

604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.



JUST NOTES: Former WHL F Ryan Hollweg is the new head coach of the U18 AAA Vancouver North West Hawks. Hollweg, 37, played 233 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers over five seasons (1999-2004) before going on to a pro career that included 228 NHL games. He finished up playing (2012-18) with HC Plzen in the Czech Extraliga. Hollweg was the North West Hawks’ associate coach for two seasons (2018-20) under Chris Shaw.


Wreath

Remembering my days at The Trib . . . Like the time I was given Earl Lunsford’s suite . . .

Trib1

By Aug. 27, 1980, I had been back at the Brandon Sun for almost two years. So, no I wasn’t at The Trib when Southam folded it on the same day that Thompson buried the Ottawa Journal.

That left Thompson with a monopoly in Winnipeg with the Free Press, while Southam now owned Ottawa with the Citizen. But none of this was underhanded or in violation of any laws. Wink! Wink!!

Even though I had left Winnipeg, that day still stung. You bet it did. And it still does.

I had started what turned into an almost-43-year newspaper career at The Sun in the summer of 1971, catching on as the sports department was expanded from two writers (Bill Davidson and Bruce Penton) to three. In time, after I had done what seemed like a million rewrites and answered a gazillion phone calls and done a whole lot of learning, I got to cover the Manitoba Senior Baseball League. If this was heaven, I loved it.

Two years later, Matty came calling. Jack Matheson, the legendary sports editor at the Winnipeg Tribune, wanted me. If memory serves, he offered me $125 a week, up from the $75 I was making at The Sun.

Truth be told, I would have gone for a whole lot less.

A few years earlier, while growing up in Lynn Lake, Man., I had delivered The Trib. The papers came in via rail three times a week — Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I would load my wagon at the post office and head out in the dark of night. During the summer, on occasion, I would visit a garden, grab a few carrots and find a street light. There I would sit on the paper and read The Trib’s sports section.

One summer, maybe even two of them, Uncle Vince Leah, who was almost as much a legend as was Matty, brought a bunch of Winnipeg boys to Lynn Lake. They were there to fish and play a little baseball and soccer. Uncle Vince always wrote a column or two while there, and I would hop on my bike and take his copy to the CN station so that it could be sent via telegraph to Winnipeg.

Now here I was, all those years later, heading to the Manitoba capital to work for Matty and be in the same office as Uncle Vince.

SteelersHockyGods
The 1973-74 Selkirk Steelers, winners of the Centennial Cup.

I spent a lot of time covering the MJHL, which, in those days, meant spending springs with George Dorman’s Selkirk Steelers, who always seemed to meet up with Terry Simpson’s Prince Albert Raiders along the playoff trail.

It was in my first year at The Trib that I saw one of the two best hockey games of my writing career.

The Steelers won the 1974 Centennial Cup by beating the Smiths Falls Bears, 1-0 in OT, on a goal by Gord Kaluzniak in Nepean, Ont. (There wasn’t ice in the Smiths Falls rink, so the best-of-seven series was played in the Nepean Sportsplex.) In those days, under Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules, teams played a 10-minute OT session before going into sudden-death. Kaluzniak scored with two minutes left in that first OT period and the Steelers were able to hold the lead.

I also learned an important lesson during that series. With the Steelers leading the series, 3-1, I wrote that the Bears were done like dinner. LOL! Lesson learned.

(BTW, the other best game that I witnessed was the final of the 1979 Memorial Cup with the Brandon Wheat Kings losing 2-1 in OT to the Peterborough Petes in Verdun, Que.)

Back then, The Trib didn’t have copy editors who laid out the sports pages. Rather, the writers shared the layout duties; if you weren’t writing, chances are Trib2you were laying out pages. It wasn’t long before I realized that I didn’t want to spend summers in the office, so I decided to turn motorsports into a beat, even though I wouldn’t know how to put air in a tire. So I ended up spending time at Bison Dragways, an NHRA-sanctioned strip located 29 miles east of Winnipeg, and Winnipeg Speedway, where the stock cars ran on a short track south of the city. I point this out because it’s how I picked up the nickname Greaser, which is what Matty started calling me after my first motorsport-related byline.

In time, I ended up covering the Blue Bombers, spending time at training camp at St. John’s-Ravenscourt and travelling to the odd regular-season game whenever Matty wanted to stay home.

That’s how I got to be in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium on June 22, 1978, when a limousine pulled onto the field and Tom Jones — yes, that Tom Jones — climbed out to handle the ceremonial opening kickoff before a CFL exhibition game.

“The ball,” I wrote, “went off the side of his shoe and travelled about 12 yards.”

A week later I was in Calgary with the Blue Bombers when I ended up the beneficiary of something of a mistake by the front desk at the hotel in which we would stay. I picked up the key to my room and headed upstairs, with Bob Irving, (Cactus) Jack Wells and Ken Ploen, all of radio station CJOB, who were on the same floor. I opened the door to my room, took a look and suggested that the three might want to take a look. I had been given the suite that was to have gone to general manager Earl Lunsford. Yes, it was well-stocked with booze and snacks.

Before I could close the door, the wrapping was removed from sandwiches and drinks were poured. I spent the next day and game night avoiding Lunsford.

Upon returning to Winnipeg, I filed my expenses and then made sure to steer clear of Matty. There was a news conference prior to the next Bombers’ home game, which I was to cover. I knew that Matty would be there, meaning there no longer would be a way to avoid him.

And here he came, strolling into the room with a glint in his eyes.

“Hey, Okie,” he said in Lunsford’s direction, “do my guys travel first class, or what?”

I never heard another word, nor did I ever again end up in Lunsford’s suite.

Later that year, with The Sun looking for someone to cover the 1978-79 Wheat Kings, perhaps the best team in WHL history, I left The Trib and returned to Brandon.

Patti Dawn Swansson was one of the other sports writers at The Trib when I was there, and wrote a wonderful piece last week on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the newspaper’s closing.

If you wonder what it was like working there, give this a read right here. Yes, I got a little misty-eyed while reading it. But, damn, those were great times!

The stories about sitting around late at night and arguing about the chances of hitting a home run off Nolan Ryan or surviving a jump from a fifth-floor window are accurate. Those are the conversations that were important in the mid-’70s.