Questions and food for thought . . . Vandervlis prepping for return . . . Fans gone missing . . . Leason, Fix-Wolansky penning great stories


MacBeth

F Jeremy Williams (Swift Current, 2000-04) has signed a one-year contract extension with the Straubing Tigers (Germany, DEL). An alternate captain, he has 14 goals and 15 assists in 30 games. He leads the Tigers in goals, assists and points, and is fifth in the league’s scoring race.


ThisThat

On the 10th day of our annual Christmas countdown, if you click right here you’ll find GENTRI — The Gentlemen Trio — with a neat version of Little Drummer Boy.


F Ryan Vandervlis, 20, who played 162 games over the past four seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, is joining the junior B Red Deer Vipers. . . . The Vipers, who play in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League, announced the move via Twitter on Friday. . . . Vandervlis hasn’t played since suffering severe burns to 60 per cent of his body during a campfire incident in June. . . . Sean McIntosh of the Red Deer Advocate has more right here.


D James Miller of the BCHL’s Penticton Vees has committed to the Northern Michigan Wildcats for next season. Miller, 20, was a sixth-round pick by the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL’s 2013 bantam draft. . . . Miller, from Spruce Grove, Alta., actually played two games with the U of New Hampshire Wildcats in 2017-18 before returning to Penticton. . . . He went into Friday’s action with 15 goals and 29 assists in 36 games with the Vees. Miller’s 44 points led all BCHL defencemen. . . . According to a news release from the Vees, Miller is the 18th player on their roster “with an NCAA Division 1 scholarship.”


A few WHL-related thoughts during the Christmas break . . .

Just the other day, I noticed this headline — Raiders win fight-fest in Swift Current — at paherald.sk.ca. The story was dated Dec. 14. I looked it up. There appear to have been five fights. Yes, the WHL has moved far away from the days when a fight-fest wasn’t a fight-fest unless the benches cleared and there was at least a 30-minute delay.

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Where have the hockey fans of Medicine Hat gone? Remember when the 4,006-seat Medicine Arena was sold out for every regular-season game? Now the Tigers play in the 7,100-seat Canalta Centre and the average announced attendance is 3,011 through 16 home games. What changed?

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On the same subject, the Saskatoon Blades appear to have turned the corner — finally! — and are a solid second in not only the East Division but the Eastern Conference. Their average announced attendance (AAA) is 3,658 through 15 games, which has them 14th in the 22-team league. Last season, the Blades finished with an AAA of 3,851 for 36 home dates.

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Will the Kelowna Rockets add an assistant coach over the holidays — to replace the departed Travis Crickard — and will it be former Rockets defenceman/captain Josh Gorges?

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Speaking of Crickard . . . was that him watching the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers practise one day this week?

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Really, there has been no better story in the WHL this half-season than the one written PrinceAlbertby F Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders. He went into this season with 24 goals and 27 assists in 135 regular-season games. This season, in 31 games, he has 28 goals and 36 assists. Here’s hoping that a hand injury suffered while in camp with Canada’s national junior team last week in Victoria doesn’t slow him down, although it has kept him out of the pre-tournament games to date.

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There also is a great story in Edmonton where Oil Kings F Trey Fix-Wolansky has 64 EdmontonOilKingspoints, including a WHL-leading 43 assists, in 34 games. The Edmonton native is lighting it up at home and not a lot of players get to do that. The story, though, is that the 5-foot-7 Fix-Wolansky has had to fight the height-challenged battle his entire career. He should have been in the selection camp of Canada’s national junior team, but his invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. He’s now going to spend the second half of the season continuing to prove himself to the doubters.

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Greg Meachem is a former sports editor of the Red Deer Advocate, who now works for the Rebels and writes at reddeerrebels.com. . . . He’s worth reading, especially for the honesty in the quotes from Brent Sutter, the owner, general manager and head coach of the Rebels. Sutter never pulls any punches in his post-game comments.

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Is anyone else waiting for the Portland Winterhawks to run off about 10 victories in a row at some point after the break? Or is the competition in the U.S. Division simply to stiff for that to happen?

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Worth watching after the break . . .

In the East Division: The WHL record for fewest losses in one season belongs to the Brandon Wheat Kings, who lost five times in a 72-game season in 1978-79. The Wheat Kings finished 58-5-9 that season, one in which they settled for ties in lieu of OT. . . . The Prince Albert Raiders are halfway through their schedule with a 31-2-1 record, so depending upon your point of view they have lost either two or three games. . . . Of course, the Raiders are playing a 68-game schedule, so perhaps it’s time to open a new section in the record book.

In the Central Division: The Red Deer Rebels, having played 32 games, Lethbridge Hurricanes (33) and Edmonton Oil Kings (36) are tied for first place, each with 42 points. . . . Each of the three added major pieces prior to the break. Will one, two or three of them go shopping again before the Jan. 10 trade deadline?

In the B.C. Division: There are 12 division in the CHL’s three leagues and the B.C. Division has the 11th-poorest points percentage (.512), with a lot of that due to the of that due to the Vancouver Giants (22-8-2, .719). . . . The Kamloops Blazers hold down the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, one point ahead of the Seattle Thunderbirds and two ahead of the Prince George Cougars. If the second half unfolds much like the first half, two of those teams will miss the playoffs; the other will meet the Everett Silvertips in the first round.

In the U.S. Division: The Portland Winterhawks and Spokane Chiefs are tied for second in the U.S. Division, each with records of 19-11-4. Everett is 14 points ahead; Tri-City is six points back. . . . How important is home-ice advantage in the playoffs to the Winterhawks and Chiefs? Portland is 2-1-0 in the season series, with three games remaining.

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How upset are you if you’re a follower of the Kootenay Ice who bought a season-ticket during the team’s Drive to 25 off-season promotion, only to watch so many veteran players quit or be traded amid signs your once-favourite club will move to Winnipeg at season’s end? . . . The Ice already has dressed 38 players this season. It has an 8-22-6 record, meaning it has won eight of 36 games, and is 14 points away from a playoff spot.

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Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, sounded most uncomfortable in responding to a DelisleChiefsquestion about the Kootenay Ice from Dean Millard of the TSN radio in Edmonton on Thursday night. Robison said there will be an announcement involving the Ice “very soon,” but wasn’t any more specific than that, nor did he shed any light on the situation. . . . I can’t imagine what might be in that announcement, but when the Chilliwack Bruins moved to Victoria after the 2010-11 season, the WHL didn’t confirm the much-rumoured move until almost three weeks after their season had ended.

Perhaps fans of the Ice can gain some solace from what Robison told Chilliwack fans after the Bruins left town: “We believe that under the right conditions Chilliwack can be a viable WHL market. We intend to give full consideration to returning should relocation occur in the future.”

One other thing about the Bruins’ move . . . While the WHL didn’t make an official announcement until April 20, 2011, it turned out that the Bruins’ owners and the WHL had agreed to sell the Chilliwack franchise on Jan. 13, 2011.


If you feel so inclined, please click on the DONATE button over there on the right. Thanks in advance, and Merry Christmas.


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Robison: Ice announcement ‘very soon’ . . . Blades sign L.A. prospect . . . Ex-WHLer draws more jail time


MacBeth

D Ben Betker (Portland, Everett, 2011-15) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Detva (Slovakia, Extraliga). This season, he had one goal and four assists in 15 games with the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL). . . .

F Jonas Johansson (Kamloops, 2002-04) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with HA74 Sävsjö (Sweden, Division 2). He didn’t play last season. In 2016-17, he had eight goals and 21 assists in 33 games with Gherdëina Selva Val Gardena (Italy, Alps HL). . . .

F Konstantin Pushkaryov (Calgary, 2004-05) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Kurbads Riga (Latvia, Optibet Liga). Last season, he had seven goals and nine assists in 47 games with Barys Astana (Kazakhstan, KHL), and seven goals and two assists in 12 games with Nomad Astana (Kazakhstan, Championship).


ThisThat

On the ninth day of our annual Christmas countdown, I’ve got a pair of tunes for you (because I didn’t post on the eighth day). Both of these feature Michael Bublé, who brings a WHL flavour because he owns a piece of the Vancouver Giants.

If you click right here you’ll find him and Blake Shelton, with the Christmas version of Home.

And if you click right here, you’ll find him with Bing Crosby performing White Christmas.


According to Ron Robison, the WHL’s commissioner, there will be an announcement “very soon” pertaining to the future of the Kootenay Ice, a franchise that plays out of Cranbrook, B.C.

The Ice is in its 21st season in Cranbrook. This is the franchise’s second season under the Kootenaynewownership of Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who purchased it from the Chynoweth family. Fettes and Cockell are Winnipeggers and there has been speculation most of this season that they will relocate the franchise to the Manitoba capital once this season is done.

To date, there has been little in the way of comment from the WHL office or from the Ice owners.

Robison made an appearance with Dean Millard on Edmonton’s TSN radio outlet (1260) on Wednesday and talked about various things related to the WHL.

Here is Robison’s response to a question about the Ice situation:

We’re going through a process and I think that we’ve been very patient first of all with the Kootenay market . . . previously with the Chynoweth ownership which had some difficulty . . . it’s been well-publicized over the years and I think the new ownership has come in and done exactly what we wanted them to do and that was commit to that market and to make every effort to get things turned around.

“But we’ll be going through an exercise here as we’ve indicated and we’ll be very soon making an announcement as to what the future of that franchise is. But we gotta be very conscious that there’s been some great support in Kootenay over the years and the ownership have done what they can do to try and get things turned around.”

Robison didn’t sound at all comfortable in talking about the Ice and there weren’t any follow-up questions.

The complete interview is right here.


The Saskatoon Blades have signed D Spencer Shugrue, 15, to a WHL contract. Shugrue Saskatoonwas a ninth-round selection in the 2018 WHL bantam draft. . . . He has dual American-Canadian citizenship and presently lives with his family in Los Angeles, where he plays for the U-16 Jr. Kings of the T1EHL. In 17 games, he has three assists. . . . Last season, he was at the Delta Hockey Academy, where he had one goal and 11 assists in 28 games with a bantam prep team.


Barkley Swenson, a former WHL player, has been sentenced in Prince Albert Provincial Court to four months in jail on charges of possession of stolen property and breach of court conditions. According to Charlene Tebbutt of panow.com, “Swenson is to serve the four-month term on top of a 15-month sentence that he received in November in Melfort on charges of assault and uttering threats.” . . . Swenson, now 44, played 150 games in the WHL — 80 with the Prince Albert Raiders and 70 with the Tacoma Rockets — over four seasons (1990-94). . . . Tebbutt’s story is right here.


Feel free to click on the DONATE button over there on the right and help the cause. Thanks in advance, and Merry Christmas.


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A few notes, thoughts on WHL, marijuana . . . Rasmussen staying in NHL . . . Everett gets goalie from Kamloops


MacBeth

F Roberts Lipsbergs (Seattle, 2012-15) has been assigned on loan by Dinamo Riga (Latvia, KHL) to Liepaja (Latvia, Optibet Liga). This season, with Dinamo, he was pointless in nine games, while averaging 8:36 TOI per game.


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A few thoughts on the WHL and cannabis, with recreational marijuana having become legal in Canada a couple of weeks ago . . .

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The CHL, the umbrella under which the three major junior leagues operate, works under the anti-doping policy established by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). Cannabis remains a banned substance under that policy, as it has been since the CHL adopted the policy in 2008.

The CCES uses a list of banned substances that originates with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Interestingly, while WADA has cannabis listed as a performance-enhancing drug, the CCES doesn’t agree that it should be there.

“The CCES, to be completely frank, has always argued that marijuana should not be on the list,” CCES president Paul Melia told CBC In June. “We don’t believe there is sufficient scientific evidence supporting its performance-enhancing benefits.”

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No matter, because it is a banned substance as far as the CHL is concerned, and you are going to hear the word ‘education’ over and over again.

“That policy is very clear for the players — they cannot participate in any use of cannabis or other performance-enhancing drugs,” Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, has said. “Consequently, it is incumbent on us to make sure we have a very effective education program to make sure the players are aware of that, first of all, and to really help promote a healthy lifestyle.”

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There is an online course for WHL players, that includes video and a test based on comprehension. There also is a code of ethics that must be signed by players and coaches.

The CHL also has partnered with Health Canada on what is called #FocusedOn, a program that aims to educate players, coaches, management people, parents and others about cannabis.

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If you are wondering, a first positive test will draw a warning. Suspensions will accompany further positive tests. Testing is conducted, without warning, after regular-season games, playoff games or any of the special events such as the Top Prospects game, a Canada-Russia game, or a Memorial Cup game.

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Gare Joyce wrote an interesting piece for sportsnet.ca on the subject of the NHL and marijuana. The bulk of the story involved Joyce’s speaking with a former NHL player who now works in an NHL team’s front office.

Among other things, the ex-player told him: “I’d say right now, 60 to 70 per cent of the players in the league smoke marijuana. No doubt there are more players now using marijuana regularly than when I first came into the league. And I think there’ll be a greater awareness and understanding and acceptance (of marijuana use).”

That story is right here.

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It stands to reason that there are WHL players using recreational marijuana. With it now being legal in Canada, chances are good that there will be more players at least experimenting with it.

One former WHL insider, when asked about marijuana use on today’s teams, told Taking Note that it “would not surprise me at all if it was in the 40-50 per cent range.”

(Recreational marijuana also is legal in the states of Oregon and Washington, but you must be 21 years of age in order to use it. That age is 19 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C., and 18 in Alberta.)

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Some figures from Health Canada, all which are from prior to legalization . . . “12 per cent of Canadians reported using it at least once in 2015, according to the latest Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey. That rate is even higher for young people, with usage as high as 21 per cent among youth, aged 15 to 19, and 30 per cent among young adults, aged 20 to 24.”

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The area that may end up causing the most headaches for the WHL involves medical marijuana and especially cannabis-based products.

One parent with a son in minor hockey has told Taking Note that at least some midget-aged players are using cannabis-based creams — likely cannabidiol (CBD) without tetrahydrocannabinol (TTC) — in a search for pain relief, usually on joints like knees and hips.

The parent said this especially occurs when these teams play multiple games in compressed time periods on weekends. The parent also said that this is happening, at least in some instances, with parental approval and encouragement from coaches.

Defenceman Brooks Orpik of the Washington Capitals talked to the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell about a a memo that went from the NHL to its teams on legalization.

“I think they were nervous about guys bringing it across the border,” Orpik said, “because it’s still illegal (in the U.S.) and CBD oil, without the THC in it, is getting big, especially among athletes for pain management and sleep and stuff.”

As Pell explained, “CBD . . . is a cannabis extract. Unlike THC, another marijuana compound, it doesn’t make you high or intoxicated.”

The parent who spoke with Taking Note also admitted to having concerns about how long cannabis-based cream might stay in a player’s system, and also about, as Orpik noted, it being illegal in the U.S.

“What happens,” the parent wondered, “if a (young player) eligible for an NCAA scholarship gets caught taking cream across the border into the U.S.?”

For that matter, what would happen were a WHL player to find himself in that situation?

But you should know that the WHL says it is well aware of the medical side of all this.

“There is a medicinal application to the product,” Robison told Andrew McCormack of discovermoosejaw.com, “we’re very aware of that, as our medical staffs and training staffs are aware of that, and there is an ability within our national anti-doping program to get a therapeutic exemption should a player require that. It has to be accompanied by clear evidence from their doctor that this is something that’s required as opposed to something that might be used on a more recreational basis or casual basis from time to time.”


MONDAY NIGHT NOTES:

It appears that F Michael Rasmussen won’t be back with the Tri-City Americans. The tri-cityDetroit Red Wings have told Rasmussen that he will be staying in the NHL and, in fact, he is scheduled to play his 10th regular-season game tonight against the host Columbus Blue Jackets. . . . When a junior-eligible player gets into his 10th game it means the first year of his entry-level contract begins, something that’s important down the road when it comes to qualifying for free agency. . . . Rasmussen, the ninth overall selection in the NHL’s 2017 draft, has one assist in his first nine games, while averaging 12 minutes 39 seconds of ice time per game. . . . Rasmussen had 31 goals and 28 assists in 47 regular-season games with the Americans last season, then added 33 points, 16 of them goals, in 14 playoff games. In 161 career regular-season games, he put up 157 points, including 81 goals.


The Everett Silvertips have acquired G Max Palaga, 18, from the Kamloops Blazers, Everettgiving up a sixth-round selection in the 2020 WHL bantam draft in the exchange. . . . Palaga, who is from Kamloops, got into 17 games with the Blazers last season, going 5-7-1, 3.71, .875. . . . The Blazers released him earlier this season and he has been with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. He was 2-2-1, 1.77, .943 in five games with Vernon. . . . In Everett, Palaga will back up Dustin Wolf, 17. . . . Blake Lyda, who had been backing up, suffered an undisclosed injury during a morning skate on Oct. 12 and is expected to be sideline for at least another month. . . . With Lyda out, the Silvertips added Danton Belluk to their roster for their East Division trip that concluded Saturday. Belluk has since returned to the midget AAA Eastman Selects. . . .

Meanwhile, the Blazers have added G Rayce Ramsay, 17, to their roster where he will back up Dylan Ferguson, while Dylan Garand, 16, is at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in Quispamsis and Saint John, N.B. . . . Ramsay, from Saskatoon, has been playing with the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos, going 4-2-0, 3.03, .923.


The Kootenay Ice has returned G Will Gurski to the Shawnigan Lake School’s midget prep team. Gurski, 16, was brought in prior to the weekend. He practised with the Ice and backed up Duncan McGovern in one game with Jesse Makaj scratched. . . . Gurski, from Duncan, B.C., was a fourth-round pick in the WHL’s 2017 bantam draft.


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It’s time for WHL to do the right thing . . . Decision-makers must act . . . Fighting, headshots have to go

 


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Included in a WHL news release that was issued on June 14 following the league’s annual meeting in Vancouver was this sentence:

“The WHL took further measures to address player safety by introducing new supplemental discipline regulations and raising its standard on illegal checks to the head.”

The news release didn’t provide any further details, but it says here that anything short of a complete ban on fighting and all contact with an opponent’s head, including incidental contact, is a complete failure.

If the WHL really — really, really, really — cares about the health and safety of its players it is time to make these moves. In fact, it’s well past time.

Why?

Well, let’s start with this Ken Dryden piece from the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.

And then there’s this piece right here from The Players Tribune. Written by Nick Boynton, a former major junior player who went to skate in the NHL, it isn’t pretty.

At one point, Boynton writes of his three-year-old son: “But I cannot, in good conscience, let him play the game of ice hockey until something changes and we start looking out for our players by taking the problems of head hits and concussions — and their potential impact on mental health — more seriously.”

Boynton also writes:

“Yes, ours is a physical, violent sport. And it may be the case that we cannot rid hockey of that violence and danger altogether. But at the very least let’s deal with the issues that arise as a result of that. Deal with the head trauma. Deal with the concussions. And deal with all of the ramifications that those things bring about.

“Stop telling people the world is flat and just do the right thing. Instead of ignoring the damage that occurs to the brain when you get your bell rung out on the ice, let’s own up to it and get guys the help they need. Not just after they retire, but while they’re playing the game.

“Let’s start addressing the problem. Let’s look closely at the brain — and how our sport as we currently play it might be harmful to the brain — and begin making things right.”

In a recent conversation with Brandon Rivers of dubnetwork.ca, WHL commissioner Ron Robison was asked about the fact that the OHL has fighting restrictions — Rivers pointed out that “If a player fights more than three times in a season, that player will be subjected to a two-game suspension for each fight over the number allowed” — while the WHL has no such thing.

Robison replied:

“I think that is another example. Each in our own way we are looking to reduce or eliminate fighting or what we would call . . . unnecessary fighting in the game. In our case, we have a WHL Player Safety Seven Point Plan, which has been in place for several seasons. We review that annually and make recommendations and we will be reviewing that actually with our general managers . . . It is an ongoing process. We each approach things a little differently but for the most part we are on the same page as far as what we are trying to accomplish.”

Robison, if you haven’t noticed, has got commissioner-speak down to a fine art where he uses many words to really say, well, not much. What he should have said is this:

“There is more and more scientific evidence linking CTE to blows to the head. Whether or not CTE is a direct result of blows to the head and/or concussions/traumatic brain injury, we are well aware that blows to the head aren’t good and may cause irreparable damage.

“As a result, the WHL is moving to the forefront of this issue by banning fighting. When a player has one fight, he will receive a warning. A second fight will carry with it a two-game suspension, with three games for a third, four for a fourth, etc.

“This is just another case of our wanting to protect the health of our players now and in the future.”

It would be easy for the WHL to adopt the IIHF’s rule that deals with checking to the head or neck. It’s Rule 124 in the IIHF rule book that is readily available at iihf.com.

Dryden, the former NHL goaltender whose latest book is Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey, spoke for 40 minutes at the See The Line symposium in London, Ont., on Thursday.

“Six years ago the process began (with See The Line),” he said. “Injuries happen, sometimes career-diminishing, sometimes career-ending, some that change a person’s life; and change them and make them not them anymore. In six years we are now more aware of that too.

“But after six years we still have this immense problem with brain injury in sports. Why? What can we do now? Our response to it is we need better science; we need to understand it better and that becomes our focus . . . to get better technology and the focus becomes on science. The problem is when it becomes so much of the focus; science takes time and games are played tomorrow.”

Later, he told Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press, whose piece is right here:

“If you don’t force decision-makers to do something, things will remain the same. We have to move beyond just awareness and science. As I said in the end it is up to the decision-makers to take all this awareness that’s been raised and apply it. They have every right to simply carry on and that’s the problem; they are the roadblock. Why do we let them off the hook? Put it into the hands of those whose hands it should be in. Say to them ‘you are not custodians of the game; but custodians of the people playing the game.’ What are you doing for them?”



If you would like to support my wife, Dorothy, as she celebrates the fifth anniversary of her kidney transplant by taking part in the 2018 Kamloops Kidney Walk on Sept. 23, you are able to do so right here.



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