Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Part 1: Remembering 'Mani'

It's like Michael Maniago still has her back.

Jacalyn Scott can look at the tattoo on her back shoulder as inspiration for the young man known as one of the neighbour's kids, but who she also thought of as her little brother.

Jacalyn Scott's tattoo tribute to Michael Maniago. Photo provided.

Nine years ago, on November 29, 2008, Maniago was killed in a car crash in Calgary.

"It still feels so recent and so raw," Scott said in a conversation on Facebook this week. "Sometimes it is surreal and I have to remind myself that he is really gone."

"He was passionate, smart, witty, but most of all, he was kind," she continued. "He had such a beautiful heart."

"He was just a sweetheart and he just went out of his way to help everybody and just make everybody happy," she later said in a phone conversation. "He was just someone you could depend on and you were just lucky to know."

A product of the Calgary Midget AAA Buffaloes, Maniago went on to play in the WHL for the Kamloops Blazers and the Hurricanes, including the 2008 run to the WHL Championship against Spokane. He also spent time coaching young goalies at World Pro Goaltending in Calgary.

Despite the trajectory of his career, Maniago took it all in stride.

"With his mentoring and his coaching, you just knew he was going to be something big and I think he kind of knew he was going to be something big," Scott said. "But he didn't let that cloud his personality or how he was. He just used his talent to bring everybody up."

"For the people who didn't know Mike, he was truly an amazing young man," his mother Terri said in a Facebook message. "He was very caring and very much loved by so many. He was so generous and he loved greatly. He loved life to the fullest, he loved nothing more than to help out anyone."

"He never let his hockey status go to his head and make him think he was better than anyone else," she continued. "He was a normal kid who was taken too soon."

*****

"He was just special," former Hurricanes goalie coach Jeff Battah said in a call from Austria. "I know people say that a lot but when I'd go to the rink and I have a bad day, and it doesn't feel like a bad day with somebody, that's a good impact on someone. I just liked being around him."

While it would be easy to talk about the way Maniago died, the important lesson here is talking about the way he lived. And Battah remains impressed with the way the youngster conducted himself, particularly in his last year of junior hockey.

Helmet tribute logo. Photo courtesy: Ryan Ohashi.

"Even when things weren't good, in terms of he didn't get to play because Juha (Metsola) was playing, he was easy to go to the rink with," Battah recalled. "He was just a nice person."

"I got to know his parents, I still keep in touch with his father, I just feel for them because 20-years-old or 30-years-old, it's way too young to lose somebody," he continued. "He had his whole future ahead of him, I don't know what he would have done. I would hope he would have been coaching but he would have been productive in society, that's for sure."

Even as he coaches today, Battah makes sure some of the lessons he learned from Maniago stay front and centre.

"The way he approached going to the rink," Battah pointed out. "We all have bad days: players, coaches management. Just don't take it for granted and he didn't. Even on his bad days, he showed up to the rink and that's one thing I think you could take from him."

It was more than just hockey though.

"He cared about people, he cared about people more than himself for the most part and he stood up for himself when he needed to and he was strong in his convictions," Battah said. "He believed in himself."

*****

The memory of Michael Maniago lives on at the Cardel Rec Centre in Calgary. One of the dressing rooms has been dedicated to the young man known as "Mani." Plaques depicting his career and photos adorn the walls.









Meanwhile, the Calgary Buffaloes honoured his memory by naming their top goaltender award after him.

And back at her home, Jacalyn Scott is happy to talk about the neighbour boy. Even in Mexico shortly after his death, someone saw the tattoo and recognized it right away as a tribute to Maniago.

But it's not just the artwork that keeps him close to her heart. Her son's middle name is Michael.

"His life was short, far shorter than it should have been but it was full," Scott said. "It was full of love and he never held a grudge. He was such a wonderful person and I have a son now that I want to raise to be like Mike."

On the anniversary of his death, it's how he lived that impressed everyone the most.

"We want people to remember him and just have good things associated with him and his name and if people do ask about the name and what he meant to us, just for me to be able to say 'this is what he did and this is how he still lives on,'" Scott reflected. "We just always want positivity to be associated with him."

But still, some question what Maniago could have been.

"When I track back to that group and guys are married, guys are having kids, guys are playing pro in Europe or are moving on in life and I wonder what would he have been," Battah said. "You always want to say I hope a guy stays in hockey and I know it's not for everybody and people want to move on in their lives. But I always wonder what he would have done and would he have had kids."

"It's just tough at the end of the day."

Maniago's legacy, left nine years ago, is summed up best by Scott.

"Love deeply, forgive easily, aspire for your dreams and never stop working for something," she concluded. "Don't ever stop and think that anything is ever going to get handed to you on a platter because you need to work for your talent and you need to be a good person. He was the personification of that."

Monday, 20 November 2017

Whatever Happened To: Jason Hegberg

Home is where the heart is for Jason Hegberg.

More than 20 years after making his debut with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Hegberg is back at home in Stettler, Alberta. The family man has four daughters, two of which already playing the game he loves. He's also still involved in the game, as a minor hockey coach, past-president of Stettler Minor Hockey, and runs a hockey school.

Hegberg, 38, knew early on that he would come back at some point after his career in hockey.

"Having my first child there and wanting to raise a family somewhere," Hegberg said. "I'd always wanted to raise them back home here and I just wasn't prepared to move from city to city, year after year, two or three years here, two or three years there. At that point in my life, I wasn't prepared to do that."

Drafted in the second round of the 1994 WHL Bantam Draft, Hegberg made his debut during the 1995-1996 season. He became a regular the following year, playing in all 72 games as a 17-year-old, as the Hurricanes made their way to the WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup.


He went onto play another three seasons with the Canes, among the top three in team scoring in all three campaigns. Hegberg then went onto a four-year post-secondary career with the University of New Brunswick, then one more season with the expansion Victoria Salmon Kings, before calling it a career.

Hegberg came closer to home to be an assistant coach with the AJHL's Drumheller Dragons for two seasons, then came back to Stettler where he is now a partner at a used car dealership. He still looks back at his years in Lethbridge fondly.

"Just couldn't have asked for a better place to play, I loved the city, the rink, the people," Hegberg recalled. "I'm not a big city guy so it was nice to be in a place that was big but wasn't too big."

"The fact that my parents could come down any weekend and watch a few games and then obviously getting to play in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer which was even closer to home, so they got to see me quite a bit," Hegberg added.

He's also using a lot of what he learned in Lethbridge with his involvement in minor hockey now, crediting his coach, Bryan Maxwell.

"It's funny, I teach my atom kids stuff that he taught me," Hegberg said. "He was such a good teacher that I teach a lot of stuff I was taught by him. I run a hockey school here every August too. We have a 140 kids here and they're learning what I learned."

His favorite moment in Lethbridge? Probably a familiar one for many: "The Comeback."



"That goal that Josie (Mike Josephson) scored in the overtime game against Hull when we came back from 6-1, just the reaction of our bench and the players on the ice and I think pure shock in the rink," Hegberg recalled. "That one sure stands out a lot."

He relished in the opportunity of coming back to Lethbridge last season for the ceremony to honour that team. He and Luc Theoret drove down and stayed together for the event and knew it was going to be a good time when they were down in the bar and former teammates started filtering in.

"A couple more guys walk in and we're like 'oh there he is' and we all sat down, it was great, talking about old times and had some good laughs," Hegberg said. "It was too bad a few guys couldn't make it but overall the experience was pretty amazing."

When it comes to his message for aspiring hockey players like the ones he's working with now, Hegberg doesn't want it to sound cliche. But he does believe that the time flies by, so players need to enjoy it as much as they can. He may not have realized it at the time, but he learned a lot in his years in Lethbridge. And sometimes, it was the subtle things that he looks back on with the greatest fondness.

"Scoring a goal and hearing your name on that by Dick (Gibson) there was pretty neat," Hegberg said. "The way he said my number, things like that."

He's content on the mark he made in junior hockey, but Hegberg isn't done yet as he helps younger players in his hometown set a path for hockey and for life.

"I'm not too worried about wins and losses at this point," Hegberg concluded. "I'm just trying to teach these kids the skills of the game and then also just to be good people is the biggest thing in my mind. In the dressing room, outside the rink, those are the things that are more important than the game of hockey."

Monday, 13 November 2017

Tait doubles down on cancer awareness with new 'Half Sack Sports'

It might be uncomfortable to talk about for many guys, but the alternative is even more uncomfortable.

Dylan Tait knows this all first-hand.

It has been about three years since he went to bed after stopping 31 shots in a 5-3 University of Lethbridge Pronghorns mens' hockey team win over Regina. Rolling over, he felt something different. It was more than post-game pain. After feeling around his groin, he went to the doctor a couple of days later and was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The 26-year-old's journey has been well-documented.

READ MORE: Teammates work together to fight cancer

Now he's taking the next step in helping those in similar situations, by launching Half Sack Sports.

The group is looking to normalize the discussion about testicular cancer and bring awareness, as the Canadian Cancer Society says it's the most-common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 29.

"We're trying to create a community and that team environment where guys can come in and talk to us and be comfortable talking to us because we've experienced it, we're probably about the same age as they are and hopefully we're relatable," the former Lethbridge Hurricanes netminder told Canes This Week in a phone conversation Friday.

The motto of Half Sack Sports is "Learn About It, Laugh About It, Play Without It."



"I mean, before being diagnosed, the only thing I knew about testicular cancer was that Lance Armstrong had it," Tait said. "Then I was diagnosed and found out that it's the most-common form of cancer for people my age and I was a bit concerned that I wasn't aware of that."

As it turned out, he would get to know lots about it, as trainer Brennan Mahon found a growth on a testicle shortly after Tait, and a year later, teammate Brock Hirsche was handed the same diagnosis. Tait knows others affected as well, which drives home his points about early intervention.

READ MORE: Pronghorns captain Brock Hirsche facing battle with testicular cancer

"As a teenager or in your younger-20's, you're not really thinking that you could be diagnosed with cancer," Tait recalled. "That was one of the biggest shocks for me."

But things have turned around for him, as he's now cancer-free, having finished chemotherapy about six months after his diagnosis. But he still has regular checkups.

"It ended up not being as serious as it could have been, but there were still points along my journey where I was like 'holy crap, I don't know what's going on with my body and I don't know how I'm going to make it to the end of the year' or whatever," Tait said.



He feels lucky to have had the support system in place that he had, including a girlfriend who he was engaged to a month after the diagnosis. It all ended well, but he found a new appreciation for life.

"That was very eye-opening and that although I am a young man, I do have to take advantage of the time I've been given here," Tait acknowledged. "Surround yourself with the people who are going to support you through these hard experiences because those are the people you want in your life."

And that is what he envisions with Half Sack Sports. Whether it's sharing the stories and experiences, offering up resources, or simply being a sounding board, he believes every little bit helps. While they're not doctors, they can give other supports like teamwork, something not everyone has. For Tait, it starts with an open discussion and an awareness of what's on the line. He's a believer in self-checks and being familiar with your testicles and your entire body.

"Don't wait for anything because it could be a serious problem and acting as soon as possible is very important because there are some aggressive testicular cancer cell types and if you leave them alone for too long, they can cause some serious trouble," Tait concluded.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Post-Show Analysis: Hurricanes Face Off With Keyboard Warriors

Where is the line between constructive criticism and being an uninformed troll? What about the line between trying to keep hate off of social media comment sections and censorship?

For anyone in politics, this feels like an age-old issue. For sports, it doesn't rear its head a lot. But for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, it did this past week, to the point they needed to address the situation head on.



With the team mired in a four-game losing streak and sitting two points out of a playoff spot 16 games into the season, fans started taking to social media, in particular Facebook, to voice their displeasure.

While that criticism might be warranted when expectations are high, the vitriol obviously got the attention of the Hurricanes. Even some fans came to the defense of the players, as witnessed by several of the comments made not only on the Hurricanes' original post, but also on the Canes This Week post about it that same day.

During Tuesday's show, the panel had its say on the matter.

"I might defend a really negative comment if it can at least follow a logical progression but those were stupid comments," Dylan Purcell chimed in. "There are ways to critique without being a dirtbag."

"You don't have to beat guys down to get a point across," added Pat Siedlecki.

The issue the panel felt was the personal attacks against players, in particular captain Giorgio Estephan. The panel found it interesting that the 20-year-old has been singled out, despite being on pace to eclipse fan favourite Tyler Wong's point production from last season. Purcell recalled how some fans felt about Brennan Menell last season, who is now playing with the Iowa Wild.

"Don't denigrate, but don't elevate either, they're still teenage kids," Purcell said. "They screw up like teenage kids, they probably have all the same social life problems your teenage kids have, they have all the same issues teenage kids have. So just let them be teenage kids, leave them the heck alone as far as what kind of people they are."

LISTEN TO THE WHOLE DISCUSSION BELOW.



But the panel also agreed that constructive criticism shouldn't be lost on the team, even if it is early in the season.

"You don't want to get to a point where everybody has to be rah-rah," Matt Battachio countered. "I don't think there's anything wrong with coming at it from the other side. I think it's good for fans to talk about some of the things they think are going on with the team."

But host Jordan Karst was quick to point out that you might be yelling into your own echo chamber if you think your stance is going anywhere productive.

"It's not like Peter Anholt is going through this thing and saying 'Jim from Taber said the Hurricanes' powerplay needs to be better,'" he laughed.

Siedlecki also pointed out how he's had to police his own blog because of some of the vicious attacks being posted.

"I couldn't believe what people were saying and they actually thought this stuff was going to get posted," he said. "Libelous stuff, we're talking mean stuff."

"Be realistic about the team, look, they lost four games in a row, they're not playing great right now, if you've got some constructive, go ahead," Karst reiterated. "If you want to voice your opinions, do it, but do it in an acceptable way. Be mature."

Monday, 6 November 2017

A New Wrinkle in the Skinner Saga

I thought I was done with the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. I thought after two thorough blogs about what the Lethbridge Hurricanes did during that draft, then about the blockbuster that became Corbin Boes and Stuart Skinner for Kale Clague, I thought I had it aced.

READ MORE: The Unfinished Story of Corbin Boes

But something was gnawing at me.  I kept pouring over the draft list, over and over and over again. I just couldn't place it.

READ MORE: Revisiting the 2013 Bantam Draft

Then it dawned on me.

The Brandon Wheat Kings actually had two draft picks in that first round. The first was their own, fourth overall, which they used to select star Nolan Patrick. As we've already figured out, the second pick was actually swapped with Lethbridge.

But how did the Wheat Kings get that second pick, which was originally 17th overall? You know, the one sent to Lethbridge so the Hurricanes could pick their future goal-scoring goaltender.

The answer lies in the 2013 Memorial Cup.



The Saskatoon Blades were looking to load up as they were hosting the annual tournament. On Trade Deadline Day, the Blades made a handful of deals to make sure they would be competitive. Let's just say the Blades auctioned off a lot of potential future when they made those three trades.

Let's start with the Collin Valcourt deal. The Blades acquired him from Spokane for a 5th round pick in 2013 and a 1st round pick in 2015. The 5th rounder turned into future Chiefs star and Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto, while the first rounder actually turned into the first overall pick, defenseman Ty Smith.

Then the Blades wanted Erik Benoit from Kootenay. So they sent off a 4th round pick in the '13 draft. Not a big deal, except that pick was originally acquired in a previous deal with Swift Current where the Broncos picked up Brett Lernout. Long story short: that pick turned into now two-year Ice captain Cale Fleury.

The final trade is what had the connections to the Boes/Skinner/Clague blockbuster. The Blades wanted future Calgary Flames forward Michael Ferland. All the Wheat Kings wanted was a 1st round bantam pick. It was that 17th overall selection.

So maybe this is a warning shot to the Regina Pats that loading up for a Memorial Cup run might come back to bite them, if the previous Saskatchewan example set by the Blades is still fresh in anyone's mind.

But more importantly in my mind, I can finally put to rest how exactly the Lethbridge Hurricanes wound up getting Stuart Skinner.

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