From Olympic hopefuls to WHL wheeling and dealing, we’re all over the map today, starting with the Sochi Winter Games:
• Tomorrow night, Virden pairs figure skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers can become the next Westman Olympians. The Saskatchewan natives, who have lived and trained full time in Virden for the past three years under local coach Patty Hole, are in Ottawa competing in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. The dynamite duo has finished third in each of the past three nationals and another top-three finish this weekend will qualify them for next month’s Winter Games in Russia, now just 28 days away. You can watch Lawrence and Swiegers skate their senior pairs short program tonight (6:30, TSN) and wrap up the competition with the Olympics on the line when they take to the ice for their free skate Saturday (5:55, TSN).
• Russell’s Jon Montgomery is overseas in Switzerland, back on the World Cup skeleton tour making a late bid to get back to the Olympic Games. The 34-year-old gold medallist from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, who is currently ranked 24th in the world, races in St. Moritz today and Sunday as he tries to qualify as Canada’s third men’s skeleton slider in Sochi. Meanwhile, Brandon’s Cassie Hawrysh is in Park City, Utah, trying to keep her Olympic hopes alive while racing on the Intercontinental Cup skeleton tour this weekend after her silver-medal performance on Monday in Whistler, B.C. Hawrysh is ranked 20th in the world and hoping to help Canada qualify a third slider for Sochi, with the Olympic team to be finalized on Jan. 19.
• Darren Granger joined the list of Brandonites heading to the Olympics this week when he was named equipment manager for Canada’s men’s hockey team. Granger, a former Brandon Wheat Kings trainer, has served as the equipment manager for the Los Angeles Kings’ for the past eight seasons and brought the Stanley Cup here in the summer of 2012 after the Kings’ victory. The list of other former Brandon residents heading to Russia also features curler Jill Officer — second on Jennifer Jones’ Winnipeg-based women’s foursome — while Wheat City natives Trevor Pilling — executive director for CBC’s Olympic coverage — and Ted Wyman — sports editor of the Winnipeg Sun — will be going to Sochi to cover the Games.
• The Wheat Kings missed out on a good one when Wawanesa’s Jordan Thomson — a former first-round WHL bantam draft pick — was dealt by the Kamloops Blazers to the Saskatoon Blades late Wednesday night, in advance of today’s WHL trade deadline (1 p.m. Central). However, considering the price the Blades paid for the talented 17-year-old defenceman, giving up the likes of young sniper Matt Revel, 17, and second- and third-round bantam picks in a package that also sent a first-round pick to Saskatoon, I’m pretty sure Wheat Kings head coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon wasn’t prepared to pay that price this year with his club having gone 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and right in the middle of a tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see what McCrimmon does — if anything — prior to today’s deadline, with Brandon the only WHL team to not make a deal since the Christmas break.
• Peter Quenneville is on a roll with the Wheat Kings, with the 19-year-old right-winger riding a seven-game point streak (3 goals, 11 points) and having scored six goals and compiled 16 points with a +8 plus/minus rating in his last 10 games. Homegrown Tyler Coulter, a 17-year-old rookie left-winger, also continues to improve with six goals, 10 points and a +8 plus/minus rating in his last 11 games. Out in Calgary, Elkhorn native Travis Sanheim, a 17-year-old rookie defenceman, is on a good run with the Hitmen, with six points in his last six games. Sanheim scored in three straight games in that stretch.
• In the NHL, former Wheat Kings co-captain Brayden Schenn is flying, with four goals and eight points in his last six games for the Philadelphia Flyers, including an overtime winner Tuesday in a game in which he was sliced in the stomach by an errant skate on a play that could have been much worse. Meanwhile, former Wheat Kings captain Mark Stone has points in back-to-back games, with his first career NHL goal and an assist, after being called up by the Ottawa Senators. Brandonite Matt Calvert was activated off injured reserve yesterday by the Columbus Blue Jackets after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury, while fellow former Wheat King captain Ryan Craig, who has been up-and-down like a yo-yo between Columbus and Springfield of the AHL, may be back today after suffering a lower-body injury in Monday’s game.
• Is it only a matter of time before the Brodsky family sells the Prince George Cougars to True North Sports and moves the franchise to Winnipeg? Despite posting a solid 2-1-0-1 record on a four-game home stand, the Cougars can’t draw flies these days, with dismal crowds of 1,267, 1,254, 1,553 and 1,649 in their last four games. With a Prince George population base of more than 85,000 to draw from, the Cougars are averaging a league-worst 1,600 fans per game and would likely have to hold the best lease in the league in order to be breaking even financially. The question is how much will it take to buy out the Brodskys and is this the right time for the owners of the struggling Winnipeg Jets to cut them a cheque and add a junior team to the mix at the MTS Centre?