Here’s some news and views while gearing up for Super Bowl Sunday, not to mention two wild weeks of Olympic overload overseas with the Sochi Winter Games just one week away:
• Westman will be front and centre on the first day of action at the Winter Olympics as Virden pairs figure skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers represent Canada in the new team competition on Thursday (9:30 a.m., CBC), with the opening ceremonies officially getting things underway on Friday. Sportsnet will televise the pairs team competition free skate on Feb. 8, as well as the regular pairs short program on Feb. 11, with TSN slated to show the free skate on Feb. 12.
• A couple of other Olympic tidbits: Canadian women’s skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth has a Westman connection in Oak Lake with a couple of cousins and her grandparents Garnet and Nora Gompf cheering her on from afar. Sportsnet One is slated to carry Hollingsworth’s race on Feb. 14. And be sure to check out Saturday’s Brandon Sun as we feature Brandon-born former Wheat Kings trainer Darren Granger of the Los Angeles Kings as he prepares to leave for Russia to work with Canada’s men’s hockey team as an equipment manager. Canada’s first game is slated for Feb. 13 (11 a.m., CBC) versus Norway, which features former Wheat Kings defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
• Speaking of the Wheat Kings, an impressive 6-2-1-1 run in their last 10 games has vaulted them into a tie with the Swift Current Broncos for top spot in the East Division, with Brandon having a game in hand on Swift Current and technically holding the second seed in the Eastern Conference due to more wins. While they still have problems in their own end, the Wheat Kings sport the fourth-best offence in the WHL (191 goals scored) and top-ranked power-play in league (25.7 per cent) and look like a team that could do a little damage in the playoffs.
• Captain Ryan Pulock and forward Peter Quenneville are on a roll for the Wheat Kings, with Pulock riding a team-leading seven-game point streak (three goals, eight assists), while Quenneville has really come into his own as well on a six-game point streak (five goals, six assists) and is scoring every second game (16 goals in 32 games since joining Brandon). At the other end of the spectrum, drafted defenceman Eric Roy has been a disappointment lately, with a dubious -9 plus/minus rating in his past five games, while notching one goal and one assist. Blessed with size, skill and a super shot, Roy’s defensive struggles (a team-worst -13 plus/minus rating) could keep him in the WHL as an overager next season.
• In the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, the first-place Selkirk Steelers (39-6-2) go for their franchise-record 20th straight victory tonight when they host the defending champion Steinbach Pistons. The Western Canada Cup host Dauphin Kings (29-14-1) are also flying, with the Sher-Wood Division leaders winners of eight straight. At the other end of the spectrum? The Neepawa Natives (10-34-4) have lost 10 in a row and once again sit dead last in the league.
• Brandon native Chris Bauman is down south in his off-season home of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., continuing rehabilitation from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his right knee. The 29-year-old former first-overall CFL draft pick and graduate of the Vincent Massey Vikings is coming off a complete write-off of a season that started with a fractured left wrist suffered in what had been a terrific training camp and ended with a season-ending knee injury. CFL free agency begins on Feb. 15, but Bauman remains under contract with the Calgary Stampeders.
•Down south, former Brandonite Israel Idonije is slated to become an NFL free agent on March 11 and may be pondering retirement after 10 years in the league. Following nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, the Vincent Massey graduate signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions in 2013 and suited up in 15 of 16 games, with the 32-year-old defensive lineman missing the final week of the season due to injury to snap a streak of playing in 63 straight games.
• Finally this week, three of the four Brandon University Bobcats teams remain in playoff contention to varying degrees. While they’ve shown plenty of progress, the Bobcats women’s basketball squad (5-11) has been eliminated from post-season play with six games remaining, since the Calgary Dinos (11-5) hold the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot in the Canada West conference after sweeping BU in back-to-back games this season. BU men’s basketball team (5-11) is still clinging to life as it heads to B.C., but will need to sweep its last six games and hope Lethbridge loses its last six, including a doubleheader in Brandon next week. BU’s struggling men’s volleyball team (8-10) is tied for the final playoff spot but has a tough schedule as it prepares to host first-place Trinity Western (17-1) this weekend. But the Bobcats women’s volleyball team (14-4) — ranked second in the country — has already earned a playoff spot and is now looking to clinch home-court advantage with one more victory.