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New Car-Race Season Blends Memories and Hope


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New Car-Race Season Blends Memories and Hope

As these words take shape, one familiar sport is being performed on a regular (not daily) basis in this area. By the end of the weekend, two such adventures will be part of the official record.

Horse racing was first. Auto racing, scheduled Saturday at Castrol Raceway, will be second. A big step, possibly, in the ongoing struggle by addictive fans, sponsors and drivers to preserve an annual summer attraction that once held a lofty place on Alberta’s sports calendar.

Soon, the ongoing dance about when and where for NHL playoffs is expected to end, allowing Edmonton to be named, officially and finally, as a “hub city” with the majority of games to take place at Rogers Centre. After that, we can all hope the sky is the limit for the Canadian Elite Basketball League, top local and area soccer and numerous other long-awaited events.

But, first things (or second things) first.

Ron MacDonell, who holds a lease on the oval at Castrol Raceway near the International Airport, surprised me with his first few words after telephoned for confirmation that the season would begin. “Absolutely,” he howled. “And we’re guaranteed a sellout!!

“The government is allowing us to have 200 spectators (in a facility that regularly has held more than 7,000). If the weather holds up, it will be a great start.”

Aha, the weather. Last year, seven scheduled events were washed out by rain. “Too bad we had so much trouble,” MacDonell moaned. “We were getting better crowds, and we were getting more cars.”

If all goes well, with perfect weather and continued easing of the coronavirus safety requirements, the maximum will be six Saturday race nights. “It’s almost like starting over.”

Such restarts are a big part of Alberta’s auto-racing tradition, topped by the presence of prominent Edmontonian Ron Hodgson, now a member of the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame and the Canadian Auto Racing Hall of Fame. In the 1970s, he teamed with Gordon Jenner and driver Gordie Bonin in winning six NHRA Funny Car medals and two world championships. Gord Beck was another top-level driver to benefit from his association with Hodgson.

More recently, Hodgson and driver Terry Capp carried Alberta’s banner throughout the western U.S., winning major events in Tucson, Bakersfield and other communities. They earned high-profile international recognition. “We could race every week,” Hodgson told me. “We could go to the east, too, but there isn’t enough time.”

Two other sons carried on the tradition: Jeff was a successful sprint-car driver at Castrol Raceway and Ryan, streaking on a quarter-mile drag strip, once owned the world’s fastest time, 268 miles per hour.

Jeff followed in the impressive short-track oval footsteps of Sean Moran, Wade Fleming, Tim Gee and Mark Duperron, among others. Fleming and Moran, first-cousins who operate Central Tire in downtown Edmonton, share the local record for points victories: nine titles each.

“We got along really well on the track, most of the time,” Moran grinned on Friday. “But sometimes we were close to the finish line.”

Wade’s dad, the late sportsman Larry Fleming, was a successful racer for many years before retiring.

Ron Hodgson once owned Castrol Raceway after years as a supporter of Speedway International. After he stepped away last season. Long-time track announcer Gord Craig found it hard to maintain his standard level of optimism. “There is still a pulse – call it a pulse – for racing in Alberta,” he said.

Facilities at Drumheller, Rimbey and elsewhere have been successful at time, “but the sport needs a major boost. In this sport, sponsors always turn out to be people who love the sport and don’t just contribute for business reasons.”

Read more of John’s stories. 


Active shooting incident in Airdrie – Multiple injuries from BB guns

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From Airdrie RCMP

Airdrie RCMP investigate reports of an active shooter

Airdrie RCMP are currently investigating an incident which has lead to multiple people injured from at least 6 different locations.
At this time it appears that BB guns were used in the “shootings”. One person is in custody and RCMP are looking for the others involved.
RCMP has businesses in a “Shelter in place” in the downtown core. Anyone in the downtown/midtown communities are asked to stay inside.
This is an unfolding situation and more information will be released when it becomes available.
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Citrus vs. Cactus: Tampa-Dallas NHL final is duel of former coaching associates

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EDMONTON — It’s not only two American Sunbelt teams facing off Saturday in the NHL’s Stanley Cup final, it’s also a matchup of two head coaches who once worked together, but with the student now trying to outshine the mentor.

Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness was an associate coach for five years with the Tampa Bay Lightning alongside head coach Jon Cooper until leaving in 2018.

Bowness, with five decades of coaching in the NHL, gets a chance to win the Cup for the first time as head man in the final, which will be held in front of no spectators at Rogers Place

But first he has to get by Cooper.

Cooper recalled hiring Bowness when he got the head job in 2013.

“It was about bringing somebody in that knew the league and, honestly, could work a little bit as a mentor for myself, and that’s what I personally wanted. I searched everywhere and was very fortunate to run into Rick Bowness,” Cooper told reporters on a Zoom call Friday.

“I learned so much from him, just about how the league works and how to have success.

“We spent a decade together and we had some pretty good runs, especially the one in 2015, (Tampa lost to Chicago in Stanley Cup final) and Bonsey was a big part of it.”

Cooper said the parting was “amicable” in keeping with the quicksilver nature of the league where coaches come, go, switch, return, retire, and un-retire but added, “I’m probably not sitting here today without a lot of the help of Rick Bowness.”

Bowness vs. Cooper is just one of multiple storylines in this final chapter of the NHL’s surreal season of COVID-19, where, in a matchup of citrus versus cactus, teams from cities that never see snow will do battle in an empty rink on the bald Canadian prairie in September to determine the champion of a traditional winter sport.

Both teams are dealing with some past adversity. The Lightning set records last year racking up 62 wins and the President’s Trophy only to get humiliated by the Columbus Blue Jackets and swept in the first round last season.

Since then, Tampa general manger Julien BriseBois has added some grit to the roster in veterans like Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk, Luke Schenn and Pat Maroon while beefing up the second line with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

That builds on the core of high flying scorers like Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman, backstopped by Andrei Vasilveskiy in net.

Their best players have been just that this post-season. The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov has 23 goals and 64 points in 19 games to lead the Lightning past the Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins and New York Islanders.

“We’re a different team,” said Hedman.

“We have different bodies in the lineup. We’re a better team, I think.

“Columbus got to us in the playoffs (in 2019), and if you’re not ready it could be an early exit, and that was what happened to us. But I think we put that behind us pretty quickly. We learned from it. We took that experience, and you don’t want to feel that feeling again.”

They have also done it without star captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and hasn’t played since. He is skating in practice in Edmonton.

“(Stamkos) is still rehabbing. We haven’t ruled him out. I don’t expect him in the lineup (for Game 1),” said BriseBois.

The Dallas franchise which began life as the Minnesota North Stars in 1967, has won it all once — in 1999 — but had not been back to the Stanley Cup final until now.

The Stars had a rough start to this season, winning one of their first nine games, then saw head coach Jim Montgomery summarily fired in December and replaced by Bowness.

Dallas finished 10th in the league standings (37-24-8) when the regular season was halted March 12 due to COVID-19 (Tampa was fourth at 43-21-6).

The Stars and Lightning played each other twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times in overtime (3-2 and 4-3)

Dallas’s success starts with goalie Anton Khudobin.

The 34-year-old career journeyman backup has found his stride in the playoffs replacing the injured Ben Bishop. He is 12-6 in 18 starts and saved the team’s bacon in the last round against the Vegas Golden Knights, stopping 153 of 161 shots (.950 save percentage) as Dallas outscored Vegas 9-8 in five games but won the series 4-1.

In the last two rounds, against Colorado and Vegas, the Stars have been outshot to 415 to 338 while the goals have been even, 37 to 37.

Dallas general manager Jim Nill has also added sandpaper and playoff experience to his lineup with veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.

The offensive punch has come from defenders Miro Heiskanen, just 21, and John Klingberg (eight goals and 32 points combined) and captain Jamie Benn (8 goals, 18 points).

The Stars will need continued heroics out of Khudobin and more production out of first line centre Tyler Seguin if they want to beat the Bolts. Seguin was the team’s top scorer in the regular season (17 goals, 50 points) but in the bubbled playoffs has just 2 goals and 8 points 20 games.

“They (Tampa) are a big offensive threat (up and) down the lineup. Up front they’ve got great players and obviously they have Hedman at the point who doesn’t seem to miss a shot right now,” said Seguin.

“They have an unbelievable goalie. They’re well coached, so we definitely have our hands full.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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