Friday November 21, 2014

Fourth Nationals for former Terrier

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Jason Wagar

The Allan Cup is one of the oldest hockey trophies in Canada with a history in excess of 100-years.

The Allan Cup is awarded annually to the national senior amateur men's hockey champions.

When teams take to the ice in Lloydminister starting April 16, a former Junior with the Yorkton Terriers will be hoping to capture the cup.

Jason Wagar, from Saskatoon, is a member of the Rosetown Red Wings who will join the host Border Kings and four other teams in pursuit of the Allan Cup which traces its roots back to the 1907-'08 season, when it was first won by the Ottawa Cliffsides.

The last Saskatchewan winner was the Lloydminister BorderKings in 2000-'01, the first winner from the province in decades going back to the Regina Rangers in 1940-'41.

Wagar hopes the Red Wings become Saskatchewan's fourth winner.

"This (the Allan Cup) is on par with all the other national championships … For me there's just nothing like it," he said, adding he is motivated to finally hoist the cup at the end. "… I may never get back," he said.

Wagar, who concluded his Junior career with the Terriers in the spring of 2006, in his first year of Junior hockey, having played the last five years with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. He said the move to senior hockey has been interesting as he is back on the blueline with the Red Wings, a position he last played before joining the Terriers.

Playing defence is not as radical a change as Terrier fans remembering Wagar as a forward might think.

"I played 'D' pretty much my whole life until I became a Terrier," he said, adding with a chuckle he moved to forward at that time "because I wanted the glory."

At the senior level defencemen are at a premium though as skilled 'D' usually find a home in the pros."

So back on the blueline Wagar said he has logged a lot of ice time, at times upwards of 40-minutes a contest.

Playing at the AAA Senior level also means facing off against teams laden with talent. Wagar said he would liken the quality of hockey to that of the East Coast Hockey League.

"A few guys have played in the AHL (American Hockey League), and the NHL (National Hockey League)," he said. "Almost everybody has played pro, or CIS (Canadian college)."

Wagar said in the provincial finals the Red Wings faced the Balgonie Bison with former NHL player Mike Sillinger in the line-up. While 41, Sillinger also has more than 1,000 NHL games to his credit, scoring 240 goals and 548 points.

"You can tell the guy played a really high level, they're just so smart," said Wagar, noting Sillinger was always in control on the ice. "He made a big difference out there."

Wagar said as a defenceman "I had to be a lot more careful because he's (Sillinger) so smart. You knew when he was coming down the ice you had to be careful because he made such smart plays. He did things other guys couldn't do."

The Bison roster also had a Terrier connection. The team's leading scorer was former Terrier Lance Herauf, and his teammate was another former Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League player in Yorkton Josh Garbutt.

Wagar noted too that players with the Red Wings are also generally in their hockey prime.

"The youngest guy is about 24 - 25," he said, adding the average age is probably 28, or 29. "There are some excellent players that still have a lot of drive. There is some amazing skill, some guys that are just incredible."

Wagar said that was the draw for him joining the Red Wings when asked. He came to the team mid-way through the regular season in the Sask Valley League (SVL) where a league version of the team plays.

"It was a chance to play at really high level again," he said, adding the Allan Cup team is made up of about 40 per cent Wings from the SVL bolstered by other players to make the team competitive at the AAA Senior level. "Everybody likes to play as high a level as possible."

The Allan Cup is the highest level for senior players.

"Since 1984 the Allan Cup has been competed for by teams in the Senior AAA category. Although interest in senior ice hockey has diminished over its history, the Cup retains an important place in Canadian ice hockey. The Cup championship is determined in an annual tournament held in the city or town of a host team, playing off against regional champions," detailed Wikipedia.

"The Cup has been won by teams from every province and from the Yukon, as well as by two teams from the United States which played in Canadian leagues. The city with the most Allan Cup championships is Thunder Bay with 10, including four won as Port Arthur before the city's amalgamation. The original Cup has been retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a replica is presented to the champions."

Wagar said he is looking forward to the Allan Cup tournament, adding anytime you compete for a national championship is it special as a player.

In that regard Wagar knows the experience firsthand. He was with the Terriers when they lost the Royal Bank Cup final to Burnaby Express in 2006, and was with the Huskies who made the final CIS finals tourney twice in Wagar's time with the team. He has yet to win a national championship, the Huskies never bettering third.

"It would be nice to get one," he said, adding at least he has been to the national stage, and many players never get the chance to play for a national title.

The birth of the Allan Cup was the result of a decision to make the Stanley Cup a professional championship.

"In 1908, a split occurred in the competition of ice hockey in Canada. The top amateur teams left the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association, which allowed professionals, to form the new Inter-Provincial Amateur Hockey Union (IPAHU), a purely amateur league. The trustees of the Stanley Cup decided that the Cup would be awarded to the professional ice champion, meaning there was no corresponding trophy for the amateur championship of Canada. The Allan Cup was donated in early 1909 by Montreal businessman and Montreal Amateur Athletic Association president Sir H. Montagu Allan to be presented to the amateur champions of Canada," detailed Wikipedia.

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