The Canadian Soccer Association has tapped provincial soccer guru Rob Gale as the new head coach of the national U20 men's team.
In many ways, the hiring is no surprise. Gale, the former technical director of Manitoba Soccer, had previously coached the Canadian men's U18 and U16 teams, and served as an assistant with the U17 squad, helping them qualify for two consecutive FIFA U17 World Cups. During those stints, he has helped develop many young players for the adult national squad.
Gale was born in Zambia, joined Fulham FC as a teenager and turned pro with the Wycombe Wanderers FC. In 1998, he retired from the field and turned to coaching, which led him to gigs in various developmental roles before taking over as technical director at Manitoba Soccer in 2006.
PV Hawks take hard-fought series
After a taut Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League season, the Pembina Valley Hawks emerged on top, defending their championship against the Westman Wildcats.
The Hawks clinched the repeat with a 2-1 victory over the Wildcats in Game 5 of the MFMHL final series. Hawks captain Lauryn Keen scored the game winner and picked up an assist on the team's first goal. She also finished as the top playoff scorer with 10 goals and 10 assists in 10 games.
The teams battled tight through the final tilt, with a scoreless first giving way to a 2-0 Hawks lead through the second. But the Wildcats battled back, as blue-liner Melissa Hunt notched an unassisted goal late in the second to put her team right into the match. Though the Wildcats fought hard for an equalizer in the third, they couldn't penetrate the Hawks defence to put many pucks on netminder Corrine Schroeder.
With the win, the Hawks completed a championship comeback, as they started the series with two straight losses to the Wildcats. Four of the games in the final series were decided by just one goal, and two of the three overtime games stretched to a second bonus frame.
The Hawks will now represent Manitoba at Hockey Canada's West Region Championships this weekend, where they will face the Weyburn Gold Wings in a best-of-three.
This season was the most competitive in MFMHL history, with only five points separating the top four teams.
Bison volleyballers earn honours
The University of Manitoba Bisons handed out their year-end awards on Saturday, and no surprise the CIS champion women's volleyballers earned some top honours.
After a stunning 2013-14 campaign, setter Brittany Habing, the de facto "quarterback" of the championship team, was named the Bisons' Female Athlete of the Year, as well as being named team MVP. A science student, Habing was a standout in her first year with the Bisons, leading the CIS in assists per set at 10.46, and being selected for the Canada West's second all-star team.
Women's volleyball coach Ken Bentley was named the Bisons' coach of the year. It's the first time the longtime coach has been selected for the honour in the award's 13-year history. Not only did he coach the Bisons to the CIS championship, he also guided the team to history as the first team to go a perfect 9-0 in sets at a CIS championship in the rally point era, which began in 1999-00.
Meanwhile, dynamo tailback Anthony Coombs was named the Bisons' Male Athlete of the Year for his breakout 2013 campaign. It was the 11th time in 55 years that a football player has earned the honour, and first time since 2007-08. Coombs, who is highly rated in the upcoming CFL draft, smashed records as he dashed all over Canada West. He led the CIS in all-purpose yards with a whopping 1,696, or 212.9 yards per game. His 11 touchdowns ranked third in the country.
In a notable moment, Coombs blazed out a 107-yard rushing touchdown on Oct. 26 against Alberta to set a new Canada West record for longest rush.
Other winners at the year-end awards include female Rookie of the Year, runner Rebekah Sass, and male Rookie of the Year co-winners: basketball forward Andre Arruda and volleyball outside hitter Adam DeJonckheere.
The Bisons also bestowed their Student-Athlete Leadership and Community Development Award to fifth-year hockey player Amy Lee and fourth-year hockey goalie Joe Caligiuri. The second annual Pat Gill Legacy Award was handed to veteran Bison women's soccer assistant coach and co-founder, Gary Johnson.
Spriggs shines for MJHL Blues
With the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs in full swing, a key piece of the Winnipeg Blues' spirited playoff run earned kudos from the league.
On Monday, the MJHL named Blues netminder Byron Spriggs the league's player of the week. The 20-year-old Winnipeg product put up a robust save percentage of .934 in three games of the Addison Division final against the Steinbach Pistons. The Blues won two of those three games for a 3-1 series lead against the Pistons, who were the second-ranked team in the MJHL going into the playoffs.
Runners-up for the player of the week nod include Dauphin Kings forward Dylan Butler, 20, and blazing Blues forward Liam Bilton, 19.