Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

In 2012, he was appointed night sports editor — editing copy, writing headlines, guiding reporters and helping produce the following day’s print edition.

He moved from the editing side to the reporting side in 2016.

The change is a switch back to reporting for Mike, who originally got into the journalism biz in 1985 in Brandon; he was the Sun‘s Wheat Kings beat reporter from 1988-1999.

Recent articles of Mike Sawatzky

Wesmen hoopsters add building block

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Wesmen hoopsters add building block

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022

A year ago, Keylyn Filewich and Kyanna Giles were veteran transfers who immediately turned the University of Winnipeg women’s basketball team into a national powerhouse.

This summer, guard Raizel Guinto could give the Wesmen a similar boost for the 2022-23 U Sports season. The school will announce today she is resuming her academic and basketball career at the downtown campus.

In 2021, the 24-year-old Winnipegger finished an excellent four-year NCAA Division I basketball career at Louisiana Tech and returned to her hometown to give birth to her first child and ponder the next stage of her life.

Giles, meanwhile, was using every opportunity to urge Guinto to use her final year of eligibility to play for the Wesmen. The two are old friends and former teammates as Sisler High School.

Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022

DAVID LARKINS / WESMEN ATHLETICS

Raizel Guinto will be a welcome addition for incoming Wesmen women’s basketball head coach Alyssa Cox.

Monster season expected from Perron

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Monster season expected from Perron

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

At first glance, the absence of Jayden Perron from Canada’s roster at the recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup showcase was a stunning omission.

A high-end scorer with uncanny playmaking ability, the 17-year-old centre from Winnipeg has the overall skill set to be recognized as one of the country’s top 2005-born prospects.

Before he even made his rookie debut with the USHL’s Chicago Steel last fall, Perron had already made a verbal commitment to attend the University of North Dakota — one of the NCAA’s best programs — and he’s now being touted as a first-round NHL draft pick in 2023.

Under Hockey Canada’s current COVID-19 rules, Perron, who admitted this week he is unvaccinated, won’t be suiting up for Canada. He was invited but could not attend the Capital City U17 Challenge in Ottawa last December and his unvaccinated status made him a no-go for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer.

Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jayden Perron does some dangling during a drill with Evolution Hockey at the Winnipeg Winter Club.

Manitoba beach teams aiming high at Canada Summer Games

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Manitoba beach teams aiming high at Canada Summer Games

Mike Sawatzky 6 minute read Friday, Aug. 5, 2022

Erika Vermette and Val Gonzalez have been beach volleyball teammates for more than three years and friends for longer than that.

Their tight bond has endured through the years and beginning Monday, the partnership will be put to the test at the Canada Summer Games.

Vermette, a 21-year-old from Morris, and 18-year-old Gonzalez, a Winnipegger, have carefully plotted out their training regimen and hope that diligence will result in a podium finish at Canada Games Park in St. Catherines, Ont.

Play begins Monday and continues until Saturday’s medal games.

Friday, Aug. 5, 2022

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Coach Chloe Reimer McCaughan (right) with Erika Vermette (diving) and Val Gonzalez.

Cohesion the key to success

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Cohesion the key to success

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022

Manitoba’s U20 men will need to play a cohesive team game to win volleyball gold at the upcoming Canada Summer Games but there will be no shortage of star power fuelling the province’s efforts.

Spencer Grahame believes you don’t have to look any further than his teammate Jon Obi, a 6-5 middle who owns a 40-inch-plus vertical leap and hits the ball like a sledgehammer.

The Transcona Collegiate grad begins his U Sports career at Trinity Western University next month but before that he’ll be a major headache for opposing defenders at the Games in Ontario’s Niagara region.

“I think they look at John a lot — he’s spectacular,” said Grahame, who was a starting left side in his rookie season with the University of Manitoba Bisons in 2021-22. “It’s really fun to watch. I think our middles particularly — Harry (Ens) and Jordy (Heppner) as well — really suck all their players right into the middle and gives our setters just an unbelievable number of great options.”

Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Expect Manitoba U20 men’s volleyball player Jon Obi to give opposing players all they can handle at the upcaming Canada Summer Games.

High hopes for Manitoba hoopsters

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High hopes for Manitoba hoopsters

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2022

Manitoba won’t be favoured to win it all at next month’s Canada Summer Games 18U men’s basketball competition but Waqo Tessema and his teammates just might have a surprise in store for the tournament heavyweights.

The 18-year-old point guard is thinking big. Big dogs like Ontario and Quebec better watch out.

“For us, it’s not that big of an upset,” said Tessema recently. “Manitoba has that reputation where they’re kind of always in the middle of the pack but I feel like we have something coming in this year that we know is going to be pretty good but others may not see it.”

The skill available to head coach Jonathan Janzen is considerable, with perhaps the deepest talent pool in provincial history.

Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2022

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

All 12 players on the roster and four-man coaching staff come from Winnipeg.

Manitoba going for gold at Canada Summer games

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Manitoba going for gold at Canada Summer games

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Friday, Jul. 22, 2022

Manitoba’s reputation as a hotbed of volleyball on the national scene isn’t up for debate but there’s pressure associated with that status.

The women who will represent the province at next month’s Canada Summer Games understand that and although they have been going about their preparations with little fanfare, they are clear about their goals.

“We’re going for gold — there’s no doubt about that,” said right side Faye Murray earlier this week as the provincial U20 squad practised at the Sport for Life Centre. “Primarily, we’re here to win and bring home the medal like they did in 2017 and keep that (tradition) going.

“But really, we’re just working hard every day and we’re all trying to improve ourselves individually as well as improve the team. We’re trying to become better athletes and teammates.”

Friday, Jul. 22, 2022

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Natalie Lemoine-Sells of the Manitoba Canada Games women’s volleyball team trains at Sports For Life centre in Winnipeg.

Sautner excited to join Jets

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Sautner excited to join Jets

Mike Sawatzky 6 minute read Thursday, Jul. 21, 2022

Pro hockey life isn’t always a glamorous life. Just ask Ashton Sautner.

In the last two seasons, the 28-year-old defenceman has spent more time grinding on an NHL taxi squad and recovering from injuries and a bout with COVID-19 than he’s spent on an active roster.

He was looking for a career refresh last week when he signed a one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets after a seven-season run with the Vancouver Canucks organization. The move brings him back to the province of his birth and a city he stayed in just long enough in the fall of 2020 for his wife, Kelly, to give birth to the couple’s first child.

Thursday, Jul. 21, 2022

JONATHAN KOZUB / MOOSE HOCKEY
Ashton Sautner’s time in Winnipeg was brief. He played just two games with the Moose before being recalled to the Canucks, kicking off a trying season on the NHL club’s reserve squad.

Blue Jackets a great fit for Mateychuk

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Blue Jackets a great fit for Mateychuk

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2022

Denton Mateychuk grew up in a small town in southern Manitoba and is familiar with a slower pace of life.

His work on the ice is decidedly faster and more explosive. So it didn’t come as any surprise when he entered the whirlwind existence of a first-round NHL Draft pick earlier this month and handled the transition with aplomb.

The 18-year-old Dominion City product was drafted 12th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 7, flew to Ohio two days later for a weeklong development camp and left for home with a signed NHL contract in his pocket.

All along he had a feeling the Blue Jackets were interested, even after the organization selected Czechian defenceman David Jiricek six picks before him in the first round.

Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2022

Keith Hershmiller / The Moose Jaw Warriors files
Denton Mateychuk expects to return to the Moose Jaw Warriors for the upcoming WHL season before getting a crack at the pro ranks with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Winnipeg swimmer now a triathlon threat at Canada Games

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Winnipeg swimmer now a triathlon threat at Canada Games

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Monday, Jul. 18, 2022

BIRDS HILL PARK — The pandemic has been tough on athletes in most amateur sports.

Training has been limited and competitions have been harder to find.

For some, such as Winnipegger Anja Krueger, a competitive swimmer since she was 10, the tighter restrictions placed on her sport helped lead her back to an old favourite.

The 19-year-old who attends University of British Columbia still considers the pool a priority but the lure of triathlon has become irresistible.

Monday, Jul. 18, 2022

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Megan Van Heyst, Addison Champagne, Assistant Coach, Turk Dingwall, Natalie Fournier, and Patrick Desjardins bike along the road to East Beach during triathlon practice at Birds Hill Park.

Countdown begins for World Police and Fire Games

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Countdown begins for World Police and Fire Games

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Friday, Jul. 15, 2022

THE World Police and Fire Games are coming to Winnipeg in 2023 and organizers suggest it will be a very big production — larger than either the 1999 Pan Am Games or the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

It’s an Olympic-style, multi-sport competition with a history dating back to 1985.

Next year’s extravaganza is expected to draw more than 8,500 athletes — firefighters, law enforcement officials and personnel from corrections, customs, probation, and border protection — with competitions in more than 60 sports staged at 34 venues in and around the city.

A campaign to generate 3,500 volunteers will kick off in January.

Friday, Jul. 15, 2022

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Premier Heather Stefanson sits in front of Police Chief Danny Smyth (left of Stefanson) during the announcement that Winnipeg was chosen as the location for the 2023 World Police and Fire Games at True North Square.

Hoops coach Cox leads Summer Games team

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Hoops coach Cox leads Summer Games team

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Friday, Jul. 15, 2022

ALYSSA Cox has assembled a roster of some of the finest basketball talent ever produced in Manitoba.

Her next task will be to bring all the various parts together.

Leading the provincial 18U female team into next month’s Canada Summer Games in Ontario hasn’t been a seamless process for the provincial head coach.

Three of her stars — guard Tanah Becker and forwards Izzi and Kyulin Fust — have been playing for travelling teams in the Ontario-based Kia Nurse Elite AAU program.

Friday, Jul. 15, 2022

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Alyssa Cox head coach of the Manitoba’s U18 female basketball team during practice at the Sport for Life gym (145 Pacific Ave) getting ready for next month’s Canada Games. See Mike Sawatzky story 220712 - Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

Five more Manitobans chosen on Day 2 of draft

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Five more Manitobans chosen on Day 2 of draft

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Friday, Jul. 8, 2022

After a bumper crop of three first-rounders on Thursday, five more homegrown Manitoba players were chosen on Day 2 of the NHL Draft in Montreal Friday.

The eight players picked matched the total of eight Manitoba players taken in 2017 and 2018 and was the highest number fro the province since 10 were called to the podium at the 2008 draft.

Leading the way on Day 2 was West St. Paul’s Adam Ingram who was the 82nd overall selection in the third round by the Nashville Predators in the NHL Draft in Montreal today.

The 18-year-old centre spent the 2021-22 season with the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms, scoring 26 goals and 55 points in 54 games. He was rated the 27th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

Friday, Jul. 8, 2022

JAMES DOYLE / PG COUGARS FILES
Goaltender Tyler Brennan of the Prince George Cougars was the first Manitoban, fourth overall, taken on the second day of the NHL Draft, Friday in Montreal.

Trio of Manitobans hear names called at NHL Draft

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Trio of Manitobans hear names called at NHL Draft

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Thursday, Jul. 7, 2022

It was an historic night for Manitoba hockey at the NHL Draft in Montreal.

Three homegrown talents — Strathclair’s Conor Geekie, Dominion City’s Denton Mateychuk and St. Adolphe’s Owen Pickering — heard their names called during the province’s most productive first round in almost 50 years.

Geekie, an 18-year-old centre from the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, went 11th overall to the Arizona Coyotes.

Mateychuk, a 17-year-old defenceman from the Moose Jaw Warriors, went 12th to the Columbus Blue Jackets and his second cousin, Pickering, an 18-year-old blue-liner with the Swift Current Broncos, was selected 21st by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thursday, Jul. 7, 2022

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Denton Mateychuk speaks during a news conference after being selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets as the twelfth overall pick in Montreal, Thursday.

Family affair for Manitoba prospects

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Family affair for Manitoba prospects

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Wednesday, Jul. 6, 2022

Dominion City’s Denton Mateychuk and St. Adolphe’s Owen Pickering have a tight family connection. By Thursday night, they will be bonded by history, too.

The second cousins (Mateychuk’s mom Keela and Pickering’s mom Dana are cousins) and former Eastman U15 AAA teammates are both expected to be chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft.

The dynamic defencemen will celebrate the occasion when they are joined in the stands at Montreal’s Bell Centre by 30 or more members of their extended families.

And no, they do not have a wager on who will hear his name called first. Mateychuk is rated 14th among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting. Pickering is ranked 15th.

Wednesday, Jul. 6, 2022

KEITH HERSHMILLER PHOTO
Dominion City’s Denton Mateychuk is one of the NHL Draft’s unique prospects.

Manitobans put in work to catch the eye of NHL scouts

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Manitobans put in work to catch the eye of NHL scouts

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Tuesday, Jul. 5, 2022

Carson Buydens has a scholarship to an Ivy League school in his back pocket, but don’t think for a minute he isn’t fantasizing about a future in pro hockey.

The 18-year-old centre from Gladstone, rated 167th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, could be a mid- to late-round selection at the NHL Draft after a superb debut year with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals.

MJHL players rarely get much love on draft day but Buydens could be an exception.

The 6-3, 180-pounder, has the tenacity (a league-leading 75 hits in 54 regular-season games), quick feet and offensive resume (he won league rookie-of-the-year honours after scoring 27 goals and 53 points in 2021-22) to pique the interest of pro talent evaluators.

Tuesday, Jul. 5, 2022

Lucas Punkari / The Brandon Sun files
Carson Buydens won the MJHL rookie-of-the-year honours after scoring 27 goals and 53 points in 2021-22.

Winnipeg’s Tyler Brennan top-rated North American puck-stopper available for NHL Draft

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Winnipeg’s Tyler Brennan top-rated North American puck-stopper available for NHL Draft

Mike Sawatzky 4 minute read Tuesday, Jul. 5, 2022

Tyler Brennan has long been one of the most promising goaltending prospects in the WHL.

Until last December, he never received playing time proportional to someone with his vast potential.

As a 16-year-old, the Winnipegger made 15 appearances for the Prince George Cougars. During a COVID-19 limited 2020-21 campaign, he played only four games before being called up to serve as the third goalie on the Canadian roster at the world U18 championship.

In 2021-22, he was still the No. 2 man in Prince George behind veteran starter Taylor Gauthier until the Christmas break when the Cougars made a long-awaited trade, shipping Gauthier to the Portland Winterhawks.

Tuesday, Jul. 5, 2022

James Doyle / PG Cougars
As the Cougars No. 1 goalie Brennan made 25 additional starts and finished the season with a 3.58 goals-against average, .899 save percentage and an 11-25-1-1 record in 39 appearances.

Siblings going places in the hockey world

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Siblings going places in the hockey world

Mike Sawatzky 7 minute read Monday, Jul. 4, 2022

ST. ADOLPHE — Owen Pickering has always had a way of defying expectations.

When he was younger, his mom Dana would worry that her violin-playing oldest son hadn’t practised enough. Apparently, those concerns were unfounded.

“I would always think, ‘Oh, he’s not quite prepared enough for this recital’ and then he’d knock it out of the park,” remembers Dana.

Pickering, 18, has been knocking it out of the park a lot lately.

Monday, Jul. 4, 2022

Avery Pickering (left), star blue-liner at Balmoral Hall, and brother Owen, a probable first-round NHL draft pick, fight it out in ball hockey at their home in Saint Adolphe. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Legendary coaches hang up their clipboards

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Legendary coaches hang up their clipboards

Mike Sawatzky 6 minute read Friday, Jul. 1, 2022

The reminders of past athletic glories are plastered all over gym walls at Oak Park High School.

It’s a proud legacy and two men — long-time varsity girls basketball coach Murray Brown and football coach Stu Nixon — were chief architects of programs that won 12 of those championship banners.

On Thursday, on the last day of the 2021-22 academic year, both men were retiring after lengthy teaching careers at the Charleswood area school.

Tears were shed and memories were recounted. There were no regrets.

Friday, Jul. 1, 2022

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Oak Park High School coaching legends Murray Brown and Stu Nixon said their farewells Thursday on the last day of school after decades leading the Charleswood school’s teams.

NHL prospect Filmon comes from long line of hoopsters

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NHL prospect Filmon comes from long line of hoopsters

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2022

Josh Filmon’s family legacy carries some weight on the provincial basketball scene.

His dad, Gregg, and uncle, David, were both all-star hoopsters during their university careers in the 1980s and ’90s.

Three decades earlier, grandfather Gary (yes, the former premier of Manitoba) was part of three consecutive provincial high school championship teams at Sisler High School.

Inexplicably, Josh is not a basketball guy. Not even close.

Tuesday, Jun. 28, 2022

Ed Fonger
WHL regular season game Mar 11, 2022.
Swift Current Broncos Josh Filmon (24) during a game against the Edmonton Oil Kings at the Credit Union Iplex Swift Current Saskatchewan, Photo by Ed Fonger

Late-blooming Ingram on track to be early-round NHL draft pick

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Late-blooming Ingram on track to be early-round NHL draft pick

Mike Sawatzky 6 minute read Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2022

Doesn’t everyone love a good under-the-radar NHL Draft story?

Take West St. Paul’s Adam Ingram, for example.

Three years ago, he was cut by the AAA U18 Winnipeg Thrashers but he’s a stubborn sort and didn’t treat that rejection as a stop sign.

Instead, he transformed himself from an average-sized prospect with zero hype into a better player with enormous potential, leading the Winnipeg Hawks and the Winnipeg AAA U17 league with 64 points in 35 games. Early next month, the 18-year-old centre is expected to be one of the first 60 picks at the NHL Draft extravaganza in Montreal.

Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2022

Scott Galvin Photography Youngstown Phantoms player photo shoot at the Covelli Centre on November 14, 2021. Adam Ingram, forward, 9

Portage Terriers loading up for Centennial Cup run in 2023

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Portage Terriers loading up for Centennial Cup run in 2023

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Wednesday, Jun. 15, 2022

Blake Spiller is not accustomed to losing and he’s certainly not used to missing the playoffs.

And so it came as a surprise this spring when the Portage Terriers had to skip the Manitoba Junior Hockey League post-season for the first time in Spiller’s 16 seasons as head coach and general manager.

That down year, however, is probably only a blip. The 59-year-old bench boss may be old school, but it would be a mistake to suggest he has lost his touch.

The 2021-22 Terriers had a young roster and deliberately so, with only one overage player — forward Jaden Pashe — on the roster at season’s end.

Wednesday, Jun. 15, 2022

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files
Portage Terriers head coach and general manager Blake Spiller.

A D-man with some dazzle

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A D-man with some dazzle

Mike Sawatzky 8 minute read Monday, Jun. 13, 2022

DOMINION CITY — On a quiet street, just a stone’s throw from the Dominion City Arena and a five-minute walk from Roseau Valley School, you will find Camp Mateychuk.

An 80-foot long batting cage is nestled in a grove of oak trees on the right side of the circular driveway.

There’s a basketball hoop just to the left of that, a workout room in the shed further back behind the trees. Around the rear of the main house sits a synthetic skating surface for hot summer days when the arena doesn’t have ice.

You should be getting the picture by now: Active people live here.

Monday, Jun. 13, 2022

Denton Mateychuk (Keith Hershmiller photo)

High-flying high-school standout a generational volleyball talent

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High-flying high-school standout a generational volleyball talent

Mike Sawatzky 5 minute read Friday, Jun. 10, 2022

Generational talent is an overused term to describe many outstanding athletes. It’s probably not an overstatement in the case of Raya Surinx.

The Grade 12 student at J.H. Bruns Collegiate has already been crowned the top female high school volleyball player in Manitoba and, unquestionably, the province’s top university recruit.

And, if not for a cruel twist, the 17-year-old would probably be one of the youngest players suiting up for Canada’s U21 team at the Pan American Cup currently underway in Mexico.

A positive COVID-19 test at the national team training camp in Edmonton forced Surinx into isolation for five days and a subsequent positive PCR test dashed any hopes she would travel with Team Canada.

Friday, Jun. 10, 2022

Raya Surinx has been crowned the top female high school volleyball player in Manitoba and is the province’s top university recruit. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Groundbreaking female goaltender named to Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame

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Groundbreaking female goaltender named to Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame

Mike Sawatzky 6 minute read Thursday, Jun. 9, 2022

Sami Jo Small never set out to be a pioneer in women’s hockey. She just came to embody the role.

Small, now 46, was helping break barriers in the game as a kid growing up in Winnipeg, although she wasn’t aware of its significance at the time.

Her father, Rod Small, proudly remembers the day a five-year-old Sami Jo started to carve out her own path in the sport.

Thursday, Jun. 9, 2022

GAVIN YOUNG / CALGARY HERALD FILES
Olympian Sami Jo Small