Archive for April, 2012

So last weekend was the annual convention for the SWNA (Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association) down in Regina, and as a finalist up for an award in the Better Newspapers Competition, held in conjunction with the convention, I was headed south for the weekend and put up in a free hotel room at the Delta, where everything was held.

To make a long story short, which isn’t my style if you know my writing, I actually won the freaking thing! I landed the Best Feature Story Award for my article on the late Lisa Rendall, a woman who was born and raised in this area and nominated as the Saskatoon Citizen of the Year on December 31, 2010. At the time, Rendall was going through Hell with the breast cancer she’d been fighting for over a decade, and sadly, it was winning. My article appeared in our January 13, 2011 issue, and although Lisa found herself physically able to attend her own award banquet two months later in March, she passed away in April.

Looking back now, I’m incredibly grateful that she gave me her time, and provided me with a look into her world as the disease ravaged her from the inside. I had no idea that the story I was writing would come back and benefit me with such a groovy accolade well over a year later.

I’m all for entertaining my readers, so I thought I’d throw together the entire weekend scenario as a journal-like series of events.

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

– I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off at 9 am, which it does with no problems, except for the craving I have for just a little more sleep. I set it for a half hour later, surmising that I’ll still have plenty of time to pack up, get ready and hit the road by roughly 11. Still, even though I’m really not asleep and just want the luxury of staying curled up in the warmth of my bed with my thoughts, I can hear Dad yelling from his chair in the living room that I “better get a move on”. Although cocktails aren’t until 5, dinner until 6, and the awards ceremony until 7, he must think my getting down to Regina will require a team of Clydesdales, plowing and pulling their way through thick forest while I engage in fisticuffs with the most diabolical of thieves, braggarts and shady individuals. Dad is just gonna keep hollering every few minutes until he hears my bedroom door open, so I just get up.

– I’m on the road to Regina by exactly noon, after a few errands in Outlook. These include hitting up the ATM, fueling up, and stopping at the Bargain Shop for a couple things. I’m looking for Brylcreem, but instead settle for some AXE version of pomade called ‘Clean-cut Look’. Whatever. I’m Regina-bound.

– Hitting the highway and throwing my Ford into cruise, my entertainment for this 2.5 hour drive is a blend of an mp3 disc I recently made and the best of the Howard Stern Show from the past week on Sirius. As I arrive in Davidson and hit up the A&W restaurant, I chow down as Howard wraps up an interview with John Cusack. The show never ceases to be that reliable driving partner, keeping me alert, making me laugh and passing the time when my job or other activities require me to hit the road.

– I’m in Regina by roughly 3 that afternoon, and after finally getting to my hotel and obtaining a parking pass while experiencing the superb downtown traffic the city has to offer (damn one-way streets), I’m on my way up to the 24th floor and open the door to my room. A Kong-sized bed and a cool view of the city are among the highlights of it, and even cooler is the fact that I’m not paying one dime for any of it – thanks, SWNA!

– Settling down from the day’s travel and after laying out my clothes for the night, I flop down on the bed and watch Storage Wars on A&E. At around 5:30, I start putting on my fancy evening wear – dark purple dress shirt, black pants, black dress shoes, a black/silver/red tie, and then I top it all off with a black zip-up vest. Hardly fancy when I think about it, but certainly better than sweatpants and a wrestling t-shirt, which was, obviously, my first choice.

– I find all the goings-on on the second floor of the Delta and begin the mingling process, shaking so many hands that they all seem to blend together. This is my first time at the yearly convention, so I figure a little networking is in order. There are faces I instantly recognize and new ones that I eventually meet, and then I find my table where Delwyn (my boss) is sitting and dinner begins shortly.

– What a feast! Roast beef, BBQ ribs, chicken breasts, fish, potatoes, veggies, the whole nine yards. Everything kicks ass.

– After dinner, the awards ceremony begins and my eyes are trained on the white board in the northwest corner of the room, which is showing the nominees in each category as MC Chris Ashfield (of the Whitewood Herald) reads them out. Winners come and go with each category that comes up, and the ‘Best Feature Story’ one is inching closer and closer as others collect their plaques for the best in advertising, photography, and so forth.

*Daniel Bryan mode* YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

– Here it comes. Ashfield begins reading out the nominees for ‘Best Feature Story’ and I see the front page of my article come up on the white board. The hair on my arms raises just a little at the sound of my name, and I turn my gaze down to my table, preparing myself not to win and trying to look gracious in defeat. The only problem with that is that Ashfield says my name a second time, just after he says ‘And the winner is…’. I win. My eyebrows raise, I silently mouth ‘Holy shit!’ and I make my way to the side of the stage, where SWNA President Alison Squires greets me with a smile, hearty handshake, and a photo is snapped. “Ended up being worth the drive, huh?” she asks. Indeed it has been.

– Handshakes around my table, and Delwyn is beaming. Obviously, I am too. I never expected to win, and designated myself to that comfy “Just cool to be nominated” position in the weeks leading up to this event. Actually taking home the plaque was by no means a certainty in my mind, so this is very, very cool.

– I’m a happy man. So happy that after the evening comes to a close, I go back up to my room, grab my little Canon Powershot and shoot a number of photos, including one of the plaque resting against a window that looks out onto the city of Regina at night. But not before I make the obligatory phone call home to announce my hearty triumph to the family. Ma sounds a little choked up after I tell her that I’m “coming home with more than what I left with”. Crazy dames, with their feelings and whatnot. All kidding aside, I’m more than a little proud to tell the woman who is arguably the biggest fan of my work that my peers in the paper business seem to share the same sentiment.

– I throw the photo of the plaque on Facebook and within mere seconds (not an exaggeration), I start getting a flood of “likes” and words of congratulations from friends, family and assorted acquaintances. Ah, the power of social media.

– Having had some time to celebrate by myself and put it out into cyberspace, I head back downstairs to the ‘hospitality suite’, which is a politically correct way of saying, “Hey, you in the purple shirt! Get in here and drink with us, cuz it’s open bar and we don’t work tomorrow!” Sounds good to me. I indulge in a few rum and Cokes, shake even more hands and find myself going over the Lisa Rendall article all over again. A lot knew her name because she was a longtime radio personality on C95 in Saskatoon, or else they knew her from the endless breast cancer fundraisers she organized over the years.

– One more rum and Coke (didn’t I say that two of them ago?) and I head back up to my room, where more comments have hit my Facebook page. I’m feeling good, but now a little hungry, so I order some wings and pizza from Domino’s. I devour the wings while watching Corner Gas, but I guess that’s all I needed, because the pizza goes untouched. It’ll have to make the trip home with me. In hindsight, I probably should’ve just gotten room service.

– I didn’t think of it when I was packing, but I’m now stuck with no form of white noise so that I can actually get to sleep. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember – I just can’t sleep without some kind of background noise. I’ve used a fan in my bedroom for the longest time, but just this past week my sleep therapy machine arrived in the mail. I now get my beauty rest with the help of ocean waves, and sometimes the sound of a summer night. A word of warning to the future (ex)Mrs. Ruttle – you land me, you land my sleep machine.

SUNDAY, APRIL 22

– I ended up using the Food Network as background noise to lull me to sleep. Strangely enough, that didn’t make me dream of steak, pasta or seafood, though it’s not like I didn’t want it to. Even though I set my cell phone alarm for around 10, I’m up by 8. Weird how that happens. Must be the unfamiliar sleeping environment. Also funny is the fact that despite this bed being stupidly large, I stayed on only one side of it all night. Hmmm. Guess I could’ve invited one of the many lovely ladies clamoring to be my date for this gig. Ha ha ha…………..is he joking?

– I’m packed up again, checked out of the Delta and back in my car by a little after 11 am. But I’m not headed home yet, as I told myself that once everything in Regina was over with, I was gonna take a trip down to Rouleau, where Corner Gas was filmed. I make my way out of the city and arrive in ‘Dog River’ after a half-hour drive.

– This is pretty cool, now that I’m here. I’m staring at the Dog River police station, as well as the bar, and I snap photos. Finally, I make the actual Corner Gas station and Ruby Cafe set the main event of the early afternoon, getting many more snapshots. As it turns out, the inside of the gas station is being renovated because that’s where the memorabilia and gift shop is being moved to as of May 1. It was in the Dog River police station, but now people will actually drive out to Corner Gas to buy something related to Corner Gas, all because of their fondness for the TV show………Corner Gas. CORNER GAS!!!

– Back in the car, and I make my way back home. Again, Howard Stern and the gang keep me company, save for an hour or so when I’m blasting tunes good and loud. I arrive home a little past 4:30, and walk into a house full of people congratulating me once again, this time in person. Feels good. They hear all about the convention, the awards ceremony and my trip down to Rouleau, and it turns out they’ve been preparing a congratulatory supper. We sit down to steak right off the BBQ, seasoned potatoes, asparagus, and then a choice of either chocolate or butter pecan cake for dessert. Good eatin’.

Such was my entire Regina experience. I went, I saw, I ate, I won, I drank, I drank some more, I ate again, I slept, and I left. All in all, a great weekend. I suppose time will only tell if I am summoned to next year’s convention to defend my title. We’ll see.

For now though, I’m happy.

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For my money, WrestleMania 28 this past Sunday more than lived up to all the hype, promotion, pomp & circumstance when all was said and done.

Shawn Michaels, Triple H and The Undertaker look to the crowd following an awe-inspiring clash. (Photo WWE.COM)

I would easily slot this in as one of the all-time best ‘Manias in history. No joke. If I had to give you my Top 5, I’d have to say that ranking goes 17, 19, 20, 24 and then 28, but that’s just the chronological order. If I rearranged them to go from absolute best to, well, the fifth best, then those ‘Mania editions are scattered in the form of 17, 20, 28, 19 and 24. So this year’s event is sitting pretty right in the middle of the greatest editions ever. Well, at least in my humble opinion.

I rank ‘Mania 28 as high as I do because, as I said, it more than delivered on all the hype. It exceeded my expectations and as a lifelong fan, I was incredibly satisfied with the overall show when it was all over.

I’ll put it another way. This is the first ‘Mania in years (since 24 in 2008) that I could sit down right now and watch all over again, from start to finish. That hasn’t been the case with the last few ‘Manias. There may be a great match here and there (in the case of 25, the greatest one ever), but the last few ‘Manias suffered from a lot of misses on top of the few hits. Last year is probably the greatest example of that, when the main event match for the WWE Championship – The Miz vs John Cena – was bland, off the mark, and more about what someone else NOT WRESTLING was gonna do other than the actual match inside the ring.

Was ‘Mania 28 perfect? No, but again, in my book it was the closest thing to it in a long time. But the matches that needed to deliver – CM Punk vs Chris Jericho for the WWE Title, The Undertaker vs Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match, and of course, The Rock vs John Cena – did just that, and then some. In an era where fans are lucky if a big-time match goes over 20 minutes, those three bouts consisted of nearly 85 minutes of bell-to-bell wrestling. Money well spent, in my book.

But enough marking out over the show in general. My thoughts on each of the matches….

1. World Heavyweight Title, Daniel Bryan (C) vs Sheamus: Here’s where the Internet is going ballistic. The match was over before it even began, because what WWE did was have Sheamus kick Bryan’s face off as soon as the bell rang and after Bryan was done kissing girlfriend AJ for good luck. The angle is that Bryan either didn’t hear the bell, or just didn’t care that it rang, and it cost him the World Title. It was over in 18 seconds. Of course, I was instantly disappointed to begin with, but as it sunk in more I realized that perhaps people would remember that moment MORE than they would an actual match that went maybe ten minutes at best. It kicked off ‘Mania with a bang and popped the crowd huge. Did I want to see Bryan and Sheamus have the match they should’ve had last year? Sure. But in the end, it was more about creating a moment than a match. And I think with how well he’s gotten over as a heel, Bryan isn’t leaving the Title picture anytime soon.

2. Randy Orton vs Kane: It had next to no heat or momentum going into the PPV, but on paper it’s still a match between two main event superstars. I liked this match and thought it was in the right position on the card. A solid undercard bout that got very physical, very quick. I was surprised that Kane got the win, because if I had to guess I wouldn’t have pictured this feud continuing. Looks that way, anyway. Far from Orton’s best ‘Mania outing, but it’s the best we’ve seen from Kane in a long while.

3. Intercontinental Title match, Cody Rhodes (C) vs Big Show: This one was short and sweet, for good reason. Cody looked good against the mammoth Show, who gave him more than his fair share. I didn’t see Show actually winning the gold, but I don’t hate it either. That was a cool tackle in mid-air when Rhodes went for the kick off the top rope. I wonder if Cody finally losing the Intercontinental Title after eight months is a sign he may be moving up the ranks to the World Title picture? I’m not sure about WWE pulling that trigger yet, but there’s nothing wrong with at least teasing it.

4. Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Eve & Beth Phoenix: Yay, it’s the annual Divas match at ‘Mania that no one cares about! Just kidding, but sadly it’s not really a joke. The last time the Divas division got any proper attention at the biggest show of the year was six years ago at ‘Mania 22, when Trish Stratus fought Mickie James in the payoff match to that really well done stalker angle. That being said, I didn’t hate this match. Listen, it was what it was – another match where a celebrity goes over an actual WWE star to gain even a morsel of mainstream publicity. That’s just the reality of it. The match itself was fair, and I actually applaud Maria for trying to work a match like an actual wrestler, even getting worked over at times and selling like a champ. That dumb bitch Snooki did jack shit in that farce of a match last year.

5. Hell in a Cell, The Undertaker vs Triple H (guest referee Shawn Michaels): Absolutely amazing. The whole presentation of this match fired on all cylinders; great entrances, awesome face-off, Taker finally revealing what his new hairdo looks like (a cool mohawk), and even playing Metallica’s “The Memory Remains” as the Cell was being lowered to start the match. The action was intense and told a fantastic story. Well, it HAD to. This was the last chapter in what can really be called a four-part epic, starting all the way back to ‘Mania 25 with Taker’s first classic with Michaels. I thought it blew away the Taker/HHH match from last year, and really mimicked the second Taker/HBK clash from ‘Mania 26 as it reached the conclusion. Taker himself looked healthier and even quicker with the full year off he had from action. Triple H looked better than he did in his matches late last year with CM Punk and Kevin Nash. And HBK as the guest ref was great in his facial expressions to really sell the drama. And of course, with a final Tombstone, the Dead Man went 20-0 in his winning streak following a 30+ minute blockbuster. Cool as that is, the post-match image of Shawn and Taker helping a defeated HHH to his feet and then the three of them walking up the ramp is one hell of a WrestleMania moment. The emotion behind it made me question whether we’ve actually seen the last of The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I really, really hope not.

6. Team Teddy vs Team Johnny 12-man tag match: This was the right place for this match. People needed to rest after the HIAC epic and there needed to be a good ‘buffer’ between it and the other two main events, so this was appropriate. By itself, I thought it was a fine mess of a multi-man match. Everyone got a chance to perform in the ring, and it even managed to pop the tired crowd once or twice. The right team won, that being Team Johnny representing John Laurinaitis, because it opens up a lot more storyline opportunities for the foreseeable future.

Punk calls for the GTS to end the match. It wouldn't work. (Photo WWE.COM)

7. WWE Championship, CM Punk (C) vs Chris Jericho: Excellent match. What I salivated over was the prospect of this being the best pure wrestling contest, and that’s exactly what we got. For over 20 minutes, Punk and Jericho tore into each other with various moves, strikes, holds and submissions in a match that started off slow, but gradually snatched the crowd’s attention and had them on their feet in the final moments. Just a great chemistry between these two, and I loved the several submissions attempts by both of them to try and end the match. It pulled the crowd in with every anguished yell and scream, as Punk or Jericho tried making the other tap out. Punk finally managed to get the win by submission, and I cannot wait to see how this story moves forward. If I had my way, I’d have Jericho win the gold at the next PPV, Extreme Rules, which is in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Then a third match, the rubber match, somewhere else down the line. And I’d make it an Iron Man match. Book it, Vince.

8. The Rock vs John Cena: Epic. Historic. Once in a lifetime. That’s how WWE promoted this match, and the end result lived up to it. Great face-off when both guys got in the ring, which I was looking for to mimic that feeling of Rock/Hogan from a decade ago. Very back and forth in the beginning, which was the right move in order to show the fans that it could go either way and was too hard to predict yet. Rock was the absolute babyface throughout and Cena the heel, which surprised me because I thought that, like at ‘Mania 18 when Rock fought Hogan, a large portion of the fans would switch over to Cena and split the stadium almost 50/50. That wasn’t the case here. I thought Rock looked great in his first singles match in nine years; very fluid and bumping really well for Cena. And people can say what they want about John, but he brings his A game in big match situations. For a match that’s designed to only happen once, I liked the chemistry between them. It had some great near-falls and great drama in the end. I loved that the WWE brought back that old bit of the ref checking on a wrestler by lifting his arm to see if he’s conscious. The ref did that to The Rock when Cena had the STF submission locked in, and just like it always does, Rock’s arm staying up on the third check blew up the Miami crowd. From there, it built to the end where Cena got too arrogant and attempted his own version of The People’s Elbow. It bit him in the ass though, as Rock exploded and nailed the Rock Bottom for the huge win. That, I didn’t expect. A pleasant surprise to see Rock win this half-hour battle, even if it does produce many calls for a rematch some day. But I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen.

Rock vs Cena provided as much drama as was expected for this year-long anticipated match. (Photo WWE.COM)

Again, overall, this was just a fantastic PPV. Great wrestling, emotional storytelling, and memorable moments. All ingredients that a WrestleMania should always have.

On to ‘Mania 29 in Jersey…..