March 14, 2023

Lauther will be something to “C” at Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic

The term “icing the kicker” is about to be redefined.

Brett Lauther, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ placement specialist, is poised to captain one of the hockey teams at the Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic presented by BASF.

The inaugural game, which benefits KidSport, is slated for Saturday at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon.

Kickoff … er, faceoff … is set for 7 p.m.

In light of Lauther’s extensive experience as a hockey player, he can reasonably be expected to produce a three-pointer without using his right foot for propulsion.

In fact, he was heavily involved in hockey long before football was a consideration.

Lauther had never kicked a football until he was in Grade 10 at the Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro, N.S., whereas he had begun playing hockey as a youngster.

And even after Lauther’s aptitude for football was well-established, he still made it a priority to hit the ice in a competitive setting.

While attending Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Lauther also played forward for the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League’s Brookfield Elks.

He registered 12 goals and 17 assists over 45 regular-season games in the junior B circuit, in which he played from 2009 to 2012.

Always clutch on the football field, Lauther made his timeliest contributions to the Elks during the playoffs. He had six goals and six assists in 14 post-season games with Brookfield.

“After my university football season would end, I was lucky enough to have a junior team back home that would let me jump on it in December,” Lauther recalls.

Lauther entered university as a receiver who was also proficient as a kicker. That changed over time, thanks in large part to hockey.

“I was kind of getting banged up a little more playing receiver, and that was making it tougher to play hockey, too,” Lauther says.

“When I found out I could just switch back to kicking, it gave me an opportunity to focus on that and maybe have a chance to go to the next level.

“The biggest reason personally that I switched was that it gave me more time to not have meetings and to focus more on playing hockey.

“I wasn’t going to be banged up and stuff and I had no meetings. I could just kick the ball and play on the team and basically jump on the junior (hockey) team after football.

“So that was primarily why I switched off of playing receiver. I realized that I wasn’t going to play in the CFL with some of these American receivers.”

Lauther’s excellence as a kicker was noticed by CFL teams. Hence the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ decision to select him in the seventh round (53rd overall) of the 2013 draft.

He spent the next five years trying to find a home in the CFL before landing in Saskatchewan — for the third time ­— in 2018. There had been earlier stints with the Roughriders in 2015 and 2017.

Lauther made the most of his long-awaited opportunity,

hitting 90 per cent of his field-goal attempts en route to being named a West Division all-star in 2018.

Over four seasons with Saskatchewan, Lauther has converted 83.2 per cent of his field-goal attempts — an especially impressive stat when you consider the fact that the kicking process was once utterly unfamiliar.

“I remember going out my first day in Grade 10 and this is how much I knew about football: I brought my hockey jock,” Lauther, 32, says with a chuckle.

“I was dumbfounded that nobody wore a cup playing football. I couldn’t believe it. I knew nothing about the game. I didn’t know any rules. I didn’t know anything.”

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

“Years later, a really good buddy of mine told me that they were going around asking guys what position they want to play or try out for me,” Lauther continues.

“He looked at me at the time and said, ‘You’re a receiver.’ OK, I guess I’m a receiver. I didn’t know what that was or what they did.

“Later, he told me, ‘I knew you’d figure it out enough that you would take my spot if you played DB, so I told them you were a receiver.’ ”

Fortuitously, it turned out that the team was also looking for someone to handle field goals and converts.

“The first day, they had an open kicking tryout,” Lauther recounts. “I had some previous years of soccer, so they basically told me from all the guys that day that, ‘You’re the starting kicker this week.’

“I had never worn football gear. I knew no rules about the game. My dad and everyone had played at that high school and, after that, I really took up an interest in it and learned everything I could the first year.

“I came back the next year and I knew everything I needed to do. I trained hard and won all-star receiver.”

Lauther also saw some duty at quarterback before proceeding to Saint Mary’s, where he wore a receiver’s number (84).

As a freshman, Lauther waited his turn on special teams due to the fact that future CFLer Justin Palardy — a former teammate with the Cobequid Cougars — had a lock on the kicking job as a senior.

“When I went to university my first year, he was in his last year. I basically just practised at receiver,” Lauther says. “Once or twice a week, maybe, I would go down and just kick a ball or two to stay with it, because they knew I could.

“But Justin was the guy playing, so it wasn’t much of a focus. When he moved on the next year to Hamilton, I was doing both.”

Lauther had big shoe(s) to fill, but nonetheless did so with distinction. He was an Atlantic University Sports all-star in 2011 and 2012.

Now, as someone who also boasts CFL all-star credentials, Lauther still gets the itch to moonlight as a hockey player.

He went several steps further by taking a lead role in organizing Saturday’s charity game.

“I actually think hockey is one of the best workouts in the off-season for endurance and my legs and stuff with kicking, too,” Lauther notes.

“Football’s a sport where, when it’s over, you hang ’em up and you don’t do it again. Something like hockey and golf will just be two things that I continue to do for a long, long time.”

The pursuit of a good time will be the emphasis on Saturday, when Lauther and former Roughriders receiver Rob Bagg are to captain teams that include current and former CFLers, along with some NHL alumni.

Tickets are $25 each for spectators aged 13 and above. Children 12 and under will be admitted free if accompanied by an adult.

For more information, visit https://www.riderville.com/winterclassic/