The Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic started off on the right foot, outcome-wise, from the perspective of a key organizer.
Saskatchewan Roughriders placekicker Brett Lauther, whose idea was the impetus for a charity fund-raiser that is now in its second year, captained his team to a 7-6 victory over Rob Bagg’s squad at the inaugural event on March 18 in Saskatoon.
The second annual game will again feature Lauther as one of the captains. The other “C” will be worn by former Roughriders receiver Chris Getzlaf when the teams face off on Saturday, 12:30 p.m., at Merlis Belsher Place on the University of Saskatchewan campus.
“Obviously, the main goal this year is to not lose to a kicker,” Getzlaf said on Wednesday.
“That has got to be first and foremost, because dropping a game to him last year, that still hurts.”
Any thoughts, Brett?
“I have a lot of respect for former players and alumni, so you understand that it’s hard for them to accept when they lose a step or two,” Lauther, who scored two goals in last year’s Winter Classic, replied with a chuckle.
“I’ll just take the high road and continue to lead the Riders and Rider Foundation hockey game in points, yearly.”
Team Getzlaf could be considered a strong favourite for 2024 due to the presence of someone who amassed 1,019 NHL regular-season points in addition to winning a world junior hockey championship (in 2005), a Stanley Cup title (2007) and two Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014).
That someone is Ryan Getzlaf, Chris’s brother, who retired as an NHLer in 2022 after spending his entire big-league career with the Anaheim Ducks.
“I can’t even remember the last time we were on the ice together, to tell you the truth,” Ryan Getzlaf said. “It might have been when we were playing (high school hockey) for Usher at some point.
“It’s exciting. Anytime I get to come back to Regina or Saskatoon and be a part of something like this, especially to experience it with Chris, it’s going to be a blast out there.”
The Winter Classic is a fundraiser for the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation, which assists young people by focusing on three pillars — amateur sport, health and education.
“It’s great to be able to carry on that community involvement, post-career,” said Chris Getzlaf, who had two 1,000-yard seasons as a Roughrider in addition to helping the team register a home-field Grey Cup victory in 2013.
“I’ve been out of the game for five years now, but it was a big part of what I did while playing the game.
“When you play for a team like Saskatchewan, where you have the passionate fans throughout the province, I just felt like it was always important and get out and touch each of those parts of the province if you had the opportunity.
“I was able to do it a lot during my career and, thankfully, that has transitioned to post-career and people are still willing to listen to me.”
Along with his wife, Paige, and four children, Ryan Getzlaf recently moved from southern California to Nashville. Post-NHL, his travels have also taken him to the home province more often than was feasible in the midst of a hockey career.
“I’ve almost regretted a little bit that I wasn’t able to make it back more throughout my career,” he said. “With family and kids, everything gets really busy in the off-season. You don’t really realize that when you go through it all.
“Now I’ve been able to come back multiple times this year, which has been great. Being retired and being away from the game, my schedule opens up.
“It’s really important and I’ve had a really good time doing it, so I’m looking forward to it again.”
As a result, the Getzlafs will soon travel from Tennessee to Saskatoon for the Winter Classic.
“My brother’s actually here with me in Nashville right now,” Ryan Getzlaf said. “He doesn’t want me to talk about it, but he got hurt yesterday playing 15 minutes of football with my little kids, so we’re going to need a lot of preparation before we get out on that ice surface.”
Although the composition of each team has yet to be announced, the names of most of the players have been revealed.
The Roughriders will be represented by current players such as Lauther, Jorgen Hus, Brayden Lenius, Mitch Picton and Noah Zerr.
The confirmed list of participating alumni members includes Chris Getzlaf, Jason Clermont (also a Robert Usher Collegiate alumnus) and Andy Fantuz.
Ryan Getzlaf will be joined by fellow former professional hockey players Ryan Bayda, Byron Bitz, Eric Gryba and Wacey Rabbit.
The guest referee will be Luke McGeough. His late father, Mick McGeough, refereed in 1,083 NHL regular-season games.
And here’s a neat bit of trivia: Ryan Getzlaf assisted on the winning goal — by Teemu Selanne — during Mick McGeough’s final NHL game.
Getzlaf had a goal and an assist on the night as Anaheim edged the host Los Angeles Kings 4-3 on April 5, 2008.