Sunday, 25 September 2016

Blades nail it with "Thank You Mr. Hockey Day"

Gordie Howe's four children take part in a ceremonial faceoff.
    The Saskatoon Blades got it right when it came to remembering Gordie Howe.
    On Sunday morning, the hockey icon’s ashes and those of his wife, Colleen, were interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel Centre. Gordie passed away earlier this year on June 10 at age 88. Colleen passed away on March 6, 2009 at age 76.
    A private interment ceremony open to 61 members of the Howe family started off a day a festivities to honour Gordie in his hometown area in what the Blades dubbed as “Thank You, Mr. Hockey Day.”
    The makings of what happened on Sunday started when Blades president Steve Hogle contacted members of the Howe family over the summer looking for permission to hold a special day to honour Gordie in Saskatoon. Gordie was born in a farmhouse in Floral, Sask., which is just south of Saskatoon, and moved to “the Bridge City” at age 9.
A fan gets her picture taken with the Gordie Howe statue.
    While talking to Gordie and Colleen’s children, Hogle discovered that one of Gordie’s wishes was to have his and Colleen’s ashes interred at the base of the Gordie Howe statue at the SaskTel Centre. Hogle made the offer to make that happen setting the wheels in motion for a tribute day, which also led into the Blades WHL regular season home opening game against the Swift Current Broncos.
    Following the ceremony, the Howes were taken to Lookout Point in Diefenbaker Park to see the name of the Circle Drive South Bridge was renamed the Gordie Howe Bridge. They then proceeded to visit King George School, which Gordie attended, and one of Gordie’s childhood homes.
    Everything shifted back to the SaskTel Centre from there. A tailgate party started in the parking lot at 12 p.m., and the doors to the rink opened at 1 p.m.
Logan Flodell and the Blades warm up in Gordie Howe jerseys.
    Spectators flocked around the Gordie Howe statue in the two hours leading up to the game, and many had their pictures taken with the statue. Inside the rink, fans checked out a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit that featured a number of Howe items including one of his Detroit Red Wings jerseys from his NHL days and a Houston Aeros jersey from his WHA days.
    Some Howe family photos were also on display at various locations on the main concourse area.
    The Blades players also took the ice for warm up all wearing #9 Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings jerseys.
    At 2 p.m., the Blades started into a stirring 25-minute pre-game tribute ceremony for Gordie. Fans got to see an impressive tribute video featuring a whole bunch of archival footage of Gordie’s playing days and also interviews that were done on local television. In some instances, it was surprising to realize that some of that footage still existed.
    Legendary Hockey Night In Canada play-by-play voice Bob Cole was the emcee for the tribute. Former NHL players in Hockey Hall of Fame member Bryan Trottier, Morris Lukowich and Gerry Pinder all took attention grabbing Gordie stories.
Bryan Trottier speaks to the SaskTel Centre crowd.
    All three had deep Saskatchewan roots as Trottier is from Val Marie, Lukowich was born in Speers and played his minor hockey growing up in Saskatoon and Pinder is a Saskatoon product.
    Howe's children in sons Mark, Marty and Murray and daughter Cathy all took part in dropping the puck for a ceremonial faceoff.
    “I think a reflection on Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan is absolutely magnified because of Gordie Howe,” said Trottier in a media scrum after the ceremony. “All of us who know the name Gordie recognize what he meant to the game of hockey.
    “For the kids that have ever played hockey, for all the hockey that is going on in Canada in and around these little small communities, there is a belief. There is a belief that you can make it. Gordie provided that for all of us. “
    Due to playing a combined 32 seasons in the NHL and WHA, Howe was idolized by a few generations of hockey players, and Trottier, Lukowich and Pinder all looked up to “Mr. Hockey.”
    No matter where Gordie went or how famous he became, he returned to Saskatoon on a regular basis, and the citizens of Saskatoon always saw Gordie as one of their own.
    “This is his hometown,” said Trottier. “This is our guy that grew up here in Saskatchewan.
    “He reflects well on all the values that are from Saskatchewan whether it is family (or) whether it is hockey.”
Centre Jesse Shynkaruk zips up ice for the Blades.
    The only thing that didn’t go right was the fact the Blades, who wore special Gordie Howe themed jerseys, dropped a 6-0 decision to the Broncos before 6,359 onlookers. Calvin Spencer scored twice for the Broncos, while Noah King, Brandan Arnold, Tyler Steenbergen and Tyler Adams had singles. Travis Child made 28 stops to earn the shutout in goal for Swift Current, while Brock Hamm turned away 25 shots suffering the loss in goal for the Blades.
    The result of the clash between the Blades and Broncos seemed secondary, because everyone was caught up in Gordie Howe fever.
    As you walked out the door, the Blades had one more surprise. Everyone that left received a Gordie Howe poster, and three of the pictures on the bottom came from the festivities of the day. Somehow, the Blades were able to put the mechanics in motion to the point you were able to go home with an unexpected cool keepsake.
    The Blades hit all the positive checkmark points, which included ones you didn’t even think of.
    Somewhere, you had to think Gordie was grinning. For those that came to the SaskTel Centre, they got to enjoy a day they will always remember, as Saskatoon’s biggest hero came home to rest forever.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass on about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Howe's legend will always be larger than life

The Gordie Howe statue that sits outside the SaskTel Centre.
    Gordie Howe.
    When you mention the late hockey icon’s name, you almost don’t know where to start.
    Along with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, Howe was one of those first hockey stars that was idolized by children. Due to the fact he played 32 seasons in the NHL and WHA, children that idolized “Mr. Hockey” grew up to be parents and watched their children also look up to Howe.
    Growing up in the 1980s, I remember getting into debates and arguments with my late father about who was the greatest hockey player of all-time. For me, the obvious answer was Wayne Gretzky due to the scoring records and ridiculous offensive point totals he was putting up at that time with the Edmonton Oilers.
    My dad would always say I was wrong, and that Howe was the best. Howe was my dad’s childhood hero. The debate always turned to the fact that Howe played most of his years with the Detroit Red Wings in the “Original Six” era of the NHL where the competition wasn’t as watered down as a league that contained 21 teams like the 1980s NHL did.
    Also, no other player had the offensive grace and toughness that Howe possessed, which gave the “Gordie Howe hat trick” life of getting a goal, an assist and a fighting major in the same game.
Sunday will be “Thank You, Mr. Hockey Day” in Saskatchewan. During a private family ceremony in the morning, the ashes of Gordie and his late wife Colleen Howe will be interred at the Gordie Howe statue that sits outside the SaskTel Centre.
    Gordie, who was born in a farmhouse in Floral, Sask., and moved to Saskatoon at age 9, passed away earlier this year on June 10 at age 88. Colleen passed away on March 6, 2009 at age 76.
    After the ceremony, Howe’s family will make their way to the newly built Circle Drive South Bridge, which has been renamed the Gordie Howe Bridge.
    From there, everything shifts back to the SaskTel Centre, where Howe will be honoured in a pre-game ceremony at 2 p.m. before the Saskatoon Blades hit the ice for their WHL regular season home opener against the Swift Current Broncos.
A Gordie Howe card from the 1980s.
    A tailgate party starts in the parking lot at 12 p.m. and the doors to the rink open at 1 p.m.
    It should also be noted the WHL’s Vancouver Giants will also be honouring Howe in a pre-game ceremony before their home opener on Friday against the Everett Silvertips. Howe was a former minority owner of the Giants, and his family members will be in Vancouver before making the journey to the right-winger’s hometown area.
    Both the Giants and Blades games will be shown on Shaw.
    There will be a lot of emotions on both nights. It seems everyone has a Gordie Howe story to tell.
For me, my father’s stories of Howe danced in my head the first and only time I interviewed him.
    The interview occurred in December of 1999, when I was an intern general assignment reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. I was working with fellow interns Jillian MacPherson and Vanessa Lee compiling a list of what Saskatchewan’s movers and shakers were doing to ring in the new millennium.
    When I got on the phone with Howe, I was so nervous. I had to keep from freaking out that I was actually talking to Gordie Howe. It was one of the rare times I was caught being in awe of the celebrity of a person.
    The quote I used from Howe was, “Well, we won’t be doing a heck of a lot of anything. If our grandson is playing on New Year’s, I’ll go watch him play. And that’s Nolan Howe. That’s Mark’s son.
    “Nothing concrete. We’re just laid back, like we were in Saskatchewan.”
    To me, the quote was cool, because it came from Howe.
    The other time I encountered Howe was at the 2007 Memorial Cup tournament, when I was a beat writer covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers for the Medicine Hat News. At that time, I wasn’t awestruck, but I felt it was cool to see Howe at the tournament.
    My big memory came from the CHL awards ceremony that year. A bunch of the high rollers that sponsored the Memorial Cup were in attendance. They were nice to talk to, but the mingling had an upper class feel to it.
    I looked at Howe, and he looked like the lost prairie boy. He was being polite and courteous to everyone, but you almost could see a vibe that he wasn’t with his crowd. I totally identified with him at that moment, because I was feeling that way too.
A Gordie Howe card from the 1990s.
    The thing that put Howe over the top for being great was the fact he was ordinary. He did all these limitless spectacular things on the ice, but off of it, he was that kind next door neighbour.
    The public viewed him as being like “you and me.”
    Over the years, I have heard a number of other cool stories featuring Howe. A couple of my favourites were told to me by former NHL players Morris Lukowich and Bryan Maxwell. Those I will pass on via word of mouth otherwise this column would go on forever.
    While hockey took Howe all over the map, he always managed to return to Saskatoon. His last public appearance was at the 55th annual Saskatoon Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner back in February 2015, when a huge number former hockey stars flocked into town.
    It just seems fitting that Howe’s remains will be laid to rest in his hometown area.
    The Blades are expecting 61 members of Howe’s family to be in Saskatoon on the weekend. There will never be a better chance locally to give a heartwarming salute and thanks for all the good things Howe did in his life and the recognition he brought for Saskatoon and Saskatchewan.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Hilltops hit road to B.C., hammer Sun 58-2

Logan Fischer and the Hilltops stomped out the Sun.
    So much for the Canadian Bowl rematch.
    The venerable Saskatoon Hilltops hit high gear on Saturday night in Kelowna, B.C., and the rest of the teams Canadian Junior Football League likely took notice of butt kicking that happened. Participating in their first regular season cross-conference match, the Hilltops took a 4-1 record into the Apple Bowl to face the host Okanagan Sun, who entered the contest with a 6-1 mark.
    The Hilltops downed the Sun 38-24 in last year’s CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl – in Saskatoon.
    On Saturday, the Hilltops, who play out of the Prairie Football Conference, scored early and often to tune of a 58-2 beat down of the Sun, who are annually a powerhouse club in the British Columbia Football League.
    What made the victory even more impressive was the fact the Hilltops flew out Saturday, had to wait through a three hour flight delay and rushed through various preparations to be ready for the game’s 7 p.m. local start time at the Apple Bowl in Kelowna.
    Even with all those factors going against them, the Hilltops showed the pedigree of a team that has won the last two CJFL championships and a total of five CJFL championships in the last six years.
    Veteran power back Logan Fischer gave the Hilltops a big jump start scoring the team’s first touchdown on a nine yard run and the club’s third major on what was listed as a 27 yard run. Fischer finished with 105 yards rushing on 13 carries and had a catch for seven yards.
    Hilltops starting quarterback Jared Andreychuk completed 9-of-15 passes for 173 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran in a major from four yards out.
    Sam Mike was the Hilltops leading receiver catching six passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
    Defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler had five tackles and a fumble recovery for the Toppers.
    Okanagan’s only score came on a conceded safety touch. The Sun fell to 6-2 with the loss.
    The Hilltops improve to 5-1 to still sit alone in second place in the PFC. The Calgary Colts downed the Regina Thunder 15-12 in a neutral site game at Medicine Hat on Saturday to remain first in the PFC with a 5-0 mark. The Thunder are third in the PFC with a 3-3 record.
    Saskatoon heads into a bye week along with Regina. The Toppers return to action on Oct. 1, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at old Mosaic Stadium at 7 p.m. If the Hilltops win that contest, they would take a huge step towards locking up at least a second place finish in the PFC and a home playoff date for the first round of the post-season.

Rams upset Thunderbirds 20-10

Noah Picton and the Rams topple UBC.
    The University of Regina Rams ensured the first game at new Mosaic Stadium will be significant, when it comes to the playoff picture in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
    On Saturday in Vancouver, the Rams upset the defending Vanier Cup champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 20-10. The Thunderbirds led 10-3 at halftime before the Rams rallied with 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to claim victory.
    In the third quarter, Rams quarterback Noah Picton threw two touchdown strikes to Mitchell Picton from 10 and five yards out. Daniel Scraper hit a pair of field goals in the contest for the U of R.
Colton Zayshley returned a fumble for a touchdown for the Thunderbirds, who also received a field goal from Greg Hutchins.
    Noah Picton completed 24-of-33 passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Rams. Khalid Kornegay topped the Rams with 109 yards receiving on three catches.
Michael O’Connor completed 32-of-48 passes for 337 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions starting at quarterback for the Thunderbirds.
    The Rams improved to 2-1 to sit third in the Canada West Conference. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies hold on to second in Canada West with a 2-1 record thanks to their 41-39 head-to-head overtime victory against the Rams in Week 1.
    The Thunderbirds fall to 1-2.
    The Rams and Huskies will play the first ever game at new Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. The single game tickets for this contest are already soldout. Tickets for that contest can still be purchased by buying “flex” ticket packages from the Rams, which include tickets to other games.

    If you have any comments you would like to make about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 16 September 2016

"Dinos jinx" goes on for Huskies

U of Calgary gets 10th straight win over U of Saskatchewan

Niko DiFonte (#45) boots the winning field goal for the Dinos.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies just can’t seem to get a Dinos sized load off their collective backs.
    For a short time in Friday night’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport football encounter at Griffith’s Stadium in Saskatoon, the host Huskies appeared poised to earn their first victory against the University of Calgary Dinos in six years. The Dinos had other ideas.
    With 2:04 to play in the fourth quarter, the Huskies led 19-17 and had the Dinos pinned at their own six yard line. To make matters worse for the visitors, they had to drive into a fairly stiff breeze.
    Those obstacles didn’t seem to matter to fifth-year Dinos quarterback Jimmy Underdahl. Underdahl drove his team 101 yards in nine plays to put U of C in range for a 10-yard chip shot field goal. 
    Kicker Niko DiFonte booted home the winning points with 40.8 seconds remaining on the clock to ultimately give the Dinos a 20-19 victory before a packed house of 7,938 spectators. The win allowed U of C to sit alone in first place in the Canada West Conference with a 3-0 mark, while U of S falls to 2-1.
Quentin Chown (#31) pushes the Dinos into range for a winning field goal.
    Including action in the regular season and playoffs, the Dinos have won 10 straight head-to-head meetings with the Huskies. The Huskies last win over the Dinos came back on Oct. 15, 2010, when U of S claimed a 36-17 decision at Griffiths Stadium.
    Going into Friday’s battle, it seemed like the Huskies, who were rated 10th in the CIS top ten rankings, were due to break the jinx.
    Before Friday’s contest, the last time these two teams met was in a Canada West quarter-final playoff match last year. The Huskies led that encounter 22-19 early in the fourth quarter only to fall 37-29.
    During the off-season, the Huskies strengthened their depth landing some key recruits from the Saskatoon Hilltops 2015 Canadian Junior Football League championship team. It was hoped the additions of those recruits would get the Huskies over a few humps, which included ending the head-to-head skid with the Dinos, who are rated second in the CIS rankings.
Jimmy Underdahl (#16) fires a pass downfield for the Dinos.
    The visitors got out of the gates with a fast start on Friday going up 10-0 in the first quarter thanks to 22-yard field goal by DiFonte and a 12-yard touchdown run by running back Quentin Chown.
U of S responded rolling off 16 straight points in the second quarter to hold a 16-10 edge at halftime.  
    Huskies quarterback Kyle Siemens fired a 13-yard touchdown strike to Hilltops grad Chad Braun and an eight-yard scoring toss to Samuel Baker. U of S kicker Sean Stenger contributed singles from a missed field goal and a kickoff rouge to round out the Huskies second quarter surge.
    It also appeared luck was going to shine the Huskies way too. The Dinos first possession of the second half ended when DiFonte nailed the right upright on a 40-yard field goal attempt preventing the visitors from cutting into the Huskies lead.
    After a scoreless third quarter, the Dinos went in front 17-16, when Chown ran in a four-yard major score for his second rushing touchdown of the day with 9:16 to play in the fourth quarter.
Chad Braun hauls in a touchdown catch for the Huskies.
    U of S responded on its next series when a five play 78 yard drive culminated with a 20-yard field goal by Stenger to give the hosts a 19-17 edge. That set the stage for the dramatics on Dinos scoring drive late in the frame.
    After the Dinos went ahead 20-19, the Huskies had a chance to get in range for the winning field goal with the wind at their backs, but the offence turned the ball over on downs after three plays.
    Underdahl had a solid night completing 29-of-43 passes for 383 yards. He didn’t have any touchdown passes, but he also didn’t have any interceptions.
    Siemens was sound too connecting on 20-of-35 attempts for 283 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Hilltops grad Matt Kozun had a pair of sacks being named the Huskies player of the game.
Huskies LB Brad Kotania (#40) nails Dinos SB Austen Hartley.
    When the dust settled, the difference in Friday’s game was the fact the Dinos were able to put together that long drive late in the fourth quarter to get in range for the winning kick. The Huskies played valiantly in the setback. With that said, it was still agonizing for the Huskies to drop their 10th straight to U of C.
    The only thing the Huskies can do now is wait for their next opportunity to break the “Dinos jinx.” The two teams meet again on Oct. 22 in Calgary.
    Before contest comes around, both teams will be focuses on their respective upcoming schedules. The Huskies return to action on Sept. 24, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the U of Manitoba Bisons. The Dinos remain on the road and travel to Regina this coming Friday to take on the U of Regina Rams.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass on about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Win gives Rams much needed confidence boost

The Rams celebrate their win over the Bisons.
    The University of Regina Rams rid themselves of that “here we go again” sinking feeling with one win.
    Last Thursday, they rallied from a 38-27 fourth quarter deficit to down the University of Manitoba Bisons 41-38 on a touchdown catch with 25 seconds to play by receiver Ryan Schienbein in their home opener at Mosaic Stadium. The win allowed the Rams to improve to 1-1 in the young Canadian Interuniversity Sport football season.
    Now, they have the potential to erase the painful memories of an 0-8 campaign in 2015, which was the only season they played under the guidance of head coach Mike Gibson. During that winless campaign, the Rams dropped four games by seven or fewer points. The most heartbreaking of those setbacks came in the final game of the season, where the Rams held a 34-11 lead over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies late in third quarter at Mosaic Stadium only to fall 38-37.
    It seemed like even if the Rams were on their game they would still find a way to lose.
Ryan Schienbein catches the winning touchdown for the Rams.
    Gibson left the Rams on Jan. 17 to join the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator. For a large number of team’s alumni, the departure couldn’t have come soon enough, as they began to feel disconnected with the program with Gibson guiding the ship as head coach. Behind the scenes, there was more turmoil than most likely knew.
    Searching for Gibson’s replacement, the Rams looked to their past hiring former player Steve Bryce as the team’s new head coach. Bryce played five seasons on the Rams offensive line from 1987 to 1991 during their days in the Canadian Junior Football League, which included a national championship win in his rookie campaign.
    After exhausting his junior eligibility, Bryce went down to the United States to play four seasons with the North Dakota based Jamestown College Jimmies. From there, Bryce moved to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he spent 15 season coaching the football team at Etiwanda High School including the last seven as head coach.
    He returned home to Regina in August of 2015 with his wife and two daughters and applied for the Rams job after Gibson resigned.
Noah Picton (#4) threw for 499 yards and four touchdowns for the Rams.
    With Bryce as head coach, the Rams started to reconnect with their alumni. A new different type of good feeling started to arise about the team.
    The positive emotions seemed to transfer over to the field. In Week 1, the Rams traveled to Saskatoon and were poised to pull out an upset win against the Huskies.
    They led 31-28 with about a minute to play, and the Huskies were facing a third and 20 from their own 20 yard line. Again, the Rams would watch the other side rise to the occasion and pull out a key big play to win the game.
    Huskies quarterback Kyle Siemens proceeded to hit receiver Yol Piok with a deep throw that gained 35 yards. U of S forced overtime and pulled out a 41-39 victory.
    Against the Bisons in Week 2, the Rams led 13-10 at halftime and 27-14 after three quarters. The visitors rallied with 24 straight points to pull ahead 38-27, and you had to wonder if that “here we go again” feeling was starting to sink in.
Rams LB Zack McEachern nails Bisons RB Cam Fox.
    This time things were different.
    Rams star quarterback Noah Picton began to resemble his father, Dean. Dean was a superstar signal caller for the team in the 1980s guiding the squad to CJFL title wins in 1986 and 1987.
    Noah led the Rams on an 11 play, 87 yard drive that culminated with him scoring a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak with 1:35 to play. The score cut the Bisons lead to 38-33. A U of R two-point conversion attempt was not successful.
    The Bisons recovered an onside kick and appeared set to put the finishing touches on a win. Two plays later, Rams defensive back Korey Greene forced Bisons running back Alex Christie to fumble. U of R linebacker Zack McEachern recovered the ball, and the Rams were in business but also 104 yards away from the U of M end zone.
    Miraculously, Noah Picton drove the Rams those 104 yards in 55 seconds with eight plays. Picton hit Schienbein with the winning touchdown on a 15 yard pass in the middle of the end zone, which had the Rams bench erupting with joy.
Mitchell Picton makes a tough catch in traffic for the Rams.
    A Hail Mary pass attempt by Bisons quarterback Theo Deezar on the last play of the game was picked off by Rams linebacker Joey Dwyer. U of M fell to 0-2.
    The U of R win brought an end to a 10 game losing skid for the Rams, which included nine regular season games and one playoff match.
    The Rams last win came back on Nov. 1, 2014, when they defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears 35-31 in the final home and regular season game under the guidance of legendary head coach Frank McCrystal. Picton guided the Rams to victory that day as a first-year signal caller rallying the team from behind twice in the fourth quarter.
The Rams celebrate Ryan Schienbein's winning touchdown catch.
    Against Bisons last Thursday, Picton completed 40-of-60 passes for 499 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. For the second straight week, he was named the offensive player of the week for the Canada West Conference.
    The bigger thing for the Rams was they were able to make the key plays in a close game to pull out victory, and the season is still young. Now that they have this experience, the chances of pulling out a tight game in the future improve greatly. On top of that, winning creates a confidence that all your work in practice and the film room will pay off.
    The next test for the Rams is this coming Saturday, when they travel to Vancouver to take on the defending Vanier Cup champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds (1-1). The chance for the “Boys in the Horns” to again do something special awaits.

Back in the Express with cover story on new Blades GM

Blades general manager Colin Priestner expects a good season.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with the cover story on the Saskatoon Blades new general manager Colin Priestner, who was extremely genuine in the one-on-one interview I did with him.
    In the story, the 32-year-old discussed the enormity of the rebuild the Blades had to undergo when his father, Mike, purchased the charter Western Hockey League franchise in September of 2013, transitioning to his new position, the experienced staff he surrounded himself with and the challenge of being the boss’s son.
    While talking about a variety of subjects, Priestner was upbeat about the possibilities that lay ahead for the team.
    Part of the discussion that didn’t make the story included the brilliant work Blades president Steve Hogle has done putting on great pre-game and post-game events over the past three seasons.
    The next of those is coming on Sept. 25, when the Blades host their regular season home opener at 2 p.m. against the Swift Current Broncos. The Blades will honour late hockey icon Gordie Howe that day. Howe’s ashes along with those of his wife, Colleen, will be interred at the Gordie Howe statue that sits in front of the SaskTel centre in a private ceremony at 9:30 a.m. that same day.
    Priestner’s aim is to get the action on the ice during the game to equal the happenings that Hogle has going on around the game.
    “He (Hogle) is just a tireless worker,” said Priestner. “He cares about the city and cares about the people.
    “You sometimes just take for granted how many great things we’ve tried to do. The unfortunate part is when you have a losing team and you have a great pre or post-game event, it is still a losing team. When you do lose 4-1, people forget about the powerful ceremony before the game.
    “Hogle has done so many great things with the game day (experience). I just feel like I and we all owe it to him on this side to bring that winning team to really show the people of Saskatoon all the great things we are doing.”
    The Express cover story on Priestner can be found right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hilltops defence delivers in crunch time

Hilltops LB Bobby Ehman grabs Thunder RB Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops defence always seems to deliver in the clutch.
    On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops defence delivered two key stops inside of the final two minutes to preserve a 20-18 victory over their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder. The stops came right after Thunder quarterback Sawyer Buettner hit fifth-year receiver Kasim Ocaya on a 14-yard touchdown strike to cut Saskatoon’s edge to two points with 2:03 to play.
    Following that major score, the Thunder got two more possessions to try and move into range for a winning field goal. 
    On the first of those final two possessions, defensive end Blake Hermann came through with a key pass knock down, and the Hilltops forced a fumble a short time later that was recovered by rookie defensive back Leif Larson. Larson had two fumble recoveries on the night for Saskatoon.
Cameron Schnitzler, right, topped the Hilltops with 12 tackles.
    The Hilltops weren’t able to move the ball, which allowed the Thunder to have one last possession with under 40 seconds to play.
    Second-year defensive tackle Tristan Hering proceeded to step up and deliver a blow that pretty much sealed the final outcome for the Hilltops. On a middle rush, Hering managed to knock the ball out of Buettner’s grasp. 
    The ball was recovered by Thunder offensive lineman Brayden Moroz, who chugged downfield before being brought down by a pair of Hilltops in middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler and defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler.
    The play ate up most of the time the Thunder had to use on the clock forcing them to one last desperate play. On the last play of the game, the visitors attempted a quick kick from running back Quinten Ruckaber, but it wasn’t able to create a winning score.
Tom Schnitzler (#56) deflects a Sawyer Buettner (#14) pass.
    Under defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie, the Hilltops defence usually follows a “bend but don’t break” approach. Saskatoon’s defence will give up yards, but always seems to come out with a decided edge in the turnover department.
    Regina out gained Saskatoon in net offensive yards 522 to 418, but the Hilltops defence came up with four takeaways, while the Thunder defence had one takeaway.
    Buettner had a spectacular outing for the visitors connecting on 43-of-52 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The second-year signal caller wasn’t able to hit any real big plays as his longest completion was 23 yards.
    The Hilltops held the Thunder to 78 yards rushing as a team, which included holding standout running back Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette to 59 yards on 14 carries.
    The Schnitzlers both had huge days for the Hilltops. Cameron topped the team with 12 tackles, while Tom had 10 tackles.
    Regina took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter of Saturday’s battle. Buettner hit receiver Kristiane Desautels for a 20-yard touchdown pass, and kicker James Reid recorded a single on a 27-yard missed field goal.
Logan Fischer piled up 134 yards rushing on 18 carries for the Hilltops.
    In the second quarter, Hilltops offensive lineman Drayke Unger punched in a one-yard touchdown run taking a carry as a fullback to cut the Thunder lead to 8-7. Hilltops safety James Vause booted a 30-yard field goal with 2.2 seconds to play in the first half to give Saskatoon a 10-8 lead.
    The Thunder jumped ahead 11-10 in the third quarter, when Reid nailed a 34-yard field goal. Before the frame ended, the Hilltops jumped back out in front 17-11 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Logan Fischer.
    Fischer piled up 134 yards rushing on 18 carries and caught two passes for 26 yards.
    Early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder gambled on a third and goal from the Saskatoon five yard line in an attempt to retake the lead. Buettner tried to hit Ocaya, but the pass fell incomplete due to tight coverage by Hilltops defensive back Luke Melnyk.
    Vause hit a 34-yard field goal to increase Saskatoon’s lead to 20-11 before the Thunder made their last push inside of the final three minutes.
Thunder QB Sawyer Buettner is pressured by Hilltops DE Blake Hermann
    Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk completed 13-of-20 passes for 174 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
    With the win, the Hilltops improved to 4-1 to sit second in the Prairie Football Conference, while the Thunder fell to 3-2.  The Hilltops return to action this coming Saturday, when they travel to Kelowna, B.C., to take on the Okanagan Sun in rematch of last year’s Canadian Bowl. Saskatoon took that encounter 38-24.
    The Sun fell to 6-1 dropping a 29-23 decision to the Westshore Rebels on Saturday in Langford, B.C.
    The Thunder take on the PFC leading Calgary Colts (4-0) this coming Saturday in a neutral site game in Medicine Hat, Alta.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass on about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Siemens is top football dog

Huskies make right move in going with third-year pivot

Kyle Siemens stays cool in the pocket for the Huskies.
    Kyle Siemens was the obvious choice to lead the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team as the starting quarterback, which should come as no surprise seeing his short sampling of work on the field.
    Going into this Canadian Interuniversity Sport season, Siemens, who is in his third year of eligibility, was in a battle for the Huskies starting quarterback position with fifth-year veteran Drew Burko. Both happen to be graduates of Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon.
    Burko was the starting pivot from 2012 to the Huskies sixth regular season outing in the 2015 campaign.
    Sitting at 2-4 last season, the Dogs needed a spark to make a playoff push. In went Siemens for the second last regular season game, and he proceeded to push the Huskies into the post-season going 1-1 in his two starts. The wins gave the Dogs a 3-5 regular season mark.
    U of S fell in a Canada West quarter-final playoff contest 37-29 in Calgary to the University of Calgary Dinos.
    In the Huskies regular season opener last Friday, Siemens had a strong outing completing 28-of-42 passes for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a thrilling 41-39 overtime victory over the University of Regina Rams. He also rose up in one big key moment before a packed crowd of 7,735 spectators at Griffiths Stadium, which showed why he had to handle the starting reins.
    The Rams had scored a touchdown and added a two-point convert to go up 31-28 with 1:36 to play in the fourth quarter.
    On the ensuing U of S series, the Huskies were at their own 20 yard line facing a third and 20. The situation favoured the defence, and the Huskies needed a big play to avoid bowing out in defeat.
    Siemens proceeded to hook up with receiver Yol Piok on a deep throw to pick up 35 yards and get the Huskies to midfield. The game’s momentum changed, and Siemens guided the Huskies into position to hit a short 20-yard field goal to tie things up at 31-31 and send the contest to overtime.
Kyle Siemens fires a pass downfield for the Huskies.
    As an encore, the Rams would go up 38-31 getting a touchdown in their first possession of the shootout overtime format, and Siemens came back hitting Colton Klassen with a 29-yard TD toss to tie things up at 38-38.
    The Rams proceeded to get a single from a missed field goal on their second OT possession to go up 39-38, and Huskies kicker Sean Stenger followed with a short 10-yard field goal to give his side a 41-39 win.
    Under Burko in 2015, the Huskies didn’t make enough key plays like the ones Siemens did inside the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter and in overtime on Friday. In the always tough Canada West conference, making those types of plays separates good teams from average teams and great teams from good ones.
    The other thing that hurt Burko was the fact he got in a rut last season of turning the ball over. In 2015, Burko completed 117 of 206 passes for 1,725 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He threw a combined five pics in back-to-back blowout losses to the Dinos, where the Huskies were outscored 103-34 and dropped to 2-4.
    When Siemens came in, he did a better job at taking care of the ball, which drastically improved the Huskies chances to win. In his first start last season, Siemens completed 44-of-67 passes for 520 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in a 41-36 loss at Griffiths Stadium to the eventual Vanier Cup champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The 44 completions were a single game Huskies record.
    Needed a win on the road in Regina against the Rams to make playoffs, Siemens rallied the Huskies from a 34-11 late third quarter deficit to pull out a 38-37 win. He completed 23-of-41 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in that contest.
    In the playoffs, Siemens had the Dogs up 22-19 early in the fourth quarter against the Dinos, before the Dinos pulled out a 37-29 victory. Siemens completed 29-of-46 passes for 356 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in that loss.
Kyle Siemens calls a play in the huddle for the Huskies.
    With the way Siemens finished the 2015 campaign, it was going to be hard not to name him the starter. He gives the Huskies their best chance to win.
    Burko did have a longer sampling as a starter. From a physical stature, he has all the tools you look for in a quarterback standing 6-foot-4, weighing 225 pounds and having a gun of an arm.
    Siemens stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 195 pounds and has a stature more comparable to CFL legend Doug Flutie. Like Flutie, Siemens isn’t your sexy pick to be quarterback, but also like Flutie, Siemens makes plays.
    Veteran Huskies head coach Brian Towriss and his staff know they have to make tough the decisions to help their team win, and this was one of them.
    Now it is up to Siemens to continue his magic this coming Friday on the road, when the Huskies travel to Edmonton to face the University of Alberta Golden Bears (0-1), who have a habit of playing the Dogs tough.

Thunder have hit at Leibel Field

Over 1,500 spectators packed Leibel Field in Regina to watch the Thunder.
    The Canadian Junior Football League’s Regina Thunder might have discovered that bigger isn’t always better.
    On Saturday, the Thunder packed over 1,500 fans into the cozy confines of Leibel Field to watch the host side post a 43-29 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles. For the Thunder’s hometown players, the move was a return to the roots type one.
    Leibel Field is home to a large majority of Regina’s minor football games. A lot of the Thunder’s Regina born players likely got their first taste of the tackled game at the park suiting up at age eight.
    The facility is also home to a number of clashes for the city’s various men’s and women’s touch and flag leagues.
    Leibel Field was renovated a few years back, which allowed the Thunder to experiment with the concept of playing there.
Tailback Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette tears downfield for the Thunder.
    Normally, the Thunder play at Mosaic Stadium, which is home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Thunder usually draws crowds of around 1,000, which look very spread out at Mosaic Stadium, which can seat over 33,000.
    At Leibel Field, it felt like the Thunder game had a better atmosphere, as there were no empty seats in the bleachers. The beer garden was a little small, but it was equipped with a big flat screen television, which allowed spectators to keep track of what was going on out on the field.
    Overall, the Thunder had a big hit with the concept of going to a smaller park. Hopefully, they will keep coming back to this novelty in the future.
    If they even just had one game a year at Leibel Field per season, it would be a good thing.  

Hilltops back on track

Joshua Ewanchyna piled up 178 yards rushing.
    As expected, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops earned their big bounce back victory, and they got big contributions from a couple of youngsters.
    On Sunday, the Hilltops traveled to Edmonton and flattened the Wildcats 53-16 in CJFL action to improve to 3-1. The Wildcats fell to 0-4.
    Before downing the Wildcats, the Hilltops dropped a 36-21 decision to the Calgary Colts at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Aug. 28.
    In the win over the Wildcats, rookie tailback Joshua Ewanchyna piled up 178 yards rushing on 18 carries and scored three touchdowns. Second-year running back Adam Machart picked up 118 yards rushing on 17 carries and one major.
    Fifth-year veteran quarterback Jared Andreychuk connected on 13-of-18 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Receiver Jason Price hauled in six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
    Defensive back Logan Bitz topped the Toppers with seven tackles, while safety James Vause had an interception and a fumble recovery.
    On Saturday, the Hilltops return to action with a key battle against the Regina Thunder (3-1) at 7 p.m. at SMF Field. Both teams are chasing the Colts (4-0) for first in the Prairie Football Conference.
    Before tangling with the Thunders, the Hilltops are hosting their Potashcorp Scholarship Dinner at SMF Field. Gates open at 4:15 p.m. and dinner follows at 5:15 p.m. with Saskatchewan Roughriders great George Reed as the guest speaker and a pre-game address by Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.
    Following Saturday’s game, the Hilltops play three of their final four games on the road. That stretch includes traveling to Kelowna, B.C., on Sept. 17 for a clash that counts in the regular season standings with the Okanagan Sun, who the Hilltops beat 38-24 in last year’s Canadian Bowl. The Sun currently top the British Columbia Football Conference with a 6-0 mark.

Blades announce more Howe day details

The Gordie Howe statue in front of the SaskTel Centre.
    During a press conference on Tuesday, the Saskatoon Blades announced more details of their “Thank You, Mr. Hockey” day.
    Before their regular season home opener on Sept. 25 against the Swift Current Broncos, the Blades will honour one of the greatest hockey players of all-time in the late Gordie Howe. Howe passed away on June 10 at age 88.
    Hockey Night in Canada broadcasting legend Bob Cole will serve as host of a special 25-minute pre-game ceremony, which is slated to begin at 2 p.m. The Blades will wear special Howe themed jerseys for the contest and stickers on their helmets bearing Howe’s signature.
    The Blades are also bringing in trophies Howe won from the Hockey Hall of Fame to be put on display. The first 6,000 people inside the rink will get special Howe themed items.
    The day begins with a private ceremony at the Howe statue outside the SaskTel Centre for his family at 9:30 a.m. The cremated remains of Gordie and his wife Colleen Howe will be interred at the statue. City officials and the provincial government pushed through special approval to allow the statue to serve as a cemetery.
    After the ceremony, the Howe family will make their way to the newly built Circle Drive South Bridge, which is being named the Gordie Howe Bridge.
    All four of Gordie and Colleen’s children will be in the city for all the day’s activities.
    Blades president Steve Hogle has and is working extremely hard to pull the special events on this day together. This will definitely be the must-see Blades game of the year.

    If you have any comments you would like to make about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.