Thursday, 15 November 2018

Bring on the Rams – Hilltops set for Canadian Bowl

HC Tom Sargeant, centre, and the Hilltops are ready to rock and roll.
    On the verge of what could be one of their greatest moments in team history, the Saskatoon Hilltops are approaching Saturday’s appearance in the Canadian Bowl with the same quiet confidence they have with anything they have taken on.
    The Hilltops will be trying to win an unprecedented fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title on Saturday, when they host the Canadian Bowl at 1 p.m. against the Langley Rams (10-3).
    Saskatoon heads into the contest with a 10-0 overall record, which means the Hilltops are trying to complete their fourth perfect season in team history and first since going 12-0 in 2003. In 2003, the Hilltops crushed the Victoria Rebels 59-0 in the Canadian Bowl in Chilliwack, B.C.
    The two other perfect seasons came in 1978 at 12-0 and 1958 at 11-0.
    The current Hilltops can keep building on their current overall winning streak of 18 games and post-season winning streak of 15 games.
    They are also trying to capture their eighth CJFL championship in the last nine years and 21st CJFL title in team history.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said all the milestones his team has accomplished and has a chance to accomplish are by-products of doing things the right way, or as he often says, “The Hilltop way.”
The Hilltops offensive line aims to have another big game.
    That means the players have to respect their opponents and focus on what they can control in practices and games to get better and put out their best performance on game day.
    “We’re wired to be in these situations,” said the Hilltops legendary sideline boss. “As I told my leadership group, this is where we put all our time and energy.
    “They’re built for this. We understand what is in front of us. We understand what we need to do.”
    The Hilltops and Rams are familiar foes in the Canadian Bowl as they will meet in the CJFL title game for the third time in seven years.
    The previous two encounters were both held in McLeod Stadium.
    In 2012, the Hilltops claimed one of the all-time classic CJFL title encounters downing the Rams 23-21. In 2014, the Hilltops ran away with a 39-14 victory, which started their current run of winning four straight CJFL championships.
    The Hilltops will be trying to win their 21st CJFL title in their upcoming Canadian Bowl clash with the Rams.
QB Jordan Walls has had a stellar campaign for the Hilltops.
    “I think every time you get to this game it is always special,” said Hilltops fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls, who has a 21-1 overall record as the team’s starter. “You never know how many more you are going to get.
    “Our fifth-year group has been fortunate enough to be in all five of these. It is going to be fun.”
    The Rams head into the Canadian Bowl with the makings of being a very dangerous team riding a nine-game winning streak. Off the field, they have to overcome the resignation of head coach Matthew (Snoop) Blokker during the course of the season. Blokker was the Calgary Colts head coach and resigned last season and took over the same role with the Rams.
    Rams general manager Howie Zaron took on the head coaching duties after Blokker left this season, and Langley has rolled with a roster that contains a number of talented recruits courtesy of Blokker, who is one of the CJFL’s all-time coaching greats.
    On offence, the Rams are guided at quarterback by Duncan Little, who is a former member of the Colts.  Little had a stellar year completing 185-of-308 passes for 2,611 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during the regular season.
    Little’s favourite target was 22-year-old receiver Jevon Cottoy, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. Cottoy was a British Columbia Football Conference all-star hauling in 39 passes for 657 yards and nine touchdowns in nine regular season games.
Cody Peters (#44) and Connor Delahey (#70) aim to make big plays.
    On the ground, running back Maximilian Joseph was named a BCFC all-star carrying the ball 64 times for 428 yards and scoring five touchdowns in seven regular season games.
    Rams offensive linemen Ross Baykay and Niko Lazarakis were named B.C. conference all-stars.
    On defence, Rams defensive lineman Skye King was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star recording 10 defensive solo tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery. Defensive back Kyle Clarot was also named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star piling up 27 defensive solo tackles, one sack and four interceptions.
    Linebacker Isaiah Okoli led the Rams with 41 defensive solo tackles, three sacks and one interception.
    “You just hear how they are talking,” said Sargeant. “They are a very proud organization, a proud franchise.
    “They are not coming out here to not come out and play their best game of the year. They are hungry. They are motivated.
    “You know what, they got the skill, the talent and the coaching level to do good things. As I said, they have our respect, and hopefully, we come out there on Saturday and earn their respect with how we coach and how we play.”
Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb are powerful on defence.
    The Hilltops have trailed for a total of just 81 seconds in all their games so far in the 2018 campaign. They have numerous standouts on their roster.
    On offensive, the Hilltops have their version of the “The Triplets” in Walls, running back Josh Ewanchyna and receiver Jason Price.
    Walls had an outstanding campaign completing 122-of-197 passes for 2,010 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions in the regular season. He was named the most outstanding offensive player and the most valuable player of the Prairie Football Conference.
    Ewanchyna appeared in seven regular season games carrying the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the PFC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week on four occasions.
    Price was by far the PFC’s most productive pass catcher. During the regular season, he hauled in 31 passes for 709 yards and scored four touchdowns. The fifth-year veteran collected the most receiving yards in the PFC.
    Ewanchyna and Price have been named CJFL all-Canadian all-stars along with offensive tackles Kirk Simonsen and Mason Ochs. Simonsen and Ochs are part of an elite and veteran offensive line that contains right guard Taylon Elderkin, centre Patrick Arno and left guard Ryder Klisowsky.
Jason Price looks to make some big catches on Saturday.
    On defence, linebacker Cody Peters was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star recording 26 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception during the regular season. He was named the PFC’s most outstanding defensive player.
    Defensive tackles Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb were also named CJFL all-Canadian all-stars. Knittig had 16 defensive solo tackles and 2.5 sacks during the regular season, and McNabb had 16 solo defensive tackles and 4.5 sacks.
    In the secondary, defensive backs Jared Giddings and Colton Holmes were PFC all-stars. Giddings and eight solo tackles and two interceptions during the regular season, while Holmes had 18 total tackles, one sack and one interception.
    During the campaign, the Hilltops offence has displayed great balance, and Walls said that will be key in facing the Rams.
    “It doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are,” said Walls. “We can throw the ball, we can run the ball whatever we need for that specific game, and we’ve been able to show that.   
    “It makes the defence a little bit off-balance when they don’t know what to expect. I expect our O-line and Josh (Ewanchyna) to have big day. Myself and the receivers need to be sharp as well.”
Josh Ewanchyna has piled up stellar efforts for the Hilltops.
    Overall, Sargeant is expecting his players to be at the top of their game on Saturday.
    “Ultimately, it is game 11 of 2018, so it should be your best game of the year,” said Sargeant, who was named the PFC’s coach of the year this season. “It is that simple.
    “We are at home in front of a great crowd and a great environment. As I said, everything is in front of us. Now we just have to control our emotions, we have to be disciplined, focused and if we keep all those things together, you should see a pretty nice product come Saturday.”

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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Huskies’ Chow going out in a blaze of glory

U of Saskatchewan faces Western in U Sports semifinal

Tyler Chow had a monster game for the Huskies in the Hardy Cup.
    Tyler Chow saved his greatest homecoming game in his final U Sports football appearance in Calgary.
    Last Saturday, Chow had his most memorable game to date with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The star running back, who is in his fifth and final season with the Huskies, carried the ball 24 times for 222 yards and scored two touchdowns. The alumnus of Calgary’s Notre Dame High School Pride football team hauled in two passes for 19 yards for the Huskies as well.
    Thanks to Chow’s efforts, the Huskies pulled off a huge 43-18 upset over the previously undefeated University of Calgary Dinos in the Canada West Conference championship game – the Hardy Cup at McMahon Stadium. The Huskies, who improved to 7-3 overall, claimed the Canada West title for the first time since 2006.
    The Dinos, who finished the campaign at 9-1 overall, were trying to win a third straight Canada West title and their ninth conference crown in the past 11 seasons before falling to the Huskies.
    Chow, who stand 5-foot-11 and weighs 195 pounds, thrilled a large contingent of family and friends he had in the crowd of 1,877.
    He had a touchdown on a one-yard run late in the second quarter to give the Huskies an 18-8 edge on the Dinos.
    With the Huskies holding a 25-18 edge, Chow had the game’s defining play running in a touchdown from 23 yards out just 91 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Huskies a 32-18 lead.
Tyler Chow was named a Canada West all-star this season.
    That started an 18-point surge for the Huskies to close the game. The surge was completed by a kickoff single from kicker Sean Stenger, a 42-yard field goal from Stenger and a one-yard touchdown run by Adam Machart.
    On Wednesday, Chow was named the U Sports offensive player of the week for his efforts against Calgary. Stenger took the U Sports special teams player of the week award making 2-of-3 field goals for the Huskies and averaging 41.5 yards on four punts landing one of those kicks inside the Dinos 20 yard line.
    Coming into this season, there were questions marks surrounding how effective Chow might be. He missed four games last season and was limited in four other contests due to a lower body injury.
    He carried the ball 100 times for 640 yards and scored two touchdowns to earn Canada West all-star honours and help the Huskies post a 5-3 regular season record in 2018.
    During his regular season career with the Huskies, Chow carried the ball 385 times for 2,372 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
    The Calgary, Alta., product just edged Tyler Siwak for third on the Huskies career rushing yards list.
Tyler Chow is the Huskies third all-time leading rusher.
    Siwak was a red shirt during the Huskies last Vanier Cup winning season in 1998 and he carried the ball 361 times for 2,365 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during a five year career as an active player from 1999 to 2003. During his time with the Huskies, Siwak was a fan favourite due to being a power tailback that could crush up to six would be tacklers on any running attempt.
    Doug Rozon is the Huskies all-time leading rusher piling up 4,086 yards playing from 1995 to 1999. Terry Eisler sits second on the Huskies’ all-time rushing list with 2428 yards playing in 1985 and 1987 to 1989. David Stevens rounds out the Huskies career top five rushing leaders with 2,276 yards playing from 2001 to 2005.
    Entering the 2018 post-season, Chow had never been part of a playoff win with the Huskies unlike the other four top five rushers in team history, who all had a hand in various playoffs runs that saw the Huskies reach the Vanier Cup. In Rozon’s case, he helped the Huskies win two Vanier Cups in 1996 and 1998 running behind an offensive line that contained a star named Scott Flory, who is now the Huskies head coach.
    Chow was able to dump the unwanted distinction of never being part of a playoff win on Nov. 3 in Vancouver, B.C., when he helped the Huskies post a 31-28 overtime upset victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Tyler Chow scored two touchdowns in the Hardy Cup.
    In that contest, Chow had a solid outing grinding out 89 yards rushing on 21 carries and running home touchdowns from one and 16 yards out. He hauled in six passes for 54 yards to go along with his efforts on the ground.
    Combine that game with his efforts against the Dinos in a Canada West title winning game for the Huskies, Chow has created his own storied playoff run and has vaulted his name firmly into the conversation of who are the top all-time running backs in the history of the U of S football program.
    While the Huskies have pulled out two giant upsets at this point in the U Sports playoffs, they now face their greatest David versus Goliath match.
    The coming Saturday, the Huskies travel to London, Ont., to face the defending Vanier Cup champion University of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl, which is one of two U Sports semifinal playoff games. The Mitchell Bowl will be shown live at 3 p.m. Saskatchewan time on Sportsnet.
    The Universite Laval Rouge et Or (10-0) host the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men (8-2) in the other U Sports semifinal - the Uteck Bowl – also on Saturday in Quebec City, Quebec.
    The Mustangs enter their match with the Huskies ranked as the top rated team in the final U Sports Top 10 rankings and have won their last 22 games overall in a row.
Tyler Chow and the Huskies fifth-year are having a memorable final run.
    Western’s last loss came back on Nov. 12, 2016 in the Yates Cup, which is the Ontario University Athletics conference championship game, to the Wilfred Laurier University Golden Hawks 43-40. The Mustangs led that contest 40-19 in the fourth quarter, before the Golden Hawks pulled out an incredible comeback.
    Western thumped the mighty Rouge et Or 39-17 in last year’s Vanier Cup.
    So far, Chow and the Huskies have shown the role of giant killer fits them just fine.
    It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chow and the Huskies come up with another giant performance, and if they do, they might be heading to the Vanier Cup to be held on Nov. 24 in Quebec City, Quebec.

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Major injury didn’t keep Hilltops’ Guillet down

Defensive lineman returned for final CJFL campaign

Connor Guillet missed the 2017 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
    Connor Guillet wasn’t going to let a major injury rob him of time with the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    Going into his fourth season with the team a year ago, the Humboldt, Sask., product, who plays defensive end, ruptured his Achilles tendon near the end of main training camp. The injury forced Guillet, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 245 pounds, to miss all of the 2017 campaign.
    Guillet still hung around the team attending practices and making games to offer support for his teammates. He wasn’t going to allow the injury to prevent him from playing in his fifth and final season with the venerable Canadian Junior Football League club.
    While on the comeback trail, Guillet received a lot of encouragement from the Hilltops organization to make it back.
    “It is just my last year as a fifth year,” said Guillet. “The Hilltops pretty much drove me to come back.
    “It was a good off-season just to strengthen my Achilles and get into training and get back into the weight room. Two weeks after the surgery I was right back in the weight room lifting, and I was just preparing for this next season.
    “I just kind of knew that it had to be done.”
Connor Guillet (#76) charges on to the field.
    Guillet returned for the current campaign appearing in six of the Hilltops eight regular season games collecting 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and five solo tackles. In Saskatoon’s two post-season games, Guillet has four solo tackles.
    He wants to help the Hilltops win an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL title.
    The Hilltops (10-0) host the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl – on Saturday at 1 p.m. against the Langley Rams (10-3).
    Guillet has the chance to be one of eight fifth-year players that wins a CJFL championship in every year they were eligible to play in the league with one team. The other seven veterans who look to share in that distinction include quarterback Jordan Walls, receiver Jason Price, right tackle Kirk Simonsen, receiver Adam Ewanchyna and linebackers Adam Benkic, Bobby Ehman and Cody Peters.
    If the Hilltops can win the Canadian Bowl again, Guillet said he would be happy for the other fifth-year players and everyone else on the team.
    “It would be awesome,” said Guillet. “I would be super thankful, especially to the Hilltops organization just for kind of giving us eight guys the opportunity to come out here and play.
    “There are a lot of talented younger guys out there, and you have to hand it to them, they are really playing their roles in all of this.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said he was proud that Guillet made to back to play his final season. The legendary sideline boss knows there are times players leave the CJFL to focus on school or work, if a major injury happens.
Hilltops DE Connor Guillet (#76) spies into the Winnipeg Rifles backfield.
    When Guillet got hurt, Sargeant said it was tough to see.
    “It was just devastating,” said Sargeant. “Guys work so hard to get ready and get going.
    “You never know when a guy takes a year off. What I like, he (Guillet) came back and wasn’t quite right, but each game he got more confident in it. He is playing at a high level.
    “He is doing what we need him to do. He is going to be an impact player come Saturday in the Canadian Bowl.”
    Guillet went through all sorts of emotions watching the team last season. He was happy to be around “the Hilltops family” and felt he acted as a good support person for the defensive lineman.
    When he saw Riley Pickett and Tom Schnitzler have outstanding seasons playing the defensive end positions, Guillet was happy for the pair,  but he wondered what could have been had he been healthy.
    “I’m not going to lie, it made me miss it quite a bit,” said Guillet, who is studying education at the University of Saskatchewan. “Hats off to those guys especially Pickett and Tommy.
    “They really stepped up I think. They just had a great year.”
Hilltops DE Connor Guillet (#76) helps stop an Edmonton Huskies runner.
    Sargeant thought Guillet performed admirably being a support person for the other Hilltops players last season and the other players were really happy he remained around the team.
    “He (Guillet) is a super kid and the guys really like him,” said Sargeant. “He is just a positive influence.
    “He is a great leader. He does everything we want a Hilltop to be. He is going to school. He works hard.
    “He has a passion for life, a passion for the game and as I said, he is just a real popular player, popular kid, who has bigger and better things in his horizon.”
    After the Hilltops won their fourth straight Canadian Bowl in 2017, Pickett joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team and has helped them win a Canada West conference title. Schnitzler graduated from the CJFL ranks and moved on to join the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
Connor Guillet listens for a play from the sidelines.
    With the departures of Pickett and Schnitzler, the competition for the Hilltops starting defensive end spots was wide open. Still, Guillet kept his hopes modest.
    “Truthfully, I had pretty low expectations,” said Guillet. “I was just coming into the season, and I was just hoping for the best.”
    He became a starter, but admits he still gets bothered by plays he missed. Taking everything into consideration, Guillet believes he had a good campaign.
    “I think it went not bad,” said Guillet. “I’m probably pretty critical, so there are definitely a couple of missed plays and a lot of things I could have improved on.
    “Overall, I can’t really complain.”
    Guillet is aiming to play his best game ever for the Hilltops in the Canadian Bowl. He expects the Rams to supply a big challenge.
    “They are just a big and talented team,” said Guillet. “I think we just have to go out there, (and) we have to just keep quiet and let them do their thing and we do our thing and just treat it like another game.”
    He also believes it is strange to think that Saturday’s CJFL title game will be his last as a player for the Hilltops.
Connor Guillet (#76) and the Hilltops D-linemen with the PFC title trophy.
  “It is crazy,” said Guillet. “I’ve been just reminiscing all the years and all the friends that I’ve made, and it just flew by.”

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Monday, 12 November 2018

United States top guns in women’s hockey

4 Nations Cup shows Canada has some work to do

The U.S. team skates away with the 4 Nations Cup.
    At the moment, women’s hockey on the world stage belongs to the United States.
    If the 4 Nations Cup tournament that wrapped up last Saturday in Saskatoon did anything, it reinforced the U.S.A. is still great. The U.S. posted a perfect 4-0 record at the event held last Tuesday to Saturday at the SaskTel Centre that featured the senior national women’s teams from Canada, Finland and Sweden.
    In Saturday’s final, the States claimed a sound 5-2 victory over Canada. During the gold medal match, the U.S. transitioned up and down the ice better than Canada did and looked more polished on the power play and penalty kill units even with Canada scoring a power-play goal.
    The U.S. can play physical, but their finesse style of play was really something to behold. They have a really fine hockey team.
    The U.S. victory in the gold medal final doesn’t come as a surprise. They have taken the last four world championship tournaments and captured gold over Canada at the last Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, held this past February.
Brianna Decker is the veteran leader for the U.S.
    Canada’s last win at a major tournament championship game against the U.S. was at the 4 Nations Cup in 2014 held in Kamloops, B.C. The U.S. has won the last four consecutive 4 Nations Cup tournaments. 
    At the moment, it doesn’t appear the U.S. is going to fall off the mountaintop any time soon. Their team is stocked with a great group of veterans like captain Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hannah Brandt, Amanda Kessel, Kacey Bellamy, Emily Pfalzer and netminder Alex Rigsby.
    Besides the veterans, the U.S. showcased an impressive crop of youngsters like Sydney Brodt, Melissa Samoskevich, Cayla Barnes, Mikaela Gardner and Maddie Rooney.
    While women’s hockey between U.S. and Canada is one of the greatest rivalries in sports, it is hard to place a villain card on any of the U.S. players, if you are a Canadian hockey fan that meets the U.S. players.
    The members of the U.S. team came off very genuine and gave a feeling of being good persons. They are quietly confident but not arrogant. They also play with heart.
    When you have those intangibles on top playing the sport soundly on a technical level, your hockey team becomes incredibly tough to beat.
Hannah Brandt is one of the U.S.’s veteran standouts.
    In another twist that Canadians might not realize, the U.S. players value having success in the head-to-head games with Canada just like the Canadian players do. Victories in those contests are meaningful and are the things dreams are made of.
    That realization was seen in the face of Brodt, who is a 20-year-old right-winger playing in her first games ever with the U.S. senior women’s team at the 4 Nations Cup.
    Last Wednesday in the preliminary round encounter with Canada, Brodt scored with winning goal with 1:48 remaining in the third period to break a 1-1 tie and give the U.S. a 2-1 victory. The winning goal came against legendary Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados, and Brodt lived through that moment in just her second game with the U.S. senior national women’s team.
    During a post-game interview after that contest, she had a huge smile and a warm glow was radiating from her face.
Sydney Brodt turned heads at the 4 Nations Cup.
    Brodt said she scored due to being in the right place at the right time.
    Still, you could almost sense she was still processing what happened and might have been in disbelief about what actually took place, because it was a dream moment that came in her second game with the U.S. senior women’s national team.
    The U.S. players likely have an even bigger bond after fighting for and successfully receiving better compensation from U.S.A. Hockey in late March of 2017. Actually, it appears that episode resulted in an even stronger U.S. women’s program overall with a larger “all in” buy in from everyone.
    At the moment, the U.S. has set an incredibly high bar for Canada to get up to. The roles were reversed for a lengthy time between the two rivals, when Canada held the upper hand through much of the 1990s and the 2000s.
    While it may sound strange, Canada might not be that far out in reaching that bar. Veteran bench boss Perry Pearn guides Canada’s senior national women’s team as head coach, and the 67-year-old has seen it all during his time in the game.
Hilary Knight is still at the top of her game with the U.S.
    Pearn seems to have a good handle on the technical side of things on what Canada needs to do to counter what the U.S. does in its game. Following the gold medal loss last Saturday, Pearn mentioned technical areas the Canadian side improved in from the preliminary round encounter. He said small breakdowns snowballed to result in the sound U.S. win.
    Pearn said he believed his side didn’t quit, and he was correct in all of his assessments.
Canadian fans saw what they expected to see from veterans like Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Melodie Daoust, Laura Fortino and Szabados.
    What was most impressive was the effort Canada received from its youngsters, who were arguably the team’s best players at the 4 Nations Cup. 
U.S. women’s hockey victory celebrations are a common sight.
    Offensive defender Jaime Bourbonnais, who recently turned 20-years-old, played in her first week with Canada’s senior women’s national team, and she looked like a veteran already. Of course, everyone took notice of the rocket shot power-play goal she ripped past Rigsby in the gold medal final.
    Canada received sound performances from the likes of Sarah Fillier, Loren Gabel, Kristin O’Neill, Micah Zandee-Hart and Emerance Maschmeyer.
    The Canadian team does have the ingredients to turn the tables on the U.S. in the future.
    It also should be noted that, while women’s hockey on the world stage has been traditionally a two-horse race between Canada and the U.S., you still have to be aware that the Russian women’s team is starting to make some noise and could be poised for a rise.
    Women’s hockey on the world stage does have some interesting storylines developing. With that said, the United States are the top guns until someone finally beats them in a major tournament final.

Attendance 4 Nations Cup elephant

There were some empty seats at the SaskTel Centre at 4 Nations Cup.
    The biggest elephant in the room at the 4 Nations Cup was hard to ignore.
    When you caught games at the SaskTel Centre, it was hard to not see the empty seats, and only the rink’s lower bowl, which is believed to seat around 5,800, was open. No official attendance figures were released for the event.
    Crowds in games that didn’t involve Canada were sparse, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say those games might have reached 1,000 people. The lower bowl did fill up more, when Canada played especially for the preliminary round and gold medal game clashes with the United States.
Swedish supporters cheer on their team at 4 Nations Cup.
    Still, it was easy to navigate your way through the rink during the games between Canada and the U.S., and spots where groups of seats sat empty were noticeable. For the gold medal game, it would be safe to say the lower bowl was about 70 per cent full.
    To be fair, attendance at sporting events across Canada appears to be down unless you are an NHL team. Attendance at sporting events in Saskatoon has generally been down from past years except for those heading to University of Saskatchewan Huskies hockey games to see the brand new Merlis Belsher Place.
    The obvious is just being stated here, and there are no quick solution. It seemed like most of the people that are involved with female hockey in the province did turn out to see some part of the 4 Nations Cup. 
    With the four competing teams featuring players that played in the last Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, held this past February, it would have been great to see more casual type fans out at the games.

Lieffers aces tough call in bronze medal game

Referee Cianna Lieffers was in position call Finland’s bronze medal winner.
    Saskatoon area based referee Cianna Lieffers had a highlight moment nailing a critical call during the 4 Nations Cup.
    In the third period of the bronze medal game last Saturday, Finland and Sweden were locked in a 2-2 tie. Finland went ahead 3-2 at the 8:36 mark of the frame during a frantic moment of action.
    During the scoring play, Finnish centre Tanja Niskanen drove hard to the Sweden’s net and was hacked down by a Swedish defender and slid into netminder Maria Omberg.
    Omberg managed to keep the puck out of the goal with her glove hand, but it sat loose in the crease of the net.
Cianna Lieffers worked a number of games at 4 Nations Cup.
    Finnish left-winger Annina Rajahuhta pounced on the loose puck knocking it into the goal to put Finland in front.
    There was a short protest by Sweden due to the fact Omberg couldn’t react to the rebound, because she had Niskanen sitting on top of her, but the winning tally stood up.
    Lieffers, who is originally from Cudworth, Sask., was the referee nearest to the play, and the 24-year-old got the call right. The goal had to stand, because had Niskanen not been knocked down by a Swedish defender, she wouldn’t have crashed into Omberg.
    Besides getting that part of the call right, Lieffers was in perfect position behind the net to see Rajahunta score. Lieffers called the goal immediately.
    That marker ultimately stood up as the winner in a 4-2 victory for Finland.
    Lieffers skated away with the satisfaction of getting a tough call correct, when emotions were running high in a game where the winning side claimed a medal.

Injured Clark hit with the biggest untrue rumour

Emily Clark injured her left leg.
  It appears the highest level of women’s hockey can be hit by the rumour mill like the NHL and WHL.
    Arguably the biggest untrue rumour of the week involved Saskatoon product Emily Clark. Clark is a 22-year-old forward with Canada’s senior national women’s team and an alumna of the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team.
    She helped Canada win a silver medal at the Winter Olympics held last February in PyeongChang, South Korea.
    She missed the 4 Nations Cup having injured her left leg while playing for the University of Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Her injury occurred in the opening minutes of a Badgers 4-2 home win on Oct. 13 against the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.
    Apparently, there were a couple of fans at the event that didn’t believe the injury news. There was talk that Clark had become pregnant down in Madison, Wisconsin.
    It wasn’t the largest rumour out there, but it was something that was heard around the rink. Of course, it is not true.
    It also seem crazy that rumour got any traction at all. Clark made appearances at the Saskatoon Blades home game on Nov. 1 and the Stars home game on Nov. 3, and she had a walking boot visible on her left leg in both of those appearances.
    Players in the NHL and WHL are often dogged by various untrue rumours that are out there. By human nature, it is going to happen at the highest level of women’s hockey.
    Pretty much the best way for a player to deal with those rumours is to debunk them with teammates and have a chuckle over what you hear.

Media hit and miss at 4 Nations Cup

U.S. team members pose for media pictures with the 4 Nations Cup.
    During the 4 Nations Cup, it was easy to see the effects of the budget cut era of the Canadian media industry.
    A decade ago, an event like the 4 Nations Cup would have attracted a sizable medial gathering. In the current budget cut era of the Canadian media industry, the media presence was hit and miss at the 4 Nations Cup.
    During the first day of games, most of the outlets from Saskatoon cycled through to make an appearance. After the first day, there was an average of one or two media people at the early game that didn’t feature Canada.
    Canada’s clash with Finland last Friday night drew maybe only four media members. All the Saskatoon outlets were represented in the two encounters that featured Canada playing the United States.
    The only out of town members covering the event appeared to be one representative from The Canadian Press and one from the International Ice Hockey Federation outside of the crew that was involved with TSN.
    Still, it was good TSN showed the Friday night clash between Canada and Finland and Saturday’s two medal games on television.
    In 2016, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity released a study regarding the connection between women and sport in Canada. A couple of the facts revolved around media coverage.
    An analysis was done on Canada’s primary national sports networks in English and French in 2014. The study said only four per cent of the coverage on those networks was dedicated to women’s sports and over half of that number was dedicated to coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Media members work to get pictures of the U.S. team celebrations.
    A study was done on the Saturday sports section front pages in two of Canada’s highest circulated national newspapers from June 2008 to May 2010 and June 2013 to May 2015. Over those time frames, 5.1 per cent of the coverage was dedicated to women’s sports.
    Of course, that study only considered a small sampling size of the print industry.
    With that noted, TSN’s coverage of the 4 Nations Cup goes towards the time the media in Canada spends covering women’s sports.
    I covered all eight games at the 4 Nations Cup for my blog, because I wanted to. With the 4 Nations Cup being a toured in event, I didn’t expect to get many page views, because with being based in Saskatoon, I spent a very small amount of time covering international women’s hockey.
    That coverage is usually limited to local area athletes heading off to play for national teams or attend national team hockey camps.
    My only post that did well was a feature on Team Canada offensive-defender Jaime Bourbonnais. The page views for the rest of my 4 Nations Cup posts were some of the lowest page view totals I have had since starting this blog in late August of 2014.
    During the overall history of my blog, the majority of my top viewed posts involve women’s sports and female athletes, so the audience is there.
    Unfortunately, female sports still face an uphill battle with regards to media coverage. Female sports teams and athletes have to run with and make miles with seemly any coverage that comes their way, and if the coverage is deemed good, you have to really get the most out of it.
    It is almost like when the rock band Bon Jovi started out. If there was a ladder hanging over the crowd, someone in the band climbed it.

Personally, 4 Nations Cup was a great time

Team Canada celebrates Jaime Bourbonnais’s power-play goal.
    On a personal side, I have to say I enjoyed covering the 4 Nations Cup in Saskatoon.
    It marked the first time I have covered an international women’s hockey tournament featuring senior national teams. The players from Canada, the United States, Finland and Sweden were super to deal with. They all came off and genuine and likeable.
    The staffs from all the competing teams were great to deal with. The communications staff at Hockey Canada were super to work with.
    During the tournament, it was cool to see so many people attend games who are involved with female hockey in Saskatchewan. I enjoyed seeing a number of faces from all over the province during games at the SaskTel Centre.
    Most of the rink staffers from games involving the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades were out reprising their identical roles at 4 Nations Cup. They allowed the game day experience to go on seamlessly.
Shannon Szabados makes a save in goal for Canada.
    Covering the tournament’s eight games over a five day period will be something I always remember, because it was unique to anything else that I have done. Now two days after the gold medal final has been played, I do have a bit of that natural down feeling, because the 4 Nations Cup is over.
    It might sound weird, but you should have that feeling if you had fun working an event. I had a great time covering the 4 Nations Cup.

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Sunday, 11 November 2018

Stars’ Shirley hits 80 career SFMAAAHL goals in style

Grace Shirley scored the OT winner for the Stars on Sunday.
    Grace Shirley always seems to rise to the occasion in big moments.
    With that said, it should come as no surprise the Saskatoon Stars captain hit another major milestone on an overtime winning goal.
    On Sunday afternoon with the Stars locked in a 2-2 tie with the Prince Albert Northern Bears at Merlis Belsher Place, Shirley drove home the winning goal on the power play from the front of the Bears net with 72 seconds remaining in the extra session. Shirley’s goal gave the Stars a 3-2 victory, and she became just the third player to score 80 career regular season goals in the history of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
Grace Shirley, left, celebrates her OT winning goal with Joelle Fiala (#27)
    In 92 career regular season games, Shirley has collected 80 goals and 57 assists for 137 points to sit as the fourth all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL. She was caught off guard when told she reached 80 career regular season goals.
    “I guess it is pretty cool,” said Shirley. “I like didn’t realize it or anything.
    “It is kind of nice to hear that. I’m just happy that we got the win, because I definitely think we deserved it.”
    The other players that scored 80 or more regular season goals in the history of the SFMAAAHL were Olivia Howe, who piled up 107 goals in 106 regular season games playing for the Notre Dame Hounds from 2008 to 2012, and Shirley’s former Stars teammate Mackenna Parker, who collected 82 goals in 104 regular season games. Parker graduated from the Stars as their captain at the end of last season.
Paris Oleksyn scored the Bears first goal on Sunday.
    Shirley has built a history of scoring big overtime goals for the Stars. In her rookie season in 2015-16, she scored the overtime winner in the deciding game of the SFMAAAHL championship series to give the Stars their second league title.
    Stars head coach Greg Slobodzian said he never stops being amazed by his talented captain.
    “She (Shirley) is definitely a player that likes to rise to the occasion,” said Slobodzian. “She has done it for us a few times in overtime.
    “She did it again. As soon as it went in, my assistant coaches looked at me and said, ‘Wow, great move.’ Her in front of the net like that, there are pretty good odds it is going in.”   
Abby Soyko drives home the Bears second goal on Sunday.
    Shirley admitted the moment of scoring her 80th career regular season goal was made more memorable because it came in overtime against the Bears, who are the Stars biggest rivals.
    “They are a really good team,” said Shirley. “They battled hard.
    “It was definitely a close game. It was nice to get the win over them for sure.”
Sunday’s game had a few changes in momentum.
    The Stars went ahead 1-0 in the first period on a goal from forward Kaitlin Jockims.
    The Bears jumped in front 2-1 scoring twice in a span of 83 seconds near the midway point of the second period. Prince Albert’s tallies came off the sticks of Paris Oleksyn and captain Abby Soyko, who scored off a hard drive to the Saskatoon net.
Ashley Messier had the equalizer for the Stars on Sunday.
    The Stars evened things up at 2-2 with 1:42 remaining in the second period on a hard mid-range blast from offensive-defender Ashley Messier.
    The two sides played through a scoreless third to set things up for Shirley’s heroics in overtime.
Kaitlyn Cadrain made 28 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Scout Anderson turned away 30 shots to take the overtime setback in the Bears net.
    The Stars improved to 10-0 with the win, while the Bear record moved to 5-4-1.
    Saskatoon and Prince Albert went at it on Saturday at Merlis Belsher Place with the Stars posting a 6-0 victory.
    Slobodzian expected a push back by the Bears in Sunday’s clash.
Goalie Kaitlyn Cadrain makes one of her 28 saves in goal for the Stars.
    “Teams answer the bell,” said Slobodzian. “They don’t like to chase the puck all night.
    “Today was the exact same. P.A. came and gave us what I expected. Their goaltender played well.
    “Those are the types of games that you want to play. I wish we were playing those games every day. That is how you get better as a group.”
    In Saturday’s 6-0 win by the Stars, Shirley and Chace Sperling each had a goal and an assist for Saskatoon. Anna Leschyshyn, Kaylee Baun, Calli Arnold and Jayda Sachs all had singles for the Stars.
    Jockims and Abby DeCorby had two assists each to help power the Saskatoon side.
    Arden Kliewer made 17 stops to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Stars. Lexi Beuker turned away 30 shots to take the setback in goal for the Bears.
Grace Shirley has scored 80 career regular season goals.
    Shirley said her squad has to be a little sharper, when they play teams a second time in a two-game weekend series.
    “We just have to come into our second game more focused and not thinking it is going to be easy,” said Shirley. “Every game, you need to put your best foot forward and just go hard all the time.
    “I think we just need to come into every game more focused and just with the mindset to work hard and kind of even finish off stronger than our first game. I think that will be something we work on for sure. We’ll take the two wins for sure here.”
    The Stars return to action this coming Saturday when they host the Weyburn Richardson Pioneer Gold Wings at 2:15 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.
    The Bears next game is Nov. 24, when they host the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.

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Saturday, 10 November 2018

U.S.A. roars to fourth straight 4 Nations Cup title

Wheels fall off for Canada in 5-2 loss

The United States celebrates a fourth straight 4 Nations Cup title.
    The United States senior national women’s hockey team were too much for Canada to handle in this round of their storied rivalry.
    On Saturday night at the SaskTel Centre, the U.S. romped to a 5-2 victory in finesse type fashion over Canada in the gold medal final of the 4 Nations Cup hockey tournament. The win marked the fourth consecutive year the United States has won the 4 Nations Cup.
    “Any time you can represent your country on a world stage, it is an amazing feeling,” said U.S. right-winger Hilary Knight, who scored twice in the gold medal final. “It is a great rivalry.
    “When you are in Canada, there is a lot more pressure. It is good to gain that experience. It is good to gain that momentum going into the next tournament and the next game.
U.S. RW Dani Cameranesi (#24) is stopped by Canada G Shannon Szabados.
    “There is lots to work on, but I am extremely happy with our squad.”
    The U.S. has been dominate in recent years on the women’s stage. They have taken the last four world championship tournaments and captured gold over Canada at the last Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, held this past February.
    Canada’s last win at a major tournament final against the U.S. was at the 4 Nations Cup in 2014 held in Kamloops, B.C.
    At this year’s 4 Nations Cup, the U.S. finished at 4-0. Canada had a 2-2 record with both losses coming to the U.S.
    The United States took the preliminary round encounter 2-1 on Wednesday with a late third period goal.
Hilary Knight celebrates her second of two goals for the U.S.
    Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin said it feels like it has been a long time since Canada beat the U.S. in a major tournament final. She believes that will be something that keeps getting the players on her squad motivated during training.
    Following the loss on Saturday, Poulin said the players on the Canadian team need to do more self-reflection.
    “I think we just have to take a look in the mirror,” said Poulin. “I think for us we all go back to our individual teams now, and I think for us we have to move forward.
    “Obviously, it is disappointing. You never want to lose on home soil. We are going to have a hard look in the mirror and really look at what we have to do to move forward and take more pride in wearing that jersey.”
Captain Marie-Philip Poulin breaks into the offensive zone for Canada.
    The United States went ahead 1-0 just 88 seconds into Saturday’s game, when Knight wrapped home a goal on Canadian star netminder Shannon Szabados.
    Canada responded just over two minutes later, when defender Laura Fortino drove home a point shot to tie things up at 1-1.
    With 3:29 remaining in the first, the U.S. went ahead 2-1 on a perfectly executed 2-on-1 rush. States centre Kelly Pannek drove down the right wing and fed a perfect pass across the front of the Canadian goal to linemate Melissa Samoskevich, who fired home the go-ahead tally.
    “I thought we played really well,” said U.S. left-winger Dani Cameranesi, who had two assists in Saturday’s win. “We came at them hard and fast, which is what we wanted to do.
    “We made a few adjustments to our game from the previous games and especially the last game against Canada. I thought it turned out in our favour.”
Sidney Morin starts a rush up ice for the U.S.
    The U.S. continued to take it to Canada going ahead 4-1 in the second frame scoring a pair of goals in a span of 24 seconds coming off the sticks of captain Brianna Decker and the second of the night from Knight.
    Decker scored her goal off a beauty setup pass from right-winger Sydney Brodt and Knight tipped home a point shot taken by defender Sydney Morin.
    “Once you get behind 4-1 and you’ve been struggling to score goals, it is a big mountain to climb,” said Canadian head coach Perry Pearn. “I didn’t think that we gave up.
    “What happens is now you think you have to make the perfect shot. You pass up the things that I think you have to do to beat the U.S.
    “You have to take shots, create rebounds, beat them to the loose pucks and get second and third chances. We didn’t do enough of that.”
Jaime Bourbonnais scored for Canada in the third period.
    The U.S. surge didn’t stop there. Just 41 seconds into the third, Kendall Coyne Schofield scored for the States to increase their edge to 5-1.
    Canada pulled Szabados after that tally. She stopped 18 of 23 shots fired her way. Emerance Maschmeyer turned away two shots playing the rest of the way for Canada in relief.
    The SaskTel Centre crowd that has been relatively quiet since the first period did come to life one more time, when 20-year-old Canadian defender Jaime Bourbonnais blasted home a power-play goal just past the midway point of the third period.
    The goal wasn’t enough to spark a miracle comeback.
Alex Rigsby makes one of her 23 saves in goal for the U.S.
    Alex Rigsby stopped 23 shots in the United States net.
    Bourbonnais, who was playing her first games ever with Canada’s senior national women’s team over the past week, admitted Saturday’s final wasn’t the ending her side envisioned for the tournament.
    “I learned that hockey is a very tough game,” said Bourbonnais. “Obviously, the Americans are a very good team.
    “You can’t take a shift off at all. I think (it is about) just moving forward and learning from this and excelling in the future. It is definitely frustrating.
    “I don’t think we had a bad game at all. I thought we put a lot of pressure on them. We just have to learn from our experiences and keep going.”
    For the moment, the U.S. gets to enjoy the distinction of being the dominant side in the rivalry.
Members of the U.S. team get pictured with the 4 Nations Cup trophy.
    While Knight said her team always has to be mindful that they need to keep improving, she will never turn away from a positive result on the scoreboard.
    “It is nice to win,” said Knight. “I won’t complain about that.”

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