Saturday, 21 July 2018

FIBA 3x3 World Tour keeps Huskies alums in the game

Nolan Brudehl fires up a shot from downtown.
    A year ago, they received a well-deserved heroes’ welcome.
    Way back on March 21, 2010, Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers and Nolan Brudehl helped the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team down the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 91-81 for the U Sports national title at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. That marked the first time and to date the only time the Huskies have captured a national title in men’s basketball.
    That contest was the last time that trio played together as members of the Huskies as Linklater exhausted his U Sports eligibility. Back on that day when the Huskies were crowned national champions, no one would suspect that trio would be playing together seven to eight years down the road.
Michael Lieffers looks to dish off the ball.
    In 2012, Linklater and Lieffers began playing in three-versus-three basketball tournaments and quickly qualified for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour. Brudehl joined his former Huskies teammates on the circuit in 2015. Last year, they rounded out their four-player team adding Steve Sir, who is a star outside sharpshooter from Edmonton, Alta.
    Playing on the FIBA tour as Team Saskatoon, the players built a following from “The Bridge City,” who tracked their every move.
    A year ago, the foursome of Linklater, Lieffers, Brudehl and Sir finally got to play in front of a home crowd as downtown Saskatoon hosted a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters tournament. For the Huskies grads, it marked the first time they played together as a unit in Saskatoon since that 2009-10 U Sports national title campaign.
    When Team Saskatoon hit the court for the two-day event at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 21st Street, the two sections of stands that were brought in from the SaskTel Centre that could seat 1,000 spectators were filled, and an overflow crowd of people circled the half court.
The local fans backed Team Saskatoon last year.
    The cheers the local team received were deafening and special all at the same time. For the trio of former Huskies, the cheers were a flashback to their days playing at the Physical Activity Complex on the grounds of the University of Saskatchewan.
    The cheers carried the feelings of a thank you for the accomplishments the players brought to the city in the past. There was a feeling that it was great to see them playing in a competitive environment again and there was a will by the fans to help push the players on to greater heights in the present and future.
Steve Sir (#3) drives the lane for Team Saskatoon.
    It seemed like the feeling of attachment and support for the players was stronger than it had ever been.
    Team Saskatoon didn’t disappoint.
    They won four straight games to qualify for the tournament’s championship final. During that run, they claimed an electric 14-13 overtime victory over Team Hamilton to close the first day of competition.
    In the final, Team Saskatoon fell to 21-14 to Team Ljubljana from Slovenia.
Michael Linklater (#4) goes for a shot from beyond the arch.
    While Team Saskatoon wasn’t able to pull out a win in the final, their local follows got to see firsthand that the four players on the squad found an outlet to continue their playing careers after university. For the trio that played for the Huskies, it is normal for players that graduate from the U Sports ranks to transition to a phase of life as a non-athlete.
    A handful of grads might play in Canada’s national team system or professionally.
    Today, Team Saskatoon gets to live that experience of being the home favourites once again. Saskatoon again hosts a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball tournament with action slated to start at 12 p.m.
    Team Saskatoon faces Team Montreal at 3:15 p.m. and Team Riga from Latvia at 5 p.m.
    The tournament concludes on Sunday with all the playoff games. The action starts at 12 p.m. and the championship final is slated for 4:15 p.m.
Team Saskatoon plans to deliver thrills for the hometown supporters.
    The field at this year’s tournament is expected to be harder than last year’s event. The players on Team Saskatoon will be hard pressed to repeat their magic from a year ago.
    With the backing of a supportive and vocal hometown crowd, the local squad might ride that wave of enthusiasm to victory in Sunday’s championship final.

    If you want to follow the exploits of Team Saskatoon now and after Saskatoon’s FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters tournament wraps up, you can follow Linklaters Instagram account at michael_linklater or his Twitter account @MrLinklater.
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    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 20 July 2018

WHL loses one of its “good guys” as Blades’ Fantillo retires

Caleb Fantillo announced he is leaving major junior hockey.
    For all those that play in the WHL, they will face the fact that their days of hitting the ice will come to an end, but when the departure is a “good guy” like Saskatoon Blades right-winger Caleb Fantillo, a bit of sadness lingers for a while.
    On Wednesday, Fantillo announced via Twitter he was retiring from junior hockey. The 20-year-old Coquitlam, B.C., product was eligible to return for an overage campaign.
    During a WHL career that was split between the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Blades, Fantillo, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 183 pounds, established a reputation of being a high energy forward. Blades fans saw that trait quickly, when Fantillo arrived in Saskatoon via a trade on Oct. 13, 2016.
    He wasn’t afraid to go anywhere on the ice, and he was feisty in battling for the puck. For opponents, Fantillo became one of those pest types because he worked hard in a feisty way.
Blades LW Caleb Fantillo, right, takes a shot from Tigers G Michael Bullion.
    Even if you delivered a physical shot or said something to Fantillo, he wouldn’t go away. 
    He always gave the best he could on any given night.
    Thanks to those efforts, Fantillo was named the Blades fan choice award winner for the 2016-17 campaign. Last season, Fantillo shared the Blades community minded award with captain Evan Fiala.
    Unfortunately, injures piled up for Fantillo over the past two seasons due to the high intensity style he played. Between his time with the Tigers and Blades in 2016-17, Fantillo appeared in 55 regular season games collecting five goals and six assists.
    He was limited to 38 regular season games this past campaign due to injuries, where he managed to put up seven goals and three assists. His goal total was a career high for one season.
Blades LW Caleb Fantillo (#39) battles for the puck in the offensive zone.
    As a 17-year-old rookie with the Tigers in 2015-16, Fantillo dressed for 63 regular season games posting six goals and six assists. He netted a goal in a standings tiebreaker game, which the Tigers dropped by a 6-4 margin to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
    Thanks to being in and out of the lineup because of the injury bug, Fantillo never really had the chance to reach his full potential on the offensive side of the game.
    During his final campaign in the midget AAA ranks with the Vancouver North East Chiefs in 2014-15, Fantillo piled up 35 goals, 26 assists and 114 penalty minutes in 38 regular season games.
Caleb Fantillo makes a cut with the puck in the offensive zone.
    He was called up to play two WHL regular season games with the Tigers that season and recorded his first assist in the major junior ranks.
    Fantillo was always an upbeat personality and a fan favourite during his time in the WHL. He was a great representative for the Blades at community events, and he was key in keeping the mood in the dressing room light and fun.
    When he returned from injury, it was easy to pull for him to do well. You hoped he would hit a gusher in offensive statistics, because he is a good guy.
    At the WHL level, it seemed like great offensive seasons just weren’t destined to happen for Fantillo due to things out of his control.
Caleb Fantillo celebrates scoring a goal for the Blades.
    It isn’t the first time something like that happened to a hockey player, and it won’t be the last time either.
    Going forward, the Blades are slated to head into training camp with four returning players set to battle for three overage spots in forwards Max Gerlach, Brad Goethals and Gage Ramsay along with defenceman Dawson Davidson.
    Fantillo will focus on his future moving away from playing in the major junior ranks. The Blades stated in a release on Thursday that Fantillo plans to get a jump start on a career in the health and fitness industry.
    Over the past two seasons, Fantillo experienced a lot of bad luck on the ice. He is due and deserves to encounter some good luck in his post-playing WHL days.

Blades make a couple of July deals

Tyler Lees has been traded to the Royals.
    The Saskatoon Blades haven’t been totally in summer holiday mode tinkering with their roster making a couple of trades in July.
    On Thursday, the Blades dealt 18-year-old winger Tyler Lees to the Victoria Royals for a conditional seventh round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Last season, Lees, who is from Regina, Sask., appeared in 32 regular season games in his rookie WHL campaign collecting two goals and one assist.
    It was likely the Blades made this deal, because they felt Lees wouldn’t have a big role in the team’s forward group going into the future. The deal allows Lees to get a look from another WHL club.
    On July 12, the Blades acquired rugged 19-year-old left-winger Riley McKay from the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for a fourth round selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft and a seventh round selection in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
    McKay, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 215 pounds, appeared in 62 games last season collecting four goals, nine assists and a league leading 152 minutes in penalties. During his rookie campaign with the Chiefs in 2016-17, McKay appeared in 51 regular season games collecting three goals, six assists and 123 minutes in penalties.
    McKay’s addition gives the Blades a much needed boost in the toughness department. Saskatoon lost a big part of its physical edge with the graduation of captain Evan Fiala.
    There are still a lot of teams in the WHL that play a physical and heavy game. McKay’s presence will help create more open ice for the Blades high-end forwards in Kirby Dach, Eric Florchuk, Max Gerlach and Josh Paterson.
    While Dach made waves as a 16-year-old rookie last season, he was on the receiving end of a lot of physical abuse from opponents often behind the play. A lot of the extra attention Dach received was geared to get him off his game.
    Besides playing tough, McKay did put up points coming up through the minor hockey ranks in his younger years, so the Swan River, Man., product does have the potential to possibly score a little more in the WHL than he has in the past.
    Also on the Blades front, the team announced on Monday prospect forward Colton Dach, who is Kirby’s younger brother, and defenceman Charlie Wright were among 35 players named to Hockey Alberta’s shortlist roster for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, which run Feb. 15 to March 3, 2019 in Red Deer, Alta.
    The Blades selected Colton Dach in the first round and sixth overall in the WHL Bantam Draft held in May. Saskatoon picked Wright in that same Bantam Draft in the fourth round and 70th overall.
    On Monday, the Blades and Saskatoon Media Group announced a four-year contract extension that will see the Saskatoon Media Group remain the official Blades radio broadcast rights holder. The radio broadcasts will transition from 92.9 The BULL FM to 98 COOL FM.
    Les Lazaruk will enter his 25th season as the Blades play-by-play voice. When the Blades travel to Swift Current to open the 2018-19 regular season against the Broncos, Lazaruk will call his 1,800th game that night.
    In another development, Maclean Nelson recently rejoined the Blades office staff as an account executive. Nelson was with the Blades from 2011 to 2016 and held the role of manager of communication and community relations at the end of that stint. He was a pretty upbeat guy to have around the rink.
    Time will tell if Nelson will reprise his role of in-game host, where he went by the alias of “Ricky McGinty.”

Express cover story with Kalika

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a cover story on Shantel Kalika, who is set to become the first female driver from Saskatchewan to race in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.
    The 28-year-old Prince Albert, Sask., product is in her eight season of racing and calls Saskatoon’s Wyant Group Raceway her home track. She is set to make her NASCAR debut, when the Pinty’s Series makes its annual stop in “The Bridge City.”
    The two-day race event is set for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. The action on Tuesday, which starts at 7 p.m., features 75-lap main event races for the local pro truck class and the sportsman class and heat races for the super late model class.
    Wednesday’s action, which starts at 6 p.m., includes two 125-lap NASCAR races as well as a feature race from the local super late model class, which is expected to run 75 laps. The annual Pinty’s Series stop is the Super Bowl event on the yearly calendar for the Wyant Group Raceway.
    The Pinty’s Series is a minor league circuit that prepares drivers to compete one day at NASCAR’s top level – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
    Kalika has experienced her share of success at the Wyant Group Raceway. She raced in the local pro truck class during her first seven seasons and won the class points championship in 2016.
    Besides winning the points title, Kalika was named the fan favourite driver in 2014 and 2015.
    Kalika’s presence in the NASCAR races is sure to give an added buzz from a local interest standpoint.
    The cover story on Kalika can be found by clicking 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.
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Saturday, 14 July 2018

Bears’ Soyko grows into one of the SFMAAAHL’s best

Star power forward a player to watch in 2018-19

Abby Soyko has developed into one of the Bears biggest stars.
    Abby Soyko has emerged as a difference maker.
    The Prince Albert product began playing for her hometown Northern Bears of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League shortly before her 13th birthday in the 2014-15 campaign. After four full seasons with the Bears, she has evolved into one of the top players in the SFMAAAHL.
    The skilled winger has improved by leaps and bounds during every off-season. For the past two seasons, she has led the Bears in scoring and piled up an impressive 21 goals and 17 assists in 28 regular season games last season.
    Soyko keeps getting strong, faster and more explosive. You almost can’t wait until Bears regular season rolls around this year to see how much better she will be playing in her 17-year-old and final campaign in the midget AAA ranks.
Abby Soyko (#19) might capture all the Bears career scoring records.
    By the time she is finished her final midget AAA season, Soyko, who stands 5-foot-5, could potential own all the Bears career regular season scoring records. Currently, she has appeared in 108 regular season games piling up 48 goals and 46 assists for 94 points to sit as the Bears third all-time leading scorer.
    She is three points away from equaling Kaitlin Willoughby as the Bears second all-time leading scorer at 97 points. Willoughby, who just recently wrapped up her U Sports career as the star captain with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team, piled up 34 goals and 63 assists appearing in 96 career regular season games with the Bears from 2008 to 2013.
    Soyko is seven points shy of tying Kelly Regnier as the all-time leading scorer in Bears history with 101 points.
Abby Soyko (#19) has steadily improved during her SFMAAAHL career.
    Regnier, who moved on to play three seasons with the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team, collected 50 goals and 51 assists in 83 career regular season games played with the Bears from 2010 to 2013.
    Soyko needs three goals to eclipse Regnier’s record for career regular season goals with the Bears at 50. If Soyko can set a new career high for assists in a season at 18, she will pass Willoughby’s mark of 63 career regular season assists to set a new standard for the Bears.
    If Soyko has another standout campaign, she could potentially finish inside of the top ten in career SFMAAAHL regular season scoring.
Abby Soyko, centre, enjoys scoring a goal for the Bears.
    While she topped the Bears in scoring in the 2016-17 campaign when they won the SFMAAAHL title and advanced to the Esso Cup national championship tournament, Soyko looked way more power making plays last season.
    She led the Bears with five game-winning goals helping them post a 22-5-1 regular season record to finish second overall in the SFMAAAHL.
    Soyko’s play was key in aiding the Bears return to the SFMAAAHL championship series last season, but the Prince Albert squad was swept in the best-of-five set 3-0 by a power Saskatoon Stars side.
    She comes from a really athletic family including triplet sisters Alli and Alex.
    Alli is a gritty forward for the Bears, while Alex plays basketball and soccer and is a member of the Carlton Comprehensive High School senior girls’ basketball team.
    Older brother Steven was a goalie with the Prince Albert Midget AA Raiders, and he exhausted his midget eligibility this past season.
    Soyko has overcome some down times in her career as well.
    Last season, she tried out for Saskatchewan’s under-18 female provincial team and was cut.
Abby Soyko (#19 on right) always respects the opposition. 
    The power forward didn’t allow that development to affect her performance with the Bears.
    In coming back from that setback, Soyko showed a lot of character.
    While she is a highly competitive player on the ice, Soyko is fairly personable off the ice. She socializes easily with players and coaches from opposing teams.
    Soyko is quick to pass on complements publicly if someone from another team is doing well and encouragement if another club from the SFMAAAHL is having success at a major tournament like Esso Cup.
    She is one of the most well-liked players on the SFMAAAHL circuit.
    When the Bears hit the ice, you know you will always get a solid effort from Soyko.
    Similar to former Regina Pats captain Sam Steel in the WHL ranks, you know Soyko will do all the right steps to be ready for each and every game, and you never have to worry about her.
Abby Soyko might play for a while after her days with the Bears wrap up.
    With the way she has improved already, you have to wonder how good Soyko could actually end up being.
    You can likely expect to see her playing for a lengthy number of years after her days with the Bears wrap up.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Sports teams closer to families in social media age

The Estephan and Gennaro families enjoy the Broncos’ WHL title win.
    It was one of the coolest sights when the Swift Current Broncos won the WHL championship back in May.
    During the post-game celebration, you looked around and saw all the players and coaches had their families on the ice surface with them at the Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current. Everyone was enjoying the moment, and snapping pictures on their phones.
    The vibe was real positive, and the thought that runs through one’s head is, “This is great.”
    For myself the next day, it hit me that the players were really close with their families. That thought had run through my mind on a number of different occasions during the last four sports seasons.
Broncos family members took lots of pictures of WHL title memories.
    That Broncos celebration happened on May 13. Just two weeks later on May 27 at the Memorial Cup tournament in Regina, I was on the ice surface of the Brandt Centre, when the Acadie-Bathurst Titan celebrated winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize.
    The celebration was almost a carbon copy of the one the Broncos had, when they won the WHL crown.
    I believe the strengthened family links is one of the good things that developed from the social media age. Players and coaches are in contact more with their families due to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
Titan family members flooded into Regina for the Memorial Cup.
    In circuits like Canada’s major junior hockey ranks, most players leave their homes to travel to a new centre to pursue their sport. Before social media existed, players’ family members back home didn’t learn about what was happening in that players’ life unless there was a phone conversation or a letter was mailed away.
    I can remember the days when players arrived at WHL training camps in August, and they wouldn’t see their families again until the Christmas break. Often, the news of what was happening in a player’s life was limited.
    With social media, the families back home have instant news about the life of a player, who is living away from home.
Families and friends cheer on the Pats in the 2017 WHL playoffs.
    The communication through social media makes family members more engaged with the life of a player. That engagement creates extra motivation for family members to make road trips to see the player play live.
    During the 2017 WHL playoffs, I worked a large number of games involving the Regina Pats, who advanced to the WHL Championship series that year. I saw the Pats play more than any other hockey team in the 2016-17 campaign.
    I hit a point I was recognizing the family members of the Pats players, when the Pats played on the road. I was impressed how many family members physically followed the Pats from centre to centre through that run.
Hilltops safety James Vause (#24) enjoys a PFC title win with his family.
    I remember one father of a Pats player coming up to me after a game in Swift Current and passing on a thank-you for covering the Regina team’s games.
    My experience was almost exactly the same this past WHL post-season covering games involving the Broncos. I couldn’t believe how many of the players’ families followed the Broncos all over the place.
    In past eras, families were present in the lives of the players but not to the extent I am seeing now.
    When I was a beat writer for the Medicine Hat News covering the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, I remember the families of the Tigers team that won the 2007 WHL title frequently being present in the rink.
    When the Tigers won Game 7 of the 2007 WHL Championship series 3-2 in double overtime at The Arena in Medicine Hat, I don’t remember the players’ families being present on the ice for the post-game celebrations.
The “Chippendads” cheer the Huskies women’s basketball team in 2016.
    I remember interviewing Tigers goalie Matt Keetley and watching Keetley point into the crowd and say how happy he was to see his family in the spot he pointed to.
    At that point in time, Facebook was in its infancy. Twitter wasn’t very well known and Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist.
    Following that Tigers victory in 2007, it seemed like everyone want to get to the post-game party as quick as possible.
    When the Broncos and Titan won their respective WHL and CHL titles this past season, it seemed like everyone wanted to soak in those moments with their families, and no one wanted to leave the rink. You would also see people racing to post photos of the moment on their Instagram accounts.
The Willoughby family enjoys time together after a Huskies win.
    In both cases, it seemed like all the players on the Broncos and Titan had quickly snuck in and out of their dressing rooms to get their phones during their respective victory celebrations.
    I haven’t just noticed this in major junior hockey. I have covered the Saskatoon Hilltops the last four Canadian Junior Football League seasons, and the Hilltops players, coaches and staff are really connected with their families. The Hilltops have won the CJFL title for the past four straight seasons, and it seems like the family members have been present every step of the way including road games and team practices.
    I see it with teams in U Sports. During each of the past four seasons, it was common to see family members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams sitting all over the Rutherford Rink at every game.
Kianna, left, and her mom Kim Dietz enjoy the Stars SFMAAAHL title win.
    The fathers of the players of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team have become mini-celebrities at games sitting together court side and becoming known as the “Chippendads.”
    During my time at the University of Regina in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I remember players from U Sports athletic teams always being pumped to go out and party after the Saturday night game, which usually closed the action for the weekend. Now players in U Sports head off to spend the post-game doing something with their families.
    In the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, players’ families follow teams on that circuit in droves. The parent and family groups that back the Prince Albert Northern Bears, Saskatoon Stars and Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats are outstanding.
Roughriders DL Jordan Reaves, right, with dad, Willard.
    Even during my limited interactions with the CFL, it seems the families are more present. I remember interacting with members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2005, and it seemed the players couldn’t wait to go out and party after the game was done.
    There was a lengthy period of time in the late 1990s to the middle of the 2000s where I would always see members of the Roughriders or other CFL teams out for a party after games.
    During my interactions in the current day, players on the Roughriders are more focused with meeting up with their families after games and going out for a post-game meal at a nice restaurant.
    In pretty much all cases at each of these levels of sport, the families that are supporting the players are all awesome. They are all great and positively supportive of the players.
    I’ve had experience with bad parents and families during my time covering sports, but almost all the experiences in recent years have been outstanding.
    I hope players, coaches and staff members of sports teams can remain as connected to their families in the future similar to what I have seen in the present and at least in the past four years.

Back in the Express with FIBA tourney advancer

Nolan Brudehl, left, and Michael Lieffers celebrate and OT win last year.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with an advancer story for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball event.
    For the second straight year, a FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball stop is being held in downtown Saskatoon. Last year, the local Team Saskatoon entry advanced to the tournament final before falling 21-14 to Team Ljubljana.
    The Team Saskatoon squad containing Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers, Nolan Brudehl and Steve Sir will be back for this year’s tournament, which is set for July 21-22 in downtown Saskatoon to be held in conjunction with Taste of Saskatchewan. 
Michael Linklater (#4) drives into the open for Team Saskatoon.
    Linklater, Lieffers and Brudehl were all members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team that won the U Sports national title in 2010. Sir is based out of Edmonton, Alta., and travels to join the other three.
    The tourney features teams from around the world, and it drew big crowds last year, especially when Team Saskatoon hit the court. It is expected big crowds will turn out again this year.
    My story on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters basketball even 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.
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Saturday, 7 July 2018

Ex-NFL duo of Jones and Glanville a perfect Tiger-Cats fit

June Jones, second from left, gives instructions to Hamilton’s quarterbacks.
    REGINA – You were waiting for someone to yell, “Hey Glanville, Elvis has left the building.”
    It is uncertain how many of the 30,594 spectators in attendance for Thursday’s CFL contest at Mosaic Stadium were aware of the history Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones and defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville have with the sport of football. 
    For those that follow football in Canada and the United States, it seemed strange to see both men, who have lengthy ties with the NFL, manning the sideline of the CFL’s Tiger-Cats, who fell 18-13 to the host Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    Both squads sat with identical 2-2 regular season records after that result.
    Jones joined the Tiger-Cats last season and brought Glanville on board before the start of this season.
    Jones is 65 years of age, while Glanville is 76-years-old and will celebrate his 77th birthday on Oct. 14. Both have made their money coaching football and can be long retired.
    Jones had some experience in the CFL working as a co-offensive coordinator with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1986. Glanville had never been to a CFL game in person until this year.
You almost want to ask, “Why are you both here?”
    The site of the veteran sideline bosses appeared almost as head scratching as the appearance of former troubled Cleveland Browns NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel on the Tigers-Cats roster as a backup signal caller.
    Even if Manziel wasn’t with Tiger-Cats, you would still end up taking lots of looks at the Hamilton bench area due to the presence of Jones and Glanville. Visibly, they both look like they still enjoy the game.
Jerry Glanville sports his classic all black look with sunglasses and headset.
    With how well prepared the Tiger-Cats have been through their first four contests, you can tell Jones and Glanville are treating this job seriously and are legitimately invested in what they are doing. They have shown that they can adjust and learn.
    There have been a number of times where successful lifelong professional coaches from the United States end up failing in the CFL, because they don’t adjust to the Canadian game.
    As a duo, Jones and Glanville gained their notoriety during two NFL stints. The first game with the Houston Oilers, where Glanville was the defensive coordinator from 1984 to 85 and then the head coach from 1986 to 1989. Jones worked under Glanville on the Oilers staff as a quarterbacks coach in 1987 and 1988.
    The second stint came with the Atlanta Falcons. Glanville served as the Falcons head coach from 1990 to 1993. Jones joined the Falcons staff as an offensive coordinator in 1991 and took over as head coach in 1994 and stayed on until 1996.
    Glanville  displayed a colourful personality giving tonnes of off the wall quotes, and he often left tickets for the late Elvis Presley at his team’s games.
    The clubs Jones and Glanville coached were known for being aggressive, exciting and having swagger. The two men were known as players’ coaches, but their teams were often viewed as villains by their opponents.
    With the Oilers, the two men built a squad that played a hard-hitting and blitzing style of defence. The Oilers home stadium, the Astrodome, became known as “The House of Pain.”
    Besides hitting opponents hard, Oilers defensive players were often involved in fights on the field, especially if they were playing their AFC Central Division rivals in the Browns, Cincinnati Bengals or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    Offensively, the Oilers could burn out the lights on the scoreboard with a high-powered passing attack led by quarterback Warren Moon.
June Jones looks at his play chart to call a play.
    With the Falcons, the blitzing style of defence used in Houston successfully transferred to Atlanta, which also included the fighting aspect. Atlanta’s defence also possessed great swagger from the play of cornerback Deion Sanders, who was one of the best to ever play the game.
    The Falcons offence shot out the lights in the 1991 season, and Atlanta posted a 10-6 regular season record and won one playoff game.
    The Falcons had celebrities like rapper M.C. Hammer and heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield hanging with them on the sidelines. Hammer’s song “Too Legit To Quit” became the theme track for the team.
    Atlanta only enjoyed a one-year wonder status as injuries because to derail the career of starting quarterback Chris Miller in 1992. Miller looked like he would be an NFL star for the long haul after a breakout 1991 campaign, and as a result, the Falcons traded then sophomore backup quarterback Brett Favre to the Green Bay Packers before the 1992 regular season began.
    Of course, history will note the Packers became great beneficiaries due to the fact they added Favre to their roster.
    These days, Jones and Glanville are still players’ coaches. While watching the Tiger-Cats sidelines on Thursday, Glanville was constantly teaching and encouraging. When the defence was on the bench, he would often be found sitting beside various defensive players helping them out with adjustments.
    Jones had to be more involved with overseeing the overall game due to holding the head coach role. He still did his share of encouraging and helping players make adjustments on the offensive side.
    Both Jones and Glanville appeared to be father figures or even wise grandfather figures to their players.
    While the Tiger-Cats were held to 13 points, they put up 429 yards of offence and looked like they could be really explosive on that side of the ball.
Jerry Glanville bends down to survey a defensive situation.
    Glanville looks to have adjusted his defence to football’s current time, where the rules crack down more on violent hits and allow receivers a lot more freedom to run routes down the field compared to the 1980s and 1990s.
    The Tiger-Cats defence looked to get pressure on the opposing quarterback with a four-man rush from the defensive line, while the secondary played a variety of different coverages. They limited the Roughriders to 298 yards of total offence.
    Hamilton wasn’t able to intercept any passes and only recovered one fumble. Glanville’s defences in the NFL were known to go all out trying to score a touchdown after a turnover making a number of laterals, but the Tiger-Cats didn’t have any opportunities to show if they had that up their sleeve.
    They might get that chance in their next game, when they host the Roughriders on July 19.
    In the early going of the 2018 regular season, it appears Jones and Glanville are a good fit for the Tiger-Cats and the CFL. They are a surprising feel good story for the Canadian game.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Friday, 6 July 2018

Roughriders’ victory clunky but very much welcome

Duron Carter (#89) defends a pass for the Roughriders.
    REGINA – The Saskatchewan Roughriders latest victory was so clunky that even the scoreboard operator began to act in similar fashion.
    With 8:54 remaining in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s CFL regular season clash at Mosaic Stadium, kicker Brett Lauther booted a 41-yard field goal to give the host Saskatchewan Roughriders a 12-10 lead over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The scoreboard operator accidently put the three points up on Hamilton’s side of the ledger, and the Tiger-Cats were listed as having a 13-9 edge.
    Some of the 30,594 spectators in attendance had a bit of a short freak out. The mistake was spotted and the scoreboard was eventually corrected in about 30 seconds of real time listing Saskatchewan as holding a 12-10 edge.
    A little over three minutes later, the Tigers-Cats went back in front 13-12, when Hamilton kicker Lirim Hajrullahu nailed a 39-yard field goal.
    The Roughriders went back out in front 18-13 with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, when running back Marcus Thigpen ran home a touchdown from 34 yards out to cap a four-play drive that covered 77 yards. The ensuing two-point conversion failed after the seventh lead change in the contest.
Roughrider receiver Naaman Roosevelt (#82) tries to avoid tacklers.
    The 18-13 scored held up as the final after the Roughriders stopped the Tigers-Cats on their last ditch two-minute drill drive. Both teams saw their respective records sit at 2-2 following the contest.
    While the win wasn’t a work of art, the Roughriders and their fans will gladly take it. The victory helped give relief from the sting of a confidence deflating two-game losing skid.
    Before the win over the Tiger-Cats, the Roughriders were crushed 40-17 on June 21 to the Redblacks in Ottawa. Saskatchewan followed that performance up with a 23-17 setback at Mosaic Stadium to the Montreal Alouettes, who had lost 13 straight regular season games heading into that contest.
QB Jeremiah Masoli (#8) had 333 passing yards for the Tiger-Cats.
    If Rider Nation wasn’t panicking, the fans had their hand over the panic button. If there wasn’t panic, there seemed to be quiet fear the Roughriders were going to embark on a bad season.
    The Roughriders are currently forced to work through key injuries to starting quarterback Zach Collaros and defensive back Nick Marshall. The play of their offensive line had been suspect.
    After two deflating losses, most Saskatchewan fans didn’t think their Roughriders could a Tiger-Cats squad that was coming off two straight impressive wins.
    Even in desperate times, over 30,000 came out to support the Roughriders outside of a sprinkling of Hamilton supporters. There wasn’t much for the home side to cheer about over the first 20 minutes as Hamilton slowly built a 4-0 lead.
    With 5:22 remaining in the second quarter, it appeared Roughriders starting quarterback Brandon Bridge scored on a 15-yard touchdown run.
The Roughriders’ special teams take down Tiger-Cats return Brandon Banks.
    On video review, it was ruled he fumbled before crossing the goal-line and the Tiger-Cats recovered the ball in the end zone to end the scoring threat.
    For fans in attendance, Bridge’s fumble seemed like par for the course looking back at the Roughriders two previous games.
    On the Tiger-Cats ensuing possession, Roughriders defensive lineman Charleston Hughes created a huge spark knocking the ball high into the air out of the hands of Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Hughes grabbed the ball in the air and raced 57 yards downfield for a defensive touchdown to give Saskatchewan a 6-4 lead.
Charleston Hughes had a big game on Thursday night for the Roughriders.
    In classic Roughriders form, Lauther proceeded to miss the ensuing conversion attempt.
    Hajrullahu kicked a 30-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to give the Tiger-Cats a 7-6 edge at halftime.
    Despite doing very little on offence, the Roughriders had a legitimate chance to win.
    The teams traded field goals in the third quarter to allow Hamilton to exit the frame with a 10-9 edge. That set the stage for the dramatics in the fourth quarter.
    From a fan perspective, the Roughriders have a tendency to lose games they shouldn’t lose but seem to manage to win games they shouldn’t win.
    Masoli completed 23 of 43 passes for 333 yards to mark the ninth straight regular season game he surpassed 300 passing yards to equal a CFL record held by Sam Etcheverry and Kent Austin. Etcheverry achieved his streak in 1956 with the Alouettes, while Austin accomplished the same feat in 1991 with the Roughriders.
Christion Jones (#22) returns a kick for the Roughriders.
    Despite Masoli’s big game, the Roughrider still won.
    On the Saskatchewan side offensively, no one had an outstanding night.
    The Roughriders offensive really only caught fire for one series, and that was on the 77-yard march that resulted in the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
    That series included an acrobatic 29-yard catch from receiver Joshua Stanford and Thigpen’s 34-yard touchdown run.
    When the game ended, Roughriders fans were elated their team won, but that elation seemed followed by a stunned query of, “Did we actually win that game?”
Members of Rider Nation celebrate the Roughrider victory.
    Going into a bye week, Thursday’s win brings some relief and restores some optimism to the Roughriders and their fans.
    The Roughriders now have ample time to prepare for their next game on July 19, when they travel to Hamilton to face the Tiger-Cats once again.

Back in the Express with NCAA champ

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a story on National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I lacrosse champion in Brendan Rooney.
    Rooney is a Saskatoon product who just completed his third season playing for the Yale University Bulldogs lacrosse team. He scored a goal for Yale, when they down the Duke University Blue Devils 13-11 in the NCAA lacrosse championship game on May 28 in Foxboro, Mass.
    A forward with the Yale lacrosse team, Rooney majors in molecular bio-physics and biochemistry in the classroom and aims to get into Yale’s medical school. He has a not so ordinary summer job too.
    The story on Rooney can be found by clicking 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.
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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Cheering for the Roughriders is not a joyride

Roughriders DB Ed Gainey defends a pass in the end zone.
    REGINA – It was one of those nights you sat in the stands at Mosaic Stadium and asked yourself, “Why do I cheer for this team?”
    The question is asked with both dismay and amusement after the host Saskatchewan Roughriders dropped a 23-17 decision to the Montreal Alouettes in a CFL regular season clash. Both sides sport 1-2 records following the contest.
    Going into the game, you thought it was a contest the Roughriders couldn’t lose. The Alouettes had lost 13 straight regular season games dating back to last season and seemed poised to go a full calendar year without a win.
Signs supporting the Humboldt Broncos were all over Mosaic Stadium.
    Saturday was also the “Humboldt Strong” game, where the Roughriders were honouring the junior A Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
    Back on April 6, the bus carrying the Broncos team was involved in a collision with a semitrailer about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale. The Broncos were on their way to Nipawin for an SJHL playoff game against the Hawks.
    The crash resulted in the deaths of 16 players and team officials and injuries to 13 other players from the team.
    The Roughriders played host to the Broncos immediate and billet family members, officials from the Broncos organization, the community of Humboldt and first responders who helped the victims on the day of the crash. Numerous “Humboldt Strong” signs were displayed throughout the stadium and ribbons were painted on the turf at the 29 yard line to represent the 29 people who were on board the Broncos bus.
DL Eddie Steele leads the Roughriders on to the field.
    During the pre-game ceremonies, a rousing video tribute was shown for the Broncos and people involved with the team were brought to the field.
    Defensive lineman Eddie Steele led the Roughriders on to the field and the near sellout crowd of 33,308 listed on the CFL website roared in huge appreciation. Surviving Broncos players took part in the coin toss, which was performed with a Broncos puck, and Steele told the Broncos players the Roughriders were playing for them.
    As a fan, the feeling at that moment was, “We are going to roll the Montreal Alouettes. We are going to make the Montreal Alouettes wish they were never born.”
    On the Roughriders first offensive play, quarterback Brandon Bridge fired a deep pass to wide open running back Marcus Thigpen, who let the ball fall through his hands. Had Thigpen caught the ball, he was in the clear to sail home on a possible 76-yard touchdown reception.
Roughriders DL Eddie Steele (#97) charges to the field.
    It felt like the air was let out of the stadium.
    For Roughriders fans, this was a “here we go again” bad omen.
    From that point, a defensive slugfest ensued that was aided by some really bad offence by both sides. Montreal finished with 287 yards of total offence, while Saskatchewan had 279 yards.
    The Roughriders never led in the game. Montreal held a 3-0 lead after the first quarter, and Saskatchewan kicker Brett Lauther hit a 39-yard field goal with 4:42 to play in the second quarter to force a 3-3 tie.
    The Alouettes went into halftime scoring 10 straight points to go ahead 13-3 on a 79-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Drew Willie to receiver Chris Williams and a 32-yard field goal from kicker Boris Bede.
Humboldt Broncos players take part in the “puck” toss.
    Williams was the only one that a good night offensively hauling in three passes for 130 yards.
Still as a fan, you are trying to convince yourself the “real Roughriders” would come out in the second half and put the boots to the Alouettes. For a moment, you try to believe what you are seeing isn’t real.
    At the start of the second half, the Roughriders insert 25-year-old David Watford into the game for his first action ever as a CFL quarterback. As a fan, you think this is an act of desperation with the Roughriders coaches stretching to look for a spark.
Members of the Humboldt Broncos watch game action from the sidelines.
    The game grinds into the fourth quarter with the Alouettes holding a 17-6 edge.
    Early in the fourth quarter, there was finally a spark, when Roughriders kick returner Christion Jones bought a punt back 53 yards to the Montreal 17 yard line. Just two plays later, Watford hit Roughriders star receiver Naaman Roosevelt for a five-yard touchdown pass to cut the gap to 17-12. The two point conversion failed but there was life.
    On the ensuing Montreal possession, Alouettes running back Tyrell Sutton fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by Roughriders defensive end Willie Jefferson at the Montreal 33 yard line.
QB David Watford, top centre, throws a pass for the Roughriders.
    This was the time the Roughriders were finally going to go ahead. Instead, a pass by Watford to open Roughriders receiver Caleb Holley in the end zone deflected off the upright. The hosts settled for a 25-yard field goal from Lauther to cut the Alouettes edge to 17-15.
    Bede booted two more field goals for the Alouettes before conceding a safety with one second left on the clock to leave the Alouettes holding a 23-17 lead.
    The Roughriders attempted to pull the “Stanford Marching Band” play making a number of laterals in a desperate final kickoff return to score. It appeared Roosevelt found a crease, and he was going to score. He was stopped after a 40-yard gain.
Roughriders DL Zach Evans (#92) looks to get past a blocker.
    As a fan, you come away thinking “typical Roughriders.”
    While you remember great times cheering for the team like Grey Cup wins in 1966, 1989, 2007 and 2013, you are well aware of a history of bad times.
    Roughriders’ fans know the term “Reign of Error” to describe the club’s plight of missing the CFL post-season for 11-consecutive years from 1977 to 1987. You remember hapless stretches like missing the playoffs for four straight years from 1998 to 2001 and a 3-15 campaign as recently as 2015.
    Even Grey Cup appearances can bring back bad memories. Just mention “Too Many Men Game,” and Roughriders fans think of the 28-27 Grey Cup loss to the Alouettes in 2009.
Roughriders kick returner Christion Jones (#22) looks to lateral the ball.
    After Saturday’s game finished and even on radio post-game shows, fans sent criticism the Roughriders way. I found the rage aspect to be subdued this time around in the immediate aftermath compared to the Roughriders 40-17 loss on June 21 to the Redblacks in Ottawa.
    It seemed like there was more quiet disappointment and the acceptance of the possibility that this could be a bad Roughriders season. Too many of the team’s followers have seen this script before.
    With that said, there are still loud voices on social media looking to get their disappointment across.
    On the bright side, it was nice to wake up on Sunday morning and see social media posts from people connected to Humboldt and the SJHL Broncos that they had a great time at Saturday’s Roughriders game despite the final outcome.
The Humboldt Broncos supporters had fun at Saturday’s game.
    It seemed the night out with the larger Saskatchewan community was another step in the healing process. Being out with others in public was important.
    That reaction put into perspective that the Roughriders and Alouettes were just playing a game.
    As a fan, you are reminded of the fact the Roughriders play through lots of downs and ups in the past, and they will play through those in the future.
    Even during a down game on the field, it is still a nice distraction from regular life.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.