Saturday, 15 September 2018

Hilltops’ Ehman takes lessons to heart from long ago rookie season, Colts crushed 79-7

LB Bobby Ehman has brought intensity and leadership to the Hilltops.
    When Bobby Ehman first joined the Saskatoon Hilltops way back in 2014, he discovered he was an immediate good fit with the team.
    “The first year feels like a long time ago, but it was awesome,” said Ehman, who is a jack of all trades linebacker. “The vets were really welcoming.
    “Right away, I felt like a part of the family. I lucked out and got to travel in my first year, and that usually doesn’t happen. I just try to make the most of it.
    “I am still here.”
    On Saturday night in Calgary, Ehman had a couple of pass knockdowns as the Hilltops improved to 4-0 in the current campaign thrashing the Colts 79-7 at McMahon Stadium. The Colts fell to 0-4.
    Now in his fifth and final season with venerable Canadian Junior Football League club, Ehman said the time has flown by. The 22-year-old graduate of Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman Collegiate has watched Saskatoon Minor Football Field undergo a totally reconstruction during his time with the Hilltops, which includes playing on a field turf field, in front new stands and press boxes and getting the opportunity to dress in a new clubhouse facility at that site.
    At the Hilltops practice field, he saw the team play their final campaign last season out of their old clubhouse and play the current campaign out of a newly built state of the art clubhouse.
    Of course, Ehman has enjoyed the fact he has helped the Hilltops win the CJFL championship in every season he has been with the team. He has stockpiled memories he will carry with him for the rest of his life in those championship journeys.
    Ehman said some of the most important lessons came out of that first season back in 2014. He was mainly playing the special teams and trying to gain a handle on the Hilltops defensive system.
    On top of that, Ehman learned how to persevere and keep working hard, when things go bad. The Hilltops started out 1-2 in the regular season in that campaign having lost twice to their provincials rivals the Regina Thunder. The Thunder were the defending CJFL champions at that time.
Bobby Ehman (#48) took over as starting middle linebacker for the Hilltops.
    It was a position the Hilltops rarely ever found themselves in and everyone on the club was doing soul searching trying to figure out what type of team they were.
    Ehman recalls that Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant wasn’t really happy at that point in time. After that slow start, the Hilltops rolled of eight straight wins between the regular season and playoffs, and that run was capped by a 39-14 victory over the host Langley Rams in the CJFL championship game, the Canadian Bowl.
    “He (Sargeant) kind of set us straight,” said Ehman. “Honestly, I think that really helped us grow as a team.
    “The vets just started leading the way, and it brought us a championship that year. I kind of figured it out pretty quickly how we are supposed to play the Hilltop way. I’d say I’ve greatly improved.”
    Now as the wily old veteran, special teams captain and starting middle linebacker, Ehman has come full circle as a player and now helped the fresh faced rookies who have joined the Toppers out of high school. Ehman said he is impress with the skill that the newcomers have.
    “It is quite a bit different,” said Ehman. “It sounds like they played a lot more football.
    “These kids are coming in pretty talented.”
    Hilltops defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Yausie said the team has benefitted greatly from the fact Ehman has a motor that doesn’t quit. Besides being an ace on special teams, Ehman has played in every spot at the linebacker position.
    He mainly played at one of the outside spots before moving into the middle this season due to the graduation of veteran star Cameron Schnitzler.
    Yausie has been pleased with Ehman’s play and continued improvement during his time with the team.
Bobby Ehman celebrates a Hilltops big play.
    “He (Ehman) has been an emotional and energy leader for our team,” said Yausie. “It is a complicated game, especially when you move up a level and you play good opponents, and sometimes players slow down.
    “He doesn’t do that. He plays faster and brings energy and brings confidence to your team. That is the reason he excels as a leader by how he plays.”
    Away from the game, Yausie said Ehman does a great job in keeping things light and loose in the team’s clubhouse.
    “Off the field, he (Ehman) is a fun guy,” said Yausie. “He is just a natural leader, because he is always cracking jokes and he just brings a relaxed atmosphere to the team.
    “We practice hard and we coach hard. Some players quiet down and shut up, but Bobby is just Bobby. He is a leader, because he has a great personality and he is a really good person.”
    Going into this season, Ehman realizes the Hilltops can accomplish something significant, if they can win a fifth straight CJFL title. He said the team has the veteran leadership that can keep things focused on the task at hand.
    “It is in the back of my mind,” said Ehman. “It can honestly become more of an obstacle than we want it to be.
    “We really just have to stay focused.  We have the vets that have been here. We know what it takes to win.
    “We have to do that before we start worrying about the championship.”
    Ehman said he would like to keep playing next season and will keep his options open. He said he thought a lot about the fact he was going into his final CJFL campaign before the regular season started.
    After the Hilltops played their first regular season game, Ehman said he has kept his thoughts in the present from that moment on and is just enjoying the final ride.
    “I really just try to take it in each day,” said Ehman. “It is going by quick.
    “Every day is just kind of a blessing to come out with the guys. I just really try to savour every moment.”
    In Saturday’s wipeout of the Colts, the Hilltops stormed out to a 36-0 lead with 4:22 to play in the first quarter. Saskatoon romped through the rest of the game to close things out.
Bobby Ehman (#48) aims to enjoy his final CJFL season.
    The Hilltop had 363 yards rushing and 234 yards passing as a team in that contest, while the Colts had 29 yards rushing and 147 yards passing.
    Running back Joshua Ewanchyna carried the ball 17 times for 155 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Hilltops. The Toppers received a big performance from running back Ben Abrook, who carried the ball 10 times for 118 yards and scored one touchdown.
    Hilltops starting quarterback Jordan Walls completed 13-of-18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
    Safety Brant Morrow and defensive back Colton Holmes each had one interception for Saskatoon. Including action in the regular season and the playoffs, the Hilltops have won their last 22 straight games on the road.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Saturday when they host the Thunder (2-2) at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

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Friday, 14 September 2018

Huskies gain a measure of respect in loss to Dinos

DB Clovis Lumeka (#18) defends a pass for the Huskies.
    In defeat, all the University of Saskatchewan Huskies had to do was look at the University of Calgary Dinos to know they made a mark.
    Going into Friday’s U Sports regular season football tilt at Griffiths Stadium, the Huskies and Dinos were sporting identical 2-0 records. 
    There was a chance that this could have been the game where the Dinos, who have won eight of the last 10 Canada Conference championships, brought the Huskies down to earth. U of S missed the post-season a year ago with a 2-6 mark.
    The Dinos won the game 37-28 before 5,114 spectators, but they didn’t look like victor after the contest. They departed the field looking a bit sombre as opposed to looking quietly satisfied in posting another victory in a match they were favoured to win.
QB Adam Sinagra threw for 569 yards for the Dinos on Friday.
    Dinos star quarterback Adam Sinagra had an insane great night completing 32-of-40 passes for 569 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Even with those spectacular numbers, the Dinos seemed to know they had hiccups on their side and could have been beaten had the Huskies made a couple of big plays.
    On a night where the Huskies honoured their retired Canadian Football Hall of Fame head coach Brian Towriss and announced the street that runs past Griffith Stadium will now be known as “Brian Towriss Crescent,” the hosts came out with good jump in their annual homecoming game.
    The Dogs had the first possession of the game and drove 59 yards in four plays and capped the march with a seven-yard touchdown reception by running back Colton Klassen.
    In powerhouse form, the Dinos responded with three major scores of their own to go ahead 21-7. U of C running back Jeshrun Antwi ran in a major score from 69 yards out and receivers Karl Hunter and Jalen Philpot hauled in respect touchdown catches from nine and 12 yards out.
Colton Klassen muscles his way into the end zone for a Huskies touchdown.
    At that point, the Dinos appeared to get ahead of themselves in trying to manufacture a blowout. They were stopped on a third-and-one gamble from the Huskies 48 yard line and a third and five fake punt pass at the Huskies 51 yard line.
    Those turnovers on downs resulted in two field goals by Huskies star kicker Sean Stenger, which cut the Dinos edge to 21-13 at halftime. Had the Huskies manufactured a touchdown on one of those chances, they would have really tightened things up on the night.
    Stenger kicked a third field goal on the Huskies first possession of the second half to further trim the Dinos edge to 21-16.
    The Dinos seemed to restore order with a field goal from star kicker Niko DiFonte and a 50-yard touchdown reception for Philpot to go up 31-16 at the end of the third quarter.
Jalen Philpot goes into the end zone for a Dinos major score.
    Philpot caught eight passes for 135 yards to go along with his two major scores.
    With 11:20 to play in the fourth quarter, DiFonte hit another field goal to put the Dinos up 34-16, but the Huskies refused to go away.
    On the second play on their ensuing offensive possession, Huskies fifth-year quarterback Kyle Siemens hit Klassen with a 72 yard touchdown pass to cut the Dinos edge to 34-23. Klassen caught seven passes for 134 yards to go with his two major scores through the air and ran the ball once for 11 yards.
    U of C’s edge shrank to 34-25 after conceding a safety due to bad field position with 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter. A DiFonte 42-yard field goal with 2:10 to play in the fourth put the Dinos up 37-25 and pretty much sealed the victory.
The Huskies kick cover unit wraps up Dinos returner Brycen Mayoh (#84).
    On the final play of the contest, Stenger hit a 27-yard field goal to ensure the Huskies lost by just nine points. That play might be an important one in the future, if the Huskies win the Sept. 29 encounter between these two sides in Calgary and the points scored in the two head-to-head clashes possibly becomes a regular season standings tiebreaker.
    With Friday’s game in the books, the Dinos remain the only undefeated team in Canada West with a 3-0 record, while the Huskies fall to 2-1 to sit in a tie for second in the conference with the University of Regina Rams (2-1).
    Of course when the Huskies look at the video of Friday’s game with the Dinos, they will see missed plays and mistakes they need to correct going forward.
    Siemens was unable to connect on at least three deep passes that could have potentially gone for touchdowns due to timing issues with the intended receivers.
Dinos pass rushers close in on Huskies QB Kyle Siemens, right.
    Still, the Huskies proved they won’t be pushovers. They are also playing with house money, because they were listed last in the Canada West Conference pre-season coaches’ poll.
    All they can do is try to keep creating a new excitement around the team. The Huskies next opportunity to do just that occurs this coming Friday, when they host the Rams at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.
    NOTE – The Huskies were without head coach Scott Flory for Friday’s game. Flory was in Hamilton, Ont., being inducted in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame for his storied CFL career as an offensive lineman with the Montreal Alouettes that spanned 15 seasons from 1999 to 2013.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Everybody cheers and sheds tears over Humboldt Broncos stirring return

The Elgar Petersen Arena set up for a vigil on April 8.
    Deep down, you knew you hadn’t shed your final tears over the Humboldt Broncos.
    A little over five months after a bus collision on April 6 claimed the lives of 16 players and team personnel, the Broncos returned to the ice Wednesday to host the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular season opening game against the Nipawin Hawks, who are the circuit’s defending champions. With the clash at the Elgar Petersen Arena broadcast nationally on TSN, it was a certainty the water works would come from anyone in any part of the world watching that game.
    In a really well-played junior A clash, the Broncos, who are under the guidance of new head coach and general manager Nathan Oystrick, scored first with a power-play goal coming from the stick of centre Michael Clarke at the 2:08 mark of the second period.
    Inside of the final 5:30 of the second, the Hawks received singles from Cole Beamin and Jeremy Bisson to go up 2-1. That score held up as the final outcome despite a Broncos golden last chance in the dying seconds of the third coming off the stick of Clarke following an offensive zone faceoff.
    Hawks star goalie Declan Hobbs made the stop, which was one of his 39 saves on the night. Broncos standout netminder Dane Dow played valiantly on the other end making 24 saves.
    For the community of Humboldt, everyone affected by the tragedy and the community at large all over the world whose hearts sank on April 6, Wednesday’s game was a big step forward in the healing process. That healing process still has an uncharted ways to go, but a new normal for the community of Humboldt just got a lot closer.
    When the Broncos and Hawks collide again in Nipawin on Friday, the Broncos players and coaches will be living a day-to-day life that more resembles the regular rigours of a hockey season. Regular routines will start to form again as the 2018-19 campaign progresses.
Humboldt Broncos jerseys became a common sight all over Saskatchewan.
    Between the April 6 crash and Wednesday’s game, most of the focus revolved around the daily news on how the families of the players and staff were dealing with the aftermath of the crash. The bus carrying the Broncos to play a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin was involved in a collision with a semi-truck just north of Tisdale resulting in 16 deaths and 13 injuries on the bus.
    The world rallied to support the Humboldt players and staffers including a GoFundMe campaign that raised over $15.1-million with donations coming from over 141,900 individuals and entities in just under two weeks.
    It is crazy to think Humboldt residents Sylvie Kellington and Caitlin Hergott originally had the small goal of raising funds to cover parking costs for the families visiting hospitals with the GoFundMe campaign. Their efforts became the largest GoFundMe campaign ever in Canada and the third largest ever in the world.
    Wednesday’s contest provided another chance to heal and pay tribute to the 2017-18 Broncos, and that was done in spectacular fashion in front of an over capacity crowd of 1,998.
    Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter were the two survivors of the crash that returned to the team this season, and they took part in the opening faceoff. The ceremonial puck drop was performed by a large group of their teammates from a season ago who also survived the crash.
    Both Camrud and Patter played outstanding with Camrud recording an assist on Clarke’s power-play goal. While the game on the ice wasn’t the biggest focus on the night, it provided a great compliment to the rest of the festivities.
    Following the game, an emotional ceremony that lasted about 45 minutes was held to cap off the night. During the ceremony, 29 banners, one for every person on the Broncos bus, were unveiled and placed in a circle around centre ice.
    All the numbers worn by the Broncos players who were on the bus on April 6 were retired. Camrud and Patter will wear their numbers for the rest of the campaign, before those digits officially get taken out of circulation by the Broncos.
A back of a Humboldt Broncos jersey made to support those in the bus crash.
    On social media, people from all walks of life made uplifting comments on Twitter about what they saw from Wednesday’s game.
    Of course, no one will be able to bring back the players who dies in the bus crash in captain Logan Schatz, Adam Herold, Conner Lukan, Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Boulet, Logan Hunter, Stephen Wack or Parker Tobin. The same goes for head coach and general manager Darcy Haugen, assistant coach Mark Cross, play-by-play voice Tyler Bieber, stats expert Brody Hinz, athletic therapist Dayna Brons and bus driver Glen Doerksen.
    The crash survivors in Camrud, Patter, Graysen Cameron, Kaleb Dahlgren, Bryce Fiske, Xavier LaBelle, Matthieu Gomercic, Nick Shumlanski, Tyler Smith, Ryan Straschnitzki, Jacob Wassermann, Layne Matechuk and Morgan Gobeil will soldier on. Matechuk and Gobeil are still in hospital.
    As a collective, those 29 have shown the world it is possible to come together to heal and care and that everyone can be #HumboldtStrong.

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Monday, 10 September 2018

Roughriders’ Johnson walks the walk in giving back

Star DB has busy “day off” at schools in Saskatoon

Jovon Johnson, right, gives a pointer to a Mustangs defensive back.
    Jovon Johnson lives what he preaches when it comes to giving back to the community.
    The star defensive back for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders was in Saskatoon on Monday handing out backpacks full of school supplies to students at Princess Alexandra School and King George School. Following those stops, he made a visit to Mount Royal Collegiate to give a talk to the Mustangs junior and senior football teams and led a helping hand for the entire duration of a two-hour practice.
    The 34-year-old, who was on a “day off,” stressed how key it is for him to be active in the community.
Jovon Johnson, right, stresses catching the ball at its highest point.
    “It is important because of the platform that we have as professional athletes to be involved in the community,” said Johnson, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 190 pounds. “The community pays our paycheques.
    “At the end of the day, it is our job to give back to them in as many ways that we can. We can create ways to be involved in the community, so I brainstorm a lot and come up with ideas and put them in motion.
    “At the end of the day, I am able to impact so many people and put smiles on so many people’s faces just by doing that in opening myself up to the people and allowing them to get to know me and what I am all about.”
    One of Johnson’s brainstorms was the idea of handing out backpacks full of school supplies to children in schools.
Jovon Johnson sets to throw the football during a DBs drill.
    The 12-year CFL veteran and 13-year professional football player reflected on his own upbringing in Erie, Pennsylvania, when he didn’t always have everything he needed.
    He gained supporting partners in TD Bank, Lipsett Cartage and Staples Business Depot to help put together 500 backpacks with school supplies, which were handed out between schools in Saskatoon and Regina. Johnson contacted a company in the United States to supply the backpacks.
    Joined by receiver Bruce Thompson, who is on the Roughriders negotiation list, Johnson said he loved seeing the heartfelt expressions on the faces of the children when they received their backpacks. He could tell the gesture meant a lot.
Jovon Johnson, right, demonstrates a technique in the backpedal.
    Besides seeing how appreciative the students were, Johnson was blown away by how much support he received in this endeavour.
    “It is started with 20 and ended up at 500,” said Johnson. “It just grew so big and so rapidly that the impact got that much greater.”
    At Mount Royal’s football practice, Johnson spent his time focusing on helping the Mustangs defensive backs with footwork and technique. He wanted to stress the importance of being fundamentally sound and playing attention to details to the players.
    Johnson said his fundamentals have helped him play professional football for as long as he has. He was a member of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006 before joining the CFL ranks in 2007.
    The winner of the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player award in 2011 enjoyed the chance to share his knowledge with the players on the Mustangs.
Jovon Johnson addresses the Mustangs after their practice.
    “It is good for me, because being that I have been a professional for 13 years now, I know at some point ultimately it is going to come to an end,” said Johnson. “I know that my calling in life after football is probably going to be coaching.
    “It is a great time for me to gain some experience doing that and getting to know what I am up against and the obstacles that I have ahead. At the end of the day, I am ready for that challenge when the day comes that I do hang up my cleats and say, ‘You know what, I am going into the next chapter. I know that I am already mentally and in tune with what I need to do.’”
    The Roughriders (7-4) return to action on Saturday, when they host the Ottawa Redblacks (6-5) at 7:30 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

Blades and Stantec team up for charity shootout

Mark Dinsmore from Wheaton GM skates in on a shootout chance.
    The SaskTel Centre ice surface became the place for lunchtime shinny fun on Monday during a press conference involving the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
    The Blades and Stantec Inc. introduced the Stantec #Shootout4Charity fundraising initiative, which will be a feature at Blades home games. A total of 16 community leaders from 16 different companies each representing a charity of their choice will go head-to-head in a shootout.
    The head to head shootouts will be held during intermissions of Blades home games, and they will be conducted in a tournament style bracket. The first shootout will be held during the Blades home opener, when they face the Swift Current Broncos on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    The final match and winner will be crowned on Dec. 27, when the Blades host their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders.
    The winner will receive $3,000 for their charity, the runner-up will receive $1,500 and the third place finisher will be awarded $500.
    A shootout demonstration was held in conjunction with the press conference with shooters from all 16 companies taking part in the demo.
The Stantec #Shootout4Charity championship trophy.
    The Stantec #Shootout4Charity will also include a social media contest where contestants will create videos in support of their charities. A total of two prizes worth $500 each will be handed out for the social media video contest portion of this initiative.
    “Community is a huge pillar in our organization, and while we work towards building a champion on the ice, we feel a responsibility off the ice,” said Blades president Steve Hogle in a release. “We play an incredibly popular sport.
    “We’re humbled by the popularity of our brand, and we believe that comes not only with a responsibility but an opportunity to leverage our platform for the greater good of our community.”
    The Blades return to action on Thursday, when they host the Regina Pats in a pre-season contest at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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Saturday, 8 September 2018

Roughriders win fourth straight in crazy fashion, CFL just insane

Samuel Eguavoen scores TD for the Roughriders on Saturday.
    Even when the road boos feel like cheers, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have to go through their share of drama to earn victory.
    On Saturday at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, the Roughriders jumped to a 20-17 halftime lead in unfathomable fashion against the host Blue Bombers in front of a packed crowd of 33,134 spectators. As the teams departed to the dressing rooms for halftime, a vocal number of people in attendance booed the host side off the field, and it was apparent Bombers fans were the ones unloading the boos.
    With 68 seconds remaining in the first half, the Bombers were holding a 17-13 lead and had the ball at the Saskatchewan seven yard line with a first and goal. Bombers starting quarterback Matt Nichols tried to throw an ill-advised underhanded pass upfield, and the ball landed right in the gut of Roughriders linebacker Samuel Eguavoen.
    Eguavoen ran the ball back 103 yards the other way for a Saskatchewan touchdown, which gave the visitors a 20-17 lead. The Roughriders first touchdown of the contest happen to come off a 97-yard interception return by defensive end Willie Jefferson.
    By halftime, Saskatchewan had scored two touchdowns off interception returns that totalled 200 yards. In any football game, that sort of occurrence is unthinkable.
    When a team gets booed off the field by its own fans, it usually feels as good as cheers for the visiting side.
Willie Jefferson scored a touchdown for the Roughriders on Saturday.
    Even with the Bombers fans giving their team the raspberries, the Roughriders weren’t able to win easy. Saskatchewan increased its lead to 26-17 by the end of the third quarter only to have Winnipeg take a 27-26 advantage opening the fourth quarter scoring 10 unanswered points.
    Brett Lauther closed the contest booting his fifth and six field goals of the game to give the Roughriders a 32-27 victory.
    Now riding a four game winning streak, the Roughriders improved to 7-4 to sit with the second best record overall in the CFL, if you go off winning percentage. The Bombers fell to 5-7 having dropped their last four in a row.
    Even when the wins are piling up for the Roughriders, it feels like they are always facing challenges. Saskatchewan’s starting quarterback Zack Collaros was forced to leave the game early in the fourth quarter after taking a big hit from Bombers defensive back Jeff Hecht.
    Collaros, who had found his stride in the current campaign, was placed under concussion protocol. He missed four games earlier this season due to a concussion injury.
    Roughriders star defensive back Ed Gainey went down a short time later with a leg injury.
    If both players miss any significant time, that alone might halt the Roughriders winning streak.
Zach Collaros left Saturday’s game due to injury.
    At the moment, it is too early to tell if either will play this coming Saturday, when the Roughriders host the Ottawa Redblacks (6-5) at 7:30 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
    Still, the Roughriders found a way to win namely due to the fact their defence came up with all sorts of big plays. The Roughriders defence forced Nichols and Bombers backup quarterback Chris Streveler to throw a combined five interceptions.
    Jefferson and Eguavoen had sacks to go along with the interceptions they respectively returned for touchdowns. Defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy had nine tackles and two interceptions to aid the Roughriders cause.
    Running back and former University of Auburn Tigers star Tre Mason paced the Roughriders offence carrying the ball 20 times for 117 yards and catching two passes for 13 yards.
    While the Roughriders latest win came via a crazy fashion, the CFL showed on Saturday how insane it can be.
    The Hamilton Tiger-Cats won their third in a row downing the Argonauts in Toronto 36-25. Hamilton improved to 6-5 to sit in a tie for first place in the East Division with the Redblacks. The Argonauts fell to 3-8 with the loss.
    Tigers-Cats starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed 18-of-25 passes for 307 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. This season, Masoli has passed for 300 or more yards nine times to equal a team record for most 300 yard passing games in one season set in 2013 by Henry Burris.
    In Edmonton, the host Eskimos downed the Calgary Stampeders in a classic CFL shootout 48-42. The Stampeders, who remain first overall in the CFL with a 9-2 mark, committed seven turnovers and still had a chance to win that contest.
HC and GM Chris Jones and the Roughriders have won four straight.
    The Eskimos, who improved to 7-5, led 21-7 at one point in the first quarter and were up 48-28 going into the fourth quarter and almost ended up losing.
    The Stampeders scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and had receiver Juwan Brescacin been able to hold on to a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the fourth quarter, Calgary would have likely escaped with victory depending if the possible ensuing convert was successful.
    Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 25-of-46 passes for 491 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in that loss. Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly connected on 30-of-44 passes for 397 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the win.
    In the CFL, it doesn’t matter what record a team has entering any particular contest. Each team has enough playmakers to pull out victory on any given night.
    That is the enduring aspect that helps to make the CFL great and days like Saturday’s triple header are intriguing to watch.

“Cool cops” want it that way

    I have to give you the reader a big thanks if you are reading this right now after seeing the above tweet.
    The Saskatoon Police Service gave the public a really sweet and fun video here. Down in the United States, police forces down there had been putting together videos on lip sync challenges.
    After receiving requests from some in the community to possibly get involved, the Saskatoon Police Service dropped this video on their Facebook page at 10 a.m. on Friday. It is a lip sync video to the song “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.
    Within about two hours, the Facebook post of the video had over 83,000 views. At about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, the video has piled up over 1.4-million views on Facebook and over 20,000 views on YouTube.
    The video is great because it shows the members of the Saskatoon Police Service in a lighter and humorous mood. Actually, the members of the Saskatoon Police Service are pretty good when it comes to socializing with the public, and the video helps make them feel that much more approachable.
    The YouTube post of the video is below.

Schlenker earns full time NHL referee spot, other notes

Chris Schlenker waves off a goal in the 2016 WHL playoffs.
    Chris Schlenker earned another huge milestone recently in his career as a hockey referee.
    The alum of the WHL’s Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders was promoted full time to the NHL ranks as first reported by on Aug. 31. Schlenker was brought on as a full-time professional referee to work games in both the NHL and AHL before the start of the 2016-17 season.
    He made his professional debut on Oct. 17, 2015 working an AHL game between the Toronto Marlies and the Albany Devils. On Oct. 24, 2016, Schlenker made his NHL debut in Montreal as the host Canadiens took on the Philadelphia Flyers.
    The 34-year-old product from Medicine Hat, Alta., has worked 59 NHL games since become a full-time professional official. He refereed in the AHL’s 2017 Calder Cup finals.
    During his days as a player, Schlenker, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 198 pounds, was a tough defensive defenceman. From 2000 to 2005, he appeared in 284 WHL regular season games split between the Pats and Raiders posting 25 goals, 67 assists and 718 penalty minutes.
    After playing less than a season of professional hockey in Germany, Schlenker joined the Medicine Hat Police Service and became a member of the K9 unit.
    As a member of the police service, Schlenker took up officiating. He quickly worked his way up the hockey ranks and won the Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy as the top official in the WHL following for the 2015-16 season. He worked the WHL finals and the Memorial Cup that season as well.
    At that time, Schlenker completed his fifth season as a hockey referee.
    Now entering his eight season as a referee, Schlenker has built a reputation for being solid at that craft. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he spent a number of seasons working in the NHL ranks.
  • The Saskatoon Blades downed the Prince Albert Raiders 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout in a WHL pre-season match at The Legends Centre in Warman, Sask., on Saturday night. Kirby Dach, Michael Farren and Brad Goethals netted singles for the Blades in regulation, while Spencer Moe, Kody McDonald and Lane Kirk replied with singles for the Raiders in regulation. Goethals and Farren had the only tallies in the tiebreaking shootout. Koen MacInnes made 35 saves over 65 minutes in goal for the Blades (5-0). Donovan Buskey turned away 33 shots in goal for the Raiders (0-2-0-1).
  • The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team blanked the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns 5-0 in a neutral site U Sports pre-season tilt at the Fairview Arena in Swift Current, Sask., on Saturday night. Nicole Fry, Kennedy Brown, Bailee Bourassa, Shyan Elias and Leah Bohlken all had singles for the Huskies. Jasey Book and Camryn Drever split the shutout in goal for U of S.
  • On Friday night, the U of Saskatchewan Huskies football team improved to 2-0 downing the U of Manitoba Bisons 48-46 in a shootout in Winnipeg. Huskies quarterback Kyle Siemens completed 24-of-35 passes for 306 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. The Bisons fell to 0-2 following the U Sports regular season contest.
  • The U of Regina Rams stomped the U of Alberta Golden Bears 51-13 in a U Sports regular season football clash in Edmonton on Friday night. Rams quarterback Noah Picton completed 32-41 passes for 449 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Rams improved to 1-1, while the Golden Bears fell to 0-2.
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Friday, 7 September 2018

Wishing every weekend could be Labour Day Classic weekend

Kyran Moore returns a punt for a touchdown for the Roughriders.
    The journey from Regina back to Saskatoon after the Labour Day Classic always feels like the longest two-and-a-half hour drive home.
    Around 9:45 a.m. on Monday, I began my jaunt up Highway 11 to return to “The Bridge City” from “The City that Rhymes with Fun.” To my surprise, a halt had been made on two construction projects on lengthy parts of that roadway and traffic was light. I made good time getting home.
    I should underscore that I am happy with living in Saskatoon. Overall, I have had a pretty good last four years there.
    I always take the end of the Labour Day Classic weekend as the moment summer officially comes to an end. The Labour Day Classic weekend is a great party weekend, and it always feels like a letdown, when it is over.
    When it concludes, your thoughts begin to dwell on returning to the rigors of regular life.
    You wish the Labour Day Classic weekend would never end, or that every weekend could be the Labour Day Classic weekend.
Winnipeg and Saskatchewan fans enjoy the Labour Day Classic.
    On the Mosaic Stadium turf during Sunday’s CFL clash between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and host Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Roughriders pulled out a 31-23 victory. As I was cheering for the “green and white,” it was a good day.
    With that said, it would have been a good day and weekend had the Roughriders not won. For those that head to Regina for the Labour Day Classic weekend, they realize the rivalry between the Bombers and Roughriders is a friendly one.
    Every year, you look forward to getting together with the crew of Bombers fans that travel from Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan capital for this game. A number of the Winnipeg fans make this trek on an annual basis.
    I know I had a great time going out on Saturday and Sunday nights in “The Queen City.”
The Golden Boy” rallies Bombers fans before the Labour Day Classic.
    During both nights out, everyone had a good time and everyone treated each other with respect.
    Good-natured jabs went back and forth between the fan bases regarding the two teams, but that is part of the fun of the weekend.
    The fellowship aspect, sharing a common love for the CFL and showing a fan passion for the team you cheer for are huge overall big things you always look forward to.
    It always seems like a disappointment when that get together ends.
    One year I need to make the “Banjo Bowl” in Winnipeg on the weekend that follows the Labour Day Classic to see both ends of the annual home-and-home series between the Bombers and Roughriders.
    It feels like that would be a way to pay back the Winnipeg fans that make it out to Regina every year. This year’s “Banjo Bowl” is slated for Saturday and is sold out.
Mascot “Gainer the Gopher” makes his rounds after a Roughriders TD.
    Since returning to Saskatoon, it seems like social media lines have been buzzing with local area teams trying to spread news about what they are up to. Now that it is September, what I view as the winter sports season that runs from September to April, which gets quite busy, is upon us.
    It feels like you can drown in the sea of information. Here are some tidbits that locked in my head.
  • Saskatoon products Emily Clark and Sophie Shirley along with Prince Albert product Kaitlin Willoughby will attend Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team Fall Festival that begins this coming Saturday and runs to Sept. 16 in Dawson Creek, B.C. The trio of forwards are part of 59 players that were invited to the annual training camp, which is aimed at helping develop and evaluate Canada’s top female hockey players. The players at this camp are being graded to possibly play on Canada’s senior national team, and the invitees include 23 players who helped Canada win silver at the Winter Olympics held in February in PyeongChang, South Korea. Clark, who is a member of the senior national team, and Shirley, who is member of Canada’s national development team, will both play in the NCAA ranks this season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Willoughby, who helped Canada’s women’s team win silver at the FISU Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in 2017, will play professionally with the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno this season, and she is an alumnae of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team. U of Saskatchewan staff member Jason Weber will be working as a strength and conditioning coach at the Fall Festival.
  • Kianna Dietz, who is the former “glue gal” with the powerhouse Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team, has found a new hockey home. The 18-year-old forward will join the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks for the upcoming campaign. Last season, Dietz recorded five goals and 18 assists in 27 regular season games with the Stars. She played in four complete campaigns with the Stars appearing in 104 regular season games posting 23 goals and 38 assists. The Pronghorns will face the U of Saskatchewan Huskies in a neutral site exhibition match on Saturday in Swift Current.
  • Saskatoon Hilltops defensive tackle Garth Knittig was named the defensive player of the week for the Prairie Football Conference on Tuesday. Knittig had six solo tackles, two tackle assists and a half sack as the Hilltops downed the Rifles in Winnipeg 38-8 to last Sunday. The Hilltops are 3-0 to start the CJFL campaign, and they have won their last 21 straight road games including play in the regular season and post-season. The Hilltops return to action on Sept. 15, when they travel to Calgary to face the Colts.
  • U of Saskatchewan Huskies defensive back Nelson Lokombo was named the defensive player of the week for the Canada West Conference on Tuesday, while Huskies kick returner Daniel Perry was named the conference’s special teams player of the week. Both players helped the Huskies blank the U of Alberta Golden Bears 42-0 last Friday at Griffiths Stadium. Lokombo had two interceptions and four tackles for the Huskies, while Perry returned nine punts for 139 yards. The Huskies return to action tonight, when they travel to Winnipeg to face the University of Manitoba Bisons.
  • Four members of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades are currently attending NHL rookie training camps. Winger Eric Florchuk is in camp with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Florchuk was selected in the seventh round and 217th overall in June’s NHL Entry Draft by the Capitals. Florchuk will be joined at Capitals camp by Blades Norwegian import forward Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen. Roykas-Marthinsen was picked in the seventh around and 213th overall by the Capitals in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The Blades selected Roykas-Marthinsen in last June’s CHL Import Draft. Centre Chase Wouters is attending camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent invite. Overage winger Max Gerlach earned a free agent invite to camp with the Arizona Coyotes. The Blades return to pre-season action on Saturday, when they host the Prince Albert Raiders at 7 p.m. at the Legends Centre in Warman.

Back in the Express with “BT”

Brian Towriss’ legacy will be honoured on Sept. 15.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with retired legendary U of Saskatchewan Huskies football head coach Brian Towriss, who is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
    The feature was an advancer piece for the “Thanks to BT” program that will be held Sept. 15 at the Saskatoon Field House and is being put on by the Huskies Football Alumni Club. As part of the program, Towriss will join former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and TSN broadcaster Darren Dutchyshen for a fireside chat about Towriss’ legacy.
    For those heading to the “Thanks to BT” function, you will likely be in for a treat. Towriss is a great story teller and names of players or recollections of big games will bring a cool anecdote.
    In my piece, I had Towriss reflect on his career with the Huskies starting from the time he joined program as a defensive end way back in 1974. The hardest part in writing the piece was deciding what to include and what to leave out due to space constrains. That is crazy to say noting that I still wrote a longer form story piece for the Express.
    Some of the interesting tidbits that I wasn’t able to include in the article was the fact Towriss attended a high school hosted by the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in order to get scouted in his Grade 12 year. He was recruited to join the Regina Rams, who were still playing in the Canadian Junior Football League, and was in camp with Rams before electing to join the Huskies.
    Towriss, who was born and grew up in Moose Jaw, decided to head to Saskatoon after getting into U of S’s commerce program, and learning from then head coach Val Schneider that the Huskies had money through a Roughriders scholarship to help the then defensive end attend school. 
    The 62-year-old Towriss reminisced about the fact TSN used to have a game of the week for U Sports football in the early 1990s, and those televised games helped bring the Huskies into national prominence along with their three Vanier Cup wins. I wasn’t able to fit that into the story as well.
    Towriss discussed what it was like to have a long succession of offensive linemen graduate from the Huskies and play in the CFL. That list includes current Huskies head coach Scott Flory, Kevin Lefsrud, Ben Heenan, Patrick Neufeld and Evan Johnson. I wasn’t able to get that into the piece either.
    He also talked about the disappointment in not being able to win a playoff game during his final seven seasons as Huskies head coach. I couldn’t work that into the story.
    Still, I was able to get a lot of cool recollections into the piece. In order to see what those were, you have to read the story, and you can do so by clicking right here.

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Sunday, 2 September 2018

McNabb quickly evolves into impact player and leader with CJFL powerhouse Hilltops

Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb (#69) chases down a ball carrier.
    Jesse McNabb was ready to step up on the Saskatoon Hilltops defensive line and his chance arrived a little faster than expected.
    In 2016, McNabb joined the Hilltops as a rookie fresh out of Saskatchewan’s North Battleford Comprehensive High School, and he figured he would have to pay his dues before starting for a club that is always contending for a Canadian Junior Football League title. McNabb was moved up to a starting spot in his sophomore year in 2017 and hasn’t looked back.
    “My rookie year, I kind of knew where my spot was going to be, because I knew we had a good group of older guys ahead of me,” said McNabb, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 245 pounds. “I just knew with patience my time would come.
    “I just had to wait until I had my opportunity. Once my opportunity came, I had to seize it.”
     Now in his third year with the team, the 20-year-old has become a cornerstone on the Hilltops defensive line at the inside tackle position. In Saskatoon’s first two regular season games, McNabb has recorded seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks and recovered one fumble.
    On Sunday, the Hilltop improved to 3-0 on the campaign, when they traveled to Winnipeg and downed the Rifles 38-8. Saskatoon led 24-1 at halftime and cruised to their 21st straight victory on the road including action in the regular season and playoffs. The Rifles fell to 1-2.
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb (#69) enjoys being part of the team’s D-line.
     Normally in football, those that play a defensive tackle position don’t get too much of the limelight. They are often entrusted with trying to occupy a pair of blocks to allow teammates to swarm in and make plays. By taking up a pair of blocks, defensive tackles also help to clog up the opposition’s running game.
    The importance of McNabb’s play and improvement is recognized by Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.
    “Jesse (McNabb) is a great kid,” said Sargeant. “Number one, he is a high character player, high motor.
    “He never takes a play off. He is just always competing. Just the growth and mentality from his first year to now in his third year, he has really grown, and he is a two-year starter.
    “He is impactful. Each game he gets better, and he does something impactful and important.”
    Growing up in North Battleford, Sask., McNabb wanted to get into football as soon as he could and started playing in Grade 7. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Aaron, who played a couple of seasons in the early 1990s for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb brings down a Colts running back.
    The younger McNabb took a quick liking to football and admitted he dropped pretty much every other extra-curricular activity he did to play the sport. Playing with the Vikings, McNabb established himself as a trusted standout at the high school level.
    “I got lots of different experiences,” said McNabb. “I’ve pretty much played every position on the field.
    “It is not a big town. You don’t have many guys. You have to play both ways.”
    When he joined the Hilltops, McNabb said the veterans played a big role in helping him adjust to playing for a storied team at the junior level.
    “We had a good group of fifth years to lead us through everything,” said McNabb. “It was a big winning atmosphere and the guys knew what they were doing, and they knew what they wanted to do.
    “They really set your mind straight, when you were coming from a different program.”
    Now, McNabb is the veteran leader who is helping the Hilltops defensive line continue to play at a high level. McNabb and fellow defensive tackle Garth Knittig were the only two returning starters on the Hilltops defensive line from last season.
    Defensive end Tom Schnitzler exhausted his CJFL eligibility after last season and now plays for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in the U Sports ranks. Riley Pickett picked up nine quarterback sacks in eight regular season games playing the other defensive end spot last season, and he moved on to join the U of S Huskies.
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb chases down a Colts quarterback.
    Connor Guillet and Tristan Hering, who are in their fifth and fourth years of eligibility respectively, have filled in admirably as starters at the defensive end spots. Guillet missed almost all of last season due to a torn Achilles tendon. Caleb Haight and Jordan Seipp, who are in their second and first years of eligibility respectively, have rotated in and seen a number of reps at the defensive end positions as well.
    Under defensive line coach Dave Fisher, the Hilltops defensive line consistently stays at a high level.
    “It was not too bad at all,” said McNabb. “We still had returning guys coming back and playing the ends.
    “I think we are just meshing good as a unit. We have a good group of linebackers behind us.
    “We don’t have to worry about much. As long as we do our jobs, everyone else will make the play, if we miss it.”
    Away from the field, Sargeant said McNabb conducts himself like a gentleman.
    “He has a great upbringing and great parents,” said Sargeant. “He is just a super kid.
    “What you see is what you get. He is a great role model for us. We’re proud that he is here, and he makes us better.
    “He does everything right. He is Hilltop proud, and we are expecting him to be one of the leaders now and into the future.”
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb gets a sack on a Colts quarterback.
    McNabb has helped the Hilltops win the last two of their current run of four straight CJFL championships. While thoughts of winning an unprecedented fifth Canadian Bowl championship game are in the back of everyone’s minds, McNabb said he is going to enjoy each day as it comes as the season progresses.
    “It is always a good time, when you are hanging out with the guys,” said McNabb. “There are no bad days.
    “If you are having a bad day, your guys are always there to help pick you up.”
    The Hilltops now enjoy a bye week. They return to action on Sept. 15, when they travel to Calgary to take on the Colts.

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