Monday, 13 October 2014

Hilltops deliver in the clutch

The Hilltops celebrate Wayndel Lewis's rushing major.
            The Saskatoon Hilltops savoured the fact that this one didn’t get away.
            The powerhouse Canadian Junior Football League franchise locked up first place in the Prairie Football Conference with an exciting 28-23 victory over the Edmonton Wildcats on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Wildcats were desperate needing a win to make the playoffs, and they gave the hosts a battle.
            Victory wasn’t sealed until the final play of the game, when Hilltops defensive back Arnold Osam knocked down a Hail Mary throw from Wildcats quarterback Jordan Olson. Olson had driven the Wildcats to the Saskatoon 34 yard line before launching his final heave.
            The victory, which improved the Hilltops to 6-2, was big on a number of fronts. First, the Toppers were reminded about how challenging it can be to play a team fighting for its playoff life. The Wildcats missed the post-season with a 3-5 mark.
            Saskatoon opens the post-season hosting the Winnipeg Rifles (3-5) this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at SMF. The Rifles edged out the Wildcats for the PFC’s final playoff berth on the strength of a head-to-head win in the lone regular season meeting between the two teams.
            While the Rifles enter the playoffs on a four-game losing skid, the Hilltops will have to bring their intensity up one more notch, because the winner moves on and the loser goes home from here on out.
            The other big thing the Hilltops have to love about their win over the Wildcats is they were able to make the plays to seal out the contest. The end zone knock down at the end of the contest supplies proof the Hilltops players can make big plays, when everything is on the line.
            Saskatoon had developed a habit of letting close games slip away, especially when they play the defending CJFL champion Regina Thunder. Anyone associated with the Hilltops still remembers the team building a 25-3 lead at home against the Thunder on Sept. 6 only to fall 26-25. Regina’s scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of that game to cause a surprising rally.
Wayndel Lewis dives in for a score.
            Another big highlight in the win was watching Hilltops running back Wayndel Lewis break the 1000- mark in rushing for the season. The Warman product piled up 140 yards on 23 carries, and he scored a spectacular touchdown diving into the end zone in the fourth quarter to put the Toppers up 28-16.
            Lewis finished the regular season rushing for 1,063 yards on 130 carries, while reaching pay dirt nine times.
            During the post-season, the Hilltops will likely have to make a few more big plays in the clutch, as they search for their 16th CJFL title. When any player grows up, they dream of making a big play to win a post-season game. Each step along the playoff journey creates another opportunity to do just that.

Blades slam gorilla to the ice

The Saskatoon Blades celebrate Saturday's win.
            It is likely a big understatement to say the Saskatoon Blades were pretty elated to get their first win of the season.
            On Saturday at the Sasktel Centre, the Blades rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat their arch rivals the Prince Albert Raiders 3-2. The Blades opened the season losing their first six straight games, which marked the first time in franchise history that had ever occurred.
            The win came after the Blades watch leads of 2-0 and 3-1 disappear on Thursday at the Sasktel Centre in a 5-3 setback to the Tri-City Americans. Saskatoon put up a good effort in that loss, which added to the disappointment of the end result on that night.
            In the win over the Raiders (3-4), the Blades put together their most complete effort of the season holding a 37-23 edge in the shots on goal department. They also had more offensive zone time than the visitors and were strong in the puck possession department.
            With all that said, the Blades are still rebuilding from hosting the Memorial Cup in 2013 and loading up to try and make a long run in the 2011 post-season. They will be flat out outmatched in outings against the WHL’s league leading teams. If they can keep repeating Saturday’s effort, they will at least have a chance, when the going gets tougher.
            I also think they have ownership group in the Priestner family that wants to do the right thing. With that in mind, the reality is a powerhouse team won’t be built overnight.

Soccer Huskies lock up first 

            The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s soccer team will be home for the playoffs.
            The Huskies locked up first in the Prairies Division of the Canada West Conference sweeping the University of Winnipeg Wesmen in a two-game series at PotashCorp Park. The Huskies downed the Wesmen 8-0 on Saturday and 3-1 on Sunday.
            Riding a five-game winning streak, the Huskies improved to 9-0-1. They close the regular season by traveling to Calgary to play the Mount Royal University Cougars this coming Saturday and Sunday.
            No matter what happened in those contests, the Huskies will host a quarter-final single-elimination playoff game on Oct. 26. If they win that match, they would host the Canada West Final Four tournament, which is set for Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
            Currently, the Huskies have never hosted the Canada West Final Four tournament for men’s soccer.

Adversity bites hockey Huskies 

            The U of S Huskies men’s hockey team received its first taste of adversity this season dropping a pair of games to the University of Manitoba Bisons on the weekend at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
            The Bisons downed the Huskies 4-1 on Friday night and prevailed 5-2 on Saturday night.
            In Friday’s loss, the Huskies seemed to be their own worst enemies. Giveaways and defensive zone breakdowns saw veteran U of S goaltender Ryan Holfeld get put into some no-win situations.
            In Saturday’s loss, the Huskies inability to convert on the power play turned out to be a big difference. U of S was 1-for-10 with the man advantage, while the Bisons were 2-for-5. The Dogs also failed to score on two five-on-three opportunities.
            With those results in the books, the Huskies and Bisons both have 4-2 records.
            After playing five of their first six games at home, the Huskies head on the road for four tough games. They travel to Edmonton to face the University of Alberta Golden Bears (5-1) on Oct. 17 and 18 and to Calgary to battle the University of Calgary Dinos (4-2) on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

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