Thursday, 13 November 2014

A faded rivalry

Regina vs. Saskatoon clashes lack lustre of days gone by

The Rams and Huskies battle in the 2002 Canada West final.
            The fake kneel down play once symbolized all the animosity between Regina and Saskatoon.
            In the 1995 Prairie Football Conference final, the Regina Rams, who were still members of the Canadian Junior Football League, had a 19-8 victory sealed over the Saskatoon Hilltops. All the Rams offence had to do was kneel down on the last play to officially end the contest.
            Instead, Rams quarterback Darryl Leason started to go down on to one knee only to stand up quickly and throw a touchdown pass to a wide open Josh Shaw. The play was nullified by a penalty but tensions ran high over that play years later.
            Fans in Saskatoon deplored the attempt to run up the score in a decided contest. Those folks in Regina had no class.
            Fans in Regina loved the display as an attempt to stick it to what were viewed as the arrogant high on the horse citizens of Toontown. When you played road games in the Bridge City, you knew those people always tried to stack the odds in favour of their teams.
Heck, in one point in time it was joked a touch football game in Davidson between the staffs of the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspapers would break down into a brawl.
            The days of when the rivalry was that fiercely intense between Regina and Saskatoon are long faded away like the era when the horse and buggy was a common site on the street. The two biggest cities in Saskatchewan are no longer two city states that see their wars played out in an athletic arena.
            Part of the reason the rivalry has faded is because of the changing nature of the times. With the explosion of social media, especially Twitter, word and criticism spreads quickly when someone does something wrong. Often some small mistake because a much bigger deal than it really is.
            As a result, players, coaches and personnel on teams try not to say anything at all to stoke fires. The aim is act as respectively as possible in public.
            Currently in the CJFL, the Hilltops and the Regina Thunder have the classic modern day mutual respect rivalry. Over the past couple of seasons, they have staged a number of classic contests, and both sides talk about each other in very high praise terms.
            When the Rams left the CJFL for their first season in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks in 1999, a new on field rivalry was born with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Darryl Leason gets steps up to throw for the Rams in 2001.
            The peak of that rivalry came during playoff encounters in 2001 and 2002 at Taylor Field. The Rams came away with 58-31 victory in a Canada West semifinal match in 2001, where Leason completed 20 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns. Victory was made even sweeter for the Regina side when the “dirty” Huskies couldn’t put Leason out of the game by taking “cheap shots” at his injured knee.
            A year later, the Huskies claimed what to date is the only Canada West final encounter between the two teams storming out to a 28-0 lead and closing out a 44-28 victory. The game’s turning point came with the Huskies leading 28-14 and the Rams getting set to cut the gap to seven before halftime rolled around.
            Huskies cornerback Ryan Barnstable picked off Rams quarterback Mark Anderson and ran the ball back 92 yards for a U of S touchdown. No “cheap shots” were needed this day to ensure a convincing victory over a team that had “more bark than bite.”
            At that time, fans on both sides thought the two clubs would face each other in the Canada West final on a regular basis. That rivalry has faded with the University of Calgary Dinos rising to be the dominant power in Canada West having won the last six straight conference titles.
            When the Huskies beat the Rams 21-16 at Mosaic Stadium in the only regular season encounter between the two teams this season, it didn’t feel like a rivalry game. The Huskies played harder in their previous game falling 38-24 at home to the Dinos.
            On the pond, the WHL rivalry between the Regina Pats and Saskatoon Blades has been dormant for a lengthy time. Both have closer geographical rivals which their fans get heated for.
A fight from a game between the Blades and Pats in 2000.
The Pats have had the Trans-Canada Clash with the Moose Jaw Warriors, which is often viewed as the greatest rivalry in the major junior ranks. The Blades most heated battles are with the Prince Albert Raiders.
The last memorable encounters between the Pats and Blades occurred in the first round of the 2000 WHL playoffs, which saw the Blades claim a heated seven-game series that contained piles of penalty minutes. Blades enforcer Darcy Hordichuk was the most hated guy in Regina at that time, while Pats captain Barret Jackman was a favourite target for the heckles of Saskatoon fans.
On campus outside of the action on the football field, matches between the Huskies and the University of Regina Cougars teams have traditionally been touch and go on the rivalry front. Part of that reality comes from the fact most of those schools teams played for a long time without an interlocking regular season schedule until the 1999-2000 campaign.
Also, many players on both sides have usually been past teammates on various provincial teams. That also seems to lessen tensions.
Men’s hockey once had a big rivalry. With former major junior players dominating rosters on most CIS teams for over a decade, the men’s game is more of a skilled game. There are still big hits, but “the chip on the shoulder” mentality seems to be left more in the junior ranks.
One place were animosity did rise up was in the Canada West women’s hockey championship series last season. The best-of-three series went more than the distance with the Huskies and Cougars battling through 17 periods and 296 minutes of hockey due to the fact every contest went to overtime.
Game 3 on March 2 was particularly heated. There were a couple of scrums, a lot players jawing with each other after whistles and the play was pretty physical. At one point in the second period, Huskies captain Cami Wooster, who stands 5-foot-3, ducked out of an attempted head hit from a Cougars player behind the Regina net.
If Wooster had been eliminated at that point in the game due to a concussion or other injury, it is highly likely the Huskies would have lost that contest. She had her team’s goal in regulation coming in the third period and drew the assist on Kaitlin Willoughby’s double overtime winner in the 2-1 victory at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
            Time will tell if those tensions are isolated moments of that series.
            For now, Regina and Saskatoon are city states that co-exist peacefully. The rivalry appears limited to old athletes and coaches that like to tell stories about long ago.

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