Friday, 7 November 2014

Who hoo! It is playoff time

Drew Burko (#2) slings a pass for the Huskies.
            Playoffs! Please tell me about playoffs.
            I don’t know how someone could not be excited when post-season play arrives for football. With my sporting background being linked to football, I am likely biased that way. On the other hand, this is Saskatchewan, and football is number one.
            The next couple of days are going to be fun. Tonight at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies (6-2) host the University of Manitoba Bisons (4-4) in one Canada West semifinal playoff match.
            On Saturday, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops are in Langley, B.C., to take on the host Langley Rams for the Canadian Junior Football League championship, the Canadian Bowl. The Toppers are in quest of their 17th national title, and kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Saskatchewan time.
            First up is the Huskies and their intriguing match with the Bisons. Last year in Winnipeg, the Bisons slipped past the Huskies in a Canada West semifinal 37-36.
            As strange as this sounds, the Huskies will be hosting their first home playoff game since 2010. They haven’t won a playoff contest since defeating the University of Regina Rams at Griffiths back in 2009.
            In other words, there is pretty much a whole generation of students at the University of Saskatchewan that have never seen the Huskies football team win a playoff contest, and a small representation of that current student body likely remembers the 2010 home post-season game, where the Huskies fell 31-30 to the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The Huskies are also 1-7 in post-season play over the past seven campaigns.
            The team’s three Vanier Cup titles in the 1990s and the four Vanier Cup appearances between 2002 to 2006 seem like a distant memory.
            The Huskies recent troubles in the post-season also coincide with the run of the University of Calgary Dinos winning the last six straight Canada West titles under head coach Blake Nill. In Canada West, you have the Dinos and then everyone else.
            This season has the potential to be different. Huskies have had some up and down games, but they managed a 6-2 finish. They enter the playoffs with solid back-to-back wins downing the Golden Bears 41-23 on Oct. 25 at Griffiths and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 38-18 last Saturday in Vancouver.
            The win over the Thunderbirds was a good one, because the Huskies had nothing to gain in the standings, and they played that contest out hard.
            The Bisons are the last team from Canada West to win the Vanier Cup back in 2007, which was the year before the Dinos began their current conference title run. This season, the Bisons have been all over the map posting a 4-4 mark looking impressive one week and then a question mark the next week.
            In Week One, the Huskies downed the Bisons 44-24 at Griffiths. On Oct. 17, the blowout margin went the other way as the Bisons stomped the Huskies 41-8 in Winnipeg.
            It will be interesting to see which team advances tonight. The other Canada West semifinal features the heavily favoured Dinos (6-2) against the Rams (3-5). Barring something unforeseen, the winner of the tilt versus the Bisons and Huskies will be traveling to Calgary in a week’s time.
Jared Andreychuk gets set to unload a pass for the Hilltops.
            In the CJFL, the Hilltops (8-2 overall) roll into the Canadian Bowl riding a seven-game winning streak. The Rams (9-3 overall) have won three straight.
            Saskatoon has improved significantly as the season has gone on. The Rams have 15 players in their 22-year-old graduation year and experience will be on their side. The Hilltops have only five graduating players.
            These teams met in the Canadian Bowl two years ago, and the Hilltops battled back from a 15-point third quarter deficit to pull out a 23-21 victory. Expect this year’s game to likely be as close.
            The Hilltops will have veteran receive Chad Braun back in the lineup, who missed five games due to foot and knee injuries. Dynamic running back Wayndel Lewis, who rushed for 1,063 yards in the regular season, will be out for a second straight game with his injured left ankle.
            The one weird thing with the CJFL was the fact the Ontario Football Conference wasn’t eligible to compete for the Canadian Bowl this season. The OFC changed it age rules, which has provisions to allow players to play until the age of 24.
            With that development, the Canadian Bowl doesn’t have the national championship title feel like it did in past years.
            Despite that fact, the Hilltops and Rams both earned their way into the title game, and a championship victory is always a great thing to achieve.

A salute to Huskies men’s soccer squad

Brett Levis motors down the pitch for the Huskies.
            The Canadian Interuniversity Sports men’s soccer championships turned out to be a heartbreaker for the U of S Huskies men’s soccer team.
On Thursday night, the host University of Prince Edward Island Panthers downed the Huskies 2-0 in extra time in Charlottetown. Jared Murphy scored at the 110th minute and Logan Dawson tallied at the 119th minute to lift the host Panthers to victory.
Brett MacDonald earned the win in goal for the Panthers, while Michal Bandula was saddled with the loss for the Huskies.
            On Friday, the Huskies were eliminated from the tournament dropping a 4-3 decision after penalty kicks to the Universite de Montreal Carabins.
            Bryce Marinus, Garrett Peters and Sam Whiting netted singles in regulation for the Huskies. Bandula again took the loss in goal. Vincent Perret, Alan Torrent and Louis Simard picked up singles for the Carabins. Simard and Samuel Dufort both saw action in goal for Montreal.
           The Carabins took the shootout 3-2, with Maxime Laurey, Mircea Ilcu and Fernando Herrera picking up goals. Luigi Bekwayo and Carson MacDonald netted the Huskies markers in the shootout.
           After they get over those two setbacks, the Huskies can reflect on what was a special season. A program best 9-1-2 record in the regular season and the team's first ever Canada West title were impressive accomplishments.
           Also, a few more casual local spectators have taken notice of the Huskies soccer program. The team would have loved to have sent fifth-year captain Jordain Farahani into graduation as a national champ.
The Huskies could potentially return the rest of their roster next season. One can already imagine the exciting possibilities that await this club a year from now.


Goals dry up


Ryan Holfeld tends goal for the Huskies.
It appears all the graduations up front are catching up to the Huskies men’s Hockey team.
            After opening the regular season with four straight wins, the Huskies have lost six straight in the ultra-competitive Canada West Conference. During the skid, the Huskies have managed to score just eight goals. The losses have come at the hands of the Golden Bears (9-1), the Dinos (8-2) and the Bisons (5-5), with the last four setbacks coming on the road.
            The Huskies return home to face the Mount Royal University Cougars (6-4) at 7 p.m. both tonight and Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
            As far as preventing goals goes, not much more can be asked of the Huskies. Fifth-year goaltender Ryan Holfeld has stellar numbers with a 1.78 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and one shutout. Rookie Jordon Cooke has a 2.63 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and one shutout.
            The Huskies graduated their top four scorers last season in forwards Derek Hulak, Kenton Dulle, Andrew Bailey and Brennan Bosch. Hulak was the Canada West MVP last season and is now playing for the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
            That foursome just doesn’t get replaced right away. At this point, a goal gusher would go a long way to restoring confidence offensively for the Huskies. Getting just three goals in a game might be enough to get a win with the way the goaltending and defence has played.

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