Saturday, 15 August 2015

Hilltops face first big test in Colts

Davis Mitchell hauls in a pass for the Hilltops.
    Success won’t be a given for the Saskatoon Hilltops entering the 2015 campaign.
    Since the modern version of the franchise was born in 1947, the Hilltops have traditionally been one of the dominant programs in the Canadian Junior Football League winning 17 national championships. They are the defending Canadian Bowl champions and have captured the CJFL’s crown in four of the last five years.
    On the road to repeating as CJFL champs, the Hilltops hardest challenge might be getting out of the Prairie Football Conference. Saskatoon has been one of the dominant teams in the PFC since the loop was formed in 1976.
    While that dominance hasn’t changed over the last 15 years, the quality of the circuit’s other teams has improved, and during that span of time, the conference’s other squads have taken turns being a real threat towards the Hilltops’ run of success. The Edmonton Huskies displaced the Hilltops at the top of the CJFL mountain winning back-to-back Canadian Bowls in 2004 and 2005.
    The Edmonton Wildcats took the PFC title in 2006 and 2009 advancing to the Canadian Bowl in both of those campaigns only to fall to the Vancouver Island Raiders.
    This year, the Hilltops two biggest conference threats are likely the Regina Thunder and the Calgary Colts. The Thunder captured the CJFL championship in 2013 and won both their head-to-head matches with the Hilltops last season.
    The Colts are entering their second season under the guidance of head coach Matthew (Snoop) Blokker. Blokker joined the Colts after obtaining legendary status as the head coach of the Vancouver Island Raiders of the British Columbia Football League. He guided the Raiders to three Canadian Bowl championships, and he was the BCFC’s winningest coach posting an 89-13-2 mark at the helm of both the Raiders and Victoria Rebels during his career.
    Under Blokker, the Colts went from being an 0-8 club in 2013 to a team with a 4-4 regular season record in 2014. Calgary advanced to the PFC final before being thumped 27-7 by the Hilltops in Saskatoon at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    The Hilltops travel to Calgary to take on the Colts at McMahon Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. Saskatchewan time in a match that opens the 2015 regular season for both clubs. With Saskatoon returning most of its roster from last year’s CJFL title winning team, you can bet the Colts are viewing the 2015 regular season opener as a Super Bowl type game. If the Colts can pull out an upset victory, it would be a statement win showing the rest of the CJFL they are a contender.
    Calgary enters Sunday’s contest  fresh off a 33-14 exhibition win over the Regina Thunder in a neutral site game at Medicine Hat on Aug. 8.
Jared Andreychuk fires a pass downfield for the Hilltops.
    The Colts added John Kiesman at quarterback looking to make an upgrade at that position. Kiesman suited up previously for the CIS's University of Regina Rams and the CJFL's Winnipeg Rifles. Brett Hunchak and Cole Meyer quarterbacked the Colts in 2014.
    Receiver Jevon Cottoy made the PFC’s all-rookie team last season topping the Colts with 26 catches for 524 yards and four touchdown receptions. Calgary also returns the CJFL’s defensive player of the year in Jakub Jakoubek. In 2014, the big play linebacker had 48 tackles, 16 assisted tackles, four knockdowns, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
    The Colts were also strong at forcing turnovers posting a plus-14 in the takeaway/giveaway category.
    The Hilltops head into 2015 with a roster that contains 15 players in their 22-year-old years, and the Toppers have the potential to be better than they were a year ago.
    Saskatoon posted a 9-2 overall record last season including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    Quarterback Jared Andreychuk completed 99-of-201 passes for 1,624 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. During the 2014 post-season, Andreychuk and the offence performed at an extremely high level, where the signal caller posted back-to-back 300-plus yard passing games in the PFC final and the Canadian Bowl.
    Now in his fourth season, Andreychuk could put up numbers that make his 2014 totals look pedestrian. He also big time benefits from the fact he gets to air the ball out to a group of talented receivers that includes Evan Turkington, Evan Kopchynski and Davis Mitchell. Turkington attended training camp with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
    Star tailback Wayndel Lewis, who was the CJFL’s offensive player of the year in 2014, graduated from the Hilltops program and will suit up for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in the upcoming CIS season. Third year veteran Logan Fischer will give the Hilltops a strong presence at tailback. When Lewis missed last year’s PFC final and Canadian Bowl due to injury, Fischer ran for a combined 274 yards in those two contests on 47 carries.
    The offensive line is solid with Terry Thesen at right tackle, Nathan Heide at right guard, Jordan Hydomako at centre, Drayke Unger at left guard and Tyler Hoath at left tackle all expect to start. Thesen, Heide and Hydomako are all in their fifth years, while Unger and Hoath are on their fourth years.
The Hilltops defence forces a turnover during the squad's alumni game.
    Defensively, the Hilltops were strong at forcing takeaways posting a plus-17 in the takeaway versus giveaway category. Defensive back Dylan Larson was the defensive player of the game in last year’s Canadian Bowl, and he will be part of a strong secondary including fifth-year safety and captain Austin Thorarinson. Fifth-year veteran Quinn Pierce should help anchor a strong group of linebackers.
    Fifth year veterans Blake Adams and Matt Kozun are keystones on the defensive line, while third-year vet Blake Hermann will be a force off the edge. Kozun was also in camp with the Roughriders.
    For Week 1 of the PFC season, the clash between the Hilltops and Colts will make for an interesting early measuring stick.
    NOTE – Second year defensive halfback James Vause, who will be in his first year as a starter, traded in his old #4 jersey for #24 this season. Vause wanted to wear #24, because that was the number worn by Cody Smuk, who was the gritty and hard-working former forward with the U of Saskatchewan Men’s Hockey team. Smuk passed away of cancer in June, and he was engaged to Vause’s older sister, Stephanie.

Eight is great for Canada

    It seems all Canada does at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup is win gold.
    On Saturday, Canada captured gold for the eighth straight year at the annual summer under-18 tournament held in the Czech Republic. In the championship final, Canada dumped Sweden 7-3 at the Alcaplast Arena in Breclav in the Czech Republic.
    Pierre-Luc Dubois, who play for Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, led the way for Canada with a pair of goals and an assist. The red and white received singles from Michael McLeod, Tyler Benson, Tanner Kaspick, Jordan Kyrou and Beck Malenstyn. Netminder Dylan Wells made 15 stops to pick up the win in goal for Canada.
    Jesper Bratt, William Fallstrom and Alexander Nylander replied with singles for Sweden. Filip Gustavsson stopped 10-of-14 shots starting in goal for Sweden before being pulled after Canada went ahead 4-0 at the 16:54 of the first. Isak Wallin turned away 18-of-21 shots playing the rest of the way in relief.
    Canada was a perfect 7-0 at the Ivan Hlinka tourney guided by head coach Stan Butler and assistant coaches Shaun Clouston and Darren Rumble. The bench bosses guided an impressive collection of young talent, who should be fun to watch for years to come.

Shirley makes waves at under-18 camp

Sophie Shirley in action for the Saskatoon Stars.
    Saskatoon product Sophie Shirley was hoping to leave a positive impression with the Hockey Canada brass.
    The 16-year-old forward was in Calgary taking part in the selection camp for Canada’s under-18 women’s team, which wrapped up on Saturday. Shirley is the fifth youngest player among the 42 invites looking to crack a spot on the 23-player squad that will travel to Lake Placid, N.Y., for a three-game series against the United States’s under-18 squad from Aug. 20-23.
    Shirley had a goal and two assists in four camp exhibition games playing for Team White. She is listed as now standing 5-foot-8 in height, which means she has grown four inches over the summer since last playing for the Saskatoon Stars girls’ midget AAA team.
    As a 15-year-old sophomore last season with the Stars, Shirley had a spectacular campaign. She netted 22 goals and 17 assists helping the Stars post a 25-3 regular season record to allow Saskatoon to finish first in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
    Shirley was named the most valuable player of the SFMAAAHL and proceeded to pick up 12 goals and 12 assists in nine games, as the Stars won their first league title. At the Esso Cup national championship tournament held in April in Red Deer, Shirley was named the event’s MVP, and she led the tourney in scoring potting nine goals and seven assists.
    As Shirley is one of a handful of 16-year-olds at Canada’s under-18 camp, she is gaining valuable experience being on Hockey Canada’s radar. If she doesn’t make the under-18 team this year, she will more than likely be a big prospect for the team next year.

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