Thursday, 15 October 2015

Hilltops grads face last hurrah

Hilltops OL Jordan Hydomako walks to the field with his parents.
    This is it.
    For 16 members of the Saskatoon Hilltops, they are enjoying their final days as players for the storied Canadian Junior Football League club. If the team goes all the way to host this year’s Canadian Bowl on Nov. 7, it means those fifth-year graduating players have at most 23 full days starting on Friday to enjoy suiting up for the blue and gold for practices and games. They only have at most 23 full days to enjoy spending time with their teammates.
    When Nov. 8 rolls around, there will definitely be no more practices or games to take part in as a CJFL player.
    The Hilltops begin their playoff run on Sunday, when they host the Winnipeg Rifles in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal contest at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Saskatoon topped the PFC regular season standings with a 7-1 mark, while Winnipeg finished fourth with a 4-4 record.
    On paper, the contest is a severe mismatch, as the Hilltops swept the two regular season meetings between the clubs outscoring the Rifles 115-17. The Toppers are expected to win this first contest on the post-season trail, but the results afterwards are not a sure thing.
    Even with that in mind, the veterans have to relish the limited time they have left and not take anything for granted including that playoff match with Winnipeg.
    The soon to be graduates include Blake Adams, Chad Braun, Nathan Heide, Tyrell Hering, Jordan Hydomako, Evan Kopchynski, Matt Kozun, Davis Mitchell, Preston Njaa, Quinn Pierce, Derek Sadownick, Brad Schnitzler, Terry Thesen, Austin Thorarinson, Brett Thorarinsson and Evan Turkington.
Hilltops LT Terry Thesen guides the way for Logan Fischer.
    They have had a huge hand in adding to the Hilltops proud legacy. During their years, the Hilltops claimed the Canadian Bowl three times, and they would all love to add a fourth title this season, which would be the team’s fifth CJFL championship in the last six years.
    The fact that the end is getting closer became more real during the Toppers final regular season home game last Sunday. In what has to be one of the most heartwarming annual traditions any sports team has in Canada, each graduating Hilltops vet was introduced to the crowd making the walk out of the tunnel with their parents. The parents were almost all decked out in cool looking team gear.
    That moment was definitely something the players and the parents will never forget, and it gives the parents recognition for the support they have given their boys over the years even before joining the blue and gold. A lot times, you can find the parents along with the players’ brother and sisters out watching practice in order to further share in the Hilltops experience.
    As the final days move on for the graduates, they will experience other memories they will never forget, and they won’t likely all revolve around winning games.
    The memories will include telling jokes between drills at practice at Ron Atchison Field or in the dressing room at the Hilltops clubhouse. Just being around the other guys, who become like family, will be a big thing that is missed. For anyone that has spent any around the Hilltops clubhouse, you can’t miss the family feeling atmosphere at that place.
    Going out into the community and being recognized is another thing that will be missed. The Hilltop players have always carried themselves with humility and class, but it always feels special to hear a good word from a complete stranger, who follows what the team does.
Brett Thorarinsson boots the ball away for the Hilltops.
    Not all the graduating veterans might be able to play these final playoff games, as like any football season the injury bug has something to say. The hearts of a lot of Toppers fans dropped when Adams, who has been an extremely popular member of the team’s star defensive line, suffered a left knee injury in the final regular season game and is questionable for the post-season.
    If they can’t play, the injured graduating players will likely be passing on encouragement and coaching tips to those that will fill their roles to keep adding to the Hilltops experience.
    The final days are indeed here for the graduating players, but the best time is still right now. You can be sure each will ensure every day is a good day, and as those good days add up, there is a good chance they will culminate with one last championship celebration memory on Nov. 7.

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