Saturday, 28 November 2015

Huskies' Cooke closes out Cougars

Jordon Cooke deflects a shot away from the Huskies goal.
    Jordon Cooke’s toughness definitely matches his skills at stopping the puck.
    The sophomore netminder for the University of Saskatchewan men’s hockey team was stellar making 40 saves to back his club to a 4-2 victory over the Mount Royal University Cougars on Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink. At times, it seemed like Cooke was trying to stop the Cougars players from going into the goal along with the puck.
    The graduate of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets was run over on about three or four occasions. The toughest hit Cooke took arguably came early in the third period, when he was bowled into by Cougars forward Tyler Fiddler.
    Despite all the physical play, Cooke never got flustered, and he was key in ensuring his squad improved to 13-3 remain first in the Canada West conference. The Cougars five-game winning streak came to an end in the process, as they fell to 9-5-2 to sit third in Canada West.
    In the first, it appeared the Huskies, who are rated first in Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s top ten rankings, wouldn’t need to rely on Cooke’s stellar play in goal to earn victory. The hosts rolled in the first period storming out to a 3-0 lead.
    Rookies Logan McVeigh and Kohl Bauml potted singles just over two minutes apart from each other. Sophomore Cameron Blair capped the surge with a fall one-timer on a nice set up pass from linemate Josh Roach.
    The Huskies outburst saw the Cougars, who are rated 10th in the CIS top ten rankings, pull starting goaltender Colin Cooper after the opening 20 minutes. The rookie netminder stopped five of eight shots sent his way. Cam Lanigan played the rest of the way turning aside all 10 shots he faced in relief.
    From the start of the second, the Cougars started to drive to the U of Saskatchewan net hard, and they fired 33 shots at the Huskies goal over the final two frames.
Cougars forward Tyler Fiddler crashed into Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke.
    With that said, not all the contact around the Huskies net was result of the visitors’s decision to crash the crease. Close to the midway point of the second, Huskies defenceman Zak Stebner accidentally cross-checked Cougars forward Jamie King into Cooke during a hectic net scramble. Stebner was given a two-minute minor penalty over that action, and the Cougars capitalized with a power-play goal coming off the stick of Cam Maclise.
    The Cougars kept up the pressure and scored on another power play with 4:08 to play in the third, when sophomore Jamie King lifted a falling shot past Cooke to cut the host’s edge to 3-2.
Despite the pressure from the visitors, the Huskies sealed victory when Levi Cable score into an empty net with 1:28 to play in the frame.
    In his first full season as the team’s starting goalie, Cooke, who was the Canadian Hockey League’s goalie of the year in 2014, has been stellar posting an 11-3 record, a 2.56 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and one shutout. The Leduc, Alta., product always ensures the Huskies have a chance to earn victory, even when they are not at their best.
    With Saturday’s game in the books, the Huskies head into the semester break for final exams and the Christmas holidays. They resume their regular season schedule on Jan. 8 of the new year, when they travel to Lethbridge to take on the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns (6-9-1).

Vets push Huskies women’s squad to victory

Kaitlin Willoughby had two points in Saturday's Huskies win.
    The veterans stepped up to ensure the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team headed into their semester break on a high.
    The forward unit of Marley Ervine, who is in her fifth year, Lauren Zary, who is in her fourth year, and Kaitlin Willoughby, who is in her third year, combined for five points as the Huskies slipped past the Mount Royal University Cougars 2-1 in Calgary on Saturday night. The Cougars were riding a four-game winning streak.
    Ervine scored on a power play 19 seconds into the second to give the Huskies a 1-0 edge. Rookie defender Leah Bohlken and Willoughby picked up assists on that tally. With under 30 seconds to play in the second, Willoughby put the Huskies up 2-0, and Ervine and Zary picked up assists on that marker.
    Kate Hufnagel scored on the power play with 5:17 to play in the third for the Cougars, but Huskies clamped things down defensively the rest of the way to close out the win.
    Cassidy Hendricks made 26 saves to pick up the victory in goal and boost her Huskies women’s team career record for regular season goaltending wins to 41. Jessica Ross made 22 stops to take the loss in the Cougars goal.
    With the win, the Huskies, who are rated seventh in the CIS top ten rankings, improve to 9-5-2 to sit fourth overall in the Canada West conference. The Cougars fall to 8-7-1 to sit in a tie for sixth and seventh overall in Canada West with the 8-7-1 University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
Cassidy Hendricks picked up her 41st regular season career win.
    Due to the fact three points are awarded for a win in regulation time in Canada West women’s play, the Huskies enter the semester break two points back of both the University of Alberta Pandas and University of Manitoba Bisons, who are tied for first and second overall with identical 9-6-1 records. The Huskies have 26 points coming of six regulation wins, three extra time wins and two extra time setbacks. All of the wins for the Pandas and Bisons have come in regulation.
    The Huskies are also only three points up on the Cougars and Pronghorns, who have 23 points coming off six regulation wins, two extra time wins and one extra time setback. Only the top six teams in the conference make playoffs.
    The Huskies resume their regular season schedule on Jan. 8 in the new year, when they host the Pronghorns at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.

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Friday, 27 November 2015

Huskies fun to watch even in defeat

Huskies forward Andrew Johnson, left, tries to bat the puck into the goal.
    Even in defeat, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team gives you full value and more for the price of admission.
    Going into Friday, it was easy to find reasons to head out and watch the Huskies. They have jumped out to 12-2 start and are ranked first in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport top ten rankings.
    The rookie line of Andrew Johnson, Levi Cable and Kohl Bauml have been very exciting to watch. A whole host or rearguards including captain Kendall McFaull, Connor Cox, Jesse Forsberg, Jordan Fransoo and Zak Stebner have been rock solid on the back end and have provided big contributions on the power play.
    Sophomore Jordon Cooke has shown the form that saw him take home the Canadian Hockey League’s goalie of the year in 2014. Fifth year forward Matthew Spafford always hits the ice with an extremely high compete level, and you know you will see a strong and honest effort from him each and every night.
    With all that said, the best reason to see the Huskies in action comes from the fact they play in a strong CIS league, which has them based out of a solid Canada West conference. Most teams in the CIS and Canada West contain a high number of former top end players from the major junior ranks.
    All the players the Huskies face have all played hockey at an elite level for a lengthy time. All teams know how to make adjustments to counter the opposition, and players keep striving to be better and cut down on mistakes.
Huskies forward Levi Cable has been dangerous in the offensive zone.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies met the red hot Mount Royal University Cougars, who were riding a four-game winning streak. When Friday’s encounter wrapped up, the Cougars ran that winning streak up to five games pulling out a 5-3 victory.
    The Cougars are a classic example of the tough and experienced opponent the Huskies face game in and game out. Mount Royal entered the contest ranked 10th in the CIS rankings and their roster contains talented players like forwards Tyler Fiddler and Cam Maclise, who can give opponents all sorts of headaches.
    Early in the first, the Cougars jumped out to a 2-0 lead after scoring twice in a span of 61 seconds. Bill Marshall and Fiddler accounted for the visitor’s tallies in the surge.
    While the Cougars got the jump on the scoreboard, the Huskies pushed back and rang a couple of shots off the posts of the Mount Royal goal before the first period expired.
    The Huskies continued to push in the second and were finally rewarded shortly after the midway point of the frame, when Cable rifled home a power-play goal off of a sick setup pass by Fransoo.
    At the 9:01 mark of the third, the Huskies pulled even at 2-2, when Forsberg blasted home a point shot through a screen for another power-play tally.
    Just over 90 seconds later, the Cougars went ahead 3-2, as Maclise scored with the man advantage, but the Huskies didn’t go away.
Jordan Fransoo helps anchor the Huskies back end.
    The hosts tied the game up at 3-3 at the 14:28 mark of the third, when forward Josh Roach fired home a point shot through a screen for another power-play goal.
    Just under two minutes after that tally, sophomore Zack Henry scored to put the Cougars up 4-3. The Huskies again pushed for the equalizer, which saw them pull Cooke with 2:03 to play in the frame. They had a couple of solid chances that weren’t able to find the back of the net, and Maclise iced the win for the Cougars with an empty netter with 19 seconds to play.
    Cooke turned away 23 of 27 shots for the Huskies, who fell to 12-3. Rookie Colin Cooper stopped 26 shots for the Cougars (9-4-2).
    Some of the Mount Royal goals were the result of some untimely giveaways by the Huskies, but you have to expect they will be focused to play a touch smarter the next time out to come out on the better end of the scoreboard.
    In defeat, you have to be impressed with the Huskies will to battle back. When they face the Cougars again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink, another classic showdown will likely be in the cards.
    You almost wish they could drop the puck right now.

Rally comes up short

Brooklyn Haubrich charges hard to the net for the Huskies.
    A comeback attempt by the U of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team came up just short on the road on Friday night.
    In Calgary, the Huskies fell behind the host Mount Royal University Cougars 2-0 after two periods and dropped a 2-1 decision. Kate Hufnagel and Sarah Weninger scored in the first and second periods respectively for the Cougars.
    Rookie forward Brooklyn Haubrich replied for the Huskies at the 10:19 mark of the third, but the visitors, who are rated seventh in the CIS top ten rankings, were unable to final the tally that would have forced overtime.
    Cassidy Hendricks made 21 stops in goal for the Huskies, who fell to 8-5-2. Emma Pincott made 23 save in goal for the Cougars, who won their fourth in a row to improve to 8-6-1.
    The Huskies and Cougars go at it again on Saturday in Calgary.

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Saturday, 21 November 2015

Powerless power play costs Huskies

Bisons goalie Rachel Dyck holds off the Huskies.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team needed to be a little more opportunistic on Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink.
    In a Canadian Interuniversity Sport clash against the University of Manitoba Bisons, the Huskies had a number chances to pull out victory, as the visitors made some frequent trips to the penalty box. The hosts had six chances to score on the power play, which included a stretch of playing with a two man advantage for almost two minutes, but they failed to score on any of those opportunities.
    The Bisons, on the other hand, cashed in on three of their four power-play chances to pull out a 3-1 victory.
    The Huskies did get out to a quick start going ahead 1-0 just 2:23 into the first period on a goal from veteran offensive defender Julia Flinton.
    After that tally, the Bisons countered with a big push back causing the Huskies to take a couple of obstruction type penalties. Third-year forward Karissa Kirkup netted goals on both of those chances to put the Bisons ahead 2-1.
    While the visitors held the edge in territorial play over the first 20-minutes, Huskies fourth-year forward Lauren Zary rang a shot off the crossbar of the Bisons goal late in the opening frame. Had her shot been an inch lower, the Huskies, who are rated eighth in the CIS top ten rankings, would have exited the first period with an even score.
    The second period proved to be very frustrating for the Dogs. They went on the power play on five different occasions in that stanza and outshot the Bisons 12-3.
    Bisons goaltender Rachel Dyck was the difference making a number of tough saves to preserve her side’s lead. The Huskies had lots of good puck movement working on the power play, but they couldn’t finish any of their chances.
Lauren Zary was one of many Huskies who had bad luck around the net.
    In the third, the Huskies continued to pepper Dyck with shots, but the host side’s momentum started to fizzle with about seven minutes to play in the frame. The Bisons started to clamp down defensively and prevent the hosts from getting a shot on goal during that stretch.
    With 1:49 to play in the frame, third year Huskies forward Kori Herner was set to the penalty box for a bodychecking infraction, and the Bisons sealed victory, when sophomore forward Alanna Sharman scored an empty-net power-play goal with 42 seconds to play.
    Cassidy Hendricks turned away 18 of the 20 shots taking the loss in the Huskies (8-4-2) goal. Dyck made 30 stops to earn the win in goal for the Bisons (8-5-1).
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday and Saturday when they travel to Calgary to take on the Mount Royal University Cougars (7-6-1). Those matches will be the final two contests for the Dogs before they head into their semester break.

Youth powers Huskies men’s team to another win

Rookie forward Kohl Bauml has been key to the Huskies success.
    The youth movement just keeps on delivering for the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team this season.
    In a back-and-forth match on Saturday in Winnipeg, the Huskies, who are rated third in the CIS top ten rankings, downed the host U of Manitoba Bisons 4-3 in CIS action to improve their Canada West conference leading record to 12-2.
    The Huskies went ahead 1-0, fell behind 2-1, rallied to go up 4-2 and held on for a 4-3 final.
Second-year forward Cameron Blair put the Huskies up 1-0, but the Bisons exited the opening 20 minutes with a 2-1 edge on singles coming from the sticks of Jesse Paradis and Rene Hunter.
    The Dogs went ahead 3-2 in the second as rookie forward Kohl Bauml scored on the power play, and sophomore forward Parker Thomas added an even-strength tally.
    Rookie forward Levi Cable picked up a much needed insurance goal in the third to put the Huskies up 4-2. Shaq Merasty scored with 1:44 to play in third for the Bisons, but the hosts couldn’t find the equalizer.
    Second-year netminder Jordon Cooke made 26 stops to earn the win in goal for the Huskies. Justin Paulic turned away 32 shots to take the loss in goal for the Bisons (5-7-2).
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday and Saturday when they host the Mount Royal University Cougars (8-4-2) at 7 p.m. on both nights at the Rutherford Rink. The Cougars are riding a four-game winning streak.
    Those clashes will be the last outings for the Huskies before they depart on their semester break.

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Friday, 20 November 2015

Ervine finds OT magic

Huskies halt Bisons five-game winning streak with 3-2 win

Marley Ervine is all smiles after scoring an OT winner.
    Marley Ervine was in the right place at the right time, when the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team needed her the most.
    With the Huskies locked in a 2-2 draw with the visiting University of Manitoba Bisons in a three-versus-three double overtime period, Ervine was sprung in on a breakaway after a turnover near the Bisons blue-line. The feisty fifth-year forward laser beamed a shot past Bisons goalie Rachel Dyck to give the Huskies a 3-2 victory on Friday night at the Rutherford Rink.
    The goal came after Ervine was snakebitten on a number of chances throughout the contest.
    “It felt pretty good,” said Ervine. “I felt like I had a few chances tonight. It was finally nice to see one be successful.
    “I was pretty tired, so I just thought get a quick shot off and maybe have a rebound, if I don’t score on the first one. I just wanted to get the puck on (goal) for sure.”
    The victory ended a five game winning streak for the Bisons (7-5-1) and put a wrap on a three-game skid for the Huskies (8-3-2), who were rated eighth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport top ten rankings.
    Momentum swung back and forth during regulation. The visitors jumped ahead 1-0, when fifth-year forward Kayleigh Wiens scored on a wraparound just 1:27 into the second period.
    The Huskies battled back to go ahead 2-1 heading into the second intermission. First, rookie forward Elizabeth Salyn roofed home her first career regular season CIS goal through a screen to tie things up at 1-1.
    About three minutes after that tally, standout forward Kaitlin Willoughby blew past the Bisons defence to score on a breakaway to give the hosts a 2-1 edge.
    In the third, the Bisons found the equalizer with 6:45 to play in the frame, when defender Erica Rieder scored from close in.
Marley Ervine gets set to drive a shot on goal for the Huskies.
    When the contest advanced into overtime, the Huskies held a decided edge in territorial play through a five-minute four-on-four period, and they maintained that advantage in a second five-minute frame with three-on-three play.
    The offensive zone pressure finally resulted in the turnover that created Ervine’s overtime goal. As university teams play only on weekends, the Huskies three-game skid meant they last celebrated victory on Oct. 30 in Edmonton, when they downed the University of Alberta Pandas 3-2 after a tiebreaking shootout.
    Ervine was pleased to see her team get back in the win column and also put an end to the Bisons winning streak in the process.
    “It definitely feels nice,” said Ervine. “It is nice to hear the win song in the dressing room for the first time in a long time.
    “Our league is so tight that anyone can beat anyone, so it is nice to see that we can kind of knock a team off their pedestal for a bit here.”
    Cassidy Hendricks turned away 19 shots to earn the win in goal for the Huskies, while Dyck made 24 stops to take the extra time loss for the Bisons.
    Both teams go at it again on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink.

Huskies men’s team eclipses last season’s win total

Josh Roach powers a Huskies victory with a three-point night.
    A three-point night from Josh Roach helped the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team to surpass last season’s win total before the current campaign hit its halfway point.
    On Friday night in Winnipeg, Roach had a goal and two assists to help the Huskies double up the host U of Manitoba Bisons 6-3. The win allowed the Huskies, who are rated third in the CIS rankings, to improve to 11-2. Last season, the Huskies posted a 10-15-3 mark.
    Against the Bisons on Friday, the Huskies found themselves locked in 2-2 draw after 20 minutes and a 3-3 tie after 40 minutes. The visitors surged for three goals in the third to round out the contest’s scoring.
    Matthew Spafford, Parker Thomas, Jesse Forsberg, Levi Cable and Jordan Fransoo all netted singles for the Huskies, while Blake Voth turned away 26 shots to earn the win in goal.
    Warren Callis, Shaq Merasty and Brett Stovin, who is a former captain of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, replied with singles for the Bisons (5-6-2). Byron Spriggs turned away 33-of-38 shots to take the loss in goal.
    Both teams face each other again on Saturday in Winnipeg.

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Saturday, 14 November 2015

Huskies rally comes up short

The Huskies push for an equalizer in the final seconds of the third.
    A rough opening 20 minutes came back to haunt the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
    On Saturday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, the Huskies fell behind the visiting University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 3-0 in the first period, while being outshot 17-9. The hosts made a spirited comeback over the next two frames scoring twice in the second and once early in the third to force a 3-3 tie.
    Despite the fact the Huskies outshot the Thunderbirds 29-5 over the final two periods, the visitors pulled out a 4-3 victory, when Austin Vetterl picked up with winner with 5:44 remaining in the third.
    The Thunderbirds, who are ranked ninth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport top ten rankings, got the jump on the Huskies early. Third-year forward Luke Lockhart roofed home a power-play goal at the 1:52 mark of the opening frame to give the Thunderbirds a 1-0 edge.
    Near the end of the first, defenceman Neil Manning and forward Chase Clayton scored singles 44 seconds apart from each other to give the Thunderbirds a 3-0 edge.
    The Huskies, who are ranked second in the CIS ratings, came out of the first intermission putting on all kinds of pressure in the Thunderbirds end. They finally broke thru on the scoreboard at the 11:55 mark of the second, when Thunderbirds goalie Matt Hewitt mishandled a puck, and Jesse Ross popped home the loose disk for his fourth goal of the season.
Levi Cable scored twice for the Huskies on Saturday.
    At the 15:49 mark of the second, the hosts cut the Thunderbirds edge to 3-2 working the power play when Levi Cable tucked home a rebound from a shot taken by rearguard Jesse Forsberg.
    Cable netted his second goal of the contest at the 3:11 mark of the third, when he lasered home a short-handed tally.
    With the way the momentum of the contest was going, it appeared the Huskies would go ahead, but Vetterl picked up the winner on one of the few chances his club was able to break into the offensive zone over the final 40 minutes.
    In the final seconds of the third, the Huskies tried to get the equalizer when a mad scramble saw a whole bunch of bodies fly into the UBC net, but the puck stayed out.
    Hewitt made 35 stops for the Thunderbirds (7-2-3). Jordon Cooke made 18 saves taking the loss in goal for the Huskies, who still sit at the top of the Canada West conference standings with a 10-2 mark.
    The Huskies and Thunderbirds also met on Friday night at the Rutherford Rink, and the hosts skated away with a 4-1 win in that encounter.
    Sean Aschim, Logan McVeigh, John Lawrence and Andrew Johnson scored for the Huskies, while Cooke made 19 saves to earn the win in goal. Manning had the lone reply for the Thunderbirds, while Eric Williams turned away 21 shots taking the loss in the UBC net.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the University of Manitoba Bisons (5-5-2).

T-Birds sweep in Vancouver

Marley Ervine speeds into the offensive zone for the Huskies.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team fell out of first place in the Canada West conference after dropping a pair of heartbreakers to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in Vancouver.
    On Friday, the Thunderbirds pulled out a 1-0 victory over the Huskies, when Mathea Fischer scored at the 2:05 mark of a second overtime period. Danielle Dube made 19 saves to earn the win in goal for the Thunderbirds, while Cassidy Hendricks turned away 28 shots taking the overtime setback for the Huskies, who are ranked seventh in the CIS top ten rankings.
    The Thunderbirds claimed a 4-3 regulation victory on Saturday to complete the sweep. Haneet Parhar, Stephanie Schaupmeyer, Madison Patrick and Kelly Murray picked up singles for the Thunderbirds, while Samantha Langford made 20 saves to earn the win in goal.
Lauren Zary scored twice for the Huskies, while Marley Ervine picked up a single. Hendricks made 20 saves to take the loss in goal.
    The Thunderbirds move into first in Canada West with the sweep improving to 8-3-1. U of S fell to 7-3-2.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday when they host the University of Manitoba Bisons (7-5) at 7 p.m. at the Rutherford Rink. The Bisons are currently riding a five-game winning streak.

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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Football Huskies salvage respect

Kyle Siemens calls out signals for the Huskies.
  It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team was expected to content for a championship. Instead, the Dogs found themselves battling to finish their 2015 Canadian Interuniversity Sport campaign in a respectable fashion.
    Coming off posting a 6-2 mark during the 2014 regular season, the Huskies entered the 2015 campaign returning a large number of players and hopes were high the Green and White would make the Canada West championship game, the Hardy Cup, and advance to the CIS title game, the Vanier Cup.
    The 2015 campaign came to a close for the Huskies on Saturday, when they traveled to Calgary and fell 37-29 to the University of Calgary Dinos in a hard fought Canada West semifinal playoff battle. The Dinos, who were 8-0 in the regular season, ensured their quest for perfection continued. The Huskies, who were 3-5 in the regular season, saw their post-season losing skid grow to seven games.
    To the Huskies credit, they managed to finish on a high. During the final week of the regular season, they were on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
    On Oct. 30, the Huskies traveled to Regina to play the winless University of Regina Rams in the final regular season contest for both teams. The Huskies had lost three straight to fall to 2-5 entering that match and would be eliminated from the post-season picture with another setback.
    The Rams held a 34-11 lead late in the third quarter of that tilt at Mosaic Stadium, and it looked like the party was over for the Dogs. Miraculously, the Huskies rallied for a 38-37 victory, when running back Jarvis James ran in from a yard out with about 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
    In the playoffs, the Huskies looked for the longest time that they could pull off a huge upset against the Dinos. The Dogs held a 16-8 lead at halftime and a 22-19 edge early in the fourth quarter before the Dinos offence hit high gear and took the game away.
Donovan Dale gets a sack for the Huskies.
    U of S showed heart at the end. That likely dampened some of the critics that watch Saskatoon’s most followed sports team.
    The critics in the stands became vocal last year at Griffiths Stadium, when the Huskies held a 37-18 lead over the University of Manitoba Bisons in a Canada West semifinal match only to fall 47-39.
    Some of the spectators started heaping jabs at the Huskies in a style similar to the jabs some of the fans of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders fire at that club when things are not going well.
    The Huskies started 2015 by stumbling out of the gates dropping their first two regular season games. The first setback was a 34-28 decision at Griffiths to the Bisons, and the second was a 38-26 loss in Edmonton to the University of Alberta Golden Bears. In the home opening loss, the critics in the crowd could be heard again and a couple of voices said that legendary Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, who is the all-time leader in CIS victories, should retire.
    U of S rebounded to even its mark at 2-2, but fell to 2-4 after being bombed twice by the Dinos.
    At that point, the 59-year-old Towriss and his staff showed they still have the ability to right the ship. Veteran fourth-year quarterback Drew Burko lost his starting position to sophomore Kyle Siemens. Burko had thrown nine interceptions over his six starts and a number of those were not of the good variety.
    Siemens completed 44 of 67 passes in his first start for 520 yards, three touchdown passes, while being intercepted once in a 41-36 loss to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at Griffiths. That defeat before the campaign’s smallest home crowd of 3,179 spectators, dropped the Huskies to 2-5 but hope started to be restored.
Huskies receiver Mitch Hillis tries to burst past a tackler.
    In the rally over the Rams, Siemens completed 23-of-41 passes for 422 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Against the Dinos in the playoffs, Siemens continued his solid play completing 29 of 46 passes for 356 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    With Siemens at the controls, the Huskies offence appeared less likely to self-destruct. Actually, Siemens was throwing at the level of a franchise quarterback, and his rise might help restore high aspirations for the team in the future. In the off-season, the Huskies need to find some recruits to strengthen a defence that was extremely leaky throughout the campaign.
    Things are not all bad for the Huskies, but they are also not all good.
    Some big work needs to be done in the off-season, but on the bright side, wholesale changes are not needed.

The rewarding life of a Blades billet family

Blades captain Brett Stovin battles Medicine Hat's Steven Owre for a faceoff.
    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week, with a cool behind the scenes feature.
I caught up with recently graduated Saskatoon Blades captain Brett Stovin, and he talked about what it was like to live in the home of Scott and Mel Frey during his years with the WHL franchise. The Freys just became a Blades billet family, when they welcomed Stovin, who now players for the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey team, into their home shortly before his 17th birthday. 
    He played four full seasons with the Blades, which included being part of the squad that hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup.
    The experience was rewarding for both Stovin and Freys. You can check out that story right here.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Intangibles gave Hilltops the edge

The Saskatoon Hilltop celebrate a Canadian Bowl win at home on Saturday.
    The seeds of the Saskatoon Hilltops 2015 national championship season were sown back in their spring camp that wrapped up in early May.
    When one looked at those sessions on Ron Atchinson Field, you realized most of the players had returned from the squad’s Canadian Bowl winning team in 2014. Only four players exhausted their Canadian Junior Football League eligibility after the Hilltops claimed their 17th national title downing the host Rams in Langley, B.C., 39-14 on Nov. 8, 2014.
    The fact that most to almost all the players from that campaign returned in 2015 speaks highly of the Blue and Gold. When 2014 wrapped up, there were a number of Canadian university teams looking to make quick fixes to deficiencies on their squads, and the coaching staffs and recruiters in those programs eyed up the Hilltops roster.
    The returning Toppers, whose numbers included 16 players in their fifth and final years of eligibility, did not want give up what they already had. They saw the team’s clubhouse on Kilburn Avenue as a second home. The teammates in that building were viewed as brothers and the family atmosphere was real.
    That family feeling truly extends back to when the modern version of the team was formed in 1947. All the players that came before were also family, and everyone was part of a special ongoing storyline. Those shared experiences created a bond, and they are not something you want to give up.
Head coach Tom Sargeant gets the Gatorade bucket shower.
    Also, the coaches led by head coach Tom Sargeant are as good or if not better than most of the university programs in Canada. The 2015 campaign would mark the 12th time Sargeant was part of a CJFL title winning team with the Hilltops including one win as a player, two victories as an assistant coach and nine triumphs as a head coach.
    For the players, going somewhere else meant venturing to the unknown. You almost know that in your soul you would kick yourself if you left. Besides, you could almost guarantee the four graduates from 2014 would have returned in 2015, if the rules permitted it.
    When main training camp started in early August, optimism was high that the veteran laden team would win an 18th CJFL title, which would also be a fifth championship in the last six years. Eyes at that time weren’t locked on November, but were focused on enjoying and living every day of the journey. All the best memories are made in the clubhouse, on bus trips, in hotel rooms and in restaurants on that journey, which was a big reason everyone returned.
    Games, obviously, included a lot of memories. There was a 16-14 setback in an unofficial exhibition show to a still very much in shape alumni team.
    A regular season 31-10 opening victory in Calgary against the Colts was sparked by a punt block from second year linebacker Bobby Ehman, which was returned for a major by defensive lineman Dillon Buckle.
Evan Turkington speeds downfield after a catch for the Hilltops.
    The regular season home opener started with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Bryant Sackney that sparked a Hilltops 65-9 romp over the Winnipeg Rifles. Running back Logan Fischer rank for 293 yards in a 35-17 home victory over the Regina Thunder. 
    A week later in Regina, the Hilltops erased a 15-point deficit to pull out a 26-25 victory over the Thunder, which was capped by slotback Evan Turkington catching the winning major to complete a 75-yard two-minute drill drive.
    Down went the Rifles in the Prairie Football Conference semifinal and the Colts in the Prairie Football Conference final to set up a home Canadian Bowl.
    Arriving at Saskatoon Minor Football Field 75 minutes before kickoff of the CJFL final, you could see a festive atmosphere was in the air. Fans were out tailgating, which is something that doesn’t normally happen at Hilltops home games. A large number of the tailgaters were former players, and they were usually wearing their old classic blue jackets.
    The hosts got an early jump on the visiting Okanagan Sun going up 10-0 on a 45-yard Brett Thorarinsson field goal and 10-yard TD reception by Turkington.
    The Sun didn’t go away in a match that was a showcase for junior football in Canada. They stormed back, and after linebacker Layne Hull blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with 4.5 seconds to go before halftime, the Sun led 20-17.
Hilltops defensive tackle Blake Adams gives the Canadian Bowl a kiss.
    The Hilltops never shy away from big moments in big games. After the Sun went up 21-17 on a punt single, the Hilltops made the biggest play of the contest. Quarterback Jared Andreychuk found receiver Tyson Sawatzky on a 73-yard touchdown bomb to put the hosts up 24-21 and a packed SMF field erupted with its loudest cheers of the season.
    The Sun would stay close, but the Hilltops earned a 38-24 victory after Turkington hauled a 33-yard insurance major late in the fourth quarter.
    The 2015 Saskatoon Hilltops, who were 10-1 overall in the regular season and playoffs, added to the lustre of the franchise’s spectacular overall story. The success at the end of the campaign was made up of all the little intangibles you won’t find on a statistics sheet. Those little things when put together help keep the Hilltops championship dynasty going.

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

18th CJFL title win sweet for Hilltops

Austin Thorarinson lifts the Canadian Bowl for the Hilltops.
    The championship script couldn’t have been any more perfect for the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    The venerable Canadian Junior Football League franchise added another chapter and a couple of more milestones to an extremely storied franchise history in front of a large supportive home crowd at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Saturday. The Hilltops (10-1 overall) downed the visiting Okanagan Sun (12-1 overall) 38-24 in the Canadian Bowl for an 18th CJFL title. Besides adding to their already record of league title wins, the Toppers also became the second club in CJFL history to claim five championships over a six year span matching the Regina Rams, who turned that trick from 1993 to 1998.
    “It means everything,” said Hilltops heart and soul defensive tackle Blake Adams. “It is the Hilltop way.
    “It is what we do. We play for these big games. To go out and win in your fifth year means a lot.”
    In a back and forth battle, the Sun held a 20-17 lead at halftime and expanded that edge to 21-17 with a third quarter rouge. With 3:46 to go in the third, Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk found receiver Tyson Sawatzky on a long streak pattern that turned into a 73-yard touchdown pass to put the hosts up 24-21. The hook up came two plays after the Hilltops had a 75-yard passing major to Evan Kopchynski taken off the board due to an offside penalty.
    A short time later, Hilltops tailback Logan Fischer plunged in from five yards out for his second major of the game to put the home side up 31-21.
    Thomas Huber hit a 40-yard field goal for the Sun to cut the Hilltops edge to 31-24 early in the fourth quarter.
Blake Adams (#54) celebrates one of his two sacks for the Hilltops.
    With under two-and-a-half minutes to play, the Sun had the ball at their own one and had a 109-yard two-minute drill drive attempt to force a tie. The march moved to the Okanagan 33 before Saskatoon forced a turnover on downs.
    Andreychuk immediately found slotback Evan Turkington for a 33-yard touchdown strike that sealed the final outcome at 38-24. The score was Turkington’s second touchdown reception of the game.
    “Jared (Andreychuk) is a star,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant during his classic energetic post-game press scrum. “He is a star in this league and doesn’t get any recognition. We are good with that, because all he does is win.
    “He got the ball to the right guys. Logan Fischer was a man possessed. Thirty-eight points, I will take that any day of the week.”
    Andreychuk completed 18 of 23 passes for 369 yards and three touchdown passes, while only being intercepted once. Sawatzky caught four passes for 132 yards to go with his long TD catch.
    Fischer broke the 100-yard barrier in both rushing and receiving to be named the game’s most outstanding offensive player. He carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards and caught seven passes for 107 yards.
    Saskatoon’s star defensive line was on fire as Adams had two sacks, while Matt Kozun and Blake Hermann had one-and-a-half sacks each.
    Sun quarterback Cam Bedore completed 25 of 43 passes for 350 yards and one touchdown pass. Kyle Kawamoto caught eight passes for 159 yards for the Sun, while Kyle Patchell hauled in nine passes for 110 yards and one touchdown for the visitors as well.
Jared Andreychuk fired lasers everywhere for the Hilltops.
    Okanagan linebacker Layne Hull was the contest’s most outstanding defensive player making a pair of tackles, an interception and blocking a punt and returning it 30 yards for a major right before halftime.
    “It was an intense game man alive,” said Sargeant. “Competition brings the best out of you, and they brought out the best in us today.”
    Andreychuk has thrown for over 300 yards in back-to-back Canadian Bowl wins for the Hilltops.
    They downed the Langley Rams in Langley, B.C., in last year’s CJFL title game 39-14. The Toppers also won the Canadian Bowl in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to round out their stretch of winning five times in six years.
    For the team’s star signal caller, he was pumped to pull off a Canadian Bowl win at home.
    “This week was rough thinking about the game,” said Andreychuk. “Come game time you get on this field, and it is a beautiful atmosphere.
    “For my family and friends, they don’t know what it is like, the Canadian Bowl atmosphere. It is just great to bring that here and get a win out of it.”

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Thursday, 5 November 2015

A great time to reconnect with the Hilltops

The starting Saskatoon Hilltops offensive line shares a laugh on the bench.
     Sometimes you just have to go out and see that good old neighbour.
    Since 1947, the modern version of the Saskatoon Hilltops junior football club has been part of the fabric of Saskatoon. Soon, they will try to close their 69th season by claiming an 18th Canadian Junior Football League championship.
    The Toppers host the Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, which for most of its history was known as Gordie Howe Bowl. If you haven’t seen the Hilltops play in a while, there is no better time than Saturday to go out and be part of another memory associated with the Blue and Gold.
    If you are a fan, a former player, a former director, volunteer or even a former Bridge City media member, this will be a perfect time to relive some old memories, while supporting a first class franchise that ages extremely well.
    Many things in life like work or personal situations can pull one away from something they once had a deep rooted investment in. If it has been a long time since you last saw the Hilltops play, you will discover something familiar, if you venture to SMF Field on Saturday.
    The Hilltops are still that good old neighbour that brings a smile to your face. When they succeed, you feel extremely proud of them.
    Many in the Saskatoon community can recall teaching or coaching a Hilltops player, when they grew up. If your family had children, your children might have grown up being best friends with a Hilltops player. You likely take pride in seeing how outstanding that Hilltops player became as he grew into adulthood.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant gives encouragement to QB Jared Andreychuk.
    Those connections aren’t just limited to the Bridge City. People in Prince Albert share that same pride when it comes to following one of their products on the Toppers like receiver Evan Kopchynski. The same can be said for the citizens of Bonnyville, Alta., who followed the career of Hilltops defensive tackle Blake Adams.
    It is fitting that the Hilltops clubhouse and practice facility, Ron Atchinson Field, is located in a long existing residential neighbourhood. Even SMF Field borders with a residential area. The Hilltops are literally your neighbours.
    When you go and visit them, you can feel the family atmosphere, and it is very welcoming.
Their coaching staff led by head coach Tom Sargeant doesn’t just help players succeed on the field but helps them become strong first rate people, who are very community minded.
    Because the Hilltops do strive to succeed in the right way, it adds to the pride you feel for them when they do succeed.
    This Hilltops team is also on the verge of accomplishing a special milestone. If they win the Canadian Bowl, it will mark the fifth time in the last six years they have claimed the CJFL title. The only other team to win five CJFL titles over a six-year span was the Regina Rams from 1993 to 1998 before they moved on to the Canadian university ranks.
    You have to like Saskatoon’s chances of matching that accomplishment. The Hilltops have a veteran team that includes 16 players in their fifth and final year of junior eligibility. Overall, this is a squad that has won numerous big games and keeps finding a way to raise its play to a higher and higher level when everything is on the line.
The Hilltops are aiming to pull off one final victory celebration to close 2015.
    Victory on Saturday is far from a sure thing. The Sun are 12-0 overall this season and enter the Canadian Bowl having crushed the Vancouver Island Raiders 54-0 in the British Columbia Football Conference final. The Sun’s last CJFL title win came back in 2000 thanks to a 36-28 victory in Kelowna over the visiting Hilltops.
    When the adversity comes, you almost know and expect the Hilltops, who are 9-1 overall, to find a way to persevere. If you can witness of those types of storylines play out again, it would only feel right and familiar. For a resident of Saskatoon, you know that will be a moment that makes you feel good.
    NOTE - The Hilltops pre-selling tickets for the Canadian Bowl on Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, $5 for elementary school students and free for pre-school age and under.

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