Monday, 27 June 2016

Valkyries set high standard

WWCFL champs show how great women’s football can be

Veteran receiver Marci Kiselyk hauls in a pass for the Valkyries.
    The hot topic in Saskatoon sports circles on Monday revolved around a final score of 81-6.
    That of course was the result of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League championship game on Saturday in Lethbridge. The Saskatoon Valkyries were the victors claiming their fifth WWCFL title in six years. They smashed the Edmonton Storm harder than a Ray Lewis blindside hit on a quarterback.
    When locals in Saskatoon heard the score that was repeated often on various radio stations Monday, you almost immediately heard, “Wow, our girls kicked their asses.”
    During their six seasons of existence, the Valkyries have won numerous blowout games. Saturday’s effort set a team record for points scored in a game and equaled the team mark for largest margin of victory at 75 points.
Alyssa Wiebe (#13) became a dangerous target as a Valkyries receiver.
    Saskatoon’s previous record for points in a game came back on June 12, 2011 in a 78-6 thrashing of the Winnipeg Wolfpack. The last time the Valkyries won by a 75-point spread came on May 10, 2015 in a 75-0 bombing of the Wolfpack.
    Against the Storm on Saturday, the Valkyries performed with great precision. While the neutral site encounter only attracted about 300 onlookers, news of what took place spread like a wildfire.
    Saskatoon played with an efficiency and dominance that would likely make New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick blush. During the romp, the Valkyries, who finished with a 7-1 overall record, substituted frequently through their 55-player roster, and there wasn’t a drop in the level of play between starters and backups. Everyone played great on the University of Lethbridge Community Stadium turf.
    The Valkyries, who have a huge following in Saskatoon, are also benefiting from the popular girls flag football league that exists in their home centre. Besides veteran receiver Carly Dyck, the Valkyries roster contained 32 players in their first or second year with the team including 22 rookies. All the newcomers arrived with a high skill set that transferred over to the full tackle game.
Betsy Mawdsley created chaos as a Valkyries rush end.
    Rookie Alex Eyolfson and sophomore Reed Thorstad split the duties at quarterback for much of the season, and both displayed great form in throwing to a group of talented receivers.
    Others like rookie receiver Alyssa Wiebe arrived with a decorated resume of accomplishments in other sports. In Wiebe’s case, she arrived as a former star hockey player most notably with the University of North Dakota, and she picked up the game fast thanks to her natural athletic talent and the guidance of veteran pass catchers like Dyck, Marci Kiselyk and Stacey Boldt.
    On defence, rookie newcomers like defensive end Betsy Mawdsley and linebacker Emmarae Dale showed that they were naturals.
    All these newcomers connected extremely well with a strong core of veterans. Original Valkyries Beth Thomson, Tori Giles, Jaime Lammerding, Lori Smith and Kiselyk all seem to be finding new peaks in their respective games.
    Kiselyk started the year sidelined with a nagging injury, and when she returned, she looked almost as fluid as NFL great Jerry Rice. Thomson is terminator at linebacker and Lammerding and Smith love to create havoc in the middle of the defensive line.
Tailback Julene Friesen had a stellar season for the Valkyries.
    Giles spent her first five years with the Valkyries playing receiver, but when she switched to defensive halfback this season, she looked like she born to play that spot. When teams ran the ball, Giles quickly drew a read on what was going on and often sliced into the backfield to make a tackle for a loss.
    Fifth year linebacker Denise Kolosky and fourth year safety Shaylyn De Jong were lights out playing at an all-world level.
    Arguably, the Valkyries MVP this season was third year running back Julene Friesen. Friesen was the Valkyrie version of former NFL star Marshall Faulk becoming the tailback that could do everything from running hard inside and outside to making big plays in the passing game as a receiver.
    The Valkyries success also has to be attributed to the fact that they put in the work. Pretty much all the players train year round, and the team starts practising together three months before the season starts.
    The only other squad that likely trains that hard in the WWCFL is the Regina Riot, who were the only club to beat the Valkyries this season.
    Saskatoon is also guided by an elite coaching staff under the guidance of head coach Jeff Yausie. When Yausie hasn’t been available due to commitments with Football Saskatchewan and Football Canada, the rest of the staff steps up. Special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Chris Hengen-Braun really shines in these moments with his big upbeat enthusiasm.
Jaime Lammerding (#21) hoists the WWCFL title trophy for the Valkyries.
    Former Valkyries player Beth Thompson has become a key part of the coaching staff as a defensive line coach. As years go on, you can expect more former players will become coaches.
    In Saturday’s impressive display, the Valkyries showed how good women’s football can be. They are the example that all other clubs in the WWCFL can aspire to be.
    If even three or four other clubs from the eight-club circuit can get to the level the Valkyries are at, it would be a very cool thing to see.

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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Valkyries dominant dynasty continues

Saskatoon wins fifth WWCFL title in six years, bombs Storm

The Valkyries celebrate their fifth WWCFL title win in six years.
 LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - The Saskatoon Valkyries execution was near perfect, and the Edmonton Storm got executed as a result.
    On Saturday at the University of Lethbridge Community Stadium, the Valkyries (7-1 overall) returned to the top of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League mountain top with an astounding 81-6 victory over the Storm (6-2 overall). With the win, the Valkyries claimed their fifth WWCFL championship in six years after losing to last year’s league champs the Regina Riot in the WWCFL Prairie Conference final. 
    Against the Storm on Saturday, the Valkyries had the wind at their backs for the first quarter and used that advantage to build a 30-0 edge. Saskatoon cruised to victory from that point.
    “It feels awesome,” said Valkyries running back Julene Friesen. “It was a great game. It is nice to win by a lot and to feel like we had a great end to our season.
Julene Friesen runs in a touchdown for the Valkyries.
    “Everybody played. Everybody did so well. It just shows once again how well rounded our team is and how strong we are through our whole depth chart.”
    Friesen, who had an outstanding season for the Valkyries, book ended the scoring recording the game’s first touchdown on a 28 yard romp and the contest’s final major coming off an 82-yard kickoff return with 2:43 to play in the fourth quarter. She also had a 30-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter to account for three major scores overall.
    In total, Friesen picked up 142 yards rushing on seven carries and 109 yards on three kickoff returns in being named the Valkyries player of the game. She admitted the kick return touchdown was her sweetest jaunt into the end zone.
    “We’ve been talking about it all season,” said Friesen. “Finally to get it on the last return of the year was fun, even though I fumbled around with it a little bit.”
Valkyries LB Beth Thomson (#2) sacks Storm QB Aria McGowan (#80).
    The first quarter surge also saw Valkyries quarterback Alex Eyolfson fire a 10-yard touchdown strike to veteran receiver Stacey Boldt and complete a 56-yard pass and run score to rookie receiver Alyssa Wiebe. Wiebe, who is a former hockey standout with the University of North Dakota, topped all Valkyries with receivers with four catches for 111 yards.
    A strong effort by Saskatoon’s defence the kept Edmonton pinned in its own zone resulting in the Storm conceding a safety in the opening frame. Valkyries linebacker Beth Thomson, who has played for the club in all six years of its existence, had a big first quarter sack and returned an interception 33 yards in the second quarter to set up a 32-yard field goal by kicker Carly Dyck.
    “I had the most fun out there today,” said Thomson. “That pic was awesome. I almost got it into the end zone, but maybe next year.”
    Thomson also said the game couldn’t have gone any better for her squad, and she was elated about the latest title win.
    “Every time you win the championship, you get that feeling of happiness,” said Thomson. “It is there again right now.
Alyssa Wiebe (#13) had 111 yards receiving for the Valkyries.
    “Once we got rolling, it just started happening for us. We just started rolling. It was the Valkyries doing it again.”
    Some of the game’s loudest cheers were reserved for Dyck, who is a Lethbridge product. She played three seasons with her hometown Steel, when the Steel lost three straight WWCFL title games to the Valkyries from 2012 to 2014. She lived in Saskatoon for the last two of those campaigns and decided to remain in that centre year round and play for the Valkyries.
    In the second quarter, Dyck hauled in her only catch on a streak pattern from quarterback Reed Thorstad, which went the distance for a 45-yard major score to delight her hometown supporters. Dyck was pumped that Valkyries offensive coordinator Chad Palmer was looking to dial up her number.
    “Palmer was being real nice to me,” said Dyck. “He was like, ‘I want to get you a touchdown at home, so we are going to send you a long ball.’
    “I was so happy. It was a nice reach out for me, a long run. There was nobody even close to me I felt anyway. I didn’t notice anybody.”
    She was pumped to finally be on the winning side of a WWCFL championship game.
    “It took five years for me to get this win, but it was better late than never,” said Dyck. “It was pretty exciting.”
Carly Dyck hauls in a 45-yard TD reception for the Valkyries.
    Running backs Samantha and Kendal Matheson, who are sisters, added major scores for the Valkyries in the second quarter. Samantha ripped off a 62-yard scoring run, while Kendal, who is in her rookie season, ran one in from 65 yards out.
    Saskatoon led 54-0 at halftime.
    The scoring slowed up a little in the third quarter. Saskatoon went ahead 59-0, when the Storm conceded another safety and Dyck nailed a 27-yard field goal attempt.
    The Valkyries lead expanded to 74-0 in the fourth quarter thanks to a three-yard touchdown run by Samantha Matheson, a 31-yard missed field goal single by Dyck and 39-yard interception return score by defensive back Rienna Rueve.
    Storm running back Brenna Bouchard snapped the shutout bid returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown after Rueve’s major to trim Saskatoon’s edge to 74-6. Friesen recorded her kickoff return touchdown after Bouchard found pay dirt.
The Valkyries celebrate Rienna Rueve's interception return TD.
    In total, the Valkyries piled up 624 yards of offence, which included 329 yards on the ground and 297 yards through the air. Edmonton was held to 148 yards offensively.
    Valkyries special teams coordinator Chris Hengen-Braun said Saturday’s win was a great capper to a special season.
    “It feel pretty good,” said Hengen-Braun. “This is really a different team than we have had in the past.
    “They did an amazing job coming together. We have a lot of really young girls. Over half of our team has never won one of these before, so it is really special for them.
    “It was really cool to see a huge effort from many, many different players on offence and on defence. We had a bunch of players step up. It was just really cool to see a lot of these young players come out and be very effective on the field.”

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

Valkyries' Dyck pumped for homecoming in WWCFL final

Receiver returns to Lethbridge and fondly recalls football roots

Valkyries receiver Carly Dyck (#4) returns kick against the Edmonton Storm.
    When the Saskatoon Valkyries started celebrating their Prairie Conference title win, receiver Carly Dyck began thinking about going home.
    With a 29-14 victory over the visiting Regina Riot last Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Valkyries advanced to the Western Women’s Canadian Football League title game for the fifth time in six years. 
    This year’s WWCFL title game is set to be held on Saturday in Lethbridge, which happens to be Dyck’s hometown. The Valkyries (6-1 overall) will face the Edmonton Storm (6-1 overall), who are making their second straight WWCFL final appearance, in a match that starts at 1 p.m. Lethbridge time at the University of Lethbridge.
    Before joining the Valkyries, Dyck began her football career playing for her hometown Lethbridge Steel from 2012 to 2014 in the WWCFL’s Western Conference. It was during that time she developed a love for the game.
    The Steel advanced to the WWCFL in all three seasons Dyck was a member of the team, and the Steel fell in every appearance to the Valkyries. Saskatoon claimed the first four straight WWCFL championships from 2011 to 2014 before the Riot won the league title last year.
Carly Dyck (#4) boots a field goal for the Valkyries.
    “I was always hopeful with Lethbridge,” said Dyck. “I always thought that we could do it.
    “I want to say I am even more hopeful now, because I know that we can do it. It feels nice playing in front of my family again and my friends and people who haven’t been able to see me play the last two years.”
    The closest the Steel came to winning the WWCFL title was back in 2013, when the Valkyries pulled out a 27-13 decision. Saskatoon took the 2012 and 2014 title clashes by respective 64-21 and 53-0 blowout scores.
    While the Steel weren’t able to claim a WWCFL title, Dyck didn’t see herself leaving the team. Opportunities away from the game steered her in that direction.
    After her first season with the Steel, Dyck started attending school in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan. For two years, she lived a double life, where she spent nine months in Saskatoon focusing on her studies and three months living in Lethbridge focusing on football.
    “I’d be there for two practices before the first game, and they would throw me into the game after being at home for only a week,” said Dyck. “My coaches would be sending me playlists, so that I could study.
Carly Dyck tears up field for the Valkyries.
    “I’d be in school, and I’d be studying for my final exams. My study break would be studying for football.”
    During her lengthy stays in Saskatoon, Dyck started to become more rooted in that centre. She started meeting members of the Valkyries and began playing in the city’s adult flag football league. As the friendships developed, Dyck decided it was time she made Saskatoon her year round home.
    She got her release from the Steel and proceeded to join the Valkyries in 2015. Dyck discovered a different football world during her two seasons in Saskatoon.
    “Playing in Alberta, we thought we were a really great football team, and we were,” said Dyck. “Just the caliber of football here that we have in Saskatchewan is so much beyond what we could even have imagined from the program that we had in Lethbridge.
    “You could tell after being here just the organization of our program, all the fundraising that we do, the training staff that we have (and) the coaches, everything here is just so much higher so much better than what I had known in Lethbridge.
    “Coming and seeing the depth we have on our team it is really not a surprise that we lost to Saskatoon all three years that I played for Lethbridge. We’d come to the championship game with 20 players, and that is not enough for a football team.”
    With the Steel, Dyck played offence, defence and special teams. Having grown up playing soccer, Dyck handled the Steel’s kicking duties.
Carly Dyck catches a deep pass for the Valkyries.
    With the Valkyries, Dyck mainly focuses on her role among a strong group of receivers that includes Marci Kiselyk, Stacey Boldt, Kelsey Murphy and Alyssa Wiebe. On special teams, Dyck is entrusted with place kicking duties.
    “I think the biggest change for me here now is feeling rested,” said Dyck. “When I go in on offence, I’ve had water. I’ve had a break. I’ve had a mental break to focus on what I am going to do next.”
    Dyck still has a lot of good memories from her time with the Steel. She enjoyed playing for the team’s then head coach Jamie Fisher, who rejoined the Steel this season as a defensive coordinator after one campaign off.
    When Dyck went to her first meeting with the Steel, she wasn’t sure if she was going to play at all.
    “I showed up at the meeting, and everybody there was tattoos and piercings and crazy hair,” said Dyck. “I thought I am not going to fit in here at all.
    “Jamie Fisher, the head coach, came up to me, and he asked me if I played any sports. I knew nothing about football. He was like, ‘If you’re an athlete, that is all we need.’
    “He made me feel really at home there.”
Carly Dyck (#4) celebrates a TD with Marci Kiselyk.
    Now Dyck sees Saskatoon as her home, and she expects to keep playing football for the foreseeable future. Besides playing for the Valkyries, she will be part of Saskatchewan’s provincial team that participates in Football Canada’s inaugural senior women’s national championship tournament, which runs July 28-31 in Regina.
    Still, there were some perks Dyck enjoyed while playing in Lethbridge that she hopes she will get to enjoy again.
    “The Lethbridge wind is what made me feel like I was an amazing kicker,” said Dyck with a chuckle. “Now I play here, and the wind is not as strong, so my kicks don’t go quite as far. It is OK.”

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Eyolfson guns Valkyries back into WWCFL final

Alex Eyolfson fires one of her four TD passes down field for the Valkyries.
    Alex Eyolfson greeted the attention that comes with being a big game hero with a lot of giggles.
    On the turf at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Saskatoon Valkyries 18-year-old rookie quarterback looked like a poised veteran on Sunday. She completed 10-of-18 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Valkyries past the Regina Riot 29-14 in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League’s Prairie Conference title game. She also ran the ball seven times for another 72 yards.
    Off the field, Eyolfson, who graduated from Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School last year, seemed genuinely surprised a string of reporters came to talk to her about the day’s proceedings. She smiled and laughed her way through answering various questions.
    Even when she was asked what it was like to lead the Valkyries to the WWCFL championship game, Eyolfson responded with pure joy.
    “I’m so excited,” said Eyolfson. “It is all new to me. It is going to be awesome.”
    The Riot entered Sunday’s clash as the defending WWCFL champs. A year ago, they downed the Valkyries 31-29 in a Prairie Conference title game that was played in Regina. That Riot victory ended the Valkyries quest to win the WWCFL title for a fifth straight year.
Stacey Boldt zips up field for a major score on a 15-yard pass reception.
    On paper, the Riot held a huge edge in the experience department at the quarterback position with star veteran Aimee Kowalski taking the snaps from centre.
    Saskatoon had been utilizing a two-quarterback system for much of this season with Eyolfson and sophomore Reed Thorstad sharing signal calling duties. Thorstad was limited to playing about four different series at quarterback on Sunday.
    For a moment, it appeared the biggest excitement in this year’s Prairie Conference final might come from the weather conditions in Saskatoon. After a scoreless first quarter, both teams were chased to their dressing rooms when a sudden storm opened up dropping sheets of rain and hail on the field accompanied by lightning with 12:08 to play in the second quarter.
    Those weather conditions disappeared after about five minutes, and the teams returned to action under sunny skies following a 20-minute delay.
Valkyries Receiver Marci Kiselyk (#19) celebrates a TD catch.
    When action resumed, Eyolfson went to work. With 4:18 to play in the second quarter, she found veteran receiver Marci Kiselyk on a streak pattern for a 44-yard touchdown pass to give Saskatoon a 7-0 lead. Just over two minutes later, Eyolfson hit veteran slotback Stacey Boldt on a 15-yard post pattern for a second touchdown strike to increase the Valkyries advantage to 14-0.
    Eyolfson wasn’t done there. With 6.3 seconds remaining before halftime, she hit Kiselyk again this time for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The Riot blocked the ensuing convert, but the Valkyries took a 20-0 edge into halftime.
    Valkyrie head coach Jeff Yausie was pleased with Eyolfson’s performance.
    “She (Eyolfson) played very well, and she is a very athletic person,” said Yausie. “Lots of times she escaped pressure and broke contain on the edge and she ran for some first downs.
    “She has played flag football for a long time. This is her first year in tackle football. She has run around a lot and played in a lot of big games.”
Carmen Agar piled up 200 yards rushing and receiving for the Riot.
    The Riot were able to move the ball on Sunday piling up 440 yards of total offence. Star running back Carmen Agar posted 147 yards rushing on 26 carries and 53 yards receiving on six catches. Regina also turned the ball over 10 times including seven occasions on downs which aided the Riot’s downfall.
    Regina’s first offensive possession stalled at the Saskatoon three yard line after a pass on a fake field goal by holder Claire Dore fell incomplete.
    The Riot finally broke through on the scoreboard with 2:05 to play in the third quarter. The Valkyries fumbled away a punt return in their own end zone, and Agar recovered the ball for a touchdown to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 20-7.
    The momentum swing didn’t last. Just 1:44 into the fourth quarter, the Valkyries jumped ahead 28-7, when Eyolfson found Kiselyk for a two-yard touchdown pass and then hit slotback Stacey Boldt on a five-yard pass for a two-point convert.
    Kiselyk, who has been with the Valkyries since they started in 2011, caught four passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s win.
A gang of Valkyries defenders take down a Riot ball carrier.
    “The receivers adjusted so well,” said Eyolfson. “They were really open I guess when I threw it every time.
    “They adjusted and ran their routes really hard. It was just easy to get it to them.”
    Kicker Carly Dyck added a single from 29-yard missed field goal to give the Valkyries a 29-7 edge. Regina round out the scoring with 62 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, when Kowalski hit receiver Robyn Tulloch on a 30-yard touchdown pass to cement the final outcome at 29-14 in Saskatoon’s favour. The Riot finished the season with a 5-2 overall record.
    Kiselyk was pumped her side came out on the winning end.
    “We’ve been aiming for that all year,” said Kiselyk. “Every season is a new season, but I hadn’t forgotten last year. It really felt like redemption for us.”
    The sure-handed pass catcher was also proud of the effort Eyolfson had.
Valkyries QB Alex Eyolfson eludes Riot defender Robyn Tulloch.
    “Alex (Eyolfson) really stood out for us today,” said Kiselyk. “She made a lot of plays with her legs as well as with her arm.
    “Even though we struggled early, she was able to keep her head in a big game in a high pressure situation, and that shows a lot of maturity for someone so young.”
    The Valkyries advance to the WWCFL championship game to face the Edmonton Storm this coming Saturday in Lethbridge. The Storm took the Western Conference championship last Saturday with a 14-4 victory over the Lethbridge Steel in Edmonton.
    The Valkyries and Storm enter the WWCFL championship game with identical 6-1 overall records. Those two clubs met in an exhibition tilt back on April 30 in Saskatoon, where the Valkyries pulled out a 30-17 victory.
The Valkyries celebrate their WWCFL Prairie Conference title win.
    Edmonton fell 53-6 in last year’s WWCFL championship game held in Winnipeg to the Regina Riot.
    The Valkyries beat the Storm in the inaugural WWCFL championship game 35-7, which was held in Lethbridge in 2011.

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Valkyries motivated by Riot victories

Rivals battle for a sixth straight year in WWCFL Prairie final

Valkyries DB Tori Giles (#3) collides with Riot receiver Amanda Hungle.
    Head coach Jeff Yausie believes his Saskatoon Valkyries found extra motivation in a defeat, but he wasn’t talking about his team’s playoff loss a year ago.
    Last year, the Valkyries saw their season and a drive to win five straight Western Women’s Canadian Football League titles come to an end due to a 31-29 setback to the Regina Riot in the WWCFL Prairie Conference final at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The Riot moved on to thump the Edmonton Storm 53-6 in the WWCFL title game in Winnipeg.
    Before that playoff loss to the Riot, the Valkyries were humbled 49-9 by the Riot in a regular season encounter on May 30, 2016 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. That result still holds up as the most lopsided the loss the Valkyries suffered in their history.
    “Last year when they kicked our butts here in Saskatoon, we knew we needed to toughen up and practice harder and be able to match their physical intensity and toughness,” said Yausie. “We changed our practices.
Riot RB Celeste Schnell powers through the Valkyries.
    “We hit more. We practice harder. We practice longer. That has been our focus is to match their physicality this year.”
    On Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, these two rivals will battle for a sixth straight year in the Prairie Conference final. Both Saskatoon and Regina were 3-1 in regular season play and split their two head-to-head meetings. The Valkyries took first place in the conference having outscored the Riot 73-48 in their two encounters.
    The rivalry between the Valkyries and Riot is the best one in the WWCFL and is developing into one of the top ones between teams from Saskatoon and Regina.
    Valkyries defensive lineman Jaime Lammerding, who has been with the team since its inception in 2011, said games with the Riot are definitely the hardest hitting ones.
    “The other teams have some big girls, but Regina just brings it like to a different level,” said Lammerding. “I think that is Saskatchewan football.
    “They come hard every play, and you have to come hard back at them.”
    Rookie receiver Alyssa Wiebe said she noticed the pace picked up when the Valkyries faced the Riot compared to other opponents. In the fourth quarter of a 27-26 Riot victory on May 28 in Regina, Wiebe was slammed hard to the turf on one play, which she described as getting “absolutely killed.”
    “You have to have your head up at all times and on a swivel,” said Wiebe, who was a former standout forward with the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team. “If the ball is coming your way, there is a good chance you’re getting popped.
Valkyries RB Kendal Matheson (#25) is high tackled by a Riot defender.
    “You look for the ball, hold on and try and make a play. They are aggressive, and they can hit.”
    For the Valkyries returning veterans, the sting of last season’s playoff loss to the Riot still lingers, which adds another dimension to Sunday’s contest.
    “Everybody who was around last year still has that like lost it and we want it back kind of feeling,” said Lammerding. “We lost it just so close by the skin of our teeth.
    “We want to go back and take if from them. It (the playoff loss) doesn’t get any better. I’ve tried a lot of different ways. It doesn’t get any better.”
    Both teams are loaded with game breakers offensively. The Valkyries have rotated rookie Alex Eyolfson and sophomore Reed Thorstad at quarterback, and Wiebe and fellow receivers Carly Dyck, Stacey Boldt and Marci Kiselyk have made key plays downfield. Running backs Julene Friesen and Samantha Matheson have anchored Saskatoon’s ground game.
Quarterback Aimee Kowalski (#22) unloads a pass for the Riot.
    Riot star quarterback Aimee Kowalski has a strong and accurate arm, and she will take off and run with the ball when the opportunity calls. Receivers Amanda Hungle, Claire Dore and Alex Kowalski can all make big plays at any time. Star running back Carmen Agar is the workhorse on the ground, but the Riot have also been received strong contributions from power runner Celeste Schnell.
    While Wiebe is going through the WWCFL playoffs for the first time, she is used to a single-elimination scenario due to her experience playing National Collegiate Athletic Association’s hockey post-season. She knows how important it is to peak in do-or-die playoff battles.
    “These are the most fun games,” said Wiebe. “Everything is on the line for both teams.
Valkyries RB Samantha Matheson (#22) has had big games versus the Riot.
    “You both want it bad. I’ve been in this situation with hockey before, and sometimes came out on top and sometimes on the bottom. I know what both feel like.
    “I am hoping to come out on top on Sunday.”
    The WWCFL’s Western Conference final is set for Saturday in Edmonton between the host Storm and the Lethbridge Steel.
    The conference final winners play in the WWCFL championship game on June 25 in Lethbridge.

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Sunday, 12 June 2016

"Baby T-Rex" plays big for Valkyries

Giles helps Saskatoon return to WWCFL Prairie final

Tori Giles returns an interception for the Valkyries.
    Tori Giles’ love for football brought her to the Saskatoon Valkryies and winning provided extra motivation to stay in the game.
    The 22-year-old defensive back and kick returner is one of six original Valkyries that has suited up for every season of the club’s existence dating back to its inception in 2011. Over that time span, the Valkyries claimed four straight Western Women’s Canadian Football League championships from 2011 to 2014.
    Saskatoon’s bid for a fifth straight championship came to an end last season after a heartbreaking 31-29 loss in the WWCFL’s Prairie Conference final to the Regina Riot.
    Success kept Giles, whose nickname is “Baby T-Rex,” coming back for more.
    “It probably had something to do with me being here for six years,” said Giles. “If we were getting our butts whooped every year, I don’t know if it would be the same story.
    “It is just a great team to play with, and it is a lot of fun.”
    The wins also just keep coming. On Sunday, the Valkyries thumped the Manitoba Fearless 42-2 in a WWCFL Prairie Conference semifinal playoff match at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. With that win, the Valkyries advance to the WWCFL Prairie Conference final to play the defending WWCFL champion Riot for a sixth straight year.
    Regina claimed the other WWCFL Prairie Conference semifinal at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday thanks to a 59-7 drubbing of the Winnipeg Wolfpack.
Tori Giles hits traffic on a Valkyries punt return.
    In the Valkyries win over the Fearless, Giles had a 21-yard interception return and she also cut into the Manitoba backfield to make a nice tackle for a loss. While Saskatoon frequently substituted players in the romp over the Fearless, Giles’ comfort level on defence was apparent.
    She was a receiver on offence during her first five seasons with the Valkyries but has found her calling on the other side of the ball.
    “It is definitely where I was supposed to be,” said Giles. “It is coming a lot easier than it has in the past for sure.
    “It is a lot different. It is nice, because you don’t have to think as much. It is just you watch and you react.”
    Growing up in Saskatoon, Giles played a lot of touch and flag football, but at age 15, she thought her options in the sport were drying up.
    During a visit to Edmonton, Giles heard about the formation of the WWCFL’s Storm and hoped a team would start up in Saskatoon. After hearing about the creation of the Valkyries, Giles found an email address for team general manager Michelle Duchene online. After contacting Duchene, Giles joined the Valkyries and the rest is history.
    With 27 new players joining the Valkyries this season mainly coming up through Saskatoon’s girls’ flag program, Giles said she definitely doesn’t see herself as one of the youngsters.
    “I definitely feel like one of the old vets,” said Giles. “My body feels like it too.”
Tori Giles gets set in the Valkyries secondary.
    In Sunday’s clash with the Fearless, the Valkyries jumped out to 28-0 lead just five minutes and 34 seconds into the contest. After pausing for a moment of silence to remember hockey icon and local product Gordie Howe with nine minutes to play in the first quarter, the Valkyries added another major to exit the frame with a 35-0 lead.
    Running back Julene Friesen carried the ball five times for 203 yards and scored five touchdowns. Her longest run was from 70 yards out.
    Receiver Alyssa Wiebe hauled in 36-yard pass from quarterback Alex Eyolfson to account for Saskatoon’s other major score.
    The Fearless, who finish with a 1-4 overall record, picked up their points on two missed field goal singles from kicker Sara Milani.
    The Valkyries and Riot enter the Prairie final posting identical 5-1 overall records including play from pre-season, regular season and post-season. The two clubs split their two head-to-head regular season meetings, but the Valkyries finished first in the Prairie Conference outscoring the Riot 73-48 in their two encounters. 
    The Prairie final is set for 1 p.m. this coming Sunday at SMF Field.
    Giles said clashes with the Riot are always intense.
Julene Friesen runs in one of her five touchdowns for the Valkyries.
    “They are definitely the hardest game of the year by far,” said Giles. “They are the most important ones as well.
    “We’re going to have to grind out this week and get prepared for it and really get after it.”
As for her future in football after this season, Giles said she has joked with a couple of other six year players about playing for a decade. Saskatoon’s other six-year players include Beth Thomson, Marci Kiselyk, Jaime Lammerding, Julie David and Lori Smith.
    Giles admitted that decision goes on a year-by-year basis.
    “It is kind of whatever life hands you,” said Giles. “I will play for as long as I can.”

Watch for Reynoldson to shine as U of R’s athletics boss

    The University of Regina athletics program might have found a long-term leader in Tanya (Hutcheon) Reynoldson, who is an alumna of the Cougars women’s hockey program.
    On Wednesday, it was announced that Reynoldson would become the new interim director of athletics for the U of R effective July 1. She takes over from Curtis Atkinson, whose family is moving to Kamloops, B.C., at the end of June. Atkinson became the U of R’s interim director of athletics in January of 2015 after Dick White retired after a very long run as director of athletics.
    Reynoldson has been the U of R’s athletic coordinator for over the past 10 years, where the 36-year-old oversaw sponsorship, marketing and event management operations. The news of her new role has been warmly received by the alumnus and the alumnae of the U of R’s athletic teams, especially from those that were athletes during Reynoldson’s playing years from 1998 to 2003.
    The Regina product is an original member of the Cougars women’s hockey team joining the squad for its first season in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks in the 1998-99 campaign. She piled up 19 goals and 34 assists playing right wing in 60 regular season games over five seasons.
    Reynoldson had a couple of memorable moments helping the Cougars sweep the best-of-three Canada West championship series in 2001 against the University of Alberta Pandas, who were the defending CIS champions at the time. The series sweep at the ancient Exhibition Stadium in Regina is still the Cougars only Canada West title victory.
    In Game 1, Reynoldson set up linemate Erin Balfour’s overtime winner with a beautiful centring pass in a 2-1 decision. In Game 2, Reynoldson potted the Cougars first tally in a three-goal surge that produced a 3-0 lead and eventually a 3-1 win.
    The Cougars would reach the CIS championship game riding a 15-game winning streak before falling 4-3 to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The Blues took a 3-0 lead in that contest before the Cougars rallied to force a 3-3 tie.
    After the Blues went ahead 4-3, Reynoldson had a chance to make a play offensively to force a tie score, but was denied when a Blues player held her stick.
    Known for her playmaking abilities on the ice, Reynoldson, who was an academic all-Canadian in her final season, was a natural leader off the ice and was one of the most popular persons among all U of R athletes. She had an uplifting and positive spirit that drew others to her.
    As soon as she stepped into a room flashing her bright smile, the atmosphere immediately became better. When you were around Reynoldson, it seemed impossible to feel negative about anything.
    She married her long-time boyfriend from the Cougars men’s hockey team in J.P., and they have two young and adorable children in Kennedy and Royce.
    As the U of R’s interim director of athletics, Reynoldson will experience a learning curve, but she will likely get used to her new role fast. She always succeeded at everything she has done with flying colours, and one has to believe this will be no different.
    In the past, U of R had a history of success in hiring young coaches to guide their athletic teams with the hopes of having a long term bench boss. It would be cool to see that formula work in Reynoldson’s case.
    Reynoldson will undoubtedly make the commitment to become the U of R’s permanent director of athletics. During her journey with her new role, she will have a lot of people rallying around her to support her.

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Sunday, 5 June 2016

NLL champion Rush better than advertised

Champion’s Cup winner delivers thrills to Saskatchewan

Rush captain Chris Corbeil raises the Champion's Cup.
    It seems unthinkable to say a championship contending team exceeds expectations when it wins, but that is exactly what the Saskatchewan Rush have done.
    The Rush capped their first season in Saskatchewan on Saturday by sweeping the best-of-three National Lacrosse League championship series 2-0 with an 11-10 victory at the SaskTel Centre over the Buffalo Bandits. Locked in a 10-10 draw in Game 2 with 12 seconds to play, Rush defenceman Jeff Cornwall found himself on a breakaway and tucked home the championship winning goal to send a sellout crowd of 15,182 into delirium.
    The noise and sheer excitement from the crowd might have hit the highest high that has ever been seen for a sporting event held at the SaskTel Centre. The exciting finish was fitting way to cap a special season.
    The Rush followed and unprecedented path since winning their first NLL championship in June of last year while the franchise was based in Edmonton.
    Unable to secure a long-term lease in the Alberta capital, owner Bruce Urban moved the team to Saskatoon in July of last year to end a decade long run in that centre.
The Rush celebrate an NLL finals winning goal from Jeff Cornwall, centre.
    The NLL is an established professional league dating back to 1987. In a circuit like the NLL, it was almost unthinkable to see a club leave a city after winning a league title. To go on and repeat as a league champion in a new home city isn’t something that would be conceivable.
    When the Rush set up shop in Saskatoon, an obvious curiosity factor existed. Saskatoon had seen its share of professional teams come and go, but the Rush were the first team to arrive from an established circuit, and they had the Champion’s Cup in tow.
    The club took on the provincial moniker calling itself the Saskatchewan Rush in order to brand itself as the province’s team like the CFL’s Roughriders, who are based out of Regina.
    The strategy appears to have worked. If you wandered thought the tailgate parties that happened in the SaskTel Centre parking lots pre-game, you would have found a group of supporters from Prince Albert who arrived at 3 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start.
    While the biggest contingent of supporters comes from Saskatoon, you would have found supporters from all sorts of locations in Saskatchewan. You would have also encountered some diehard fans from Edmonton, who traveled in to see their former team play.
The Rush fans are ready to party at the SaskTel Centre.
    In the six months leading up to the season, the Rush really had to hustle to sell the sport of lacrosse and be in a position to deliver a great game day experience for the fans. On Jan. 15 of this year, the Rush played their first home game before 9,147 spectators falling 13-11 to the Vancouver Stealth. While the Rush lost, the fans were hooked, and they returned.
    The Rush hosted 11 home games between the regular season and playoffs, and attendance did not dip below 10,000 for the last eight of those contests. Over 15,000 people attended each of the last three home dates. That included a SaskTel Centre record for a sporting event of 15,192 spectators for a May 21st home game that saw the Rush win the West Division final series against the Calgary Roughnecks.
    On the court, the Rush were expected to content for another championship. The club proceeded to top the West Division with a 13-5 record as the players quickly became comfortable playing in front of raucous home crowds.
Rush forward Robert Church drives to the net for a scoring chance.
    The fans loved the game presentation from watching the performances of the Crush dance team, getting pumped up by the music that blared continuously during play and doing the chest beat celebration every time the Rush scored a goal.
    To top things off, games were exciting, and the Rush were a fun team to watch. Goalie “Stone Cold” Aaron Bold and gritty transition player Jeremy Thompson became fan favourites as well as likeable team scoring leader Mark Matthews, who piled up 40 goals and 69 assists during the regular season.
    Matthews got the party rolling Saturday with an amazing diving goal that saw him get shoved into the Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo just 74 seconds into the contest. It took a video review to allow the goal to count, but when it went up on the scoreboard, the crowd went into a frenzy.
    The Bandits were game too, and both teams went back-and-fourth on the scoreboard. The visitors led 9-7 going into the fourth quarter, but the Rush prevailed on one of their classic final frame outbursts.
The Rush celebrate winning their second straight NLL championship.
    It seemed fitting for Cornwall to get the series winner as a reward for playing an unselfish and sound defensive game, which included a big shot block on Bandits phenom Dhane Smith.
    Scoring the series winner with 12 seconds to play, Cornwall showed he had hands of gold around the net. After the final buzzer sounded, a large number of fans stuck around for about an hour soaking in the post-game celebrations. The championship party would go long into the Saskatoon night.
    Forget being as good as advertised, the Rush were even better than advertised. Time will tell how long the feel-good honeymoon will last.
    Saskatoon sports fans have a reputation for being fickle. One wonders if they will disappear the first time the Rush have a losing season.
    With that said, the Rush appear to have the potential to be a winner for the foreseeable future. More good times appear to be in store in the coming years.

Nogier’s NHL signing an uplifting story

Nelson Nogier springs into action for the Rebels.
    The Saskatoon hockey community and the city of Red Deer received a feel good story on Wednesday when Nelson Nogier signed a three-year entry-level NHL contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
    The Jets selected the Saskatoon product in the fourth round and 101st overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Nogier, who turned 20 in late May, played last season with the Red Deer Rebels posting four goals, 17 assists and a plus-27 rating in the plus-minus department in 69 games.
    He helped the Rebels advance to the Eastern Conference Championship series of the WHL playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Rebels hosted the Memorial Cup and Nogier helped them make the tournament’s semifinal game.
    Nogier started his WHL career playing two-and-a-half seasons for his hometown Saskatoon Blades and was dealt to the Rebels in a trade in December of 2014.
    When Nogier signed with the Jets, tributes poured in from social media from the hockey communities in Saskatoon and Red Deer. The big overall message was that everyone was happy for Nogier, because he is an outstanding individual.
    Of course, Nogier is my young cousin, and my family is really proud of him. I was always big time impressed he won the league award as the WHL’s scholastic player of the year while with the Blades during the 2013-14 season. To do so well in school while playing elite level hockey is impressive.
Nelson  Nogier protects the point for the Rebels.
    With that said, it will still heartwarming to see the tributes from everyone else.
Blades play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk said a lot of really glowing words over the radio waves which were repeated on his blog. Kind words also came from social media posts from Blades president Steve Hogle and Blades managing partner Colin Priestner.
    I recently visited with Blades and University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team alumnus Derek Hulak, who plays for the AHL’s Texas Stars, and he was happy to hear my cousin signed with the Jets. That was extremely cool to hear as Hulak is held in very high regard in Saskatoon’s hockey community.
    It was also so enjoyable to travel to Red Deer and see how much the Rebels fans really took Nogier in as one of their own.
    Nogier has always been the perfect gentleman even when he was a young boy. As he grew up, it always amazed me how well-mannered he was.
Nelson Nogier brings the puck up ice for the Rebels.
    It is also sweet to see how close he is to his younger sister Danielle, who just graduated as the captain of the two-time defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champion Saskatoon Stars. Danielle was the scholastic player of the year for the SFMAAAHL this past season and will join the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the fall.
    Nelson and Danielle love sharing stories about their hockey adventures with each other and are always in constant contact. They really enjoy spending time doing things together.
    Both are outstanding persons, and I am confident they will do well in the next chapters of their hockey lives.

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Saturday, 4 June 2016

Where are they now NHL style

    They may no longer play NHL hockey, but former players seem to try and find a way to stay with the game when they hang up the skates.
    I caught up with six former NHL players during this past hockey season, and all but one still had a life that involved the NHL.

Kelly Buchberger

(Right-winger for Edmonton Oilers, Atlanta Thrashers, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins from 1987 to 2004)

    “Once an Oiler, always an Oiler” definitely describes the Langenburg product.
    Buchberger spent the majority of his NHL career in Edmonton earning two Stanley Cup rings. These days, the graduate of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors is the manager of player personnel with the Oilers.
    He worked closely with Scott Howson, who is Oilers senior vice-president of player personnel, and the two will spend a large chunk of time evaluating the college ranks in the United States.
    Buchberger is upbeat about what lies ahead in the future for the Edmonton franchise.
    “It has been a huge change here this year,” said Buchberger. “There are a lot of different people coming in and out. We have good days coming in Edmonton.”
    Buchberger appeared in 795 regular season games as a member of the Oilers and became the club’s career leader in penalty minutes with 1,747. He also potted 82 career goals and 158 career assists with the Oilers.

Guy Carbonneau

(Centre for Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars from 1980 to 2000)
    Carbonneau was one of the most popular players in Montreal, when he played for the Canadiens, so it is only fitting he settled back into the largest city in “La Belle Province.”
    “I am back living in Montreal, and I work on TV with RDS, which is like the French version of TSN,” said Carbonneau. “I do some of the games for the Montreal Canadiens, and I do a sports talk show a couple of times a week.”
    During his career, Carbonneau won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward three times. In February of 2011, he became the head coach of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but resigned that position in July of 2011.
    Carbonneau is happy to be back in broadcasting, which was a field he worked in before becoming Chicoutimi’s coach.
    “It is a lot of fun,” said Carbonneau, who was the Canadiens head coach from 2006 to 2009. “It keeps me involved in hockey. It keeps me interested in watching the game.
    “As a hockey player, I think we’ve always been passionate about the game. I enjoy watching it. I enjoy going to the game. It just keeps me close.” 

Kelly Chase

(Right-winger who played for the St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers, and Toronto Maple Leafs from 1989 to 2000)

    Chase started his NHL career with the Blues, spent the majority of his time in “The Show” with the Blues and is still hooked in with the franchise in his post-playing days.
    The graduate of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades was known as an enforcer piling up 2,017 career penalty minutes in 458 NHL regular season games. In the WHL, he had 800 penalty minutes in 195 regular season games with the Blades.
    The Porcupine Plain product found a home behind a microphone after he finished playing.
    “I left the game, and I got into broadcasting,” said Chase. “I work for ESPN and NHL Network now as well as working for the St. Louis Blues doing radio and TV.
    “If you can stay in game and still be fortunate enough to enjoy the successes of the others because you appreciate it and it is part of our culture, than you have been pretty fortunate. I feel really lucky that I have been able to do that.”

Bernie Federko

(Centre with St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings 1976 to 1990)

    Federko became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame playing 1,000 career regular season games in the NHL piling up 369 goals and 761 assists.
    He played all but his final NHL season with the Blues, and he is still connected with the club that retired his #24.
    “I actually still work for the St. Louis Blues in Fox Sports Midwest,” said Federko. “I am one of the TV analysts on the Blues hockey games, and I do some promotional work for the Blues as well.”
    Federko said he had been doing television work for over 20 years.
    “It is a way to stay in the game and be involved with the game,” said Federko. “I get to travel with the team and do all kinds of stuff. I don’t think there is anything anymore fun.
    “I played the game for a living for all those years. I played junior, and all of a sudden, I can continue to be a part of it and to do the analysis on TV is really a lot of fun.”
    Way back in the 1975-76 campaign, Federko set the Saskatoon Blades’ club record for points in a season at 187 coming off 72 goals and 115 assists in 72 games. That record still stands to this day.

Shane Hnidy

(Defenceman who played for Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild from 2000 to 2011)

    The Neepawa, Man., product finally got his hands on a Stanley Cup ring closing his career during a second stint with the Boston Bruins in the 2010-11 campaign.
    These days Hnidy can often be found in the broadcast booth in the capital city of his home province.
    “I retired with Boston, when we won the (Stanley) Cup in 2011,” said Hnidy, who played in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos and Prince Albert Raiders. “Since then, I’ve got on with the broadcasting crew covering the Winnipeg Jets.
    “I do television there with former assistant GM here with the Blades way back Dennis Beyak. He is my play-by-play man, and I do colour on TV. We cover the Jets all year long.”
    Hnidy felt lucky to have been in the right place in his life at the right time.
    “To me, it is the second best job you can have,” said Hnidy. “First is playing, and second is staying in the game in whatever capacity.
    “This is something that just came about. It worked out. I am a Manitoba kid. Jets came back right at the same time, and it kind of all worked together.”

Clarke Wilm

(Centre for Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs from 1998 to 2006)

    The Central Butte product played five seasons of professional hockey in Europe after leaving the NHL.
    A graduate of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, Wilm settled down in “The Bridge City” after hanging up his skates.
    “I started an eavestroughing, exterior company,” said Wilm. “I have been doing that here working in the housing market, and it has been good.”
    Wilm admitted life in his post-hockey profession is a lot different from life during his playing days.
    “It is night and day,” said Wilm. “Hockey is an amazing lifestyle, and I had a great time playing hockey.
    “Now it is time for phase two in life in the real working world, but it is fun. I get to be around the kids all the time and be a part of their hockey, so it has been a good transition.”
    In his final season with the Blades in the 1995-96 campaign, Wilm collected 49 goals and 61 assists in 72 games.

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