Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Expect Blades to hit homer with Howe day

The Gordie Howe statue in front of the SaskTel Centre.
    The Saskatoon Blades have mastered the art of the emotional tribute since coming under the ownership of Mike Priestner, and their upcoming regular season home opener might provide the biggest challenge to date in this department.
    The brain trust of the local WHL franchise is planning a “Thank You, Mr. Hockey” day, when the Blades open their home regular season schedule against the Swift Current Broncos on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. Of course, the Blades will be honouring one of the greatest hockey players of all time in the late Gordie Howe. Howe, who was born in a farmhouse in Floral, Sask., and moved to Saskatoon at age 9, passed away earlier this year on June 10 at age 88.
    It is expected that cremated remains of Gordie and his wife, Colleen, will be interred in front of the SaskTel Centre by the Gordie Howe statue. This will occur if the Government of Saskatchewan approves designating the Gordie Howe statue and a small piece of land around it a cemetery. Colleen Howe passed away on March 6, 2009.
    Saskatoon city council has begun the process of applying to the province regarding the special designation for the Gordie Howe statue.
    Currently, the plan for the festivities on Sept. 25 will see the cremated remains of both Gordie and Colleen be interred during a private ceremony at the statue. From there, the Howe family will make their way to the newly built Circle Drive South Bridge, which is being renamed the Gordie Howe Bridge.
    The day’s events will then shift back to the SaskTel Centre for a special pre-game ceremony. All four of Gordie and Colleen’s children will be in the city for all the day’s activities.
    At the moment, the pre-game ceremony is slated to be 25 minutes in length. The Blades will also unveil other special initiatives closer to Sept. 25, and some will be kept a surprise until game day.
    This will be a must attend Blades game. Anytime they have hosted a special pre-game ceremony with an emotional component it has been a hit.
    Some of the more notable ones include honouring former team member Nelson Nogier when he played is first game back in Saskatoon as a member of the Red Deer Rebels, rallying for La Loche this past January after a shooting occurred in that community and supporting Grade 2 student Naomi Lendvay, who is fighting stage four pediatric cancer.
    If you have seen the Blades host other pre-game ceremonies in the past, you can expect the one they hold to honour Gordie Howe will be pretty cool and emotional in a good way.
    The Blades have hinted a couple of former rivals and other special guests will be in attendance. For citizens in Saskatoon and area, this provides a chance to recognize a Canadian icon who really put the city on the map. When you bring up Gordie Howe’s name, there is no shortage of great stories and the ones that have already been told never lose their lustre when they are told again.

Hilltops get past first bump, face big challenge in Colts

RB Logan Fischer zips upfield for the Hilltops.
    The venerable Saskatoon Hilltops showed a bit of a hiccup regarding the after effects of losing 16 players to graduation after last season.
    On Sunday, the Hilltops traveled to Edmonton to face the Huskies jumping out to a 22-0 lead after the first quarter before the offence dried up for a bit. The defending Canadian Junior Football League champions held a commanding 22-3 at halftime, before the Huskies closed to within 22-20 early in the fourth quarter.
    Just when things looked in doubt, a couple of steady veterans came through. With 9:59 to play in the fourth quarter, fourth year running back Logan Fischer ran in his third touchdown of the day to put the Hilltops up 29-20. Fifth-year quarterback Jared Andreychuk added a rushing major of his own with under 30 seconds to play in the contest to give the Hilltops a 35-20 victory.
    Andreychuk completed 20 of 28 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown coming on a trick play throw to defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler. Defensive lineman Blake Hermann had a huge game with six tackles and three sacks in being named the defensive player of the week for the Prairie Football Conference.
    Normally, the Hilltops usually romp over the Huskies, but an improved Edmonton side was ready for a battle. When the dust settled, Saskatoon found a way to improve to 2-0, while the Huskies fell to 0-2.
    Now the Hilltops head into a showdown for first place in the PFC with the Calgary Colts (2-0) this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. This coming weekend will be a big one for the Hilltops as they celebrate their 70th anniversary.
    The Toppers will be hold special functions in the days leading up to the game with the Colts, where all the Hilltops alumni in attendance will be introduced at halftime.
    When the Hilltops hit a rough stretch, you have to love how Tom Sargeant says first the coaching staff, including himself, have to find ways to be better in order to help their players be better. You can bet the Toppers intensity will be up at practice to ensure the team adds a capper to what will be a memorable weekend.

Huskies QB of the future looks good

QB Mason Nyhus slings a pass for the Huskies.
    While all eyes are focused on who the University of Saskatchewan Huskies will start at quarterback in the present, their likely signal caller of the future showed the team doesn’t have to worry about depth at that position.
    On Saturday at Griffiths Stadium, rookie Mason Nyhus, who just graduated from Regina’s Riffel High School, was firing lasers all over the field, when his turn came up to take snaps under centre for the Huskies in a controlled scrimmage against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The youngster looked fairly composed and showed off some good chemistry with fellow rookie receiver in Ben Getzlaf, who just graduated from Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School.
    Nyhus comes to the Huskies as a highly touted prospect. He quarterbacked Saskatchewan’s provincial team to a bronze medal win at the 2015 Football Canada Cup in Saint Jean, Que.
    At the International Bowl series that ran Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 in Arlington, Texas, Nyhus was calling signals for Canada’s under-18 team. In July, Nyhus was a member of Canada’s Junior National Team that won the International Federation of American Football under-19 World Championship in Harbin, China.
    With the Huskies, Nyhus won’t be thrown to the fire right away. The training camp battle for the starting quarterback spot is between Drew Burko, who is in his fifth year, and Kyle Siemens, who is in his third year.
    A year ago, Burko was the incumbent starter for the Huskies, but he lost job as the team struggled. Burko threw nine interceptions in six starts.
    Siemens finished the year starting the Huskies final two regular season games and their Canada West Conference semifinal playoff loss to the University of Calgary Dinos. The Huskies were 3-5 in regular season play in 2015 after going 6-2 in 2014.
    The Huskies open the 2016 regular season against the University of Regina Rams on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.
    Nyhus will be able to learn the ropes at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level playing behind Burko and Siemens, which will include learning how to balance school work with athletes. The first day of classes is usually a shocker for first-year students. Under a different set of circumstances, Nyhus might even be able to start as a rookie.
    With that said, rookie starting quarterbacks usually get beat up at the CIS level. During Saturday’s controlled scrimmage, Nyhus wasn’t going to see all the different looks the Golden Bears defence has or face all of U of A’s starters at once.
    Nyhus will have the benefit of being able to become a successor in two to three years. If the business major puts in his work getting physically stronger, becoming a student of the game and tackling his studies in the classroom, he will shine one day.
    If the unthinkable happens that both Burko and Siemens are lost to injury at the same time, Nyhus will likely be a capable fill in.

Hockey Huskies load up on WHL grads

    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey is loading with some major WHL talent as they attempt to defend their Canada West title.
    On Wednesday, the Huskies announced they have added 10 former WHL veterans to their roster. The additions include forwards Alex Forsberg, Connor Gay, Wyatt Johnson, Elliott Peterson, Carson Stadnyk, Colton Stephenson and Jordan Tkatch. On defence, the Huskies added Colby Harmsworth and Tanner Lishchynsky, while goaltender Daniel Wapple rounds out the recruiting class.
    Before Wednesday’s announcement, a prominent alumnus of the Huskies men’s hockey team told me this class was going to be really good, and he wasn’t kidding. At forward, the Huskies could easily create a new first line from their first-year players.
    Forsberg’s addition will likely turn out to be a huge one. The brother of Huskies defenceman Jesse Forsberg, Alex’s major junior career started out on a slow pace being shouldered with prodigy status as the first overall selection in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince George Cougars.
    He was eventually picked up by the Saskatoon Blades for the start of the 2014-15 campaign and regained his confidence recording 13 goals and 20 assists with “the Bridge City Bunch” in 36 games before being dealt to the Victoria Royals.
    Last season with the Royals, Forsberg finished ninth in league scoring collecting 31 goals, 60 assists and a plus-22 rating in the plus-minus department in 71 regular season games. The Waldheim, Sask., product’s best hockey is likely still ahead of him and not behind him.
    Gay finished up his WHL career last season leading his hometown Blades in scoring with 25 goals and 47 assists in 70 regular season games. That marked the second straight season he has 20 or more goals in a WHL campaign.
    Stadnyk will join the Huskies after participating in Edmonton Oilers rookie camp. Last season, Stadnyk, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 185 pounds, had 21 goals, 28 assists and a plus-13 rating in 71 regular season games with the Everett Silvertips.
    Harmsworth was the Hitmen’s overage captain last season, when he collected two goals, 11 assists and a plus-three rating in 67 regular season games. During his four seasons with the Hitmen, the Saskatoon product, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 193 pounds, was a steady defensive defenceman.
    Wapple, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 174 pounds, played for both the Regina Pats and Vancouver Giants last season as an overager before finishing up the 2015-16 campaign in junior A with the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. The Saskatoon product’s most memorable WHL season came in 2014-15 when he posted a 29-15-10 record, a 3.03 goals against average and a .906 save percentage in 56 appearances with the Pats.
    He will provide a solid goaltending partner with starting netminder Jordon Cooke. If Cooke ends up being lost due to injury for a lengthy stretch, Wapple provides a strong insurance policy.
    With these additions, the ancient Rutherford Rink will likely be rocking, when the Huskies open their regular season against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m.

Slobodzian commits to UND

Willow Slobodzian has committed to the Fighting Hawks.
    Saskatoon Stars gifted offensive defender Willow Slobodzian has already found a home for her university career.
    On Sunday via Twitter, the 16-year-old announced her commitment to join the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s team. The Clavet, Sask., product still isn’t eligible to play at the university level for another two years.
    Last season, Slobodzian won the Colleen Sostorics award as the top defender in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League recording six goals and 13 assists in 28 regular season games.     Slobodzian was a key part in helping the Stars win back-to-back league titles in 2015 and 2016, which included advancing to the Esso Cup national championship tournament in both years. The Stars captured a bronze medal in 2015 and finished fourth in 2016.
    Slobodzian attended the selection camp for Canada’s under-18 women’s team early this month, and she suited up for Canada in a three game series against the United States picking up one assist.
    The Fighting Hawks definitely landed a gem with Slobodzian’s commitment. Very few players even in the university ranks can equal her smooth skating stride, her accurate blast from the point, her uncanny playmaking ability and her sound play in the defensive zone.
    If she keeps improving, she definitely has the potential to play at the highest level one day on the international stage.

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