Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Blades knock off hot Warriors

Winning streak ends at six for short-handed Moose Jaw side

Evan Fiala (#47) celebrates his winning goal with his Blades teammates.
    Evan Fiala’s off-speed knuckleball shot sent the red hot Moose Jaw Warriors for a loop.
    On Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre, the Saskatoon Blades captain directed an odd-ball shot that found its way past Warriors netminder Brody Willms with 72 seconds to play in the third period. Fiala’s goal, which was his first of the season, broke a 4-4 tie and delivered the Blades to a 5-4 victory.
    Saskatoon’s victory ended a six-game winning streak for the Warriors, who fell to 16-5 but still lead the WHL’s overall standings. Earlier in the day, the Warriors were rated second in the newly released CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Fiala already expects the Warriors to be looking forward to getting some payback on Saturday when the two clubs meet in Moose Jaw, but the overage defenceman was pleased with Wednesday’s outcome.
Evan Fiala’s goal helped the Blades earn their third home win this season.
    “It feels really good,” said Fiala, whose Blades improved to 8-10-1. “We know that they are missing some guys and Saturday is not going to be easy.
    “It definitely puts a feather in our cap.”
    The Warriors entered Wednesday’s clash with a lengthy injury list. Moose Jaw was without defencemen Josh Brook, Jett Woo, Dmitri Zaitsev and Matthew Benson due to upper body injuries. Brook and Woo are listed as out week-to-week, Zaitsev is day-to-day and Benson’s timetable to return is still to be determined.
    For the fourth straight game, the Warriors were without captain Brett Howden with an undisclosed injury. Howden was injured playing for the WHL team that took part in Game 1 of the CIBC Canada-Russia Series on Nov. 6 in Moose Jaw and came away with a 7-0 win.
Warriors goalie Brody Willms was unable to prevent this Blades goal.
    The Warriors also scratched associate player in defenceman Drae Gardiner, who was called up from the Calgary Buffaloes midget AAA program, and left-wingers Tyler Smithies and Brecon Wood.
    Besides the injuries, Moose Jaw entered Wednesday’s game having played the previous night in Swift Current and downing the host Broncos 7-4.
    Centre Logan Christensen was the Blades only scratch due to injury, and he is still expected to be out for about two-to-four weeks. Defenceman Seth Bafaro sat out the second game of a four-game league imposed suspension for taking a checking from behind major penalty and a game misconduct in a 6-4 home loss last Friday against the Swift Current Broncos.
Winger Caleb Fantillo celebrates his first period goal for the Blades.
    Forwards Tyler Lees and Dryden Michaud were Saskatoon’s other two scratches.
    Despite missing a number of key players, the Warriors held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period before Blades right-winger Caleb Fantillo deflected home a shot from linemate Cameron Hebig with 2:07 to play in the opening frame to force a 2-2 tie.
    The Blades jumped ahead 4-2 in the second, but the Warriors cut the gap to 4-3 heading into the second intermission.
    At the 8:39 mark of the third, Warriors 15-year-old defenceman Daemon Hunt converted a passing play from star forwards Noah Gregor and Jayden Halbgewachs to pot his first career WHL goal to force a 4-4 tie.
Justin Almeida (#8) breaks into the offensive zone for the Warriors.
    The Warriors selected Hunt in the first round and 15th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft held last May and called him up from the Brandon Wheat Kings midget AAA team.
Hunt’s goal set the stage for Fiala’s dramatic winner late in the third.
    “I think we were a little fortunate that they played last night and looked a little sluggish,” said Blades head coach Dean Brockman. “We’ll definitely take the two points and run with it.
    “I think we took far too many chances still in the third. When you are doing that, you are playing with fire, especially with the guys they have up front.”
Alec Zawatsky scored his first WHL goal on Wednesday.
    Brockman was thankful Fiala scoring the winning goal for the hosts after Moose Jaw erased Saskatoon’s 4-2 edge.
    “It was a bit of a relief,” said Brockman. “The two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey.
    “When you give that up, most of the time you lose those games. We found a way to get it done.”
    Alec Zawatsky, Braylon Shmyr and Gage Ramsay all had singles for Saskatoon. Zawatsky’s tally was his first career WHL goal. He had been with the Notre Dame Hounds in the junior A ranks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League earlier this season before joining the Blades.
    Gregor, Justin Almeida and Tanner Jeannot all had singles for the Warriors.
    Ryan Kubic turned away 34 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Willms stopped 46 shots to take the setback in net for the Warriors.
    Seconds after Fiala scored, the Warriors thought they scored the equalizer, when a scrum of players bumped into Kubic and the puck did go into the Saskatoon net. The goal was disallowed as the officials had blown the play dead after losing sight of the puck.
The Blades begin celebrating their win over the Warriors.
    Wednesday’s game marked only the third time the Blades have won at home this season in nine tries. While the crowd was sparse at 2,745, Fiala was happy his side could deliver a victory for the team’s supporters.
    “It is huge, and it is not only for us,” said Fiala. “It is for our fans too that come out every night.
    “We really want to give them a good game.”
    The Blades return to action on Friday, when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings (12-6-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. The Warriors return to Moose Jaw to host the Calgary Hitmen (6-12-3) on Friday.

Hilltops in the house with Canadian Bowl

The Hilltops are honoured before Wednesday’s Blades game.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops were on hand at the SaskTel Centre on Wednesday night, and they brought the Canadian Bowl with them.
    The Hilltops were honoured for winning their fourth straight Canadian Junior Football League championship on Saturday in Windsor, Ont., when they bombed the host AKO Fratmen 56-11. Captains Jack Sloboda, James Vause, Tom Schnitzler, Cameron Schnitzler and quarterback Jordan Walls marched to centre ice to show off the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops, who finished the 2017 campaign with an 11-1 overall, arrived on an invite from the Blades. A large contingent from the team watched Wednesday game in the section of seats behind the net of the west side of the SaskTel Centre.
    The victory over the AKO Fratmen marked the 20th time the Hilltops have won the CJFL title.

Vetter receives WHL Milestone Award

Referee Reagan Vetter was give the WHL Milestone Award.
    Saskatoon product and veteran WHL official Reagan Vetter was honoured during a pre-game ceremony before Wednesday’s game for his years of service to the league.
    The 40-year-old, who has been a school teacher for the last 11 years, was presented with the WHL Milestone Award by Kevin Muench, who is the WHL’s senior director of officiating.
    The WHL Milestone Award is given to WHL players, coaches, trainers, officials and WHL championship teams for their outstanding achievements.
    Vetter has worked 20 seasons in the WHL, which includes six campaigns as a linesman and 14 as a referee.
    He has skated in over 650 regular season games, 11 WHL conference championships and seven WHL Championship series. Vetter was part of the officiating crew that worked the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament that was held in Saskatoon.
    Vetter makes his home in Saskatoon with his wife, Kristine, and their daughters, Neven and Quinn.

Former Tigers captain Valk makes NHL debut

Curtis Valk in action for the Tigers in the 2013-14 season.
    Curtis Valk found his way to “the Show.”
    On Tuesday, the 24-year-old former captain of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers made his NHL regular season debut with the Florida Panthers. He saw three minutes and 25 seconds of ice time as the host Panthers downed the Dallas Stars 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout before 10,928 spectators at the BB&T Centre in Sunrise, Florida.
    The skilled centre played in 270 career regular season games for the Tigers from 2009 to 2014 piling up 125 goals and 130 assists. The Medicine Hat product picked up another 22 goals and 19 assists in 49 career WHL playoff games.
    All through his hockey career, Valk heard naysayers comment that he was too small to play hockey at an elite level and eventually make it to the NHL. He stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 170 pounds and has proved the naysayers wrong.
    After graduating from the Tigers, Valk played his first three professional hockey seasons in the farm system of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. He signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Panthers before the start of this season.
    Before skating in his NHL debut, Valk appeared in 16 regular season games with the Springfield Thunderbirds, who are the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate club. He collected six goals and nine assists in those 16 games with the Thunderbirds.

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Cooke wins 50th with Huskies

Kendall McFaull, left, gives congrats to Jordon Cooke on his 50th win.
    Jordon Cooke further cemented his status as one of the best goalies to ever play for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team with a unique accomplishment.
    On Saturday at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Cooke made 26 saves as his Huskies, who are rated fourth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, downed the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 5-2. With that effort, Cooke became the third goalie in the history of the Huskies men’s hockey team to win 50 career regular season games.
    The other two netminders who have pulled off that feat are Ryan Holfeld, who won 53 games playing for the Huskies from 2010 to 2015, and Jeff Harvey, who picked up 60 wins playing for the Huskies from 2005 to 2010.
    During his career with the Huskies, Cooke has been phenomenal. Currently during regular season play with the team, the Leduc, Alta., product has posted a 50-19-2 record, a 2.38 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and eight shutouts.
    The 24-year-old has been the U Sports goalie of the year and a U Sports first team all-Canadian in each of the past two seasons.
Jordon Cooke makes a glove stop for the Huskies.
    He was instrumental in helping the Huskies win the Canada West title in the 2015-16 campaign and make an appearance in the U Sports championship game – the University Cup – last season.
    Cooke was a prized recruit for the Huskies back at the start of the 2014-15 season have been named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the year back in the 2013-14 campaign while with the Kelowna Rockets.
    Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 185 pounds, Cooke was passed over in the NHL Entry Draft as those clubs are hooked on finding netminders who stand at least 6-foot-2.
    With that said, Cooke can flat out stop the puck making key bailout saves, and he should be in the professional ranks. Numerous pears that he played with and against in major junior and the university ranks believe Cooke should be playing in the professionally now.
    What can’t be denied is Cooke has made his mark with the Huskies. He is arguably the most recognizable player on an extremely talented Huskies men’s team.
    He is the type of player you want representing your team out in the community. Cooke is well-mannered, personable and approachable, and he has a pretty slick sense of humour too, which makes him a beauty.
    Cooke has held his own in the classroom too. Before the start of the season, he was named one of many recipients of the Huskie Athletics All-Academic Second Team award for having an average of at least 74.5 per cent on a minimum coarse load of 24 credit units last season.
Jordon Cooke, left, and Levi Cable chat during a stoppage in play.
    For players coming out of major junior hockey, they always face initial anxiety about the classroom work, when they join a university squad. A lot of times, those players will have been out of school for two or three years. Academic achievements are gratifying for those players.
    While Cooke had a solid night on Saturday, Michael Sofillas scored twice for the Huskies, while Kohl Bauml, Parker Thomas and Logan McVeigh all had singles helping the Huskies improve to 8-1-1.
    Manraj Hayer and Tyler Sandhu replied with singles for UBC. Saskatoon product Rylan Toth turned away 36-of-40 shots taking the setback in goal for the Thunderbirds (5-4-1).
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday when they host their forever rivals the U of Alberta Golden Bears (10-0) at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Vance still in prime form after layoff

Jessica Vance in her last game with the Bears on March 25, 2015.
    Jessica Vance showed a layoff of about two and a half years didn’t diminish any of her skills when it comes to play goal.
    On Saturday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver, B.C., Vance made her second consecutive start for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team. She made 17 stops to back the Huskies to a 2-1 victory over the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
    One night earlier, Vance made 33 saves to pick up a 2-0 shutout victory for the Huskies against the Thunderbirds in her U Sports regular season debut. UBC had been ranked first in the U Sports Top 10 rankings heading into the weekend.
    Before stepping in goal for the Huskies on the weekend, Vance’s last competitive hockey start came way back on March 25, 2015 for the Prince Albert Northern Bears in Game 3 of that year’s Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League championship series. She made 20 saves in that game, but the Bears fell to the host Saskatoon Stars 2-0 at the Agriplace Arena and were swept out of that series 3-0.
    Playing for the Bears from 2010 to 2015, Vance became one of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League’s all-time greatest goalies posting a 48-36 record, a 2.27 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and 16 shutouts in 91 career regular season games. Her 48 wins, 16 shutouts and 91 games played are all SFMAAAHL career regular season records.
    After exhausting her midget AAA eligibility, Vance committed to play for the U of Manitoba Bisons women’s hockey team, but she was forced to sit out the 2015-16 campaign as a medical redshirt after suffering a major leg injury playing competitive softball in the summer of 2015.
    Vance dressed for one game as a backup goalie very early last season for the Bisons before electing to play closer to home. Due to dressing for that one game, she wasn’t eligible to play for the Huskies until Nov. 1 of this year.
Kayla Kirwan scored her first U Sports goal on Sunday.
    Against the Thunderbirds, Vance didn’t show any rust. The 20-year-old played up to her star reputation from the past stopping 50-of-51 shots over two games against a powerhouse Thunderbirds side.
    With those two wins, the Huskies improved to 7-2-1 to sit first in the Canada West Conference by a single point over the Bisons (7-3).
    U of S built that record playing three goalies who have all delivered strong performances in Vance, Jasey Book and Chloe Marshall. Huskies head coach Steve Kook has a good problem of having to make a tough decision of who starts, who dresses and who sits among the trio on any given night.
    In Saturday’s win, Emily Upgang had a goal and an assist for the Huskies, and the assist came from helping set up defender Kayla Kirwan’s first career U Sports regular season goal.
    Hannah Clayton-Carroll had the lone reply for UBC. Amelia Boughn made 26 saves to take the loss in goal for the Thunderbirds, who fell to 6-4.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Edmonton to take on the defending U Sports champion U of Alberta Pandas (6-2-2).

Thompson stones Blades

Jake Kustra scored for the Blades on Saturday.
    The Saskatoon Blades couldn’t overcome a hot goaltender against the Wheat Kings in Brandon on Saturday night.
    Overager Logan Thompson made 36 saves to allow the Wheat Kings to slip past the Blades 3-1 before 4,804 spectators at Westman Place.
    The two teams played through a scoreless opening frame. Baron Thompson scored the only goal of the second period to give the Wheat Kings a 1-0 lead.
    At the 13:45 mark of the third period, Stelio Mattheos potted his 11th goal of the season to give Brandon a 2-0 edge. Blades defenceman Jake Kustra got the visitors on the board with a short-handed goal with 1:15 to play in the third period.
    Saskatoon pressed for the equalizer, but Evan Weinger closed out the Wheat Kings victory with an empty-net goal right before the third period buzzer.
    Ryan Kubic turned away 21-of-23 shots taking the setback in goal for the Blades.
    The Wheat Kings improved to 11-6-1 with the win, while the Blades fell to 7-10-1.
    The Blades return to action Wednesday, when they host the Moose Jaw Warriors (7 p.m., SaskTel Centre).

Get ready for Roughriders hysteria to crank even higher

Quarterback Kevin Glenn led the Roughriders to a playoff win in Ottawa.
    Now that the Saskatchewan Roughriders have won the East semifinal, you can expect the excitement for the CFL club to hit an even higher fever pitch in the province that boasts the “Land of the Living Skies.”
    The excitement in warranted. After missing the CFL’s playoffs for two straight seasons, the Roughriders have exceeded expectations in the current campaign posting a 10-8 regular season record. It has been enjoyable to watch this team come together over the course of the season. Going into the playoffs, the Roughriders had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
    On Sunday before 24,107 spectators at TD Place in Ottawa, the Roughriders downed the host and defending Grey Cup champion Redblacks 31-20. Thanks to that win, Saskatchewan advances to the East Final this coming Sunday against the Argonauts in Toronto.
    In the win over the Redblacks, Roughriders ageless 38-year-old quarterback Kevin Glenn completed 18-of-28 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown to pace the visitors. Glenn carried the ball three times for 10 yards and scored one touchdown.
    Running back Marcus Thigpen carried the ball 15 times for 169 yards and scored on an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run.
    Redblacks quarterback Trevor Harris did his best to try and keep his side’s post-season alive. He completed 37-of-60 passes for 457 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
    Listening to the radio call of Roughriders play-by-play voice Rod Pedersen was fun, when he described Thigpen’s 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Pedersen goes right out there being excited for the Roughriders, and the entertainment value of his call was priceless. As a fan, you come away thinking your team is number one, if you are a Roughriders backer like I am.
    At that moment, I was thinking too hard on a serious subject, and that touchdown call came at a perfect time to lighten the mood. I had a good chuckle.
    On the Roughriders front, the figures are crossed for this upcoming Sunday.
    The Edmonton Eskimos dumped the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg 39-32 in the West semifinal. The Eskimos advance to face the Stampeders in Calgary this coming Sunday in the West Final.

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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Hilltops claim record fourth straight CJFL title, hit new heights of competitive greatness

The Hilltops enjoy a fourth straight CJFL title. (Photo Courtesy Bonnie Bitz)
    The Saskatoon Hilltops are an uncommon football team.
    In the Canadian Junior Football League, they continue to accomplish things that have never been done before.
    On Saturday in Windsor, Ont., the venerable Hilltops continued to add their list of unique experiences. They rolled into Alumni Field at the University of Windsor and proceeded to dismantle the host Windsor AKO Fratmen 56-11 in the CJFL title the game – the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops, who finished the 2017 campaign with an 11-1 overall record, became the first team in the history of the CJFL to win four straight league championships. The circuit’s national championship game dates back to 1908.
    On top of that accomplishment, the Hilltops became the first team to win seven CJFL titles over an eight year span, and they have now won a total of 20 CJFL championships. Their first national championship came way back in 1953, when they downed the AKO Fratmen 34-6 before 7,200 spectators at Griffiths Stadium on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan.
    Since Tom Sargeant became head coach in 1998, the Hilltops have won 11 of their 20 CJFL championships. Their seemingly endless dynasty under Sargeant seemed destined to continue on Saturday in Windsor as the host AKO Fratmen ultimately finished 9-2 overall this season.
    On the game’s second play from scrimmage, the AKO Fratmen had the ball on offence, and the centre’s shotgun snap sailed over the head of quarterback Brandon Reaume.
    Hilltops fifth-year star defensive end Tom Schnitzler recovered the ball at the Windsor one yard line. On the ensuing play, Hilltops star big game fifth-year running back Logan Fischer powered into the end zone for a touchdown to give Saskatoon a 7-0 lead.
    Saskatoon forced 10 turnovers in Saturday’s contest and converted those takeaways into 35 points. With Jeff Yausie as defensive coordinator, the Hilltops have cemented a reputation of taking the ball away and those takeaways always seem to result in points causing the score to snowball in favour of the blue and gold.
Hilltops defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler lifts the Canadian Bowl.
    Usually, the Hilltops can produce a lopsided game in their favour off of four turnovers. If they get 10 turnovers, the outcome is academic.
    Before the first quarter expired the Hilltops lead grew to 16-0 thanks to a conceded safety by the AKO Fratmen and a one-yard touchdown run from running back Joshua Ewanchyna.
    Near the start of the second quarter, Sargeant showed off how great he was as a play caller taking over the offensive coordinator role this season from Sheldon Ball, who departed from the club for work and family reasons. With the Hilltops facing a third-and-eight from the Windsor 32, Sargeant called a quarterback draw showing he can throw curveball plays at the opposition like Ball once did.
    The play was executed perfectly and signal caller Jordan Walls sprinted 32 yards for another major to put the Hilltops up 23-0.
    At that point, the AKO Fratmen started to push back. With around 11 minutes to play in the second quarter, Reaume hit receiver Devon Woods for an eight-yard touchdown toss to cap a long scoring drive to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 23-7.
    Just when it seemed like the hosts were building momentum, the Hilltops stomped out the uprising. Hilltops fifth-year defensive back Luke Melnyk made an interception. The ensuing offensive series for the visitors was capped by a 10 yard sweep touchdown run by Ewanchyna to put the Hilltops up 30-7.
    Inside of the final two minutes of the second quarter, Hilltops linebacker Adam Benkic recovered an AKO Fratmen fumble at the Windsor 37. The Hilltops quickly drove downfield on a short touchdown drive that was capped when Walls hit Turple with a 16-yard scoring strike to expand Saskatoon’s advantage to 37-7 with 34.7 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Hilltops DB Luke Melnyk picks up defensive player of the game honours.
    Driving into the wind early in the third quarter, the Hilltops lead shrank to 37-9 after they conceded a safety. When it seemed the AKO Fratmen might get going, they were stuffed on a third-and-one gamble at their own 54.
    The Hilltops quickly drove down on another scoring drive that was capped on a touchdown catch from Schnitzler. The defensive standout lined up as a tight end on short yardage offence near the goal-line and hauled in a three-yard touchdown toss on a short slant route to give the Hilltops a 44-9 lead.  
    Saskatoon conceded another safety before the third quarter ended but still held an insurmountable 44-11 edge.
    An interception by fifth-year middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler set up the Hilltops final major of the game. On the ensuing offensive series, Walls hit Turple with an eight-yard scoring pass to increase the Hilltops lead to 51-11.
    The Fratmen conceded a safety and second-year receiver Rylan Kleiter booted a 37-yard field goal to round out the 56-11 final in favour of the visitors.
    The 56 points the Toppers put up on the scoreboard was the second highest total ever for a CJFL title game. The Hilltops hold the record for most points scored in a CJFL title game when they blasted the Victoria Rebels 59-0 in the 2003 Canadian Bowl in Chilliwack, B.C.
    In Saturday’s win over the AKO Fratmen, Walls completed 11-of-18 passes for 192 yards and three touchdown passes to pick up offensive player of the game honours. As a team, the Hilltops ran the ball 37 times for 188 yards. Fischer, who was playing his final game of his storied Hilltops career, ran the ball 14 times for 80 yards and one touchdown.
Hilltops veterans enjoy the Canadian Bowl.
    Melynk was named the defensive play of the game for his two key interceptions. Defensive ends Riley Pickett and Tom Schnitzler each had a sack.
    Reaume completed 12-of-24 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Windsor running back D’Angelo Knox ran the ball seven times for 37 yards and caught two passes for 104 yards.
    AKO Fratmen linebacker Quinten Earhart had nine tackles and a sack.
    After the final seconds ticked away, the Hilltops walked off the field with the Canadian Bowl and their 13th consecutive playoff win. During their run of four straight CJFL championship victories, the Hilltops run could have been derailed.
    The Prairie Football Conference semifinal and final contests in each of the past two years could have been lost, if a couple of plays were changed. In those tight games, the Hilltops character and resiliency always rose up to allow them to make the two to three key swing players that are needed to win tight games.
    Against the AKO Fratmen on Saturday, the Hilltops showed how well they can roll, when they are firing on all cylinders forcing their opponent to play without making a mistake.
    Sargeant got to lay claim to his 14th CJFL championship ring with the team including 11 rings from his time as head coach, two as an assistant coach and his first as a player won back in 1985.
    He will admit it takes everyone pulling in the same direction, constantly striving to improve and bonding as a family to create the success the Hilltops have had. As a result, the Hilltops keep achieving new feats of competitive greatness no team in the CJFL has ever done before.

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Friday, 10 November 2017

Broncos outgun Blades 6-4 in 1980s style clash

Tyler Steenbergen (#17) looks to wire a shot past Evan Fiala (#47).
    Tyler Steenbergen knows the importance of finding different ways to win as a WHL season goes on.
    On Friday night at the SaskTel Centre, Steenbergen watched his Swift Current Broncos take on the host Saskatoon Blades in what turned out to be a more 1980s style run-and-gun game. The Broncos led 5-2 with seven minutes to play in the third period, before the hosts surged back with a pair of goals to cut the visitor’s edge to 5-4.
    The Blades got on the power-play with 2:13 to play looking for the equalizer. After the power play expired, Broncos overage centre Conner Chaulk scored into an empty-net with 6.6 seconds to play in the third to seal a 6-4 Swift Current victory.
Chase Wouters scored for the Blades 24 seconds into Friday’s game.
    “I think we just laid off a little bit,” said Steenbergen, who had a goal and three assists in the win. “Obviously, we weren’t playing the way we wanted to in those last (seven) minutes.
    “They took advantage of it, and we give them full credit for it. Obviously, tomorrow we are going to learn from our mistakes and come out strong.”
    The Broncos, who are rated second in the Canadian Hockey League Top 10 rankings, return to Swift Current on Saturday to host the Lethbridge Hurricanes (7 p.m. local time, Credit Union i-plex), and Steenbergen said his team plans to stay focused for that entire game.
    The star right-winger, who leads the WHL scoring race with 24 goals and 18 assists, liked the resilience he saw from his side against the Blades. The Broncos resilience was tested early, when Blades centre Chase Wouters blasted home a midrange shot from the front of the Swift Current net to give the host side a 1-0 lead 24 seconds into Friday’s game.
    Steenbergen scored at the 4:08 mark to tie things up at 1-1.
Tyler Steenbergen had a goal and two assists on Friday.
    Just 36 seconds later, Steenbergen and linemate Aleksi Heponiemi combined to set up a low driving point shot goal by defenceman Colby Sissons to put the Broncos up 2-1.
    At the 14:12 mark, the Broncos went ahead 3-1, when captain Glenn Gawdin potted his 12th of the season after a Blades skater gave away the puck in his own zone.
    “We stayed positive on the bench,” said Steenbergen. “Obviously, we knew on that first goal we broke down a little bit.
    “We knew we couldn’t get on our heels too quickly. It was the first shift, so we have to put that one behind us and keep moving forward.”
    Shortly after Gawdin’s goal, Blades 17-year-old defenceman Seth Bafaro received a major penalty and a game misconduct for nailing Broncos right-winger Kalden Elder from behind into the boards. That penalty call will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    Bafaro found himself fighting Elder’s linemate Kole Gable after that hit. Both were given fighting majors, and Gable received an instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
    Star overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr scored for the Blades during four-on-four action resulting from those infractions to cut the Broncos lead to 3-2 with 2:13 to play in the first. Heponiemi responded with his 13th of the season with 82 seconds remaining in the opening frame to give the Broncos a 4-2 edge.
Goalie Ryan Kubic knocks the puck out of harms way.
    Both sides played a more under control second period, with the only goal coming from Broncos 18-year-old right-winger Logan Foster. Foster’s goal, which gave the Broncos a 5-2 advantage, was the first of his WHL career.
    The Blades pulled starting netminder Ryan Kubic after the second period. He turned away 10-of-15 shots to take the loss in goal for the Blades, who fell to 7-9-1. Joel Grzybowski turned away all six shots he faced making a relief appearance in what turned out to be a wild third.
    With 7:59 to play in the third, Shmyr appeared to have scored for the Blades, but the goal was waved off due to incidental contact on Broncos netminder and former Blades goalie Logan Flodell.
Braylon Shmyr asks about his disallowed goal.
    The Blades didn’t get discouraged. Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek blasted home a shot from the point for the Blades to cut the Broncos lead to 5-3 with 6:44 remaining in the third. Right-winger Michael Farren scored on a rebound during a net scramble for his first goal of the season for the Blades to further cut Swift Current’s advantage to 5-4 with 5:30 to play in the third.
    The 3,664 spectators at the SaskTel Centre came to life after Farren’s goal.
    Chaulk took a cross-checking minor with 2:13 to play in the third, and the Blades pulled Grzybowski for an extra attacker with a minute to play in the frame. The host brought a pile of pressure, but couldn’t net the equalizer.
    Chaulk scored his empty netter after he got out of the penalty box.
    Flodell made 29 stops for the Broncos, who improved to 12-3-1.
    Outside of the final seven minutes of the third, Steenbergen was pleased with how his Broncos played. The NHL Entry Draft selection of the Arizona Coyotes thought his Broncos received a lot of strong contributes throughout the lineup.
The Broncos celebrate their win over the Blades.
    He admitted he has enjoyed playing on a line with Gawdin at centre and Heponiemi at left wing. The trio was a force last season and is picking up where they left off this season. Heponiemi is the WHL’s second leading scorer with 13 goals and 29 assists, while Gawdin is the WHL’s fourth leading scorer with 12 goals and 23 assists.
    “We go into every game wanting to produce,” said Steenbergen. “We know where each other is going to be.
    “If they (points) come, it is good. What we are looking for is to get wins right now, and that is what we want to look forward to in the future too.”
    The Blades travel to Brandon on Saturday to face the Wheat Kings (10-6-0-1).

Tigers get win in Ridley’s 3,800th call

Bob Ridley called his 3,800th game as the Tigers play-by-play voice.
    The Medicine Hat Tigers made sure Bob Ridley, who is their iconic play-by-play voice, celebrated his 3,800th broadcast with a win.
    On Friday at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, the Tigers trailed the host Hitmen 1-0 and 2-1 before rallying for a 4-2 victory before 7,255 spectators.
    Mark Rassell scored twice for the Tigers, who received singles from Jaeger White and Kristians Rubins. Jakob Stukel and Luke Coleman replied with singles for the Hitmen.
    Jordan Hollett turned away 23 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Tigers (11-6). Nick Schneider made 26 stops to take the setback in goal for the Hitmen (6-11-1).
    Ridley, who is the only play-by-play voice the Tigers have had now in their 48th season of existence, called his 3,800th game on Friday as the team’s radio broadcast voice. The 73-year-old’s game called total to date includes 3,380 of the Tigers 3,381 regular season contests, one standings tiebreaker game, all 399 contests the Tigers have played in the WHL playoffs and all 20 contests the team has played in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    The Tigers and Hitmen go at it again on Saturday at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat at 7:30 p.m. local time.
The Tigers and Hitmen go at it again on Saturday at the Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Willoughby hits 100 in shutout of Thunderbirds

Kaitlin Willoughby picked up her 100-career point with the Huskies.
    Kaitlin Willoughby hit a major career milestone in a win over the top ranked team in U Sports women’s hockey.
    On Friday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver, B.C., the 22-year-old Prince Albert, Sask., product and star forward became the fourth player in the history of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team to hit the 100 career point plateau.
    With the Huskies locked in a 0-0 tie entering the third period with the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, Willoughby scored on a short-handed breakaway to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead and picked up an assist on an empty-net goal by rookie centre Chloe Smith to give U of S a huge 2-0 upset victory.
    Willoughby’s two points on Friday give her 45 career goals and 55 career assists for 100 career points in regular season play. At the moment, Willoughby is tied for third with Cara (Wooster) Muench, who played from 2010 to 2013, for third on the Huskies all-time career regular season scoring list. Muench, who also played two seasons for the now defunct University of North Dakota women’s hockey team, had 36 goals and 64 assists in her three seasons with the Huskies.
    In her first career U Sports regular season start, netminder Jessica Vance made 33 saves to earn the shutout win. Playing for the Prince Albert Northern Bears from 2010 to 2015, Vance became one of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League’s all-time greatest goalies posting a 48-36 record, a 2.27 goals against average, a .926 save percentage and 16 shutouts in 91 career regular season games. Her 48 wins, 16 shutouts and 91 games played are all SFMAAAHL career regular season records.
    Tory Micklash turned away 27-of-28 shots to take the setback in goal for the Thunderbirds.
    The Huskies improved to 6-2-1 with the win to sit first in the Canada West Conference a point ahead of the Thunderbirds (6-3) and the U of Manitoba Bisons (6-3).
    The Huskies and Thunderbirds go at it again on Saturday in Vancouver.

Cooke closes in on wins milestone

Jordon Cooke picked up his 49th career regular season win for the Huskies.
    An overtime win by the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team has put star goalie Jordon Cooke on the verge of becoming the third netminder in team history to win 50 career regular season games.
    On Friday night at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Cooke made 22 saves to back the Huskies to a 4-3 overtime victory over the UBC Thunderbirds. The win was the 49th of Cooke’s U Sports career.
    At the moment, Jeff Harvey and Ryan Holfeld are the only goalies in the history of the Huskies men’s hockey team to crack the 50-win plateau in career regular season victories. Harvey leads the Huskies with 60 career regular season wins playing from 2005 to 2010. Holfeld is second on the Huskies career regular season wins list collecting 53 victories playing from 2010 to 2015.
    Against the Thunderbirds on Friday, Levi Cable scored 68 seconds into overtime to give the Huskies the win. Logan McVeigh scored twice for the U of S, while Michael Sofillas had a single.
    Manraj Hayer, Austin Vetterl and Chase Clayton all netted singles for the Thunderbirds.
    Matt Hewitt turned away 37 shots to take the loss in net for the Thunderbirds.
    The Huskies, who are rated fourth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, improved to 7-1-1 with the win. The Thunderbirds record moved to 5-3-1.
    The two team go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Hilltops, AKO Fratmen bring standouts to Canadian Bowl

QB Jordan Walls has had a big impact on the Hilltops.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops and the Windsor AKO Fratmen will bring some outstanding athletes to the field, when they collide for the Canadian Football League title.
    On Saturday, The Hilltops (10-1) and AKO Fratmen (9-1) will battle it out in the Canadian Bowl in Windsor, Ont., at Alumni Field on the campus of the University of Windsor (12 p.m. Saskatchewan time, The Hilltops are trying to become the first team in the history of the CJFL to win four straight league championships and their 20th title overall in team history.
    The AKO Fratmen are trying to capture their fourth CJFL title in team history and first since they defeated the Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun in 32-29 in 1999.
    On Thursday, the CJFL announced its all-Canadian offensive all-stars, and it was no surprise to find Hilltops fifth-year star running back Logan Fischer on that list. His career with the Hilltops is filled with numerous big game performances, and he captured the most outstanding offensive player of the game award in Saskatoon’s Canadian Bowl victories in each of the last two years.
    This season, Fischer carried the ball 121 times for 804 yards and scored 11 touchdowns during his team’s eight-game regular season.
RB Logan Fischer has been a big game player his whole Hilltops career.
    The Hilltops have depth at running back as both Adam Machart and Joshua Ewanchyna had standout seasons. In the regular season, Machart carried the ball 83 times this season piling up 686 yards, and he scored three touchdowns. Ewanchyna appeared in five regular season games for the Hilltops and carried the ball 37 times for 320 yards and six touchdowns.
    Saskatoon’s running backs are able to motor their way upfield thanks to the work of a powerful offensive line that includes right tackle Kirk Simonsen and left tackle Mason Ochs, who were both named CJFL all-Canadians.
    Due to the fact the Hilltops can run the ball so well, one almost forgets they are strong through the air. Fourth-year quarterback Jordan Walls, who was in his first full campaign as the team’s starter, had a strong campaign completing 124-of-202 passes for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in the regular season.
RB Adam Machart had a breakout season with the Hilltops.
    Fifth-year receiver Ryan Turple was the Hilltops most dangerous pass catcher during the regular season setting career highs in catches (33) and yards (542). He matched his career high in touchdown catches with three.
    Windsor didn’t place any players on the CJFL’s offensive all-star team, but they have strong group of playmakers. Quarterback Brandon Reaume completed 92-of-136 passes for 1,827 yards, 21 touchdowns and three interceptions in seven regular season appearances.
    AKO Fratmen receiver Devon Woods was named an Ontario Football Conference all-star catching 22 passes for 496 yards and five touchdowns in his team’s eight-game regular season.
    On the ground, AKO Fratmen running back D’Angelo Knox topped the OFC in rushing during the regular season running the ball 71 times for 654 yards and six touchdowns.
    DeMarcus Ware and Mustapha Mehry were the cornerstones of the Windsor offensive line and both made the OFC all-star team.
    Both sides have plenty of players that can stop the opposition on defence.
DE Riley Pickett piled up sacks for the Hilltops.
    Hilltops defensive lineman Riley Pickett and defensive back Colton Holmes were both named to the CJFL all-star team on Wednesday.
    Pickett had 15 solo tackles and nine sacks in eight regular season games. Holmes had 22 solo tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery during regular season play.
    Middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler and defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler, who are cousins, are looking to end their fifth and final seasons with the Hilltops with another national championship rink. 
    Cameron Schnitzler had 33 solo tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery over the Hilltops eight regular season games.
    Tom Schnitzler faced constant double teams and still recorded 14 solo tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one sack during the regular season.
    Safety James Vause is a key player in the Hilltops secondary, and he recorded 18 tackles and 11 assisted tackles during the regular season. 
Cameron Schnitzler directs the Hilltops defence at middle linebacker.
    Defensive lineman Adam Slikboer was the only CJFL defensive all-star for Windsor.
    He has 13 solo tackles and four sacks during the regular season.
    AKO Fratmen defensive lineman Jacob Benson made the OFC all-star team recording six solo tackles and four sacks during the regular season.
    Defensive back Elijah Blythe also made the OFC all-star team making 10 solo tackles and four interceptions during the regular season.
    Thanks to winning the last three straight Canadian Bowls and six out of the last seven CJFL titles, the Hilltops are favoured in this year’s CJFL championship game.
    The AKO Fratmen do have enough pieces to make an upset possible.

New “Smuker’s Lounge” to be part of new U of S rink

Cody Smuk at the Rutherford Rink on Jan. 30, 2015.
    The late Cody Smuk’s memory will be part of the new University of Saskatchewan twin-pad hockey rink – Merlis Belsher Place.
    On Thursday, the U of Saskatchewan Huskies announced Inland Steel Products, a local scrap metal recycling company, has donated $150,000 to the Home Ice Campaign to create a new “Smuker’s Lounge” in Merlis Belsher Place, which is currently under construction. The lounge will be built in honour of Smuk, who was a player with the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team who lost his battle with cancer in June of 2015 at age 26.
    After Smuk’s passing, the centre ice broadcast booth and attached team function area on the second floor of the Rutherford Rink was named “Smuker’s Lounge” in honour of the hard-working, gritty, glue-guy forward. The donation by Inland Steel Products ensures a “Smuker’s Lounge” will be part of the new rink facility. It will be a gathering spot for players, alums and Smuk’s friends to gather and reminisce while cheering on the Huskies.
    Matt Ditlove of Inland Steel said his family wanted to make a substantial investment back into the community to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their business and saw an opportunity to honour a family friend as well.
    Darla Smuk, Cody’s mother, said she and her family were honoured to find out “Smuker’s Lounge” will be part of the new rink.
    “It meant a lot to Cody to be a part of the Huskies program,” said Darla Smuk in a release. “He was always very proud to wear the Huskie jersey and do his very best for the team.
    “This is a beautiful gift Matt (Ditlove) and his family are giving our son. His memory will live on in the new facility, and he will be remembered. We can’t thank Matt and his family enough for their kindness and generosity now and during Cody’s battle with cancer.”
    Cody Smuk played four seasons with the Huskies from 2010 to 2014, and he posted six goals and 14 assists in 89 career U Sports regular season games.
    Due to the fact he was good natured, easy going and genuine, he easily became one of the most popular players on his own team and amongst all teams that are part of the Huskies program.
    He exemplified the hard work and determination that are characteristics the Huskies hockey teams want to see in themselves that also led to creating the motto, “We all play the Cody Smuk way.”
    No words can describe how welcome this announcement will be to the alums of the Huskies men’s and women’s hockey teams. It is a development that only seemed right to happen with the new rink facility.

Rookie Arnold delivers Stars to road victory over Bears

The Stars improved to 9-0 with a win in Prince Albert.
    Calli Arnold, who is a 14-year-old rookie from Dodsland, Sask., skated into the spotlight on Thursday night to keep the Saskatoon Stars undefeated.
    Arnold had her first career assist and her first career goal turned out to be the game winner to help the Stars down the defending Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League champion Northern Bears in Prince Albert 3-2 at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Camryn Amundson scored unassisted to give the Bears a 1-0 lead at the 6:45 mark of the first period. Joelle Fiala scored right at the 10-minute mark of the opening frame for the Stars to force a 1-1 tie.
    With under a minute to play in the first, Arnold teamed up with Jordyn Gerlitz to set up Stars captain Mackenna Parker for her 19th goal of the season.
    Arnold scored with 5:37 to play in the third to give the Stars a 3-1 lead. Jasper Desmarais replied for the Bears with 4:14 to play in the third to pull the host side within one goal of the lead.
    The Stars held on from that point for the win to improve to 9-0.
    Arden Kliewer made 30 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Stars. Ryan Fontaine turned away 21 shots to take the setback in goal for the Bears (6-3). All of Prince Albert’s losses have come against Saskatoon.
    The Bears return to action on Saturday, when they travel to Swift Current to take on the Diamond Energy Wildcats. The Stars return to action Nov. 18, when travel to Regina to take on the Rebels.

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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Fischer was born to play for CJFL’s storied Hilltops

Star running back aims for final big game in Canadian Bowl

Logan Fischer (#21) leads the Hilltops on to SMF Field.
    Since the day he was born, it seemed like destiny that Logan Fischer would one day play for the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    His father, Axel, was a star tight end and kicker for the Hilltops, and Axel helped the Hilltops win a Canadian Junior Football League title in 1978 with a 24-4 victory over the Ottawa Sooners at Saskatoon’s Gordie Howe Bowl. The Hilltops captured the Armadale Cup, which was the league championship trophy at the time, with that win. Following his playing career, Axel spent some time with the Hilltops as an assistant coach and was part of the coaching staff of the 1985 CJFL championship winning team.
    Logan, who is currently a star fifth-year running back with the team, remembers being enamoured with his father’s links to the venerable CJFL team from a very young age.
    “I remember when I was a little kid I would always play with his rings,” said Logan. “I’d look at them and be like, “Oh, one day I’m going to win one of these.”
    “Sure enough, I have three on my hand and am looking for that fourth.”
Logan Fischer is the ultimate “big game” player.
    Logan has helped the Hilltops win the last three straight CJFL titles, and he was named the offensive player of the game in the league championship game in each of the past two years. He will finish off his junior eligibility playing in one final CJFL title game on Saturday in Windsor, Ont., when the Hilltops (10-1) battle the host AKO Fratmen (9-1).
    The Hilltops are trying to become the first team in the history of the CJFL to win four straight league titles. They won three straight league titles on two other occasions from 2001 to 2003 and 2010 to 2012.
    Going into his final career CJFL game, Logan remembered how proud his father was of his playing days with the Hilltops and hearing the stories of those days growing up.
    “He showed me lots of the film on VHS,” said Logan. “He would be like, “Oh, that’s me right there” catching a nice touchdown pass as the tight end or putting the ball deep punting.
    “He was a very versatile guy I heard. I guess I got to see a little bit of it, which was nice.”
    After graduating from Saskatoon’s Bethlehem Catholic High School in 2013, Logan joined the Hilltops. During his rookie season, he enjoyed the fact the team’s older directors recognized him as Axel’s son.
Logan Fischer was named to the PFC all-star team.
    In year two with the Hilltops, the son started to make his mark with team after then star fifth-year running back Wayndel Lewis injured his ankle in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal playoff game and was out for the rest of the 2014 post-season. Logan Fischer stepped into the starting spot and ran the ball 28 times for 183 yards in a 27-7 PFC final victory over the Calgary Colts.
    The Hilltops advanced to that year’s Canadian Bowl in Langley, B.C., and they dumped the host Rams 39-14. In his first CJFL title game, Fischer carried the ball 19 times for 94 yards and scored one touchdown. He also hauled in four passes for another 37 yards.
    Fischer’s big games kept coming.
    During a regular season game on Sept. 5, 2015 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Fischer ran the ball 32 times for 293 yards and scored a touchdown and caught two passes for 26 yards as the Hilltops downed the Regina Thunder 35-17 in a downpour of rain.
    In that season’s Canadian Bowl, Fischer earned his first most outstanding offensive player of the game award in a CJFL title clash as the Hilltops got past the Okanagan Sun 38-24 at SMF Field. 
Logan Fischer (#21) piled up the yardage in the 2015 Canadian Bowl.
    He ran the ball 23 times for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns and caught seven passes for 107 yards.
    At the 2016 Canadian Bowl in Langford, B.C., Fischer ran the ball 28 times for 202 yards and caught four passes for 43 yards and two majors as the Hilltops downed the host Westshore Rebels 37-25. He claimed his second most outstanding offensive player of the game award in a CJFL title clash.
    Fischer said all those big games blend together as one great experience over the years. He didn’t really know how to react to the realization he will play the final game of his CJFL career before exhausting his junior eligibility on Saturday.
    “It is quite the feeling,” said Fischer, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 220 pounds. “You don’t really know if you are going to win.
    “I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there that feel really confident, and I’m amongst them. We have a good team. I think this is the year we are going to get the job done and get that four-peat.”
Logan Fischer takes top offensive player honours in the 2015 Canadian Bowl.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Fischer hits another gear when the games get bigger and the spotlight gets brighter.
    “He thrives in those situations,” said Sargeant. “He loves being the guy. He loves getting the ball.
    “He makes everyone around him better. The thing that we love is he is a great runner, tough and physical, but he is also a great pass catcher out of the backfield.
    “He certainly creates mismatches for defences and allows us to open up a game plan that includes him in both the run and the pass, which is why he gets featured so much and why he sees the ball so much.”
    Sargeant added Fischer plays with a high competitive edge and has been a good leader for the team’s younger running backs including third-year tailback Adam Machart and sophomore ball carrier Joshua Ewanchyna.
Logan Fischer (#21) muscles his way into the end zone for the Hilltops.
    “He (Fischer) is an uncommon football player for his frame how physical he is, how aggressive he runs the ball,” said Sargeant. “He has an intensity that is tough to match.
    “When he is on, there is no one else you want making plays for you. Why do you think the other two running backs are running so great? He has certainly helped to motivate them and be a good mentor for them and has taught them how to play the game and play running back for the Saskatoon Hilltops, so we are thankful for that.”
    Before joining the Hilltops for his final CJFL campaign, Fischer attended the training camp for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. During the CJFL season itself, he had battled a nagging leg injury all season, but he still ran the ball 121 times for 804 yards and scored 11 touchdowns over the eight-game regular season. He was named a PFC all-star and the PFC’s most outstanding offensive back.
Logan Fischer (#21) has three CJFL title rings.
    If he received another invite to a Roughriders training camp, Fischer said he would take it. If a CFL avenue doesn’t work out, Fischer doesn’t plan to continue playing football in the Canadian university ranks.
    “I’m more of a trades guy,” said Fischer, who turns 22-years-old in December. “I’m getting ready for my third year apprenticeship with plumbing.
    “I’d don’t see why I would kind of step away from that. I’m making good money. School is only two months versus four years.”
    Knowing he has a good post-playing life to transition on to, Fischer’s current focus is on having one final great game playing for the team he always wanted to play for. He wants to be a factor in helping the Hilltops prevail over the AKO Fratmen.
    “I think the guys are ready,” said Fischer. “Sarge (Sargeant) gets us in the right mindset, and we are just ready to go.
    “He makes us focus up for practice, and we have to respect the opponent. He can’t stress that enough. They have good athletes.
    “I think ultimately, we are a team of perseverance really. We’ve come back in the past, and I don’t think we are going to let it slip this year.”

Back in the Express with Simonsen

Kirk Simonsen (#51) locks up on a block for the Hilltops.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature on Saskatoon Hilltops right tackle Kirk Simonsen.
    Simonsen is part of a group of 11 players in their fourth year of eligibility with the team looking to go four-for-four in seasons played with CJFL championship victories. Adam Benkic, Bobby Ehman, Connor Guillet, Logan Kelsey-Stern, Liam Murphy, Sam Mike, Cody Peters, Jason Price, James Vause and Jordan Walls are the other Hilltops are trying to be part of a fourth straight CJFL championship win in four years of eligibility.
    A total of six players in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility are trying to lay claim to being part of a fourth straight CJFL championship victory including Logan Fischer, Luke Melnyk, Cameron Schnitzler, Tom Schnitzler, Colin Stumborg and Ryan Turple.
    Centre Jack Sloboda is in his final year of junior eligibility, but he joined the Hilltops at the start of the 2016 season after spending time with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
Simonsen has a cool individual story. He came to the Hilltops after playing six-man high school football in Hanley, Sask., with the Hanley Compsite School Sabres.
    In six-man high school football, Simonsen got to do something most offensive linemen don’t normally do. He talked about what the transition was like going from the six-man game to the 12-man game.
    The story on Simonsen can be found right here.

Hilltops first CJFL title came versus Windsor in 1953

    The Saskatoon Hilltops try to win their 20th CJFL title in team history against the team their first national junior title came against way back in 1953.
    Back in 1953, the modern day current version of the Hilltops were in their seventh year of existence, and they were playing host to the Windsor AKO Fratmen in the CJFL title game. The AKO Fratmen entered the contest as defending CJFL champions having defeated the visiting Edmonton Wildcats 15-12 in Windsor in the previous year’s national final.
    The Hilltops made it to the CJFL championship game in their second year of existence, but they dropped a 23-10 decision to the Wildcats in Hamilton.
    Excitement was high for the 1953 title game in Saskatoon, and the first 4,300 tickets for the contest at Griffiths Stadium on the University of Saskatchewan campus sold out quickly. Another 2,900 tickets were sold for the game bringing the attendance to 7,200, which was a record at the time for a CJFL title game played on the Prairies. The large gathering circled the field at Griffiths Stadium.
    Hilltops quarterback Ron Adam hooked up with Bill Trout on a sleeper play for the game’s first touchdown and the hosts never looked back. The Hilltops stormed to a 34-6 victory on a -1 C day to capture the then league championship trophy the Leader-Post Trophy, which was also known as “the Little Grey Cup,” as CJFL champions.
    Adam’s arm was golden in that contest as he completed 12-of-20 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. At the time, football was way more geared to the run, and it was common for the offensive line to contain seven players. It was very rare for quarterbacks at that time to eclipse 300 yards in passing in those days as Adam did.
    Adam also ran home a major score from 13 yards out.
    At that time, the CJFL drew big crowds as the main feeder for the CFL. Following the 1953 CJFL title game, Adam, who passed away in 2014, went on to play seven seasons with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders mainly as a defensive back.
    At the Canadian university level, the first Vanier Cup to declare a national champion wasn’t played until 1965.
    The Hilltops and AKO Fratmen last met in a CJFL title game in 1996 in a neutral site clash in Oshawa, Ont. Saskatoon romped to a 39-7 victory.
    The AKO Fratmen last won the CJFL championship in 1999, when they defeated the visiting Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun 32-29 in Windsor.

Ridley set to call 3,800th game

Bob Ridley has called 3,799 as the Tigers play-by-play voice.
    Bob Ridley, who is the iconic play-by-play voice of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, once admitted to me the day would come when he would bid listeners a “good night” for the final time.
    “One of these days I am going to have to retire,” said Ridley. “You can’t do it forever.
“But, it has been a great ride. I hope to stay on as long as I can.”
    The talk I speak of occurred way back in August of 2006, when I was doing an interview for my first feature story on Ridley, who was 62-years-old at the time.
    These days at age 73, Ridley is still the only play-by-play voice in the history of the WHL’s Tigers. He gave up driving the team bus about three years back, but he is still going as strong as ever calling games on the radio, as the Tigers play through their 48th season of existence.
    On Friday when the Tigers (10-6) travel to Calgary to take on the Hitmen (6-10-1) at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Ridley will call his 3,800th game as the Tigers play-by-play voice. His total of 3,799 games called to date includes 3,379 of the Tigers 3,380 regular season contests, one standings tiebreaker game, all 399 contests the Tigers have played in the WHL playoffs and all 20 contests the team has played in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    If someone called an average of 80 games between the regular season and playoffs each season for 47 seasons, that person would still fall short of the total number of games Ridley has called.
    It is extremely likely no one in the Canadian media industry will ever come close to Ridley’s still growing games called total as the play-by-play voice of one team.

Blades should be in a barnburner with Broncos, other notes

Cameron Hebig and the Blades could be in for a shootout.
    The SaskTel Centre should be the site of a pretty good WHL clash on the day before Remembrance Day.
    The Saskatoon Blades (7-8-1) return home after four straight road games to tangle with the Swift Current Broncos (11-3-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday night at the SaskTel Centre. The Blades have won four of their last five games, while the Broncos have been one of the WHL’s best teams in the early going of the 2017-18 campaign. Both sides have players that can light up the scoreboard.
    Broncos right-winger Tyler Steenbergen leads the WHL in scoring with 23 goals and 15 assists. Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi is second in the WHL scoring race potting 12 goals and 25 assists playing on Swift Current’s top line with Steenbergen.
    Swift Current captain Glenn Gawdin, who centres the line with Steenbergen and Heponiemi, is fourth in the WHL scoring race piling up 11 goals and 22 assists.
    Defenceman Colby Sissons had quarterbacked the offence from the back end for Swift Current recording four goals and 14 assists.
Tyler Steenbergen (#17) and the Broncos have been on fire.
    Centre Cameron Hebig and left-winger Braylon Shmyr have paced Saskatoon’s offence in their overage seasons. Hebig leads the Blades in scoring with 14 goals and eight assists, while Shmyr is second in team scoring with seven goals and 10 assists.
    Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek has helped pace Blades offence from the back end picking up four goals and seven assists.
    Overager Logan Flodell is having an outstanding start to the season playing goal for the Broncos posting a 10-2-1 record, a 2.68 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts. He was with the Blades, but was traded to the Broncos right before the start of the regular season.
    Ryan Kubic, who is the Blades 19-year-old starting goalie, is beginning to play stronger after a slow start to the season. So far this season, Kubic has posted a 7-6-1 record, a 3.76 goals against average and a .880 save percentage. The St. Andrews, Man., product has started every contest of the stretch where the Blades have won four of their last five games stopping 152 of 164 total shots for a .927 save percentage.
    The Broncos, who are rated second in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings, have won two of the three head-to-head meetings with the Blades this season. The Blades took the last encounter between the two squads 4-3 back on Oct. 27 in Swift Current.
    Friday’s game will be the Blades “Salute Our Forces” night contest due to the fact Remembrance Day falls on Saturday.
  • It has been great getting to have short visits with brothers Jeff and Dean Chynoweth during the early part of the WHL campaign. Jeff is the general manager of the Calgary Hitmen, and he is the former general manager and owner of the Kootenay Ice. Dean is an associate coach with the Vancouver Giants. Before joining the Giants, Dean had been the head coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. The sons of the late Ed Chynoweth, who playing an integral part in building the WHL, have had a long and great history with the WHL. It is great they are still part of the circuit.
  • Defensive end Riley Pickett and defensive back Colton Holmes of the Saskatoon Hilltops were named to the CJFL’s all-star team on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday. Pickett had 15 solo tackles and nine sacks in eight regular season games. Holmes had 22 solo tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery during regular season play. Defensive lineman Adam Slikboer of the Windsor AKO Fratmen was also named to the CJFL’s defensive all-star team.
  • Saskatoon Express editor Cam Hutchinson wrote a great column about how media moguls don’t deserve handouts and the changes that occurred at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix over the years as that publication has slipped in stature. It can be found here.
  • Former CTV Regina sports broadcaster Bianca Millions deserves to be working in a mainstream outlet in a big centre. It is a shame that she isn’t working in the mainstream media in Canada somewhere. When working sporting events in Regina, she made a great duo with Arielle Zerr of CJME. Millions and Zerr always lifted the atmosphere wherever they appeared together. Millions took time to speak about her career as a female sports reporter and the obstacles she has faced with the University of Regina’s School of Journalism magazine publication. The magazine with the story about Millions can be found here.
  • On Wednesday, it was announced the last edition of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald would be published on Dec. 7 and the media outlet’s website would also be shut down. The Times-Herald still provided beat coverage for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, so that will come to an end too, as the WHL beat writer becomes an even more endangered species in Canada’s media landscape. The Times-Herald was founded as a weekly newspaper in 1889 and became a daily in 1906. Like a lot of media outlets, questionable management helped bring the Times-Herald to an end, but you will likely hear spin on how the changing media industry brought down an outlet and was in kind of a monopoly situation in Moose Jaw. The Times-Herald was the home to the late great Rick Moore, who passed away from cancer in 2008 and was the publication’s legendary sports editor. The content produced in the sports section when Moore was the editor was outstanding, and the local sports scene was treated like prime time. His celebration of life attracted close to 1,000 people in April of 2008. It will be sad to see the Times-Herald fall by the wayside.
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