Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Huskies who rock

Kaitlin Willoughby is all smiles after a goal.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies had a tough Christmas season over how the resignation of football head coach Brian Towriss played out, but there are still lots of good people who are involved with that athletics program.
    Due to the awkward news conference that happened on Dec. 19, 2016 to announce Towriss was stepping down, fury went up around Huskies alums and current players from football and the other sports that comprise the 15 total teams from the athletics program. Supporters from all the program’s teams were also very unhappy about that move. 
    The fury was so great that an apology was released by U of S president Peter Stoicheff regarding how that situation was handled.
    While a lot of former athletes and current ones were upset over that situation, an educated guess leaves me to believe the memories and attachment to the Huskies logo and colours will make the hurt feelings disappear over time. I believe some alums and supporters have already started to return to games after about a couple of weeks despite saying they wouldn’t be back for a lengthy time.
    In the present, there is still a second half of the U Sports season that needs to be played out, and the Huskies teams that are in action can still do some special things.
    The Huskies teams are still represented by a large number of quality individuals. As the Huskies like to give out what they call their seven major awards at the end of every season, here are seven outstanding individuals that represent the green and white.

Kaitlin Willoughby

Kaitlin Willoughby breaks up ice for the Huskies.
    Willoughby is the extremely likeable and sweet star of the Huskies women’s hockey team.
    Actually, trying to dislike this 21-year-old Prince Albert product is like trying to hate Bambi. You just can’t do it.
    As a rookie in 2013-14, the speedy and skilled forward cemented her spot in the history of the Huskies hockey program, when she scored the double overtime winner in a series deciding Game 3 of the Canada West championship to give the Huskies a 2-1 victory over the U of Regina Cougars at the ancient Rutherford Rink. 
    The win marked the first time the Huskies women’s team won a Canada West title, and they would capture a bronze medal at nationals. She also happened to become the U Sports rookie of the year collecting 10 goals and 15 assists in 28 regular season games.
    Her production wasn’t just a one-year thing. In 102 regular season games, Willoughby has piled up 38 goals and 49 assists despite always facing extra attention from the opposition. She has eight goals and eight assists in 20 games this season, and she will play for Canada’s women’s team at the FISU Winter Universiade, which runs Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
    Willoughby is loved by her teammates on any of her teams past and present and by a large number of players from the other Huskies teams. While she is sweet, she can get fired up on the ice, if someone takes a liberty or cheap shot at one of her teammates or her. It is a side her opponents would be wise not to bring out of her or you might find out she can be traditional P.A. Raiders tough.
    On a night by night basis, Willoughby alone makes it worth the price of admission to attend any Huskies women’s hockey game, and she is a player you can never go wrong with supporting.

Emmalyn Copping

Emmalyn Copping nails a kill.
    Copping is the big city girl who has made her life in the smaller city.
    The Calgary, Alta., product arrived on campus before the start of the 2013-14 campaign to play for the Huskies women’s volleyball team. She quickly established herself as a standout outside hitter averaging 2.53 kills per set and 2.04 digs per set in her career, and she has also made her life in “the Bridge City.”
    Usually, players that live outside of Saskatoon return home for the summer months. Copping ended up working full time in Saskatoon. She became well known as first a courteous server at Earls before moving on to keep customers upbeat when they pass through the doors of Hudsons.
    She kept a fairly busy schedule in summer.  When she wasn’t training to prepare for volleyball season, Copping was working.
    On the court, Copping helped bring respect back to the Huskies women’s volleyball team. The Huskies were last a powerhouse squad back in the 2001-02 campaign posting a 16-4 regular season record, when setter Carlee Thorsen and middle Lindsay Bothner were stars for the green and white. Since that time, the Huskies have often struggled to earn five wins in regular season play.
    With Copping, the Huskies posted a 9-13 mark in her first year in 2013-14 and a 10-14 record last season. Both of those marks are the best records the Huskies have posted since the 2001-02 campaign.
    Before she joined the Huskies, Copping spent one season with the Medicine Hat College Rattlers women’s volleyball team of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference in 2012-13. She shined on and off the court there and became really well known for keeping an eye on the two young sons of then Rattlers men’s volleyball coach Steve Russell.
    When the Huskies make community appearances, Copping, who is positive and sweet, shines when she interacts with young fans.
    Copping is currently playing her final season of U Sports eligibility. You can bet she will do her best to help the Huskies earn their first Canada West playoff berth since that 2001-02 campaign.

Matt Forbes

Matt Forbes (#13) looks to drive the ball for the Huskies.
    How key is Forbes to the Huskies men’s basketball team?
    So far this season, the Huskies have already equaled last season’s total of regular season victories at eight. The Huskies are 8-4 in 12 games this season after posting an 8-12 record in 2015-16.
    Forbes was supposed to play out his final campaign of U Sports eligibility last season, but the 6-foot-6 post suffered a foot injury in the Huskies first pre-season game that sidelined him for the entire campaign. So far this season, the Regina Beach product is back in top form averaging 13.3 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game.
    While he usually matches up against players that are taller in height than he is, Forbes still changes the dynamics of the inside game for the Huskies both offensively and defensively in a good way. When Forbes isn’t in the lineup, it presents a huge void for the Huskies to fill.
    In 2014-15, Forbes was instrumental in helping the Huskies post a 15-5 regular season record averaging 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. He helped the Huskies advance to the Canada West championship game, where they fell 70-67 to the U of Victoria Vikes. That result allowed the Huskies to make an appearance at nationals.
    Away from the court, Forbes can often be found working as a staffer at other Huskies events. He is also one of the friendliest players on the Huskies men’s hoops team, and he is comfortable with talking to anyone that greets him out of the blue. Forbes also made the Huskies all-academic second team in 2012 and 2015.
    With Forbes in the fold, the Huskies have a good chance to make another deep playoff run.

Ben Getzlaf

Huskies receiver Ben Getzlaf (#86) collides with a defensive back.
    The rookie receiver from the Huskies football team prefers to shy away from accolades, but you will likely hear a lot about him in future seasons.
    The Holy Cross High School graduate had the expected modest first season catching six passes for 74 yards and one touchdown. Traditionally, the Huskies football program likes young players to focus on developing for a couple of seasons before seeing significant field time. For a first year player fresh out of high school, Getzlaf saw a lot more field time than most players in his position normally receive.
    In high school, he starred for the Crusaders and played on two of Saskatchewan’s teams that took part in the Football Canada Cup. Getzlaf also suited up for Canada’s under-18 team for the International Bowl series that ran Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 last year in Arlington, Texas.
    When he joined the Huskies, a number of the team’s veterans were impressed with the skill set Getzlaf had. Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 180 pounds, Getzlaf makes his living on the field as a possession receiver that runs crisp routes.
    Getzlaf’s second cousin is veteran CFLer Chris Getzlaf, and both like to avoid the limelight if they can.
    One of Ben Getzlaf’s visibly most embarrassing moments came, when he had to pose for some pictures for a feature that ran on him in the Saskatoon Express about a year ago. In a scene you might see on a signing day for a United States university team, Getzlaf put on a Huskies football hat and posed for a photo holding a football out towards the camera with one hand.
    The whole picture shoot was done in front of about six players from the Holy Cross Crusaders senior girls’ basketball team, who laughed and gave him the gears. Getzlaf turned blushing red.
    In future seasons, expect Getzlaf to one day become the Huskies silent and modest star pass catcher.

Kendall McFaull

Kendall McFaull raised the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy.
    McFaull is the even-keel captain of the Huskies men’s hockey team.
    A product of Rosetown, Sask., McFaull is remembered by minor hockey coaches in the Saskatoon area for being extremely coachable.
    Before joining the Huskies, McFaull established himself as a high-character guy during his four seasons toiling on the blue-line with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. After his 17-year-old season in the 2009-10 campaign, McFaull, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 210 pounds, was selected in the sixth round and 155th overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, who relocated to Winnipeg to become the second version of the Jets.
    With the Warriors, McFaull, who was the team’s captain in his final WHL campaign in 2012-13, established himself as a solid defensive defenceman who is tough to play against in front of the net, and he had the ability to chip in the odd point here and there. He carried that reputation on to the U of Saskatchewan campus.
    McFaull played a key role on the Huskies back end during their trips to the University Cup national championship tournament in 2014 and 2016.
    Last season in his third year of eligibility, McFaull was named the Huskies captain and he led the Huskies to a first place finish in the Canada West conference recording five goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating in the plus-minus department in 28 regular season outings. In the first game of the playoff run that saw the Huskies win a Canada West title, McFaull scored the overtime winner that delivered his side to a 4-3 victory over the U of Calgary Dinos.
    When the Huskies captured the Canada West championship, McFaull ensured the memory the Huskies late hard working, glue guy forward in Cody Smuk was part of the celebrations. Smuk passed away from cancer in June of 2015, and McFaull was his teammate on both the Warriors and Huskies.
    During the Canada West title celebrations, McFaull skated around the ice with Smuk’s jersey and he helped bring Smuk’s parents, Marty and Darla, and fiancée, Stephanie Vause on to the ice for the team picture.
    McFaull seems to ensure his Huskies, who lead Canada West with a 15-3-2 mark, always step in the right direction.

Zak Rempel

Zak Rempel serves the ball for the Huskies.
    During his career with the Huskies men’s volleyball team, Rempel has morphed into the guy that will play any role that is asked of him.
    Way back in the fall of 2013, Rempel joined the Huskies after a successful two-season run as the star setter for the Medicine Hat College Rattlers men’s volleyball team of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. With the Rattlers, Rempel showed strong leadership qualities and was always front and centre for post-game interviews, and it didn’t matter if it was good or bad.
    In his first two seasons with the Huskies from 2013 to 2015, Rempel, who stands 6-foot-5, saw decent action as a setter and proved to be calming influence when things got hectic on the court. Unfortunately, nagging injuries slowed Rempel down especially at the end of his second season.
    After leaving the program for a season, Rempel returned to a Huskies team that had won a silver medal at the Canada West championship tournament and advanced to the semifinal in the U Sports national championship tournament. He also came back to a Huskies team that was deep at setter with Derek Epp, who was a member of Canada’s junior national team, and Troy Wiebe, who was in his final year of eligibility.
    Rempel moved over to become an outside hitter and is playing more of a supportive role. The 23-year-old has always been a good influence in the dressing room, and he will step back to take lesser time on the court to help the team.
    When he has stepped on the court, Rempel has averaged 2.56 kills per set.
    Rempel has always carried a sound commitment when it comes to working out in the gym. With the Huskies just holding on to one of the seven playoff berths in the Canada West conference with a 7-5 record, you bet Rempel will be there to help his team in whatever role he is called up to do.

Lisa Thomaidis

Lisa Thomaidis is the best coach in Huskies Athletics.
    She is known as “The Idol.”
    Way back in 1998, Thomaidis arrived on the U of S campus at age 26 to become the new head coach of the Huskies women’s basketball team. Back then, the Huskies seemed to always find themselves at the bottom of the Canada West standings.
    Since that time, Thomaidis built the Huskies into a national powerhouse winning four Canada West titles, qualifying for the U Sports nationals in seven of the last eight years and winning the program’s first national championship in March of last year. She was also named a YWCA Woman of Distinction in 2009.
    When she isn’t coaching the Huskies, Thomaidis is the head coach of Canada’s national senior women’s basketball team. Under her guidance, Canada won gold at the Pan-Am games in 2015 and make the quarter-final round at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
    On campus, she is looked up to not only by the players she coaches but also a large number of players that are members of the Huskies other women’s team.
    Thomaidis’s greatest gift is the fact she is able to inspire great confidence in her players. Due to that fact, her players always improve greatly as the season progresses.
    On the court, Thomaidis’s squads always play a sound team game and mix things up on the court. They can push the ball up court in transition or slow things down and break down a defence in half court. On the defensive side be it press, man or zone, Thomaidis’s teams can do it all.
    Away from the court, Thomaidis’s players always seem to be first rate superstar people who carry themselves extremely well. When all is said and done, the veteran coach likely sees that as her biggest victory.
    While she has coached for a long time, Thomaidis can still be young at heart too. When the Huskies won the Canada West title last year, she finished cutting down the net, turned to her players, smiled and said it was time to go out and party. Her players gleefully responded with big cheers.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass on about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com. Huskies players have also made two editions of “People Who Rock” columns in this blog. The first of those columns can be found right here and the second is here.