Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Hilltops need to be themselves for fourth straight CJFL title push

The Hilltops celebrate their Canadian Bowl win in 2015.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops don’t need to reinvent the wheel in their quest to win a fourth straight Canadian Junior Football League title.
    For the third time in team history, the Hilltops sit in a rare spot of trying to become the first team ever to win four straight CJFL titles. Considering the league dates back to 1908 with its national championship game, it shows just how tough trying to win four straight junior football national championships can be.
    The Hilltops won three straight championships at two other points in their history. The first run came from 2001 to 2003 and the second occurred from 2010 to 2012.
    In both instances, Saskatoon’s runs were derailed by rivals from the Prairie Football Conference. The Hilltops dropped a 29-10 decision in the 2004 PFC to the Edmonton Huskies, and the Toppers fell 21-16 in the 2013 PFC final to the Regina Thunder. The Huskies in 2004 and the Thunder in 2013 moved on to win the CJFL title in each of those respective years.
Luke Melnyk (#16) knocks down a pass at the Hilltops Alumni Game.
    While it would be quite the accomplishment for the Hilltops to ultimately succeed in their third attempt to win four straight CJFL championships, the team can’t dwell on that end goal. In order to get to that end goal, the Hilltops have to be themselves.
    That means they have to approach this season much like they have every season in the past. They have to focus on what they have to do to get better each day in the present and enjoy what is happening on that day. Before the players, coaches, team staffers and directors know it, the club’s end of the year banquet will be here and everyone will be reflecting on the season that was.
    The Hilltops open the regular season on Saturday, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium. The Canadian Bowl won’t be handed out when that game concludes.
    With that said, the season opener with the Thunder provides a lot of factors in the present that should be enjoyed. This game will mark the first time both squads play a regular season game at the new state of the art football facility in Regina, which is home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jordan Walls is the Hilltops new starting QB.
    When the Hilltops ventured to Regina to play at Taylor Field, which was the Roughriders old home park, those games had extra meaning because the stadium was home to the province’s CFL franchise.
    The Hilltops have defeated the Thunder five times in a row including the regular season and playoffs, but the end result of those head-to-head encounters have never been a given. Last year, the Hilltops took their three encounters with the Thunder by a combined margin of victory of seven points.
    The matches between the Hilltops and Thunder have always been great rivalry games. For this week, all the Hilltops should be focused on is playing the Thunder in a spectacular new facility. Those factors alone should get players excited to play.
    Next week, the Hilltops focus will turn to what they have to do each day leading up to their road game on Aug. 20 against the Rifles in Winnipeg.
    Besides focusing on and having fun with football related tasks, the team should soak in all the social times in the dressing room, on bus trips, in hotels and restaurants. Players should enjoy things like hanging out on off days or telling fun stories during radio appearances leading up to home games. 
    Those are all times that will be remembered forever, and they make the journey in pushing for a championship all that more meaningful.
The Hilltops defence is filled with a lot of playmakers.
    The Hilltops have followed this approach for their existence and it has resulted in 19 CJFL championships. Their best chance to win a fourth straight title is doing what they have always done. Ultimately, it will be good enough or it won’t be.
    The team has a great coaching staff led by head coach Tom Sargeant, who has experienced 13 of the team’s CJFL championship victories as either a player, assistant coach or head coach.
    Saskatoon has a new starting quarterback in fourth-year veteran Jordan Walls, who is more than ready to lead the offence. 
    They have numerous key returnees on offence including receivers Sam Mike, Ryan Turple and Jason Price, running backs Logan Fischer and Adam Machart and offensive linemen Jack Sloboda and Kirk Simonsen.
Adam Machart (#20) gives the Hilltops big depth at running back.
    The Hilltops have playmakers all over the place on defence including defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler, linebackers Cody Peters, Bobby Ehman and Cameron Schnitzler and defensive backs Luke Melnyk, Logan Bitz and James Vause.
    Traditionally, the Hilltops have been great as being a next-man-up team, so you know there roster is loaded with players waiting for their chance to step up.
    As the season goes on, the Hilltops will no doubt encounter people asking about their quest to win a fourth straight CJFL. 
    The 2017 Canadian Bowl will be played on Nov. 11 at the home of the champion of the Ontario Football Conference, but that is still a long ways off when you look at the season as a whole.
    The championship chase questions can be answered respectfully, but the Hilltops should always throw in they also want to enjoy the present day for what it is.

Sports reporters better off working for teams

Saskatoon Blades HC Dean Brockman takes part in a media scrum.
    Thanks to the shrinking mainstream media world, anyone that has recently graduated from a journalism program looking to pursue covering sports or is working for a mainstream media outlet covering sports is well advised to consider working for a team, league or sports body.
    On Tuesday, Gregg Drinnan mentioned on his Taking Note blog that he thought it was only a matter of time before major junior teams all go the route of hiring journalists to produce media content on their websites. Drinnan said that statements on a recent appearance on the WHL Unfiltered podcast noting all teams and leagues from the WHL upwards are going to have to go that route.
    I agree with Drinnan.
    For my own experience, I find it is becoming more common to show up at sports events and realize I am the only one there visible on site doing any reporting on that event. NHL and CFL events are still the exception to that observation.
    NFL teams have employed journalists to produce media contest since the late 1990s. Since that time, most other major professional sports leagues have followed the NFL’s lead.
    During my travels, I have advised two young media professionals, who were with the mainstream media, to seek jobs with teams or leagues. Those two young professionals took that advice, and one is employed by a team and the other a league.
    Recently, I sent an ad for an NHL media job opening to a friend, who parted ways with a mainstream media outlet at the end of June.
    As far as notable moves are concerned, the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders turned heads when they hired Ian Hamilton during the off-season. The elite veteran sports journalist parted ways with the Regina Leader-Post late last year. Hamilton’s presence has greatly increased the quality of the Roughriders website with his stories.
    In September of last year, Taylor Rocca, who was one of the best young print sports journalists in Canada, joined the WHL as its communications coordinator leaving the Cranbrook Townsman. In June, he was promoted to be the WHL’s manager of communications.
    Rocca turned heads in Saskatchewan producing a large number of outstanding stories, when he worked as a sports reporter for Kindersley based Jamac Publishing from June 2013 to May 2014.
    Just to be clear, I didn’t have any influence regarding the decisions Hamilton and Rocca made.
    I believe all major junior teams and U Sports athletic programs are going to have to employ their own professional reporters, if they want to continue to stay attached to the communities they reside in. On the U Sports front, that might require a minimum of two or three staffers depending on the size of the athletic department.
    With budget challenges Canadian university athletic programs face, that might be a difficult thing to ask for, but I believe ultimately that will be something that has to come to pass sooner than later.
    In my experience, I feel the will to cover the happenings in U Sports has greatly dwindled in mainstream media outlets in Canada and much faster than the will to cover major junior hockey. That is saying something considering the exposure major junior hockey gets is a shadow of what it once was.
    Working for teams, leagues or sports bodies is the way for reporters to go, if they want to have a career.

Back in the Express with the Tyndall brothers

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on brothers Wyatt, Mitch and Jesse Tyndall, who all excel in the sport of gymnastics.
    Wyatt is heading into his third season is the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks with Penn State. Mitch is set to join the University of Nebraska men’s gymnastics team. Jesse is entering Grade 12 and is starting to hear from universities in the United States.
    Their mother, Janice, was a member of the University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team for one season as a walk-on athlete. She helped coach the three boys for a lengthy time.
    The story on the Tyndall brothers can be found here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to