Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Huskies look sweet on the pitch

Kwame Opoku scored his first career U Sports goal on Sunday.
     It looks like the reload might not be a long one for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s soccer team.
    While you can’t get over excited about one weekend of play, you can get optimistically excited. Having missed the playoffs last season, the Huskies opened their current U Sports campaign sweeping the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns in a two-game series at PotashCorp Park. The Huskies took the opener 1-0 on Saturday and closed the series with a 2-1 victory on Sunday.
    A year ago, the Pronghorns went 8-6-2 to finish five points ahead of the Huskies, who were 6-7-3, for fourth place and the final playoff berth in the Prairie Division of the Canada West Conference.
    Actually when you watched the two clashes, you come away impressed with how well “the beautiful game” can be played in the men’s U Sports ranks. Both sides moved the ball well and both contests had real good pace.
    Had the Pronghorns manufactured about a couple of more plays each game, they could have come away with two road wins.
    On Saturday, Huskies third-year midfielder Marcello Gonzalez scored the contest’s only goal in the 59th minute and fourth-year keeper Patrick Pranger made four saves to give the host side the victory. Matthew Vandervoort took the loss in the Pronghorns goal.
    On Sunday, the Huskies took a 1-0 lead late in the first half, when a corner kick from third-year midfielder Gabriel Buatois bounced around inside the box and deflected into the Pronghorns goal off Vandervoort. Early in the second half, rookie midfielder Kwame Opoku scored his first U Sports goal to give the Huskies a 2-0 edge.
U of S’s Jakub Rogowski collides with U of L’s Matthew Vandervoort.
    In the 76th minute, Pronghorns rookie midfielder Ellie Davies scored on the penalty shot to cut the Huskies lead to 2-1. The visitors continued to press, but they couldn’t find the equalizer.
Huskies keeper Kyle Moore made three stops in the win, while Vandervoort stopped five shots in the setback for the U of L side.
    For most of both outings, the Huskies did well advancing the ball up the pitch with triangle passing, and the players who didn’t have the ball presented passing outlets for the teammate that did have the ball. U of S also did well in withstanding the Pronghorns pressure at the end of both contests to preserve the win. With wins being worth three points in the standings in soccer and ties worth just one point, the fact Huskies didn’t give up the lead late was big.
    Now three years removed from winning the Canada West title in 2014, the current Huskies are more on the young side with their roster containing 10 rookies and five players in their second year of eligibility. While they have no fifth-year players, they do have six players in their fourth-year of eligibility to provide some veteran presence in the quest to end a one-year absence from the post-season.
    For the first time out, youth helped carry the day on two occasions for the Dogs. Hopefully, they can keep the good vibes going as the campaign progresses, but win or lose, they should be fun to watch.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Saturday and Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to face the MacEwan University Griffins and the U of Alberta Golden Bears respectively.

Blades sign MacInnes, skate with good pace

    The Saskatoon Blades wrapped up their training camp by signing their possible goalie of the future.
    On Tuesday, the Blades inked 15-year-old Burnaby, B.C., product and netminder Koen MacInnes to a standard WHL player agreement. MacInnes, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 165 pounds, was selected in the second round and 35th overall in the WHL Bantam Draft held in May.
    Last season, MacInnes played goal for goal for the Burnaby Winter Club’s top tier bantam team and backstopped the squad to a Western Canadian Bantam Championship title. MacInnes isn’t eligible to start playing in the WHL on a full-time basis until the start of the 2018-19 season.
    The Blades entered Tuesday with 38 players on their roster including 21 forwards, 13 defencemen and four goaltenders. Not included in those numbers were injured forwards Lukus MacKenzie and Tyler Lees, who both have upper body injuries.
    The Blades held their Blue and White game on Tuesday, where the Blue side prevailed 5-1. The contest, which included three periods that were 15-minutes in straight time, was played at a very fast pace. Both sides were fairly focused in transitioning up ice with speed.
    Overage centre Cameron Hebig was looking fairly good. He missed all of last season due to injury after piling up 26 goals and 43 assists in 59 regular season games as an 18-year-old in 2015-16.
    At the moment, the Blades have four overage players on their roster including Hebig, forward Braylon Shmyr, defenceman Evan Fiala and goaltender Logan Flodell. WHL clubs have to cut down to three overage players on Oct. 10.
    The Blades open their exhibition schedule traveling to Regina on Thursday to face the Pats. “The Bridge City Bunch” opens the regular season on Sept. 22, when they host the Swift Current Broncos at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

Hilltops O-line rounding out well

The Hilltops offensive line has run over the opposition so far this season.
    In football, you always have to show love to your offensive line, and the Saskatoon Hilltops are rounding out to be good in that department.
    The Toppers were expected to go through some growing pains in that area thanks to the graduations of Tyler Hoath, Drake Unger and Cord Ivanko.
    When the Hilltops trounced the Ottawa Sooners 49-15 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Saturday, they started Kirk Simonsen at right tackle, Taylor Elderkin at right guard, Patrick Arno at centre, Jack Sloboda at left guard and Mason Ochs at left tackle. Simonsen and Elderkin were regulars last season, while Sloboda missed much of the 2016 campaign due to injury.
    That group of five has been a main cog in helping the Toppers get out to a 3-0 start and pile up the yards offensively.
    Thanks to the offensive line, the Hilltops are still finding a great balance offensively, where the yards they pile up through the air and along the ground are split 50/50.
    Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen has to be given credit here in helping the team not a miss a beat in this area.
    The Hilltops are off until Sept. 9, when they host the Regina Thunder (2-1) at 7 p.m. at SMF Field.
    The Toppers are also hosting their annual “In the End Zone” fundraiser before the clash with the Thunder. This year’s guest speaker is legendary former Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Don Narcisse, while Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant will also give a pre-game address. Tickets are $680 for a table of eight or $85 per single ticket and can be purchased clicking the link right here.

Servetnyk the best at stats

    When it comes to the local Saskatoon football front, no one is better at doing statistics than Danny Servetnyk.
    Servetnyk can be found in the press box at Saskatoon Minor Football Field at all Saskatoon Hilltops and Saskatoon Valkyries games as well as all high school games played at the facility. In what seems like a matter of a handful of minutes following Hilltops and Valkyries contests, he has the statistics for that night’s game complete, and they are pristine.
    During the high school football season, you can expect an email with all the stats from that night’s games moments after the last contest concludes. They are as good as the statistics from Hilltops and Valkyries.
    I definitely thank Servetnyk big time for the efforts he puts in compiling football statistics. It helps make my blog posts and stories that much better.
    Servetnyk made his mark as an athlete back in the day in the late 1970s and early 1980s building storied career playing football with the Hilltops and wrestling with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s team. He was inducted into the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Hockey community loses great guy in Tuer’s passing

    I felt stunned and sad when learned of Graham Tuer’s passing around the lunch hour time here in Saskatoon.
    He died at the age of 87 in a Regina hospital on Tuesday morning. He entered hospital late last week after suffering two heart attacks.
    Here in Saskatoon, Tuer’s passing was talked about often during the Saskatoon Blades intrasquad Blue and White game.
    Tuer, who was inducted into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame on July 22, was born in North Battleford and spent more than 50 years in and around arenas in Western Canada in various roles with various teams, leagues and organizations.
    When I would venture to the Brandt Centre in Regina last season to cover Pats contests in the regular season and during their run to Game 6 of the WHL Championship series, I visited with Tuer regularly before most games. I always enjoyed those visits, and I will cherish them even more now. Tuer had been with the Pats as a scout and their liaison with Hockey Regina since 2015, and served with the team earlier in his hockey travels.
    Tuer’s presence added to my familiarity of being at the Brandt Centre after being away from that facility for a number of years. I remember visiting him when I covered the Pats as a beat writer during the last half of the 1999-2000 and first half of the 2000-01 seasons.
    While I will miss Tuer, I know a lot more people in hockey will take his passing to heart way more than me. He had a huge influence on a number of people involved in the game. Over the next few days, I know I am going to learn a lot more about Tuer’s impact on the game.
    Funeral arrangements are pending.
    Gregg Drinnan wrote a great piece on Tuer for his Taking Note blog. It can be found right here.

Back in the Express with a cover story on Flory

    I was back in the Saskatoon Express this week with a cover story on new University of Saskatchewan Huskies football head coach Scott Flory.
    Actually, I got to be part of a sweet looking cover, and the front of the local weekly contained my story and one on Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant penned by Keenan Sorokan.
    My story on Flory talks about how he is preaching that everything matters with the Huskies football team. Before becoming the Huskies head coach, Flory had been team’s offensive coordinator for the three previous seasons.
    Sorokan’s story focuses on the colourful impact Sargeant has had on the success of the Hilltops. Sargeant has been the Hilltops head coach since 1998, and he has guided the team to 10 CJFL titles.
    If you have a chance, be sure to big up a hard copy of the Express, which can be found in yellow dispensers located throughout the city.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.