|The Hilltops storm out of the gate for the CJFL national semifinal on Sunday.|
The Saskatoon Hilltops love winning in the playoffs because it means the team stays together.
For the fourth straight year, the Hilltops are heading to the Canadian Junior Football League championship game – the Canadian Bowl. Saskatoon is trying to become the first team in the history of the CJFL, which dates back to 1908 with its national championship game, to win four straight league titles and claim seven championships over an eight-year span.
The Hilltops (10-1) will face the host AKO Fratmen (9-1) in Windsor, Ont., on Nov. 11 in this year’s Canadian Bowl.
While winning is always great, the Hilltops will be pumped that for a fourth straight season they will go on to play in the last possible game they can play in.
|The Hilltops defence celebrates a big play on Sunday.|
Over the next couple of weeks, they will get to enjoy dressing for the final times in the team’s old clubhouse at Ron Atchison field before heading off to practice. Next year, the team will be operating out of a new state of the art clubhouse facility.
The team gets to practice for another couple of weeks, enjoy a plain flight to Windsor, Ont., take in the sites of another CJFL awards banquet and get to take the field for the chance to win a 20th national title overall for the club.
Above everything, the best part of the next two weeks is the Hilltops family gets to stay together. That has been a huge intangible over the club’s current run of 12 straight playoff victories.
|Hilltops receiver Ryan Turple, left, tries to push out of a tackle.|
Even this year, that feeling of family helped drive the Toppers through a tight 28-21 Prairie Football Conference semifinal win over the Winnipeg Rifles and earn a hard fought 36-24 PFC final victory over their provincial rivals, the Regina Thunder. Had two plays been changed in each of those games, the Hilltops players likely would have cleared their gear out of the old clubhouse facility for the final time.
In a CJFL national semifinal on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops left no doubt they would play for another national title hammering the Nanaimo, B.C., based Vancouver Island Raiders 48-0.
Had the Hilltops lost in any of those three playoff outing, the players would have kept in contact, but it wouldn’t be the same. Real life factors like school work at the University of Saskatchewan or Saskatchewan Polytechnic, work, family matters and girlfriends would all be pushed to the forefront in hampering the players’ ability to get together.
Every playoff win allows more practices and film sessions to be held, which means there are scheduled times when everyone gets together. While the Hilltops constantly improve they are good at focusing on the task at hand, the players enjoy all the social aspects that come with the team’s game preparations.
|Hilltops players get good family support like James Vause (#24) right here.|
On top of that, the players blood families get to stay connected with the team as well. It is common to see parents, brothers and sisters line up to watch practice at Ron Atchison Field or SMF Field. Besides coming out in large numbers for home games, family members and friends follow the Hilltops on the road in big numbers.
When the Hilltops played for the first time at the new Mosaic Stadium in Regina back on Aug. 12, they came out to huge ovation from the large Saskatoon contingent that followed them down for the game. After the Hilltops downed the host Thunder 37-20, the players met their family and friends that lined the first row of the west side stands of the stadium.
Alums from all sorts of years also frequent all the home games and appear at a few road contests.
The importance of staying together was seen from a couple of veteran running backs who battled through injuries.
|The Hilltops celebrate a Logan Fischer (#21) TD on Sunday.|
Star fifth-year running back Logan Fischer was hampered with a nagging leg injury all season and still managed to carry the ball 121 times for 804 yards and 11 touchdowns over eight regular season games. He was named a PFC all-star and the PFC’s most outstanding offensive back.
He wasn’t able to dress for the PFC final, but he was a jovial presence on the Hilltops bench. He saw spot duty in the CJFL national semifinal win over the Raiders and still managed to catch two passes for 44 yards and carry the ball nine times for 57 yards and score one touchdown.
One could easily create an NFL Films style top 10 list of the best big games Fischer has had in his five seasons with the Hilltops, and you can bet the team’s coaches and staff will do their best to ensure Fischer finishes his junior eligibility in a full game uniform.
Fourth-year running back Liam Murphy missed significant stretches of last season due to injury, and he was out the entire regular season this year with injury until returning at full health for the start of playoffs.
|Liam Murphy battled injury to return for the playoffs.|
Before his injury troubles, Murphy had significant playing time returning kicks and being a change of pace back on offence throughout the 2015 CJFL championship campaign.
When he returned for playoffs this season, Murphy, who is a running backs coach with the Saskatoon Valkyries Western Women’s Canadian Football League team, was blocking and tackling on special teams because others had taken on the roles he used to fill and cemented their status there.
Still, Murphy wanted to be back in uniform to be around the team. In the romp over the Raiders, Murphy was inserted at running back in the fourth quarter and ripped off 45 yards rushing on nine carries.
If needed, he showed he can contribute in a bigger role in the Canadian Bowl.
The family feeling the Hilltops have is something very few sports teams across Canada actually have.
That intangible has always been and will continue to be a key factor in the blue and gold’s success.
“Off the Leash Luncheon” nears fast
|An “Off the Leash Luncheon” puck.|
This year’s “Off the Leash Luncheon” is nearing fast, but there is still time to get a ticket to attend this major fundraiser for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
The ninth “Off the Leash Luncheon” will be held on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Prairieland Park, and the guest speaker will be former NHL star left-winger Brendan Shanahan, who is currently the president and alternate governor for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. From 1987 to 2009, Shanahan played in 1,524 NHL regular season games split between the New Jersey Devils, St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers piling up 656 goals, 698 assists and 2,489 penalty minutes.
He was with the Red Wings teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2002 and was part of Canada’s gold medal winning men’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics in 2002.
Following his playing days, Shanahan moved on to being a hockey executive first with the NHL office before joining the Maple Leafs.
Saskatchewan comedian Kelly Taylor will be back for another year as the master of ceremonies for this event, which is commonly well attended by the alumni of the Huskies men’s hockey team.
The doors open for the “Off the Leash Luncheon” at 11 a.m. Individual tickets are $125 each. Sponsorship packages are available for a children’s table at $750, a Friend of the Dogs table of eight for $1,250 and a Power Play package table of eight with major sponsor privileges and recognition for $3,500.
Tickets can be purchased through picatic.com by clicking here.
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