Thursday, 12 October 2017

Pickett becomes Hilltops sack master heading into playoffs

Rush end credits teammates on D-line for spectacular season

DL Riley Pickett had an outstanding regular season for the Hilltops.
    Riley Pickett will be the first to tell you he reaped individual benefits because of his team, and he really means it.
    The third-year rush end with the Saskatoon Hilltops led the Prairie Football Conference with nine sacks appearing in all eight of the team’s regular season games. Translated to a hypothetical 16-game regular season, Pickett’s numbers would double to 18 sacks, which would be a club record for some NFL teams.
    “It is pretty crazy, but I also couldn’t have done it without the help of course like my three other starting D-linemen, especially Tom Schnitzler,” said Pickett, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds. “He taught me pretty much everything I know out here, and he has been a huge part of it.”
    Pickett said his individual success comes because of the ability for the Hilltops defensive line to play well as a unit. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate added he benefits from the work of Schnitzler, who starts at the other end spot, and starting defensive tackles Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb.
    Schnitzler, who is an established fifth-year star, often gets double teamed every game, which gives Pickett a lot of one-on-one situations. At the moment, Pickett believes other offensive coordinators in the Canadian Junior Football League must gain a few headaches trying to figure out how to stop the Hilltops two starting defensive ends especially as the post-season is about to start.
    The Hilltops (7-1) open playoffs hosting a PFC semifinal match against the Winnipeg Rifles (4-4) at Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
Hilltops DL Riley Pickett sacks an Ottawa Sooners quarterback.
    “It is a huge bind,” said Pickett. “I like to think of our D-line like the (NFL’s) Houston Texans.
    “They have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney coming off both edges. You can’t guard both of them, so one of us is going to have success.”
    Pickett had his eyes opened in regards to how much the defensive line has to play as unit in order to succeed during his rookie season with the Hilltops in 2015. In that CJFL championship campaign, the Toppers starting defensive line was made up of Schnitzler, defensive end Blake Hermann and defensive tackles Blade Adams and Matt Kozun.
    As a unit, that foursome had the ability to fold an opponent’s offensive front in half causing most plays to disintegrate at the line of scrimmage. That sight burned some big images into Pickett’s head.
    “It was crazy,” said Pickett. “Matt Kozun and Blake Adams are two of the best defensive linemen I have ever seen play and Blake Hermann especially as well.
    “I learned a lot from all of them. I just learned how to win pretty much.”
    Adams and Kozun graduated from the Hilltops following the 2015 campaign. Hermann departed from the program following the 2016 season.
    As Pickett took on a bigger role with those departures, the 20-year-old didn’t want to let the level of play on the Hilltops defensive line drop off.
Hilltops DL Riley Pickett gets set to rush the quarterback.
    “There was a lot of pressure,” said Pickett. “I knew I had to come in and be productive.
    “Obviously, I didn’t think I was going to have the season that I had. I was just flying around out there and just using the six inches between the ears.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant has been pumped to see Pickett’s progression.
    “Riley Pickett has been outstanding,” said Sargeant. “A third-year kid out of Centennial, he has come in, and he has had a great off-season.
    “He is so much bigger and stronger. He has just done a great job of getting off blocks. For sure, he led the league in sacks with nine and was a true impact player as a rush end and on special teams with his presence and his power.
    “He is an impact player in the blue and gold for sure.”
    Sargeant said Pickett has a number of attributes which make it extremely tough for opponents to block him in a one-on-one setting.
    “He (Pickett) is quite strong and agile and all things you look for in a rush end,” said Sargeant. “He has certainly got that. As I said, very happy with his performance, but I expect him to play even better in the playoffs.”
    Pickett has enjoyed being part of the Hilltops CJFL championship runs in each of the past two seasons. He would like to be a big part in helping the team win a fourth straight CJFL title this year but knows there is still a long way to go before the Canadian Bowl championship trophy is handed out.
The Hilltops have enjoyed a few sack celebrations with Riley Pickett (#43).
    “We’re just taking it day by day having good practices and building off of it,” said Pickett. “Four more “Ws” and hopefully we can hoist that cup above the head.”
    With the Rifles having concluded the regular season posting a 35-22 home victory over the Regina Thunder on Oct. 7, Sargeant said his players need to keep their attention on the task at hand.
    “At the end of the day right now all of our focus is on the Winnipeg Rifles,” said Sargeant. “They are a team on the rise and getting better. They took it to Regina.
    “They show some good game film and showed that they are worthy and they are ready. Hey, we have to come out and play our Sunday best on Sunday at our home and defend home field turf. That is what it is all about.”

Blades’ Hebig on fire since return, other notes

Cameron Hebig gets set to drive a shot on goal for the Blades.
    It has been said absence makes the heart grow fonder, and in the case of Cameron Hebig of the Saskatoon Blades, absence makes you appreciate the star centre that much more on his return.
    Hebig missed the entire 2016-17 campaign due to an upper body injury that was never clearly diagnosed. Entering the current campaign, Hebig last suited up for his hometown Blades in a regular season game back on March 19, 2016, when he had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 home ice victory over the Prince Albert Raiders. During that season, he finished with 26 goals and 43 assists in 59 games.
    In four appearances this season, Hebig has recorded four goals, five assists and a plus-one rating in the plus-minus department. During a 6-4 road victory over the Memorial Cup hosting Pats in Regina on Wednesday, Hebig, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 185 pounds, recorded two goals, two assists and a plus-two rating.
    He helped set up the winning goal by linemate Bradly Goethals at the 5:03 mark of the second period.
    Since stepping on the ice for his overage campaign, Hebig has displayed the speed and skill that makes him one of the WHL’s elite players. When he is on the ice, you can tell he sees the game at a level higher than most other players in the major junior ranks.
    It also feels like you notice him that much more on the ice after the Blades had to march on without him for a full campaign.
  • With a 6-4 loss to the Blades, the Pats fell to 3-4-1. Having finished first in the entire WHL with a 52-12-7-1 record last season and advance to the WHL championship series before falling to the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games, I am starting to sense a few major junior fans in Regina are getting antsy. Due to the fact the Pats will host the Memorial Cup this May, the early results don’t inspire confidence by some of the Regina faithful. The Pats aren’t the same team without Adam Brooks, Connor Hobbs et al.
  • The WHL regular season schedule will shrink to 68 games next season from the current 72-game slate. That announcement was made Oct. 5. I think that was a good move. Even if it is a small amount, teams will have a little more time for practice lighten up on travel from going to a couple of extra road games. Teams might also get to work with more schedules of playing on Saturday night and being off until Wednesday. One of the benefits of the social media era is players seem much more connected to their families than the past, which is a good thing. Saturday’s are often none curfew nights where players can mingle with their families, when teams don’t play again until the following Wednesday. A few more family nights like these are always appreciated.
  • How great is it to have the Saskatchewan Roughriders at 8-6 with three of their last four regular season games to be played at home. Currently sitting third in the CFL’s West Division, it is great to have the Roughriders in a healthy spot in the playoff race after two seasons of struggle.
  • The most priceless reaction of the week has to Kohl Bauml, who is the third-year standout centre for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team. With his Huskies leading the visiting U of Regina Cougars 4-0 at the ancient Rutherford Rink, Bauml attempted a high clear out of his own zone near the midway point of the third period. The puck hit the beams in the roof producing the first “rust break” of the current campaign. In a mix of horror and humour, Bauml yelled out, “Oh no.” The ensuing clean up went by quickly, and the Huskies skated away with a 6-0 win. The Huskies host the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns at Friday at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.
  • Kaitlin Willoughby. Go see her play now. The fifth-year captain of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team is “the franchise.” While the regular season is just two-games old, it seems like it will be just past mid-March before you know it and her U Sports career will be over. The 22-year-old Prince Albert product is a special player, so take advantage of every chance there is to stop at Rutherford to see Willoughby play for the Huskies women’s team. Their next home date is Oct. 20, when the Huskies host the U of Manitoba Bisons at 7 p.m. at Rutherford.

Video of the week

    The below carpool karaoke video produced by Huskie Athletics featuring Emma Nutter and Kori Herner of the Huskies women’s hockey team, Jordon Cooke of the Huskies men’s hockey team, C.J. Gavlas of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s volleyball team and host Connor Jay is just fun.
    It was revealed on Sunday. Hopefully this helps put you in a good mood and provides a few chuckles.

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