Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Fischer was born to play for CJFL’s storied Hilltops

Star running back aims for final big game in Canadian Bowl

Logan Fischer (#21) leads the Hilltops on to SMF Field.
    Since the day he was born, it seemed like destiny that Logan Fischer would one day play for the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    His father, Axel, was a star tight end and kicker for the Hilltops, and Axel helped the Hilltops win a Canadian Junior Football League title in 1978 with a 24-4 victory over the Ottawa Sooners at Saskatoon’s Gordie Howe Bowl. The Hilltops captured the Armadale Cup, which was the league championship trophy at the time, with that win. Following his playing career, Axel spent some time with the Hilltops as an assistant coach and was part of the coaching staff of the 1985 CJFL championship winning team.
    Logan, who is currently a star fifth-year running back with the team, remembers being enamoured with his father’s links to the venerable CJFL team from a very young age.
    “I remember when I was a little kid I would always play with his rings,” said Logan. “I’d look at them and be like, “Oh, one day I’m going to win one of these.”
    “Sure enough, I have three on my hand and am looking for that fourth.”
Logan Fischer is the ultimate “big game” player.
    Logan has helped the Hilltops win the last three straight CJFL titles, and he was named the offensive player of the game in the league championship game in each of the past two years. He will finish off his junior eligibility playing in one final CJFL title game on Saturday in Windsor, Ont., when the Hilltops (10-1) battle the host AKO Fratmen (9-1).
    The Hilltops are trying to become the first team in the history of the CJFL to win four straight league titles. They won three straight league titles on two other occasions from 2001 to 2003 and 2010 to 2012.
    Going into his final career CJFL game, Logan remembered how proud his father was of his playing days with the Hilltops and hearing the stories of those days growing up.
    “He showed me lots of the film on VHS,” said Logan. “He would be like, “Oh, that’s me right there” catching a nice touchdown pass as the tight end or putting the ball deep punting.
    “He was a very versatile guy I heard. I guess I got to see a little bit of it, which was nice.”
    After graduating from Saskatoon’s Bethlehem Catholic High School in 2013, Logan joined the Hilltops. During his rookie season, he enjoyed the fact the team’s older directors recognized him as Axel’s son.
Logan Fischer was named to the PFC all-star team.
    In year two with the Hilltops, the son started to make his mark with team after then star fifth-year running back Wayndel Lewis injured his ankle in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal playoff game and was out for the rest of the 2014 post-season. Logan Fischer stepped into the starting spot and ran the ball 28 times for 183 yards in a 27-7 PFC final victory over the Calgary Colts.
    The Hilltops advanced to that year’s Canadian Bowl in Langley, B.C., and they dumped the host Rams 39-14. In his first CJFL title game, Fischer carried the ball 19 times for 94 yards and scored one touchdown. He also hauled in four passes for another 37 yards.
    Fischer’s big games kept coming.
    During a regular season game on Sept. 5, 2015 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Fischer ran the ball 32 times for 293 yards and scored a touchdown and caught two passes for 26 yards as the Hilltops downed the Regina Thunder 35-17 in a downpour of rain.
    In that season’s Canadian Bowl, Fischer earned his first most outstanding offensive player of the game award in a CJFL title clash as the Hilltops got past the Okanagan Sun 38-24 at SMF Field. 
Logan Fischer (#21) piled up the yardage in the 2015 Canadian Bowl.
    He ran the ball 23 times for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns and caught seven passes for 107 yards.
    At the 2016 Canadian Bowl in Langford, B.C., Fischer ran the ball 28 times for 202 yards and caught four passes for 43 yards and two majors as the Hilltops downed the host Westshore Rebels 37-25. He claimed his second most outstanding offensive player of the game award in a CJFL title clash.
    Fischer said all those big games blend together as one great experience over the years. He didn’t really know how to react to the realization he will play the final game of his CJFL career before exhausting his junior eligibility on Saturday.
    “It is quite the feeling,” said Fischer, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 220 pounds. “You don’t really know if you are going to win.
    “I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there that feel really confident, and I’m amongst them. We have a good team. I think this is the year we are going to get the job done and get that four-peat.”
Logan Fischer takes top offensive player honours in the 2015 Canadian Bowl.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Fischer hits another gear when the games get bigger and the spotlight gets brighter.
    “He thrives in those situations,” said Sargeant. “He loves being the guy. He loves getting the ball.
    “He makes everyone around him better. The thing that we love is he is a great runner, tough and physical, but he is also a great pass catcher out of the backfield.
    “He certainly creates mismatches for defences and allows us to open up a game plan that includes him in both the run and the pass, which is why he gets featured so much and why he sees the ball so much.”
    Sargeant added Fischer plays with a high competitive edge and has been a good leader for the team’s younger running backs including third-year tailback Adam Machart and sophomore ball carrier Joshua Ewanchyna.
Logan Fischer (#21) muscles his way into the end zone for the Hilltops.
    “He (Fischer) is an uncommon football player for his frame how physical he is, how aggressive he runs the ball,” said Sargeant. “He has an intensity that is tough to match.
    “When he is on, there is no one else you want making plays for you. Why do you think the other two running backs are running so great? He has certainly helped to motivate them and be a good mentor for them and has taught them how to play the game and play running back for the Saskatoon Hilltops, so we are thankful for that.”
    Before joining the Hilltops for his final CJFL campaign, Fischer attended the training camp for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. During the CJFL season itself, he had battled a nagging leg injury all season, but he still ran the ball 121 times for 804 yards and scored 11 touchdowns over the eight-game regular season. He was named a PFC all-star and the PFC’s most outstanding offensive back.
Logan Fischer (#21) has three CJFL title rings.
    If he received another invite to a Roughriders training camp, Fischer said he would take it. If a CFL avenue doesn’t work out, Fischer doesn’t plan to continue playing football in the Canadian university ranks.
    “I’m more of a trades guy,” said Fischer, who turns 22-years-old in December. “I’m getting ready for my third year apprenticeship with plumbing.
    “I’d don’t see why I would kind of step away from that. I’m making good money. School is only two months versus four years.”
    Knowing he has a good post-playing life to transition on to, Fischer’s current focus is on having one final great game playing for the team he always wanted to play for. He wants to be a factor in helping the Hilltops prevail over the AKO Fratmen.
    “I think the guys are ready,” said Fischer. “Sarge (Sargeant) gets us in the right mindset, and we are just ready to go.
    “He makes us focus up for practice, and we have to respect the opponent. He can’t stress that enough. They have good athletes.
    “I think ultimately, we are a team of perseverance really. We’ve come back in the past, and I don’t think we are going to let it slip this year.”

Back in the Express with Simonsen

Kirk Simonsen (#51) locks up on a block for the Hilltops.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature on Saskatoon Hilltops right tackle Kirk Simonsen.
    Simonsen is part of a group of 11 players in their fourth year of eligibility with the team looking to go four-for-four in seasons played with CJFL championship victories. Adam Benkic, Bobby Ehman, Connor Guillet, Logan Kelsey-Stern, Liam Murphy, Sam Mike, Cody Peters, Jason Price, James Vause and Jordan Walls are the other Hilltops are trying to be part of a fourth straight CJFL championship win in four years of eligibility.
    A total of six players in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility are trying to lay claim to being part of a fourth straight CJFL championship victory including Logan Fischer, Luke Melnyk, Cameron Schnitzler, Tom Schnitzler, Colin Stumborg and Ryan Turple.
    Centre Jack Sloboda is in his final year of junior eligibility, but he joined the Hilltops at the start of the 2016 season after spending time with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
    Simonsen has a cool individual story. He came to the Hilltops after playing six-man high school football in Hanley, Sask., with the Hanley Compsite School Sabres.
    In six-man high school football, Simonsen got to do something most offensive linemen don’t normally do. He talked about what the transition was like going from the six-man game to the 12-man game.
    The story on Simonsen can be found right here.

Hilltops first CJFL title came versus Windsor in 1953

    The Saskatoon Hilltops try to win their 20th CJFL title in team history against the team their first national junior title came against way back in 1953.
    Back in 1953, the modern day current version of the Hilltops were in their seventh year of existence, and they were playing host to the Windsor AKO Fratmen in the CJFL title game. The AKO Fratmen entered the contest as defending CJFL champions having defeated the visiting Edmonton Wildcats 15-12 in Windsor in the previous year’s national final.
    The Hilltops made it to the CJFL championship game in their second year of existence, but they dropped a 23-10 decision to the Wildcats in Hamilton.
    Excitement was high for the 1953 title game in Saskatoon, and the first 4,300 tickets for the contest at Griffiths Stadium on the University of Saskatchewan campus sold out quickly. Another 2,900 tickets were sold for the game bringing the attendance to 7,200, which was a record at the time for a CJFL title game played on the Prairies. The large gathering circled the field at Griffiths Stadium.
    Hilltops quarterback Ron Adam hooked up with Bill Trout on a sleeper play for the game’s first touchdown and the hosts never looked back. The Hilltops stormed to a 34-6 victory on a -1 C day to capture the then league championship trophy the Leader-Post Trophy, which was also known as “the Little Grey Cup,” as CJFL champions.
    Adam’s arm was golden in that contest as he completed 12-of-20 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. At the time, football was way more geared to the run, and it was common for the offensive line to contain seven players. It was very rare for quarterbacks at that time to eclipse 300 yards in passing in those days as Adam did.
    Adam also ran home a major score from 13 yards out.
    At that time, the CJFL drew big crowds as the main feeder for the CFL. Following the 1953 CJFL title game, Adam, who passed away in 2014, went on to play seven seasons with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders mainly as a defensive back.
    At the Canadian university level, the first Vanier Cup to declare a national champion wasn’t played until 1965.
    The Hilltops and AKO Fratmen last met in a CJFL title game in 1996 in a neutral site clash in Oshawa, Ont. Saskatoon romped to a 39-7 victory.
    The AKO Fratmen last won the CJFL championship in 1999, when they defeated the visiting Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun 32-29 in Windsor.

Ridley set to call 3,800th game

Bob Ridley has called 3,799 games for the Tigers.
    Bob Ridley, who is the iconic play-by-play voice of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, once admitted to me the day would come when he would bid listeners a “good night” for the final time.
    “One of these days I am going to have to retire,” said Ridley. “You can’t do it forever.
    “But, it has been a great ride. I hope to stay on as long as I can.”
    The talk I speak of occurred way back in August of 2006, when I was doing an interview for my first feature story on Ridley, who was 62-years-old at the time.
    These days at age 73, Ridley is still the only play-by-play voice in the history of the WHL’s Tigers. He gave up driving the team bus about three years back, but he is still going as strong as ever calling games on the radio, as the Tigers play through their 48th season of existence.
    On Friday when the Tigers (10-6) travel to Calgary to take on the Hitmen (6-10-1) at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Ridley will call his 3,800th game as the Tigers play-by-play voice. His total of 3,799 games called to date includes 3,379 of the Tigers 3,380 regular season contests, one standings tiebreaker game, all 399 contests the Tigers have played in the WHL playoffs and all 20 contests the team has played in the Memorial Cup tournament.
    If someone called an average of 80 games between the regular season and playoffs each season for 47 seasons, that person would still fall short of the total number of games Ridley has called.
    It is extremely likely no one in the Canadian media industry will ever come close to Ridley’s still growing games called total as the play-by-play voice of one team.

Blades should be in a barnburner with Broncos, other notes

Cameron Hebig and the Blades could be in for a shootout.
    The SaskTel Centre should be the site of a pretty good WHL clash on the day before Remembrance Day.
    The Saskatoon Blades (7-8-1) return home after four straight road games to tangle with the Swift Current Broncos (11-3-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday night at the SaskTel Centre. The Blades have won four of their last five games, while the Broncos have been one of the WHL’s best teams in the early going of the 2017-18 campaign. Both sides have players that can light up the scoreboard.
    Broncos right-winger Tyler Steenbergen leads the WHL in scoring with 23 goals and 15 assists. Finnish import left-winger Aleksi Heponiemi is second in the WHL scoring race potting 12 goals and 25 assists playing on Swift Current’s top line with Steenbergen.
    Swift Current captain Glenn Gawdin, who centres the line with Steenbergen and Heponiemi, is fourth in the WHL scoring race piling up 11 goals and 22 assists.
    Defenceman Colby Sissons had quarterbacked the offence from the back end for Swift Current recording four goals and 14 assists.
Tyler Steenbergen (#17) and the Broncos have been on fire.
    Centre Cameron Hebig and left-winger Braylon Shmyr have paced Saskatoon’s offence in their overage seasons. Hebig leads the Blades in scoring with 14 goals and eight assists, while Shmyr is second in team scoring with seven goals and 10 assists.
    Czech import defenceman Libor Hajek has helped pace Blades offence from the back end picking up four goals and seven assists.
    Overager Logan Flodell is having an outstanding start to the season playing goal for the Broncos posting a 10-2-1 record, a 2.68 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts. He was with the Blades, but was traded to the Broncos right before the start of the regular season.
    Ryan Kubic, who is the Blades 19-year-old starting goalie, is beginning to play stronger after a slow start to the season. So far this season, Kubic has posted a 7-6-1 record, a 3.76 goals against average and a .880 save percentage. The St. Andrews, Man., product has started every contest of the stretch where the Blades have won four of their last five games stopping 152 of 164 total shots for a .927 save percentage.
    The Broncos, who are rated second in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings, have won two of the three head-to-head meetings with the Blades this season. The Blades took the last encounter between the two squads 4-3 back on Oct. 27 in Swift Current.
    Friday’s game will be the Blades “Salute Our Forces” night contest due to the fact Remembrance Day falls on Saturday.
  • It has been great getting to have short visits with brothers Jeff and Dean Chynoweth during the early part of the WHL campaign. Jeff is the general manager of the Calgary Hitmen, and he is the former general manager and owner of the Kootenay Ice. Dean is an associate coach with the Vancouver Giants. Before joining the Giants, Dean had been the head coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. The sons of the late Ed Chynoweth, who playing an integral part in building the WHL, have had a long and great history with the WHL. It is great they are still part of the circuit.
  • Defensive end Riley Pickett and defensive back Colton Holmes of the Saskatoon Hilltops were named to the CJFL’s all-star team on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday. Pickett had 15 solo tackles and nine sacks in eight regular season games. Holmes had 22 solo tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery during regular season play. Defensive lineman Adam Slikboer of the Windsor AKO Fratmen was also named to the CJFL’s defensive all-star team.
  • Saskatoon Express editor Cam Hutchinson wrote a great column about how media moguls don’t deserve handouts and the changes that occurred at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix over the years as that publication has slipped in stature. It can be found here.
  • Former CTV Regina sports broadcaster Bianca Millions deserves to be working in a mainstream outlet in a big centre. It is a shame that she isn’t working in the mainstream media in Canada somewhere. When working sporting events in Regina, she made a great duo with Arielle Zerr of CJME. Millions and Zerr always lifted the atmosphere wherever they appeared together. Millions took time to speak about her career as a female sports reporter and the obstacles she has faced with the University of Regina’s School of Journalism magazine publication. The magazine with the story about Millions can be found here.
  • On Wednesday, it was announced the last edition of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald would be published on Dec. 7 and the media outlet’s website would also be shut down. The Times-Herald still provided beat coverage for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, so that will come to an end too, as the WHL beat writer becomes an even more endangered species in Canada’s media landscape. The Times-Herald was founded as a weekly newspaper in 1889 and became a daily in 1906. Like a lot of media outlets, questionable management helped bring the Times-Herald to an end, but you will likely hear spin on how the changing media industry brought down an outlet and was in kind of a monopoly situation in Moose Jaw. The Times-Herald was the home to the late great Rick Moore, who passed away from cancer in 2008 and was the publication’s legendary sports editor. The content produced in the sports section when Moore was the editor was outstanding, and the local sports scene was treated like prime time. His celebration of life attracted close to 1,000 people in April of 2008. It will be sad to see the Times-Herald fall by the wayside.
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