Friday, 17 August 2018

Hilltops approach “drive for five” in similar way to past seasons

Jason Price, right, zips downfield on a touchdown catch for the Hilltops.
    Saskatoon Hilltops plan to soak in each moment, because they expect the 2018 season will pass quickly.
    The Toppers are embarking on a quest to win an unprecedented fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title. Last November, they became the first team to win four straight CJFL titles, when they romped over the host AKO Fratmen in Windsor, Ont., 56-11 in the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops open this year’s regular season on Saturday, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium. Saskatoon tops the CJFL’s power rankings, while Regina is rated eighth.
    While the CJFL campaign is still in its infancy, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant expects time will pass at a rapid pace.
    “When we had our kickoff meeting, I talked to the fifth years,” said Sargeant. “In a blink of an eye, they are in their fifth year, and this is it.
    “We’re very proud that people stay loyal and committed to this program. The biggest reason we win is because of our fifth-year players. We coach and honour that.
The Hilltops celebrate a touchdown last season at Mosaic Stadium.
    “We expecting big things, expecting them to make a lot of plays and have a lot of fun with it. That is what Hilltop football stands for. It is about family, about fun and about playing together and going for the ultimate goal we set is winning the championship for our fifth-year players.”
    With those words, the Hilltops will approach their “drive for five” in similar fashion to past seasons. For as long as anyone can remember, Sargeant has talked about playing to honour the fifth-year players by helping them depart their playing days as champions.
    Naturally, fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls is focused on embracing every moment in his final campaign with the team. He admits to becoming more aware about how quickly time goes by.
    “I’ve tried not to think about it too much about the last year,” said Walls, who topped the CJFL’s pre-season top 50 players to watch list. “It is in the back of your mind.
    “It is taking it one day at a time. It is hanging out with your buddies, having fun in the locker room and getting to business on the practice field.”
QB Jordan Walls fires a pass downfield for the Hilltops.
    Walls is confident the Hilltops will play under control and not get over anxious trying to figuratively win a fifth-straight Canadian Bowl on every play.
    “We’re just approaching it like business as usual,” said Walls. “We’ve got a veteran squad here.
    “We have lots of guys returning from last year. We’re excited to finally get on the field for Saturday for sure.
    “They are not handing out the Canadian Bowl after every game. We’ve got a long season ahead. We just have to approach it every week, take our practices seriously and then get into the games, respect our opponents and get at it.”
    Sargeant said the Hilltops did a great job of staying in the moment last season in posting an 11-1 overall record in winning a fourth straight national title, and the 20th CJFL championship in team history. The sideline boss said that experience will help, but the Hilltops of the current year will ultimately write their own story.
    “It is always good to learn from the past, but every year each team creates their own identity and what they stand for,” said Sargeant, whose team has won seven out of the last eight Canadian Bowl games. “This team is already different than last year’s team.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant is already to go.
    “I think we are going to do things a little differently. We have to coach and build towards their strengths. They have to build their own individual and team confidence so when they come out and play, this uniform certainly stands for unbelievable tradition and high expectations.
    “They have to match that and honour that knowing they have the biggest bullseye in Canada. We embrace that. We are excited about that. We can’t wait to get this show on the road.”
    The two sides met in the Prairie Football Conference final last October, which the Hilltops claimed 36-24 after scoring a late fourth quarter touchdown to seal victory.
    “It is always a challenge playing Regina,” said Walls. “They come in and they are tough and they are physical.
    “They fly around, and they make a lot of plays. They never quit. That is something we found out a lot last year, especially the two games at SMF Field.
    “They were down, and at times, they looked like they were out. They clawed back and fought back every drive and made the game come right down to the wire.”
    When the Hilltops travel to Regina, they are usually followed by a large convoy of fans from Saskatoon. The Toppers supporters have done a great job of making the crowds mixed ones during their stops in Regina.
    Actually, the Hilltops fans in recent years have done a great job in creating a presence at most of the club’s road games. Sargeant said that type of support is appreciated and is special for the team.
The Hilltops fans like to flood the stands on team road trips.
    “It seems like every game is a home game,” said Sargeant. “We have great support and a great following. That is what makes us so proud.
    “Everyone is for one another. There is not a lot of big egos around here. Everyone is just working hard and knowing that we have a big job ahead of us.
    “We love the pressure. We love the challenges. We love what is in front of us, and I love this team. If we do the right things, good things happen for the Saskatoon Hilltops.”

Blades trio gets boost with Hlinka Gretzky Cup win, other notes

Kirby Dach stood out playing for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
    Victory at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup should give a Saskatoon Blades trio some great positive vibes heading into the 2018-19 season.
    Centre Kirby Dach, netminder Nolan Maier and first year Blades head coach Mitch Love all helped Canada take the event’s gold medal game 6-2 over Sweden last Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta. Love was an assistant coach on the Canadian side working under head coach Andre Tourigny, who is the head coach of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s.
    The Hlinka Gretzky Cup is a best-versus-best tournament featuring the top national teams in the world in the under-18 age group.
    Dach, who will enter is 17-year-old sophomore season with the Blades, captured the attention of media and hockey personnel at that event with his play. The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 181 pounds, recorded two goals and five assists in the five games Canada played, which were all wins.
    Sweden actually jumped ahead 2-0 early in the gold medal game, and Dach netted the equalizer for Canada with 5:25 remaining in the first period to even things up at 2-2. That was part of Canada’s six-goal surge to finish that contest.
    Maier, who stands 6-feet and weighs 168 pounds, started four games for Canada posting a 3.12 goals against average, a .872 save percentage and one shutout. The Yorkton, Sask., product, who will enter his 17-year-old sophomore season with the Blades, made 34 saves in Canada’s 6-5 overtime victory in a semifinal game Aug. 10 against the United States.
Nolan Maier played four game for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
    There was a bit of a controversy in the semifinal clash with the United States, because Canada scored inside of the final second of the third period to tie things up at 5-5 and force overtime. 
    Video review showed the puck went into the net after time expired on the equalizer, but the goal counted as all teams agreed before the tournament that video review couldn’t be used. The original call on the ice was the shot was a goal.
    Maier had a rough start in the gold medal game turning away one of three shots sent his way before being pulled for Taylor Gauthier, who plays for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, at the 11:33 mark of the first period. Gauthier turned away all 16 shots he faced in relief in Canada’s win.
    Despite being pulled in the final game, the tournament was still an overall good experience for Maier playing in a high-level event.
    Love kept adding to what is starting to become a lengthy resume with his accomplishments contributing to Canada’s gold medal win from behind the bench. The 34-year-old product of Quesnel, B.C., has worked his way up the coaching ladder to get to the point to become the head coach of the Blades.
    He joined the Blades after spending seven seasons on the staff of the Everett Silvertips. Love came on board with the Silvertips in 2011 as an assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach. He was an assistant coach and an assistant to the general manager this past season.
    As one of the Silvertips bench bosses, Love helped Everett finish third overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 47-20-2-3 mark this past season. In the playoffs, the Silvertips advanced all the way the WHL Championship series, where they fell 4-2 in the best-of-seven set to the Swift Current Broncos.
Blades HC Mitch Love was an AC for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
    During his years with the Silvertips, Love was also an assistant coach for a couple of Canadian teams at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2015 and 2016. The under-17 tournament saw Love earn a gold medal working with Team Canada White.
    Overall, Dach, Maier and Love became the first members of the Blades to be part of Canada’s entry at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup since defenceman Duncan Siemens helped Canada win goal in 2010, when the event was still known as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
    As another bonus, Dach, Maier and Love got a head start in getting to work together for the first time before training camp rolls around. The Blades players are expected to start cycling back to Saskatoon after the weekend for training camp activities that will likely start mid to late next week.  
    The Blades missed the WHL playoffs last season despite posting a solid 35-33-3-1 record playing out of a tough East Division.
  • Blades forward Gage Ramsay announced his retirement from junior hockey on Friday. Ramsay, who will turn 20-years-old in October, appeared in 63 regular season games with the Blades last season collecting six goals and 14 assists. In 166 career regular season games split between the Vancouver Giants and the Blades between 2014 and 2018, Ramsay posted 18 goals and 19 assists. He has elected to pursue post-secondary studies and will attend Saskatchewan Polytechnic in September.
  • Saskatoon Stars defender Abby DeCorby has committed to join the Ryerson University Rams women’s hockey team for the 2019-20 season. DeCorby, who stands 6-feet, hasn’t missed a regular season game in her two full campaigns with the Stars recording seven goals and 21 assists in 56 regular season games in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League. The defensive defender had three goals and 12 assists in 28 regular season games last season. She is entering her final season with the Stars, and will turn 17-years-old in early November. DeCorby played in the SFMAAAHL as an underage player in the 2015-16 campaign registering two goals and four assists playing all 28 regular season games with the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
  • Medicine Hat, Alta., has to be in full party mode, as the Medicine Hat Mavericks captured their third Western Major Baseball League title in team history on Thursday night. The Mavericks took the best-of-five set claiming a series deciding Game 5 by an 8-2 final over the Regina Red Sox at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat. Mavericks infielder Carson Johnson was named the WMBL playoff MVP. In 13 playoff games, Johnson had 18 hits and five walks in 54 at bats.
  • The Delisle Chiefs of the junior B Prairie Junior Hockey League announced Eric Ditto and David Richard will be returning to the club’s coaching staff for the upcoming campaign. Ditto, 27, enters his fourth season as the team’s head coach joining the club partway through the 2014-15 campaign. Richard, 29, enters his second season as an assistant coach. Back in the 2004-05 campaign, Richard helped the Saskatoon Contacts midget AAA team win a Telus Cup national title playing forward. He moved on to play four seasons in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds recording 42 goals and 60 assists in 256 regular season games. Former Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders forward Dustin Cameron makes his debut with the Chiefs as an assistant coach. From 2004 to 2010, Cameron, 29, appeared in 284 regular season games with both the Blades and Raiders piling up 86 goals and 84 assists. He was the Raiders captain in his final two campaigns in the WHL running from 2008 to 2010.
  • After spending four seasons as an assistant coach with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s and men’s hockey teams, Scott Dutertre is leaving Saskatoon to become an assistant coach with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos made that announcement on Monday. Dutertre is well-known in the Saskatoon area coaching players individually in skill development camps. The Broncos also hired Brandin Cote as an assistant coach. Both Dutertre and Cote will be working under the guidance of new Broncos head coach and director of hockey operations Dean Brockman.
  • Defenceman Connor Cox has signed on with the professional hockey ranks. Cox will join the Dundee Stars in Scotland for the upcoming season. Cox, 26, just finished a five-year playing career with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks appearing in 120 regular season games from 2013 to 2018 collecting nine goals and 40 assists. He graduated with his business degree and a major in finance. Before joining the Huskies, Cox played five seasons in the WHL from 2008 to 2013 with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Blades and Silvertips appearing in 278 regular season games collecting 12 goals and 93 assists.

Help return gear to Huskies’ alum Cooke

    Former U of Saskatchewan Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke experience an unwelcome downer embarking on his first season of professional hockey.
    Cooke departed to France to play for Gap Rapaces, but Air Canada lost all his goalie gear and his suit during the voyage from Canada to France. Cooke shared on Twitter on Thursday that Air Canada informed him his gear can’t be located.
    The 25-year-old was a member of the Huskies for the past four seasons, and he posted a 16-7 record, a 2.29 goals against average, a .920 save percentage and three shutouts last season.
    This is a shot in the dark, but here is Cooke’s initial tweet about his missing gear in case anyone finds these items.

Tiger-Cats’ Crawford gets engaged

    The feel good social media post of the week goes to Hamilton Tiger-Cats long snapper Aaron Crawford.
    One of the CFL’s top good guy, Crawford brought his girlfriend from the Hamilton, Ont., area to his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alta., with the Tiger-Cats enjoying a bye week.
    He proposed to her at the Methanex Bowl, which is the stadium in that Hat that hosts high school and minor football, and she said, “Yes.”
    The couple brought Crawford’s Tiger-Cats jersey and his Crescent Heights High School Vikings football jacket for the occasion.
    I should note Crawford and I were teammates for the 2006 season for the now defunct Medicine Hat Marauders senior tackle football team of the Alberta Football League, so I am happy to see this development.
    Those in Saskatchewan might remember that Crawford played for the CJFL’s Thunder as a linebacker in 2006 and 2007. The Tiger-Cats return to action on Aug. 23, when they host the Edmonton Eskimos.
    Crawford posted engagement photos on Instagram on Friday.
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