Friday, 30 November 2018

Huskies withstand Golden Bears trash, win rivalry clash in OT

The Huskies and Golden Bears players engaged in numerous battles Friday.
    Logan McVeigh delivered a sweet and satisfying end to a bitter rivalry game for his University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
    On Friday night at Merlis Belsher Place, the Huskies built a 3-1 lead on their “forever rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears only to see the visitors rally back to force overtime in a U Sports regular season contest. Golden Bears right-winger Grayson Pawlenchuk banged home the equalizer at the left side of the Huskies net with 2.4 seconds to play in the third period forcing a 3-3 tie.
    Just 72 seconds into overtime, McVeigh roofed home the winner for the Huskies from the left slot in the U of A zone to send the 2,089 spectators at the new U of S home rink into a joyful celebration over the 4-3 final score in favour of the home side.
Logan McVeigh scored the OT winner for the Huskies.
    McVeigh’s winner allowed the Huskies, who are rated third in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, to improve their winning streak to an impressive 13 games and continue to sit first in the Canada West Conference with a 14-1 record.
    The Golden Bears, who are rated second in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, saw their seven game winning streak come to an end as their record moved to 11-3-1 to remain second in Canada West.
    The Huskies battle with the Golden Bears, who are the defending U Sports national champions, was a testy one.
    The two sides often talk about respect for one another in the week leading up to their games, but that talk is unable to hide the visible dislike on the ice.
    On the opening faceoff, Golden Bears ultra-pest left-winger Trevor Cox was chirping Huskies right-winger Levi Cable in an attempt to get Cable off his game.
    From that point, Cox and a few other U of A players did their best to antagonize Huskies fifth-year captain Jesse Forsberg with trash talk and numerous little shots after the whistle.
Golden Bears LW Trevor Cox hits Huskies RW Carson Stadnyk.
    Opponents of the Huskies have often tried to rekindle an over aggressive mean streak Forsberg once had, but as has been the case over the last three seasons, the Huskies star offensive-defenceman didn’t let the shenanigans get the best of him.
    In one of the stranger exchanges Forsberg had with the Golden Bears players, he was given an unsportsmanlike penalty for a dive after taking a cheap shot crosscheck long after the whistle from U of A defenceman Ryan Rehill late in the second period.
    Another battle on the ice saw Golden Bears defenceman Ben Carroll often mix it up with Huskies hard-working right-winger Parker Thomas. Carroll got away with drilling Thomas from behind early in the third period.
    The Huskies were dishing out their share of shots too.
    With just over seven minutes remaining in the second period, Huskies right-winger Carson Stadnyk bowled over Golden Bears netminder Zack Sawchenko on a rush into the offensive zone.
Golden Bears D Ryan Rehill drops Huskies captain Jesse Forsberg.
    Stadnyk received a high cross check from Cox in retaliation that was not penalized.
    Late in the third period, Huskies rugged first-year defenceman Evan Fiala nailed Golden Bears fifth-year left-winger Stephane Legault from behind in the offensive zone.
    The extra-curricular activities added spice to the game.
    Still, the first 15 minutes of Friday’s encounter kind of started slow as both teams seemed to be feeling each other out.
    The Huskies got on the board at the 10:09 mark of the opening frame, when McVeigh stole the puck just inside the U of A blue-line from a Golden Bears player and  fed a pass to linemate Jaimen Yakubowski, who put a backhand shot past Sawchenko for a 1-0 lead.
Huskies LW Collin Shirley stares down Golden Bears LW Stephane Legault.
    The Golden Bears drew even at 1-1 just 77 seconds into the second, when Cox converted a backdoor feed from linemate Luke Philp, while working on the power play.
    Just over two minutes later, the Huskies went ahead 2-1, when left-winger Alex Forsberg connected on a backdoor feed from Stadnyk on a U of S power-play chance.
    Only 69 seconds after Forsberg’s goal, Cable sniped home a bad angle shot past Sawchenko to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead.
    The Golden Bears actually worked on five more power-play chances in the second period after Cox scored with the man advantage, but Huskies netminder Taran Kozun made a number of key saves to keep the visitors at bay.
Alex Forsberg had a goal for the Huskies on Friday night.
    U of A cut the Huskies lead to 3-2 with a short-handed marker from sophomore centre Steven Owre at the 8:55 mark of the third. That set the stage for the dramatics at the end of the third and in overtime.
    Centre Kohl Bauml had assists on three of the Huskies goals.
    Kozun made 28 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies.   
    Sawchenko turned away 19 shots to take the overtime setback in the Golden Bears net.
    While Friday’s game had its rivalry sparks, the Huskies did a decent job of keep their composure against the Golden Bears agitators.
    When the dust settled, that likely made the biggest difference in U of S coming out with a win. The Dogs have won two out of three head-to-head encounters with U of A this season.
The Huskies celebrate their OT win over the Golden Bears.
    The Huskies will try to duplicate and better their effort on Saturday, when they host the Golden Bears again at 7 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place.

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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The great Canadian football weather dilemma

Slight cold keeps fans away in droves

The Eskimos and Roughriders play a bad weather game Nov. 4, 2017.
    When it gets cold, they won’t go.
    If you’re a football team at any level in Canada, you fear cold weather of any type, because it keeps the fans away. If fans don’t come to games, they don’t spend money on concessions, merchandise or donate to scholarship programs in the case of university and junior teams.
    There was a time cold and snow didn’t keep fans away in Canada. During the past two seasons, it is apparent the social media age has played a part in changing this dynamic.
    People would prefer to sit in the comforts of home and see a quick hit of a football highlight on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat versus watching a game live for three hours in the cold. If you add in you pay anywhere from $15 to $27 to see a post-secondary game and $100 for a prime seat at a CFL game, you ask yourself why would you pay that type of money to go sit in the cold and snow for three hours and be uncomfortable.
Fans enjoy the CFL West final in 2013 in Calgary.
    These days, cold weather doesn’t have to be that cold. It seems like ticket buyers in Canada for outdoor sports are looking for the weather to be 20 C with sun and no wind. You are basically looking to be seen in nice weather at a sporting event, and you have prime conditions to use your mobile phone.
    If the weather is around even 10 C and still sunny, but you can feel the cold, ticket buyers in Canada won’t go to a football game. The efficiency of the mobile phone is hampered the colder it gets too.
    Unfortunately, that is the reality football teams in Canada are dealing with these days. Judging by crowds on televised NFL and National Collegiate Athletic Association football contests, the football culture in the United States isn’t deterred by bad weather games.
    For some early season football games in the United States, weather can go too far the other way where it is 40 C and sunny and spectators have to worry about health problems related to the heat.
The Roughriders Cheer Team is ready for the cold in 2017.
    With all that said, football teams Canada, where the citizens seem really addicted to social media, face a current country trend that any type of cold keeps people away.
    The Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are the CFL’s most popular team, even feel the effects of colder temperatures hurting attendance. Their last sellout at Mosaic Stadium of 33,350 spectators came on Sept. 15, when they fell 30-25 to the Ottawa Redbacks. The daytime temperature in Regina was 19 C.
    Saskatchewan’s last two regular season home games were played in October and they hosted a CFL West Division semifinal game in November.
    On Oct. 8, the Roughriders downed the Edmonton Eskimos 19-12 and 31,335 was the announced attendance at Mosaic Stadium, and the daytime temperature in Regina was 9 C. On Oct. 27, the Roughriders beat the British Columbia Lions 35-16 with an announced attendance at Mosaic Stadium was 30,091, and the daytime temperature was 13 C in Regina.
    On Nov. 11, the Roughriders fell 23-18 in the West Division Semifinal to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with an announced attendance of 30,609 spectators and the daytime temperature is Regina was 4 C.
    In the week leading up to each of those games, I was looking to possibly impulse purchase a ticket, if my busy schedule lightened up to allow for a drive from Saskatoon to Regina for one of those contests. My schedule didn’t lighten up, so I didn’t go.
Christion Jones heads upfield for the Roughriders on Nov. 4, 2017.
    When I was looking for tickets, I couldn’t believe how easy it would have been to purchase a good seat even on the day before the game, if I was able to go.
    This was for a Roughriders team that went 12-6 during the regular season. In the past when the Roughriders had that strong of a regular season record, it was almost impossible to get tickets to games.
    On a side note, the Grey Cup in Edmonton, Alta., held last Sunday that saw the Calgary Stampeders down the Redblacks 27-16 was deemed a sellout at 55,819 spectators in cold conditions at Commonwealth Stadium.
    At the university level in the U Sports ranks, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team, who have had average attendances around 6,000 in some recent seasons, saw their crowds at Griffiths Stadium shrink, when it got cold.
    The Huskies best attendance of 5,114 came when they fell 37-28 to the U of Calgary Dinos on Sept. 14. Weather at game time in Saskatoon was reported at 7 C and cloudy, but attendance was boosted by the fact Huskies honoured legendary retired head coach Brian Towriss before the contest.
Huskies DE Riley Pickett ready for a cold game on Sept. 21.
    When the archrival U of Regina Rams paid a visit on Sept. 21, it was a different story. The Huskies won 33-20, but the game drew 2,715 spectators in conditions that were -1 C and lightly snowing at game time. It snowed for maybe a quarter of that contest.
    For the Huskies final home game Oct. 20, they downed the visiting U of Manitoba Bisons 27-4 and drew 2,440 spectators to Griffiths Stadium. Temperature at kickoff was 3 C and sunny.
    On the Canadian Junior Football League front, the Saskatoon Hilltops hosted the league championship game – the Canadian Bowl – and elected to keep tickets prices the same as their regular playoff games at $20 per adult for the Nov. 17 league title contest.
    In the Canadian Bowl, the venerable Hilltops, who relish playing in cold weather games, drew their biggest crowd of the season of 1,465 spectators to Saskatoon Minor Football Field as they claimed a fifth straight CJFL title thumping the Langley Rams 58-21. The temperature in Saskatoon that day was -7 C and sunny. They likely would have drawn a lot more fans had it been warmer.
    There are no easy fixes when it comes to drawing fans in adverse weather to football games in Canada. By nature, football is an outdoor game made to be played in the elements, which adds to the challenge of the sport.
Fans at Griffiths Stadium are bundled up for a cold clash on Sept. 21.
    In Canada, cold weather and even snow can strike in summer months. You could move up the schedule, but that might not be practical in some leagues, and you will still get bad weather.
    You could give discounted ticket prices for games that will be played in months when the weather is cold. The Roughriders tried that out with walk up tickets in 2017 for games played in October and November.
    You could spend hundreds of millions of dollars collected from taxpayers to build domed football stadiums for everyone. That wouldn’t go over well with a sizable portion of the public, especially when you see the ongoing talks in Calgary about getting a new NHL rink and CFL stadium.
    Unfortunately in Canada, there aren’t that many good-hearted deep pocketed good Samaritans out there willing to build multiple domed football facilities.
    It has to become cool again in Canada to head out to bad weather football games. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers teams led by iconic head coach and general manager Cal Murphy were seen as “bad ass,” because they played in the snow and cold in the same gear they used in summer.
The family of Hilltops LB Bobby Ehman enjoys a cold Canadian Bowl win.
    The Ron Lancaster, George Reed and Ron Atchison era of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 1960s excelled in bad weather games and were deemed cool.
    When you went out to see cold weather games to see those teams play, you viewed yourself as being as tough as the players you watched.
    Unless heading out to cold weather football games becomes cool again, a large number of fans will remain plugged into their mobile phones and stay at home when conditions become slightly adverse.
    Unfortunately, there is no answer for how to bring back the feeling that it is cool to go to bad weather football games.

Four named all-Canadians for Huskies

Huskies OG Mattland Riley (#55) was a second team all-Canadian all-star.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team received some final nods for a fantastic year with four players being named U Sports all-Canadians all-stars.
    Last Thursday at an awards gala in Quebec City, Que., Huskies fifth-year running back Tyler Chow was a first team all-Canadian on offence and fourth-year defensive lineman Evan Machibroda was a first team all-Canadian on defence.
    Third-year offensive guard Mattland Riley was a second team all-Canadian on offence and fifth-year defensive end Tristian Koronkiewicz was a second team all-Canadian on defence.
    During the Huskies eight regular season games, Chow carried the ball 100 times for 640 yards and scored two touchdowns. During his regular season career with the Huskies, Chow carried the ball 385 times for 2,372 yards and scored 13 touchdowns to finish as the third all-time leading rusher in the program’s history.
    Machibroda had 14 total tackles, three sacks, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble for the Huskies in regular season action.
    Riley helped power a strong offensive line that allowed the Huskies to top the Canada West Conference with 1,376 yards rushing and place third with 2,565 yards passing as a team in the regular campaign.
Tristian Koronkiewicz (#90) was a first team all-Canadian all-star.
    Koronkiewicz topped Canada West with seven sacks to go along with 24 total tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries for the Huskies in regular season play.
    The Huskies finished third in Canada West with a 5-3 regular season record. In a Canada West semifinal contest on Nov. 3 in Vancouver, B.C., the Huskies upset the host University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 31-28 in overtime. That win ended an eight-game post-season losing streak for the Huskies.
    On Nov. 10, the Huskies upset the U of Calgary Dinos 43-18 in the Canada West final in Calgary, Alta., to capture the Hardy Cup. That marked the first time the Huskies had won the Canada West title since 2006.
    The Huskies post-season game to an end in a U Sports semifinal contest on Nov. 17 in London, Ont., when they fell 47-24 to the U of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl.
    Last Saturday, the Mustangs fell in the Vanier Cup in Quebec City, Que., 34-20 to the host Universite Laval Rouge et Or.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Ball heating up again for Bears

Kate Ball leads the Prince Albert Northern Bears in scoring.
    When Kate Ball starts scoring, the Prince Albert Northern Bears start winning.
    The Bears 17-year-old star centre appears to be heating up once again, which bodes well for the powerhouse Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League squad. Last Saturday, Ball had her team’s fifth goal in a 5-2 victory over the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    When those same two teams met a day later at the Art Hauser Centre, Ball scored twice inside of the first nine minutes of the contest and added a hat trick goal in the third period to help the Bears skate away with convincing 9-1 victory.
    With those efforts, Ball leads the Bears in scoring with eight goals and nine assists for 17 points appearing in 10 of her team’s 12 regular season games. In games where Ball scores a goal, the Bears are a perfect 5-0 this season.
    Ball, who stands 5-foot-5, turned heads as a 15-year-old rookie in 2016-17 finishing second in team scoring piling up 15 goals and 15 assists appearing in all 28 of the Bears regular season games. The Saskatoon product helped the Bears win their second SFMAAAHL title that season, win a Western regional playdown series and appear in the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
    During the first half of her sophomore season with the Bears, Ball committed to play for her hometown University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team for the start of the 2019-20 U Sports season.
Bears C Kate Ball battles Wildcats C Taylor Lind for a draw.
    Ball’s commitment was a big one for the Huskies to land, as they managed to keep a skilled local product from venturing down to the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks in the United States.
    Coming off a standout rookie campaign and having made a commitment to a post-secondary team, the Bears opponents started to key more on Ball.
    Having great vision and creativity on the ice, Ball piled up 18 assists appearing in all of the Bears 28 regular season games in 2017-18. Her goal total slipped to seven playing against tighter checking.
    During the off-season, it appears Ball took her training up a notch. In her third SFMAAAHL campaign, she appears faster and stronger than she ever has before.
    She is finding her spots to show off her accurate shot, which has allowed her to surpass her goal total from a season ago. At the moment, she is on pace to set new career highs in all statistical categories.
    To coincide with Ball’s production, the Bears as a team seem to be hitting stride as all four of their forward lines seemed to be in top gear against the Wildcats.
Goal celebrations have been frequent for Kate Ball this season.
    Winger Miranda Heidt had a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win, while defender Tobi Fontaine and forwards Alli Soyko and Paris Oleksyn each had a goal and an assist.
    Jadyn Kushniruk and Paige Dawson had singles for the Bears.
    Underage 14-year-old rookie netminder Scout Anderson had another big game for the Bears making 29 saves to pick up the win in goal.
    The Bears improved to 7-4-1 with the sweep of the Wildcats to sit alone in third place in the SFMAAAHL with 21 standings points. Prince Albert was 1-4-1 in its previous six games before taking on the Wildcats.
    Maddy McCleary had the lone reply on Sunday for Swift Current. Amaya Giraudier turned away 22 shots taking the setback in net for the Wildcats (3-6-1).
    The Bears return to action this coming Saturday, when they host their archrivals the Saskatoon Stars (12-0) at 5 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

Wildcats’ Lind on verge of many milestones

Taylor Lind is one of the SFMAAAHL’s all-time best players.
    Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats centre Taylor Lind will go down as one of the best players the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League has ever seen.
    The 16-year-old product of Shaunavon, Sask., is on the verge of a number of big milestones. When the Wildcats fell 9-1 last Sunday against the Northern Bears in Prince Albert, Lind picked up an assist on Swift Current’s lone goal.
    With that point, the Wildcats captain has piled up 69 goals and 57 assists for 126 points in 65 career regular season games to equal Lauren Zary for seventh on the SFMAAAHL’s all-time scoring list. Zary, who played for the Saskatoon Stars from 2008 to 2012, collected her 126 points on 44 goals and 82 assists in 103 career regular season games.
    Of course, Lind, who stands 5-foot-7, needs to collect one more point to sit alone in seventh spot on the SFMAAAHL’s all-time scoring list. She needs to score one more goal to become just the fifth player in the history of the SFMAAAHL to score 70 or more career regular season goals.
    Lind’s 69 goals and 126 points are career regular season records for the Wildcats. She is closing in the Wildcats career regular season assists record of 62 set by Chloe Smith, who played for the team from 2013-2017. Smith is currently playing in her sophomore season with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks.
Taylor Lind is on the verge of a number of scoring milestones.
    In Saturday’s 5-2 to the Northern Bears in Prince Albert, Lind had helpers on both Swift Current goals. She was so good that game that she could have easily had a hat trick and at least another assist had it not been for the stellar play of Bears netminder Lexi Beuker.
    Lind has committed to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks for the Lindenwood University Lions women’s hockey team in St. Charles, Missouri, for the 2019-2020 season.
    Two of the players in the top six of the SFMAAAHL regular season scoring list are still active. Saskatoon Stars captain Grace Shirley is the SFMAAAHL’s third all-time leading scorer piling up 85 goals and 60 assists for 145 points in 94 career regular season games.
    Stars assistant captain Anna Leschyshyn in the SFMAAAHL’s sixth all-time leading scorer recording 61 goals and 67 assists for 128 points in 99 career regular season games.
    The Wildcats (3-6-1) return to action this coming Saturday, when they host the Notre Dame Hounds (2-5-2) at 7:45 p.m. at the Fairview Arena in Swift Current.

Willoughby nets first professional goal

    Kaitlin Willoughby picked up her first professional goal scoring against one of the top goalies in the world.
    Dressing for her nine regular season game for the Calgary Inferno of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the Prince Albert, Sask., product, who originally hails from Canwood, Sask., skated hard to the net and drove home a rebound from a shot taken by linemate Louise Warren to give the Inferno a 1-0 lead over the Montreal Canadiennes at the 8:31 mark of the first period. Willoughby’s goal sparked the Inferno out to a 3-0 first period lead, and Calgary would hold on to a 4-2 victory at the WinSport Arena in Calgary.
    Her tally came against Canadiennes netminder Emerance Maschmeyer, who was the goalie partner of the legendary Shannon Szabados on Canada’s senior national women’s team that won silver at the 4 Nations Cup on Nov. 10 in Saskatoon.
    In CWHL action, the 24-year-old Maschmeyer had shutouts in three consecutive games before being beaten by the 23-year-old Willoughby, who is an alumna and former captain of both the Prince Albert Northern Bears female midget AAA team and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.
    Willoughby, who stands 5-foot-6, concluded her time with the Huskies last season. In five campaigns, she finished as the program’s second all-time leading scorer recording 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points in 132 regular season games.
    Last August, she was selected in the seventh round and 37th overall in the CWHL Draft by the Inferno. Last September, she attended Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team’s Fall Festival in Dawson Creek, B.C., along with 58 other players, who were graded to possibly be part of Canada’s senior national women’s team one day. Most of the members of Canada’s senior national women’s team skated in the Fall Festival.
    So far in her rookie season with the Inferno, Willoughby has appeared in all 10 of Calgary’s regular season games collecting one goal, one assist and a plus-two rating in the plus-minus department.
    The Inferno and the Canadiennes met again on Sunday in Calgary with the host side skating to a 3-2 victory. Calgary sits first in the CWHL with a 9-1 record having won nine straight games.
    The Inferno returns to action this coming Saturday hosting the Markham Thunder (6-3-2) at the Max Bell Centre in Calgary.

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Saturday, 24 November 2018

Kushniruk rises from nowhere to be key member of Bears

17-year-old forward set to play at U of Regina next season

Jadyn Kushniruk became a Bears assistant captain this season.
  PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Jadyn Kushniruk was a diamond in the rough the Prince Albert Northern Bears found.
    During her 13-year-old season, Kushniruk was playing female house league bantam hockey in Saskatoon, where she was discovered by Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby. Willoughby liked Kushniruk’s skating and physical strength and invited her to come to training camp with the Bears.
    From that invite, Kushniruk hasn’t looked back. She made the Bears, who are one of the top teams in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, as a 14-year-old underage player in the 2015-16 campaign.
    As a 15-year-old sophomore in 2016-17, Kushniruk recorded 11 goals and seven assists appearing in all of the Bears 28 regular season games.
Bears C Jadyn Kushniruk, left, checks Wildcats F Carissa Hogan.
    She helped them win the SFMAAAHL title, a Western regional playdown series and appear in the Esso Cup national championship tournament.
    Kushniruk, who stands 5-foot-4, had a solid third season posting 10 goals and five assists in 26 regular season games with the Bears. This past summer, she committed to playing for the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team in the U Sports ranks starting in the 2019-20 campaign.
Currently in her 17-year-old and final midget AAA season, Kushniruk is helping lead the Bears as one of their assistant captains.
    “It is awesome,” said Kushniruk. “I love being here.
Jadyn Kushniruk smiles after scoring a first period goal.
    “Spending my fourth year being a leader on the team is really awesome. I am hoping to have the young girls look up to me and just do my best and leave my mark on the team as I am graduating.
    “Before I came, I played a lower level of hockey that I shouldn’t have, and Jeff (Willoughby) found me. It was really nice that he showed confidence in me early, and it is helping me to build confidence as I go on through my last year and move on to next year.”
    On Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre, Kushniruk gave the Bears a 1-0 lead against the visiting Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats in a SFMAAAHL regular season clash just 3:10 into the first period. She drove hard to the net on a rush into the offensive zone and tipped home a beauty setup pass from linemate Alli Soyko on the backdoor of the Swift Current goal to put the Bears ahead.
Alli Soyko (#22) set up the Bears first goal by Jadyn Kushniruk.
    That quick start helped propel the Bears to a 5-2 victory.
    Kushniruk broke an eight-game goalless drought with her tally against the Wildcats.
    “It was really nice,” said Kushniruk. “I had been looking to score a goal for a couple of games now.
    “Alli (Soyko) made a perfect pass, a perfect feed and I couldn’t have asked for a better setup to start the game.”
    Kushniruk has four goals and five assists appearing in all 11 of the Bears regular season games in the current campaign. Willoughby is pleased to see how far his hard-working forward has come in her midget AAA career.
Rhea Peterson scored the Bears third goal on Saturday.
    “She is not the typical bantam AA that moves on to (midget) AAA,” said Willoughby. “To see her from start to finish committing to Regina now, it is just a real good feel good story. You don’t hear them all the time.
    “We’re just proud of her. Everything she has gotten she has earned. She is just one of those consistent players that just sets a good example every night.
    “We’re lucky to have her.”
    The Bears expanded their lead to 2-0 with six minutes remaining in the first on a near identical play to Kushniruk’s goal only with 16-year-old forward Brookyn Anderson sending a beauty feed to linemate Kailey Ledoux, who notched her third goal of the campaign.
    Anderson set up the Bears third goal at the 6:13 mark of the second hitting sophomore forward Rhea Peterson with another backdoor setup pass to give the Bears a 3-0 edge.
Brooklyn Anderson had two assists for the Bears on Saturday.
    “We’re happy with the start we’ve had,” said Willoughby, who team’s previous game was a 3-2 overtime loss to the Stars in Saskatoon back on Nov. 11. “Obviously, we were off for a couple of weeks.
    “We didn’t know how the feel would be, but I think the girls made a connection right away, made some nice passes, had some puck possession and scored a couple of quick goals. I think that just helped set the table for the rest of the game for us.”
    The Wildcats answered back just 23 seconds after Peterson’s tally, when 16-year-old forward Sara Kendall roofed a shot past Bears netminder Lexi Beuker to cut the Bears lead to 3-1.
    Before the second period ended, sophomore 15-year-old forward Paris Oleksyn tipped home a point shot from defender McKenzie Mayo to give the Bears a 4-1 edge. Bears star forward Kate Ball expanded that advantage to 5-1 scoring 79 seconds into the third period.
    The Wildcats rounded out the game’s scoring with 12:33 to play in the third period with a short-handed goal coming from Crystal Wale.
Taylor Lind picked up assists on both Wildcats goals on Saturday.
    Beuker made 24 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Bears (6-4-1). She made a least three huge saves on Wildcats star forward Taylor Lind including a sprawling stick paddle stop on a breakaway with 11.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
    Lind picked up assists on both Swift Current goals.
    Harper Davey turned away 24 shots to take the setback in goal for the Wildcats (3-5-1).
Both teams face each other again on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Looking to the future after this season, Kushniruk is looking forward to playing at the university level with the Cougars. Near the end of this past summer, she received an email from Cougars head coach Sarah Hodges regarding interest about joining the Cougars.
    Kushniruk said she was in right at the start. She was brought in to visit the U of R campus.
Lexi Beuker holds on to one of her 24 saves in goal for the Bears.
    During that visit, Kushniruk went to lunch with Hodges, and the veteran bench boss told the young forward she definitely had a spot on the team and gave Kushniruk time to think things over. Kushniruk said she didn’t need to think things over and wanted to go ahead full steam in joining the Cougars.
    Kushniruk’s mom, Tracey, is originally from Regina.
    “It is exciting,” said Kushniruk. “It will be nice to have the support of my family there.
    “(Bears alum) Ireland (South) is there too, so it will be nice to play back with her again and have a couple of familiar faces on the team that will welcome me in.”
    Before she heads off to join the Cougars, Kushniruk hopes to enjoy a special season to conclude her time with the Bears.
The Bears celebrate their win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
    “We just want to continue to push ourselves to be better and better,” said Kushniruk. “Winning league and Esso is not too far out of our reach, so I think that is what we are all kind of hoping for.”

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Friday, 23 November 2018

Hilltops’ family feeling continues to live on, key in “drive for five”

Josh Ewanchyna and Garth Knittig share a funny moment.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops have a real family feeling, and it powered them to complete the “drive for five.”
    Most elite sports teams shoot to have a family feeling, and very few reach what the “Hilltop family” has. The family feeling the Hilltops have is one that has been built since the modern day version of the club formed in 1947.
    As soon as new players become part of the venerable Canadian Junior Football League team, the Hilltops family feeling quickly becomes part of who you are. You quickly begin to genuinely care about everyone who is part of the organization.
    Everyone from the alums, players, coaches, training staff, directors, volunteers and the cheerleading team all see each other as family.
    That family feeling was one of the reasons the Hilltops had an incredible 2018 campaign that resulted in an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL title.
    The Hilltops capped their “drive for five” going 11-0 to complete the fourth perfect season in team history and first since 2003.
The Hilltops fifth-years get set to accept the Canadian Bowl.
    Saskatoon concluded the 2018 season with an impressive 58-21 victory over the Langley Rams in the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl – held last Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 81 seconds.
    In posting an 8-0 regular season, the Hilltops outscored their opponents 402-70. Looking at all 11 games they played, the Hilltops closest margin of victory came in the PFC final, when they downed the Edmonton Huskies 28-9.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) calls signals in short yardage.
    Everyone involved with the Hilltops knows how to keep each other accountable, and criticisms are always taken constructively. Everyone in this family wants to see each other get better and improve.
    When you see members with the Hilltops interact with each other, the ease and the high comfort level with those interactions are amazing. It creates some humourous looking moments too like when star defensive tackle Garth Knittig sat on lap of Josh Ewanchyna, who is the team’s star running back, and shared a laugh in the final minutes of a 58-5 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal contest at SFM Field.
LB Cody Peters backpedals into pass coverage.
    The collection of people involved with the Hilltops come from all sorts of backgrounds, and being part of the “blue and gold” unites them.
    In 2018, the family feeling within the squad hit new heights like the impressive performance of the team on the field. There were very few valleys in this campaign.
    Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant and his staff deserve boatloads of credit for what took place.
    With that said, the family feeling was really set by the group of players Sargeant dubbed “The Great Eight,” who happened to be the eight members of the club who were in their fifth and final years of CJFL eligibility.
    Sargeant always says the goal of the Hilltops each season is to play for the fifth-years and help them graduate from the CJFL as league champions. It was pretty easy to get motivated to play for the fifth-year group in 2018.
    Quarterback Jordan Walls, receiver Jason Price, right tackle Kirk Simonsen, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, defensive end Connor Guillet and linebackers Cody Peters, Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic are all gems.
Hilltops receiver Adam Ewanchyna goes up and over a Rams tackler.
    Besides being great players and great sportsmen on the field, all are outstanding persons away from the game. Wherever they go, the atmosphere in any play they enter becomes more positive.
    At the team’s annual awards banquet held on Thursday at the Radisson Hotel, the fifth years were appropriately honoured and that included winning six of the possible seven team awards they could take.
    Walls, who is the club’s star quarterback, claimed the Ron Atchison “True Grit” award. During his first three years with the Hilltops, Walls played behind star quarterback Jared Andreychuk.
    Taking over as the starter last season, Walls showed he was more than ready for his opportunity. Compiling a 22-1 career record as the team’s starting quarterback, Walls showed great command of the offence and was the composed Joe Montana type leader that everyone wanted to follow.
MLB Bobby Ehman springs into action for the Hilltops.
    The Blue and Gold Award for dedication and commitment went to Price, who came through with big plays for the team game after game as a star pass catcher. Price built a big reputation for being a consistent deep threat.
    Simonsen claimed the Ray Syrnyk Trophy as the team’s top lineman. He has been one of the anchors on a standout offensive line and was the longest serving starter on that unit dating back to the beginning of the 2016 campaign.
    The Courtice Inspiration Award went to Ehman. During his first four seasons with the team, Ehman was a standout on special teams and stepped in wherever he could on defence. After star middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler graduated for the club following the 2017 season, Ehman stepped into that vacated role for his well-deserved moment in the sun.
    The Don and Jim Seaman Memorial Award for the top linebacker went to Benkic, who fought through a number of injuries in his career to either often hold a starting spot or be a regular in the linebacker rotation.
RT Kirk Simonsen, left, gets set to lock on a block for the Hilltops.
    The Drs. Landa-Doig Award as the team’s most outstanding graduate was presented to Peters. Peters was named the top defensive player in the CJFL in 2018.
    He attended the training camp for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and was on the Roughriders practice roster before rejoining the Hilltops for his final CJFL campaign. Peters deserves another shot to crack a CFL roster in 2019.
    Ewanchyna would fill in at any receiver position and became a strong kick returner for the team. He enjoyed getting to play three seasons with and see Josh, who is his younger brother, grow into a star.
    Guillet built an inspirational story returning to play in all of the Hilltops games in the 2018 season after missing the entire 2017 campaign with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Guillet had 2.5 sacks in the regular season and one to conclude his career in the fourth quarter of the Canadian Bowl win over the Rams.
Connor Guillet (#76) and friends pose for pictures with the Canadian Bowl.
   It is the fitting this group holds the distinction of being the only players to win five CJFL championship rings during their playing careers.
    Defensive back Evan Mantyka took the Past President’s Trophy as the team’s rookie of the year. In Mantyka and the rest of the Hillltops returning players, the team’s future is in good hands.
The Hilltops will be in the “mix for six” in 2019.
    While attention will begin to turn to the next CJFL season, the contributions of “The Great Eight” fifth-year players from 2018 will live on in Hilltops lore forever.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Hilltops’ “Sarge” should have been CJFL coach of the year

Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant makes a point during the Canadian Bowl.
    The Langley Rams fate against the Saskatoon Hilltops was sealed the night before the Canadian Bowl.
    Last Friday at the Canadian Junior Football League awards banquet at the Radisson Hotel, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant was up for national coach of the year honours due to winning the coach of the year award in the Prairie Football Conference. Sargeant, who is the all-time leader in regular season coaching victories in the history of the CJFL at 147, was given CJFL coach of the year honours twice way back in 2000 and 2003.
    With Hilltops trying to complete a perfect season and win their fifth straight CJFL and eighth league title in the last nine years, it should have been a slam dunk that Sargeant would be named coach of the year this season.
    The CJFL Gord Currie Coach of the Year award went to Bob Reist, who is the head coach of the Chilliwack, B.C., based Valley Huskers of the British Columbia Football League.
    The next day after the awards banquet, the Hilltops proceeded to wipe out the Rams 58-21 in the Canadian Bowl at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The win game the Hilltops a perfect season at 11-0, a fifth straight CJFL title, an eight CJFL title win in the last nine years and the 21st CJFL championship in team history.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant gets set for the national anthem.
    If you talk to Sargeant about the coach of the year award, he will shrug it off and say it isn’t that important in the bigger picture. In the big picture, it is about getting the Hilltops players to be at their best on the field in game day action and away from the field in their everyday lives in the community.
    If the team’s coaches do their job correctly, the CJFL title will follow.
    Sargeant has the CJFL championship rings to prove that fact. He has 12 as the Hilltops head coach, two as an assistant coach with the team and one as a player. His first championship ring as a player was earned way back in 1985.
    Still, the fact that the Hilltops won the CJFL national title in eight of the last nine years and Sargeant wasn’t named coach of the year once over that span of time is just wrong. He took on the role of Hilltops offensive coordinator in 2017 and 2018 as well.
    The CJFL lost a good chance to make up for an oversight that definitely added up over the eight previous seasons.
    In Canadian sports, the Hilltops run of success is matched and only exceeded by one team in recent history, and that would be the Carleton University Ravens men’s basketball team in U Sports.
    From 2002-03 to 2016-17, the Ravens 13 won out of 15 U Sports national titles, which includes a run of seven straight national titles from 2010-11 to 2016-17.
    Over those 15 seasons, Ravens head coach Dave Smart was named the U Sports coach of the year in men’s basketball eight times, and every one of those wins came in a Ravens championship season.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant backed by DC Jeff Yausie.
    When the Hilltops run in the last nine CJFL seasons is compared that 15-season run of the Ravens men’s basketball team in U Sports, the CJFL comes away looking really bad when it comes to giving out the coach of the year award.
    With that said, the coaches in the CJFL that claimed coach of the year honours have always had a sound case and were deserving of being bestowed that honour.
    Reist guided the Huskers to a 6-4 regular season record and their first playoff berth since 2008. The Huskers had been winless the three previous campaigns before the 2018 season.
    Still, the Hilltops had one of their greatest moments in team history with their Canadian Bowl win last Saturday. In posting their fourth perfect season in team history, the Hilltops had arguably their most dominant campaign.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 81 seconds. Just think about that. They trailed all year for a total of 81 seconds.
    The odds of doing that in any football league are astronomical.
    In posting an 8-0 regular season, the Hilltops outscored their opponents 402-70. Looking at all 11 games they played, the Hilltops closest margin of victory came in the PFC final, when they downed the Edmonton Huskies 28-9.
    Many members of the Hilltops had great seasons. Running back Josh Ewanchyna surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season. He carried the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns, which included missing one game due to injury.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant talks to QB Jordan Walls.
    Quarterback Jordan Walls threw for over 2,000 yards in the regular season. He completed 122-of-197 passes for 2,010 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.
    Walls favourite target in receiver Jason Price hauled in 31 passes for 709 yards and scored four touchdowns.
    Linebacker Cody Peters was named the CJFL’s Larry Wruck Defensive Player of the Year award and was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star. Hilltops star defensive tackles Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb were both named all-Canadian all-stars for their outstanding campaigns.
    You could keep going down the roster.
    Sargeant pulled one of the best first class moves ever last Saturday putting his eight fifth-year players on the field for the final kneel downs of the Canadian Bowl in Walls, Price, Peters, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, offensive tackle Kirk Simonsen, defensive end Connor Guillet and linebackers Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic.
    “Sarge” also has the backing of a stellar coaching staff. Hilltops defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Yausie is one of the best coaches you will find anywhere in Canada.
    Quarterbacks coach Shane Reider, defensive backs coach Brent Turkington, offensive line coaches Donnie Davidsen and Ben Hodson, defensive line coach Dave Fisher, running backs coach Andre Lalonde and receivers coaches Barclay Schlosser and Evan Turkington and life coach Bruce Rempel all contributed greatly to the Hilltops success this season.
Head coach Tom Sargeant walks the Hilltops sidelines.
    Still, Sargeant is the one who makes the Hilltops machine run and builds the coaching staff. He has had a great impact on the lives of countless Hilltops players for about the last three decades.
    You can be certain the focus of the Hilltops players was sharpened that much more last Saturday, when Sargeant wasn’t named the CJFL coach of the year.
    He is also backed by a great team at home in wife, Kris, and daughters, Macy and Abby. If the veteran sideline boss does have a bad day and it does happen, Kris, Macy and Abby are there to set him straight.
    If there was a Mount Rushmore for great amateur football coaches in Saskatchewan, Tom Sargeant would be on it along with late Regina Rams head coach Gord Currie, who the CJFL coach of the year award is named after, retired University of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, and retired Regina Rams/University of Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal.
    Currie and Towriss are in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. McCrystal and Sargeant should be there one day.
    The Hilltops this season clicked in all facets that is rarely seen in sports.
Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant contemplates a play call.
    The coach of the year award does help show that a team had a good year.
    Ultimately, the Hilltops in 2018 will be remembered for their Canadian Bowl victory. Team championships always create the lasting memory.
    Sargeant will always take team success over any individual honours.
    With that noted, it would have be great to see the CJFL do the right thing and name him coach of the year even if it would have been just once over the past nine seasons.

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Monday, 19 November 2018

Huskies fifth years go down fighting in final bow

U of S playoff run ends in Mitchell Bowl loss

QB Kyle Siemens and the football Huskies had a remarkable playoff run.
    It was Vanier Cup or bust for the fifth-year players on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
    Going into the Mitchell Bowl semifinal game of the U Sports playoffs, the Huskies faced their biggest challenge in their run of post-season upsets taking on the defending Vanier Cup champion University of Western Ontario Mustangs in London, Ont., last Saturday.
    U of S was trying to break up what had been a projected Vanier Cup rematch at the start of the season between the Mustangs and the powerhouse Universite Rouge et Or.
    Earlier in the day on Saturday, the Rouge et Or made short work of the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the other U Sports semifinal game – the Uteck Bowl – in Quebec City, Que., romping to a 63-0 victory. The X-Men finished the campaign at 8-3.
Tyler Chow had a huge touchdown run for the Huskies last Saturday.
    The Huskies ensured there was intrigue in their encounter with the Mustangs posting leads of 7-0 and 17-14 in the game’s first half. The two sides entered halftime locked in a 17-17 tie. Western pulled away in the second half earning a 47-24 victory on the strength of scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter before 3,536 spectators at TD Stadium.
    In the process, the Mustangs ran their overall winning streak to 23 games. They will travel to Quebec City, Que., this coming Saturday to face the Rouge et Or in a battle of 11-0 teams.
    Western and Laval were rated first and second respectively in the final U Sports Top 10 football rankings. Last year, the Mustangs dumped the Rouge et Or 39-17 in the Vanier Cup.
    The Huskies, who finished the campaign at 7-4, did everything in their power to try and appear in the Vanier Cup for the first time since 2006 and the fifth years led the charge. Like Rocky in his first encounter with Apollo Creed, U of S’s graduating players came out swinging.
Tristian Koronkiewicz had two sacks for the Huskies last Saturday.
    Fifth-year star quarterback Kyle Siemens completed 26-of-35 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fifth-year star running back Tyler Chow carried the ball 21 times for 143 yards and scored one touchdown. Fifth-year defensive lineman Tristian Koronkiewicz had a pair of sacks.
    Early in the first quarter, the Huskies manufactured and eight-play touchdown drive that covered 76 yards. The march was capped, when Siemens hit Colton Klassen with a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the visitors up 7-0.
    Western tied things up at 7-7 before the first quarter ended, when receiver Harry McMaster hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Merchant. Merchant hit McMaster with a 31-yard touchdown pass just 72 seconds into the second quarter to give the Mustangs a 14-7 advantage.
    The Huskies answered back. Fifth-year star kicker Sean Stenger booted a 41-yard field goal to cut the Mustangs lead to 14-10. With seven minutes to play in the second quarter, Siemens hit Klassen with an eight-yard touchdown pass to put the Huskies up 17-14.
Sean Stenger booted on last field goal for the Huskies on Saturday.
    Klassen caught nine passes for 107 yards to go along with his two receiving majors.
    On the final play of the first half, the Mustangs tied things up at 17-17 with a 37 yard field goal from kicker Marc Liegghio.
    At that point, Western started to take control. Merchant ran in a touchdown from four yards out and the Huskies had to concede a safety due to bad field position giving the Mustangs a 26-17 lead at the end of the third quarter.
    Running back Alex Taylor ran in a major from 48 yards out to give the Mustangs a 33-17 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
    Chow stuck back for the Huskies rattling off an electrifying 71-yard touchdown run to cut Western’s lead to 33-24 with 9:56 to play in the fourth quarter. It appeared there was a chance the comeback would be on.
    The Mustangs then sealed victory on a 16-yard touchdown run by Taylor and a four-yard touchdown run by Cedric Joseph. Western piled up an unreal 319 yards rushing as a team against the Huskies.
QB Kyle Siemens is the Huskies all-time leader in completions.
    Merchant completed 17-of-28 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He ran the ball 10 times for 82 yards including his rushing major.
   The setback brought an end to the playing careers of Siemens, Chow, Koronkiewicz, Stenger, defensive back Lance Bashutsky, offensive lineman Ryan Breadner and linebackers Brendan Ernst and Brad Kotania. All eight played five seasons for the Huskies.
    Siemens 604 total career pass completions in the regular season rank first on the Huskies all-time list and his 7,932 career yards passing in the regular season rates second overall in team history. He completed 604-of-998 passes for 7,932 yards, 55 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
    Chow sits third all-time on the Huskies career regular season rushing yards list having carried the ball 385 times for 2,372 yards and 13 touchdowns.
    Those regular season accomplishments look greater now that they are backed by a long playoff run.
    U of S also loses defensive back Arnold Osam to graduation. He came to the Huskies after spending four seasons with the powerhouse Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League.
HC Scott Flory and his staff did a stellar job guiding the Huskies.
    The graduating players helped the Huskies take huge strides in a playoff run that included a 31-28 overtime victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in a Canada West semifinal match on Nov. 3 in Vancouver, B.C., and a 43-18 victory over the University of Calgary Dinos in the Canada West final on Nov. 10 in Calgary, Alta.
    The Huskies were rated sixth in the final U Sports Top 10 football rankings.
    Since the Huskies hadn’t ventured this far in the post-season since falling in the Vanier Cup 13-8 at Griffiths Stadium to Laval in 2006, the excitement for U of S’s playoff run this year felt new again.
    The drought of not winning a playoff game since 2009 and the team’s eight-game post-season losing streak heading into this season’s playoffs are now a distance memory.
Guard Mattland Riley and the Huskies O-line was strong in 2018.
    The playoff run gives extra reinforcement to the organizers of team fundraisers that their efforts are worth it. The fundraisers include the annual Dogs’ Breakfast and the various coaches’ kickoff luncheons that are held during the season. Members of the Huskies Football Foundation will likely have an extra jump in their steps this off-season.
    Head coach Scott Flory and his staff did an amazing job. In his second season guiding the Huskies, Flory is showing he has a style that is a mix of star head coaches he had in his playing career including Huskies legend Brian Towriss, “The Don” in late-great Don Matthews and Marc Trestman.   
    The latter two men coached Flory in his CFL days with the Montreal Alouettes.
    From the outset, Flory created a feeling of belief inside the team that the Huskies could win and have success now. That feeling was shared inside the team, even when those on the outside didn’t think success would be possible for the Huskies.
Colton Klassen scored two touchdowns for the Huskies on Saturday.
    In Flory’s first season as head coach in 2017, the Huskies were rated fifth in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll and missed the playoff with a 2-6 record. Entering the 2018 campaign, the Huskies were ranked last in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll.
    For those that didn’t believe, the Huskies proved they are back in a big way. They can again compete with and beat the big teams in U Sports.
    The dream is alive again like in 1990, 1996 and 1998, when the Huskies won their Vanier Cup titles.
    Their best years lie ahead in the future and the graduating fifth-years left a new high bar to shoot for and exceed.

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