Saturday, 31 August 2019

Huskies opening day implosion disappointing but just one game

The Huskies will be looking to clean up mistakes in practice.
    Well that bubble burst quickly.
    The pundits and the Canada West Conference coaches had the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team tabbed as a powerhouse going into their regular season opener Friday against the U of Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg, Man.
    In the initial U Sports Top 10 rankings released on Tuesday, the Huskies, who are the defending Canada West champions, were rated fourth, and they were the highest ranked team from Canada West.
    In the Canada West football pre-season coaches poll released on Wednesday, the U of Calgary Dinos were rated first, the Huskies second, the Bisons third, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds fourth, the U of Alberta Golden Bears fifth and the U of Regina Rams sixth.
    The initial high expectations for the Huskies came crashing down to earth. Before 1,001 spectators at IG Field in Winnipeg, the Bisons claimed a 43-19 landslide victory.
    The Huskies beat themselves almost as much as the Bisons contributed to their own cause. 
Adam Machart (#20) had 93 yards rushing for the Huskies on Friday.
    U of S turned the ball over seven times including three fumbles, two interceptions and twice on downs.
    U of M didn’t have a single giveaway.
    In the second quarter, one interception and two fumbles by the Huskies were turned into 17 points by the Bisons, who held a 27-9 edge at halftime.
    From that point, the Huskies faced an uphill battle on the scoreboard, and they could never get one of those serious momentum surges that Canada West football contests are known for to get back in the game.
    The turnovers took away from the fact the Huskies were able to move the ball on offence and hold ground on defence.
    Making his first career regular season start, Huskies quarterback Mason Nyhus connected on 27-of-39 passes for 313 yards and one touchdown to go with his one interception.
    The Huskies ground game piled up 174 yards rushing. Starting running back Adam Machart ran the ball 13 times for 93 yards, and running back Josh Ewanchyna posted 66 yards rushing on eight carries scoring one touchdown.
    Ewanchyna would have had a bigger night had two monster long runs not been negated by holding penalties.
    Defensively, the Huskies held the Bisons to 359 yards of total offence with 163 yards coming through the air and 196 yards on the ground.
Mason Nyhus threw for 315 yards for the Huskies on Friday.
    Defensive end Nicholas Dheilly, defensive tackle Evan Machibroda and defensive back Nelson Lokombo all had sacks for the Huskies.
    Despite facing field position situations that favoured the Bisons offence, the Huskies defence forced their foes to attempt five field goals, which were all made by Bisons kicker Matt Riley.
    Still, Bisons starting quarterback Des Catellier was efficient for his squad completing 14-of-19 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    The 196 yards rushing the Bisons piled up on the ground was also noticeable. The bulk of those yards came from their talented running back stable in Michael Ritchott, Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette and Logan Fischer, who all had star careers in the Canadian Junior Football League.
    With all that said, one wonders what the score would have been had the Huskies not turned over the ball. They were able to execute large parts of their game plan, but seven turnovers will always foil those plans.
    In football, it is always known that crazy and unpredictable things can happen on opening day.
    On Friday in Edmonton, Alta., the visiting Dinos led the Golden Bears 30-13 at halftime in the regular season opener for both those squads. The Dinos lead shrunk to 33-31 in the fourth quarter.
    U of C was up 34-31, when Dinos defensive back Deane Leonard intercepted Golden Bears quarterback Brad Launhardt and returned the ball 62 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game to seal a 41-31 victory.
Head coach Scott Flory, right, will look for his Huskies to bounce back.
    If the Huskies were going to have an outing where they turned the ball over seven times, it is best to get it out of the way in Week 1. There is still a lot of time to recover.
    All the Huskies can do is focus on their next game, which is their homecoming game this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium against the Thunderbirds.
    The Huskies can still repeat and better their special season in 2018. They were reminded the can still be humbled if their focus slips like they were in the opening loss to the Bisons.

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Friday, 30 August 2019

Hilltops aim to improve for big CJFL clash with Huskies

HC Tom Sargeant, left, wants to see improvement from his squad.
    Head coach Tom Sargeant knows his Saskatoon Hilltops have to do more than just find ways to win.
    The five time defending Canadian Junior Football League champions have started 2-0 this season with two road victories. They downed the Rifles in Winnipeg 34-20 on Aug. 18 and the Thunder in Regina 34-16 last Sunday.
    Having lost a number of key starters to graduation and the university ranks, the Hilltops haven’t looked smooth in the early going.
    In the win over the Rifles, Winnipeg outgained Saskatoon in gross offensive yards 466 to 440. The Hilltops came away with victory winning the turnover battle 6-1.
    In the victory over the Thunder, the Hilltops forced five turnovers but gave the ball away themselves three times. Saskatoon managed to outgain Regina in gross yards 384 to 342.
    “We’re just a little bumpy right now,” said Sargeant, who picked up his 200th career CJFL win in both action in the regular season and playoffs with the victory over the Thunder. “We’re just not trusting what we do.
    “What we practice is not what I am seeing.”
Jared Giddings, left, intercepts the football at its high point.
    The Hilltops finish a stretch of opening the regular season with three straight road contests this Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to face the Huskies (2-0). The clash is an early season big game and marks the only time the two sides will meet in the regular season.
    The winner will not only improve to 3-0 but hold the head-to-head standings tiebreaker between the two sides as well.
    Going into this contest, the Hilltops have won their last 21 overall games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs and their last 25 straight on the road including three victories in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl.
    Third-year running back Ben Abrook has been the Hilltops workhorse carrying the ball 64 times for 310 yards and scoring one touchdown over the club’s first two games. He said the team’s offence needs to have better outings than what happened in the game against Regina.
Ben Abrook, right, has been a workhorse for the Hilltops.
    “Our offence didn’t play as good as we should have,” said Abrook. “Our defence held us in there all game and made some huge plays.
    “We have a long road ahead of us to get where we want to go.”
    The defence provided the biggest highlights for the Hilltops in the win over the Thunder. Defensive back Colton Holmes stripped the ball away from Thunder short-yardage quarterback Carter Shewchuk at the Saskatoon one yard line late in the first quarter.
    The Hilltops put together an 11-play, 109-yard scoring drive that was capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Abrook.
    On the final play of the third quarter, Hilltops safety Brant Morrow intercepted a pass inside of his own end zone and raced 113 yards the other way for a touchdown. Morrow had two interceptions, two tackles and his 113-yard interception return was a new Prairie Football Conference record.
    Morrow was named the PFC defensive player of the week for his efforts.
    Fourth-year boundary corner Jared Giddings had an interception and three tackles in the Hilltops win over the Thunder, and he said the defence could still play better.
The Hilltops want to get to the end zone more frequently.
    “As a unit, we played alright,” said Giddings. “We had a couple of breakdowns.
    “Myself, I had a breakdown on the one sideline pass. We’ll learn from it. We watch a lot of film.”
    Sargeant expected the 2019 campaign to be a bit more a challenging campaign for his squad compared to recent seasons. The Hilltops have won eight of the last nine CJFL titles.
    The legendary sideline boss said the Hilltops coaches need to do a better job preparing players to play. He expects a better performance against the Huskies.
    “The good thing is I have a lot of experience, and my coaches have a lot of experience and a lot of pride in that room,” said Sargeant. “We’re going to work real hard to make sure that our team comes out and performs better.”

Getzlaf guest speaker at Hilltops End Zone Dinner

Chris Getzlaf on the Taylor Field big screen in 2013.
    Saskatchewan Roughriders great Chris Getzlaf will be the guest speaker at this year’s Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner.
    Getzlaf suited up as a receiver in 11 CFL campaigns from 2007 to 2017 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos. The Regina, Sask., product spent the bulk of that time with his hometown Roughriders.
    Over his 11 campaigns, Getzlaf appeared in 147 regular season games hauling in 414 passes for 6,192 yards and 41 touchdowns.
    Before joining the CFL, Getzlaf played two seasons with the University of Regina Rams in 2005 and 2006 in the U Sports ranks. 
Chris Getzlaf makes a training camp catch in 2015.
    Before his time with the Rams, Getzlaf played with the Regina Thunder, when the team was still called the Prairie Thunder.
    The Prairie Thunder name was last used in the 2004 CJFL campaign.
    When he was a member of the Roughriders, Getzlaf was a fan favourite right across Saskatchewan. 
    Throughout his football career, Getzlaf was known as the quiet type who led by example.
    He was a member of the Roughriders Grey Cup winning teams in 2007 and 2013. Getzlaf was named the most valuable Canadian player in the 2013 Grey Cup.
    The End Zone Dinner is slated for Saturday, Sept. 7 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. 
    The gates open at 4:15 p.m. and the meal is served at 5:15 p.m. 
    The dinner will include a silent auction.
    Tickets are $100 per single person or a table of nine can be purchases for $825.
    Tickets to the dinner also include game tickets to that night’s CJFL regular season contest between the Hilltops and Thunder.
    There will be a pre-game address at the End Zone Dinner by Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.
    Those looking to purchase tickets can do so by clicking right here.

Huskies play giveaway to Bisons, other notes

    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team was too generous in sharing the ball with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
    On Friday night before 1,001 spectators at IG Field in Winnipeg, the Huskies gave the ball away to the Bisons seven times including three fumbles, two interceptions and two turnovers on downs. The Bisons weren’t as generous and didn’t turn the ball over once.
    As a result, the Bisons romped to a 43-19 victory in the U Sports regular season opener for both sides. Manitoba led 27-9 at halftime and cruised to victory from that point.
    The Huskies entered the season as the defending Canada West champions. They were rated fourth in the initial U Sports Top 10 rankings and second in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll.
    In his first U Sports start, Huskies quarterback Mason Nyhus completed 27-of-39 passes for 313 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
    Running back Adam Machart led the Huskies in rushing carrying the ball 13 times for 93 yards. Running back Josh Ewanchyna ran the ball eight times for 66 yards and scored one touchdown. He had two long runs called back due to holding penalties.
    Receiver Daniel Perry topped the Huskies in receiving yards at 76 coming off six catches. Yol Piok had five catches for 68 yards and one touchdown.
    Kicker David Solie made both his field goal attempts but missed one of two convert attempts.
    Bisons quarterback Des Catellier completed 14-of-19 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    Receiver Macho Bockru hauled in six passes for 99 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Bisons. Running back Michael Ritchott topped the Bisons with 70 yards rushing on four carries including a 58-yard touchdown run.
    Bisons kicker Matt Riley made all five of his field goals.
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday when they host the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.

  • The Saskatoon Blades thumped the Pats in Regina 8-3 in their pre-season opener on Friday night. Colton Dach, who is a 16-year-old rookie, scored twice for the Blades, while Kyle Crnkovic, Spencer Shugrue, Hayden Smith, Chase Wouters, Radek Kucerik and Nolan Kneen had singles. Nolan Maier went the distance making 37 saves to pick up the win in goal.
  • The defending WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders opened their training camp on Friday with 90 players participating. On Thursday, the Raiders signed 18-year-old centre Ilya Usau to a WHL standard player agreement. Usau, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 181 pounds, is from Denver, Colorado and had seven goals and nine assists in 28 regular season games for Salisbury School in Connecticut last season.
  • Gerry Thompson, who is the retired legendary head coach of Regina’s Thom Collegiate Trojans football team, wrote a letter to the Regina Leader-Post about his insight to the storied Trojans football program taking a year leave of absence from the Regina Intercollegiate Football League. That piece can be found by clicking right here.
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Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Huskies face next task – prove Hardy Cup win wasn’t a one off

LT Noah Zerr locks up RE Riley Pickett (#91).
    Are the University of Saskatchewan Huskies really the top dogs of the Canada West Conference with regards to football?
    Or, does the conference still belong to the U of Calgary Dinos or the Blake Nill coached University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
    A year ago, the Huskies had a magical campaign going places they hadn’t gone in a long time. They finished third in the Canada West Conference with a 5-3, slipped past the Thunderbirds 31-28 in overtime in a Canada West semifinal and dumped the Dinos 43-18 in the Canada West final to capture the Hardy Cup as conference champions.
    The Huskies proceeded to travel to London, Ont., for a U Sports semifinal bowl game falling 47-24 to the U of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl.
Highly touted Mason Nyhus leads the Huskies at quarterback.
    U of S ended a one year absence from the post season, won a playoff game for the first time since 2009 and captured a conference title for the first time since 2006. The 2018 season was a resounding success for the Huskies.
    Now, they are faced with the challenge of trying to make these runs through the post-season more of a habit.
    Before last year’s playoff run, the Huskies had lost eight straight post-season games, and that skid is now an afterthought.
    Still, the Dinos have played in the last 11 Canada West title games and won eight of those contests. For three straight years from 2015 to 2017, the Dinos faced the Thunderbirds in the conference title game.
    The Thunderbirds took the 2015 Canada West championship and marched on to win the Vanier Cup as U Sports national champions.
    Since the start of the 2008 season, the Thunderbirds in 2015 are the only team in Canada West that has captured a national title.
    In the initial U Sports Top 10 rankings released on Tuesday, the Huskies were rated fourth, and they were the highest ranked team from Canada West. 
Carter Dahl, right, makes a touchdown grab for the Huskies.
    The Dinos were rated fifth and the Thunderbirds were 10th.
    In the Canada West football pre-season coaches poll released on Wednesday, the Dinos were rated first, the Huskies second, the U of Manitoba Bisons third, the Thunderbirds fourth, the U of Alberta Golden Bears fifth and the U of Regina Rams sixth.
    Nationally, it seems the Huskies have a touch more respect compared to how their conference rivals believe they will stand up. That should seem natural as the Huskies are a long way from matching the Dinos in consistently qualifying for the Canada West final.
    Also, the Dinos return star quarterback Adam Sinagra, who won the Hec Crighton trophy as the most valuable player in U Sports football and was a first team U Sports all-Canadian all-star.
    With all that said, the Huskies have the pieces to duplication and potentially go further than they did last season. They return 10 starters on offence and 10 starts on defence from last year’s squad.
RB Adam Machart is looking to have a big year as a starter.
    Mason Nyhus, who is in his third year of eligibility, takes over as the starting quarterback from Kyle Siemens, who has exhausted his U Sports eligibility. Nyhus is a highly touted recruit who has been waiting in the wings as a backup the past two seasons and as a redshirt in 2016.
    The Huskies still have star offensive utility player Colton Klassen in the fold, and he led the team last year in receiving yards (676) and all-purpose yards (981). They have other playmakers at receiver in Jesse Kuntz, Yol Piok and Carter Dahl.
    The running back position is in the sure hands of two former stars with the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops in Adam Machart and Josh Ewanchyna along with first-year runner Keagan White.
    As has been the tradition with the Huskies, their strength on offence likely runs through the offensive line. The Huskies have one of their best offensive lines in recent years return all five starters from a season ago in left tackle Noah Zerr, left guard Mattland Riley, centre Connor Berglof, right guard Tanner Secord and right tackle Nick Summach.
DT Evan Machibroda was a first team all-Canadian last year.
    Riley was a Canada West all-star and a second team U Sports all-Canadian a year ago.
    The defence is anchored by fifth-year defensive tackle Evan Machibroda, who had 14 total tackles and three sacks last season. Machibroda was a Canada West all-star and a first team all-Canadian all-star.
    He was selected in the fifth round and 41st overall in the CFL Draft held last May by the Edmonton Eskimos.
    Riley Pickett and Nicholas Dheilly can cause all sorts of havoc off the defensive end.
    Brothers Tom and Ben Whiting anchor the linebacking corps, while rookie Ramsey Derbas could be inserted to make big plays. Ben Whiting topped the Huskies with 44 tackles last season and was selected in the seventh round and 57th overall in the CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes last May.
    David Solie returns to the Huskies after helping the Hilltops win their 21st CJFL title last season, and he will likely take over the place kicking and punting duties.
HC Scott Flory and his staff give the Huskies strong guidance.
    Scott Flory, who is in his third year as head coach, has kept his solid staff intact.
    The Huskies are taking the right approach just worrying about getting better each day in the present and each game as it comes. They believe and live that approach too for real.
    This is a team that can take another step building off what happened last season. Off the field, they are a good group of respectable young men. They have a team you can rally around.
    The Huskies open the regular season on Friday in Winnipeg against the Bisons. U of S then returns home to host the Thunderbirds on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.
    A new golden age for Huskies football could very well be at hand.

Rattlers end first storybook season in style as CEBL champs

    It looks like the Saskatchewan Rattlers are carving their niche in the province’s sports scene.
    On Sunday at the SaskTel Centre, the Rattlers downed the Hamilton Honey Badgers 94-83 in the inaugural title game of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The Rattlers finished third in the regular season standings of the six-team circuit with an 11-9 record and were the host team of the CEBL’s final four championship tournament at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Rattlers slipped past the second place Edmonton Stingers 85-83 in one of two semifinal games on Saturday. The Stingers had a 14-6 record in the regular season.
    The Honey Badgers, who finished fourth in the regular season at 10-10, upset the first place Niagara River Lions 104-103 in Saturday’s other semifinal. The River Lions had a 15-5 mark during the regular season.
    In the CEBL title game, the Rattlers jumped out to a 48-41 lead at halftime ultimate coming away with an 11-point win before 3,119 spectators. Guard Alex Campbell topped the Rattlers in scoring with 20 points.
    Saskatoon has seen its share of fly-by-night professional basketball leagues, and in the immediate aftermath of one season, it feels like the CEBL will be around for the longer term.
    The Rattlers gained instant credibility by bringing on Greg Jockims as head coach and general manager. Jockims rebuilt the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team into one of the strongest programs in U Sports as the squad’s head coach from 1998 to 2011.
    He guided the Huskies Canada West conference and U Sports national championships in the 2009-10 campaign.
    Jockims is well-respected in Saskatchewan’s basketball community and can coach the game in top form at any level.
    The Rattlers benefitted from having Lee Genier as team president. Genier also doubles as the president and chief operation officer, western operation for the CEBL.
    He is veteran sports management executive having stints with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, Bobsleigh Canada Skelton and the NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush. Genier seems to collect championship rings wherever he goes.
    Sunday’s title game was also the last competitive game played by hometown hero in 36-year-old guard Michael Linklater. Linklater has been a star and ambassador on Saskatchewan basketball scene for years. He was a member of the Huskies U Sports national championship team in 2009-10.
    Before the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Masters stop held this past July, Linklater said he would be retiring from competitive basketball after the Rattlers season ended.
    He scored four points and had one rebound and one assist seeing six minutes and 10 seconds of court time on Sunday.
    For this season, it is cheers to the Rattlers on a successful campaign. Hopefully this is the start of bigger things.

Thom Trojans football takes leave, stirs up media attention

    The Trojans football program at Regina’s Thom Collegiate hasn’t stirred up this much media attention since the heyday of Gerry Thompson’s era as head coach.
    On Tuesday, the Regina High Schools Athletic Association and Regina Public Schools announced Thom Collegiate will not be fielding its Trojans football team this season. The release said not enough students showed interest in playing football in the spring of the 2018-19 school year and in the fall of the current school year that is about to begin.
    Football Canada recommends high schools have at least 24 players to ensure player safety.
    Thom has taken a one-year leave of absence from the Regina Intercollegiate Football League.
    The Trojans football program has produced a number of players that have gone on to play with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders including Jim Hopson, Neal Hughes, Stu Foord, Kennedy Nkeyasen and Dan Clark.
    Thom students who wish to play football this season will be able to join the Winston Knoll Collegiate Wolverines. As of Tuesday, three students had decided to play with Regina Minor Football.
    While the development at Thom is disappointing, it has been crazy how much media coverage it has received from mainstream outlets.
    Arguably, the Trojans taking a leave of absence from the Regina high school league has received more coverage than the powerhouse Holy Cross High School Crusaders football team in Saskatoon has received combined in the past two years.
    While a number of reasons likely cause low registration for football at Thom, you could argue the Trojans would still be playing if high school football in Saskatchewan as a whole received the coverage that the Trojans received for taking a year leave of absence.
    There was a time mainstream media outlets had much larger sports staffs. In those days, the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix had sports staffers dedicated to covering high school sports and produced high school sports pages.
    It should be noted the high school beat traditionally results in the most sports coverage complaints usually revolving around one school, which is always winning, receiving more coverage than other schools. The top bosses at mainstream media outlets prefer to not spend any time dealing with those types of complaints and that is usually achieved by not covering high school sports.
    Of course when a football team stops playing due to low numbers, the spectre of fear involving concussion injuries often comes up. Because of the concussion fears, any time it is decided a football program stops operating becomes a story mainstream media outlets flock to. That is just the way it is.
    Add on top of that, North America is a changed world where people of all ages spend countless hours on mobile phones and social media.
    Hopefully, Thom’s football program, which is full of tradition, returns a year from now.

The great NFL Winnipeg ripoff, other notes

    I know this is beating a dead horse, but the NFL exhibition game held in Winnipeg, Man., between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders was a joke.
    Last Thursday, the Raiders beat the Packers 22-21 before 21,992 spectators at IG Field, which is home to the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
    The field was shrunk from 100 to 80 yards due to concerns on the part of the field where the CFL uprights are located for Bombers games. End zones were marked at the 10 yard line, and there were no kickoffs in the game.
    The Packers proceeded to announce they would not dress 33 players including two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers alone was the marquee draw for this game.
    The Raiders sat out starting quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Antonio Brown.
    The biggest lesson to come out of this game is that any event will flop, if it is overpriced. This one was priced to the point it was reasonable to ask ticket buyers, if they were out of their mind.
    A day before the game, mountains of tickets were available, but you had to shell out to get them.
    You could sit in Section 108P, row 12, seat 10, which was at midfield, but you had to pay $439.25 including fees and taxes for that seat.
    How about near midfield in the upper deck of the east side in Section 209, row 26, seat 22? That seat way up there would set you back $243.75 including fees and taxes.
    You could sit in the corner of one end zone in Section 143, row 4, seat 3. That ticket would cost you $266.75 including fees and taxes.
    In that same section, you could sit in the back in row 23, seat 15, and that seat would cost you $94.25 including fees and taxes.
    The $94.25 price point was the lowest I could find the day before the game. Most tickets were over $240.
    Winnipeg is known as a frugal town, and most football followers there know you could travel to Minneapolis, Minn., and see a Minnesota Vikings NFL regular season game for $240 including travel expenses. There have been tour companies offering that type of package for years.
    The Packers also play in Minneapolis once every season, so you could see Rodgers play for four quarters in a game that counts for the price you paid to see the Winnipeg pre-season game.
    The Winnipeg NFL pre-season game was a dud, and those that paid money to see it received the lemon they deserved. When you saw the inflated ticket prices, that already stamped bad vibes on the game.
  • The Saskatoon Blades opened camp this week, and star centre Kirby Dach wasn’t there. The 18-year-old was selected in the first round and third overall in the NHL Entry Draft last June and has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blades and their fans have to figure that this might be a bigger sign that Dach will likely make the Blackhawks and not be rejoining the Blades this season.
  • The Blades signed their two picks from last June’s CHL Import Draft in Czech defencemen Libor Zabransky and Radek Kucerik before training camp started on Sunday. Both are expected to play key minutes this season.
  • Feisty forward Riley McKay has looking outstanding in a series of team scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday played in a tournament format called the Kirkness Cup. McKay, who is a 20-year-old left-winger, took part in the tournament final with Team Holtby. McKay, who arguably the WHL’s best agitator, had a pair of goals, including the double overtime winner, and an assist to power Team Holtby past Team McLellan 4-3. Could McKay be the Blades version of Derek Dorsett, when Dorsett played for the Medicine Hat Tigers?
  • On Monday, the defending WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders signed 17-year-old forward Ivan Kechkin to a WHL standard player agreement. The Raiders selected the Russian in last June’s CHL Import Draft. Raiders training camp opens on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
  • Saskatoon hockey fans will get to see former Blades in centre Josh Paterson and offensive defenceman Dawson Davidson pass through town in enemy colours in the U Sports ranks. Both have signed on to play with the University of Alberta Golden Bears men’s hockey team. Paterson finished last season as a member of the Portland Winterhawks after being dealt there before the WHL trade deadline on Jan. 10.
  • Former U of Regina Rams linebacker Jon Cormier passed away over the weekend suddenly from natural causes. Cormier was from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and he played for the Rams in 2000, when they appeared in the U Sport national title game the Vanier Cup, through to 2003. He was a popular player amongst his teammates during his time with the Rams. The 40-year-old was a police officer with the RCMP.
    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Win 200 for “Sarge” a special moment in Hilltops’ lore

Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, right, contemplates a play call.
    REGINA, Sask. - Tom Sargeant’s 200th career win as head coach will always be a top “Mosaic Moment” in Saskatoon Hilltops lore.
    On Sunday, Sargeant picked up his 200th career victory including action in the regular season and playoffs as the Hilltops downed the host Regina Thunder 34-16 before 1,495 spectators at Mosaic Stadium. Sargeant has a 200-30-2 career record that includes a 149-21-2 mark in the regular season and a 51-9 mark in the post-season.
    Road trips to Regina are always special for the Hilltops. They always look forward to clashes with their provincial rivals in the Thunder, and there is always excitement over playing a game at the facility that is home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Tyler Hermann hit a key long pass that started a 109-yard touchdown drive.
    The Hilltops Cheerleading team makes it down to the event as does a large following of family and friends.
    News that a Hilltops victory would give Sargeant his 200th win made this trip extra special.
    Veteran Saskatoon StarPhoenix sports scribe Kevin Mitchell broke the story last Wednesday stating Sargeant was a win away from 200. Mitchell researched Sargeant’s record since he became Hilltops head coach in 1998 and did the math on the career record.
    If it wasn’t for Mitchell’s work, no one would have been aware that milestone was near.
    I was as close to certain as you can get that Mitchell had everything bang on. I still decided to perform due diligence and double check the numbers. I confirmed that everything Mitchell put together on this front was accurate.
Ben Abrook charges downfield for the Hilltops.
    I checked in with Harvey Kehler, who is the new statistician for the CJFL. He was outstanding to deal with on this front in further confirming the numbers.
    After helping out with a clarification on one question he had, Kehler confirmed the numbers Mitchell put together, and everything was officially in line when the Hilltops and Thunder hit the field on Sunday.
    Over the years, the Hilltops and Thunder engaged in some epic clashes. In all honesty, Saskatoon’s victory on Sunday wasn’t one of those epic clashes.
    Both teams played a spotty game, where they made great plays at times and didn’t look very good at other times. The two sides combined for eight turnovers with the Thunder, who fell to 1-1, giving the ball away five times and the Hilltops, who improved to 2-0, giving it up three times.
    After the contest, Sargeant said he didn’t coach a very good game and couldn’t wait for his team to return to practice on Tuesday to get better.
Hilltops DB Kirk Morrow disrupts a Thunder pass play.
    With that said, Sargeant and his coaching staff were doing everything they could to motivate, encourage and most importantly correct errors. Saskatoon’s coaches were highly active due to the fact the Hilltops experience a lot of turnover amongst their starters resulting in a lot of new faces in new roles.
    While Sargeant said he didn’t have one of his best games, he likely did a lot better of a job than he gives himself credit for.
    Late in the first quarter, the Hilltops go the ball on their own one yard line, after defensive back Colton Holmes ripped the ball away from Thunder short yardage quarterback Carter Shewchuk.
    Sargeant, who is also Saskatoon’s offensive coordinator, called for a deep pass down the right sideline on the Hilltops ensuing offensive play. Hilltops starting quarterback Tyler Hermann completed a 37-yard pass to receiver Keegan Dicks, who had a Thunder defensive back draped all over him.
    That started an 11-play, 109-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a three-yard run by power running back Ben Abrook in the second quarter to give Saskatoon a 7-0.
Backup QB Doug Fleming, left, takes off on a 33-yard touchdown run.
    Later in the second quarter, Sargeant grilled backup running back Carter McLean for missing a block on a quarterback draw and pulled the second-year player off the field. Just seconds later, Sargeant was talking off to the side with McLean and sent him back into the game.
    Sargeant proceeded to call the same quarterback draw play with backup signal caller Doug Fleming taking the snaps. McLean made his block and Fleming raced 33 yards for the Hilltops second touchdown of the contest and a 14-2 lead.
    The Hilltops don’t usually do the ice bucket shower tradition for the head coach unless they win a CJFL championship, and Sargeant has 12 of those to his credit as a head coach to go along with two CJFL title wins as a Hilltops assistant coach and one as a Hilltops player.
The Hilltops celebrate a TD run from QB Doug Fleming (#4).
    After the clock expired on Sunday, Sargeant received the ice bucket shower fourth-year defensive tackle Jesse McNabb and fifth-year defensive back Logan Kelsey-Stern. Sargeant immediately hugged McNabb as McNabb was the nearest to him and the rest of the players piled around for a short celebration.
    Hilltops president Terry Postey collected game ball and there was glee from the Hilltops players, coaches and staffers in helping Sargeant, who is by far the CJFL’s all-time leader in career wins, obtain this special milestone.
    That added something extra to celebrating the win with the friend and family that lined the front row of the west side stands to meet the team.
Running back Carter McLean piles up some yards for the Hilltops.
    Sargeant became the second head coach to hit the 200-win barrier in Canadian amateur post-secondary football joining retired Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal, who piled up 208 wins from 1984 to 2014 including action in the regular season and post-season in the CJFL and U Sports ranks. The Rams joined the U Sports ranks in 1999.
    The Hilltops were formed in 1947, appeared in their first CJFL title game in 1948 and captured their first CJFL crown in 1953.
    Since that time, they have become an institution in Saskatoon winning 21 CJFL championships. In building their storied history, the Hilltops have done things the right way and with class in developing young men to have a positive impact on their communities.
    If Saskatoon as a city is going through a rough stretch, the Hilltops are seen as that reassuring positive light of what can happen when you do everything right.
The Hilltops players visit family and friends after Sunday’s win.
    In today’s world where there are challenges seemingly in every walk of life, it is reassuring for those in Saskatoon to know the Hilltops are that one team and one organization you can count on to do things the right way.
    When Sargeant picked up his 200th win, it added an ultimate moment of what can happen when things are done the right way.

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Sunday, 25 August 2019

Hilltops grind out 200th career win for coach “Sarge”

Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, second from right, sends in a play.
    REGINA, Sask. – Even while soaking in a huge milestone, head coach Tom Sargeant was still thinking about how he could coach his Saskatoon Hilltops to perfection.
    On Sunday before 1,495 spectators at Mosaic Stadium, Sargeant guided the Hilltops to a gritty 34-16 victory over the host Regina Thunder in a Canadian Junior Football League regular season game that had a number of moments that weren’t picture perfect. With the win, Sargeant picked up his 200th career CJFL win improving his record to 200-30-2 in both the regular season and playoffs.
    In Canadian amateur football in the post-secondary ranks, Sargeant becomes the second coach to break the 200-win barrier joining retired Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal with that distinction. 
Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant checks out a play on the big screen.
    McCrystal posted a career 208-104-2 mark in both CJFL and U Sports regular season and post-season action guiding the Rams from 1984 to 2014.
    The Rams left the CJFL and joined the U Sports ranks as the University of Regina Rams for the start of the 1999 campaign. The Thunder joined the CJFL in 2000 as an expansion club.
    When the final seconds of Sunday’s game expired allowing the Hilltops to improve to 2-0 this season, Sargeant received an ice bucket shower from his players. The sideline boss, who became the Hilltops head coach in 1998, had a short celebration with his players before proceeding to handshakes with the Thunder players and coaches.
    “I am very thankful for my family,” said Sargeant, whose wife, Kris, and one of his daughters, Macy, were in attendance on Sunday. “I am very thankful for my coaches, and the players I’ve coached over the years.
    “To do something like this, you don’t think about it, you don’t set out to do it, but it certainly feels good to be a part of it.”
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, right, gets an ice bath shower after win 200.
    The 54-year-old always strives to get his players to play as close to perfection as possible. Reflection on Sunday’s contest, Sargeant said you would have thought that was the first game he coached in his career.
    “In the same thought, I’m not happy with our performance today,” said Sargeant, who has guided the Hilltops to 12 CJFL titles including the last five in a row. “I can’t wait to show up on Tuesday (for practice), and I’m worried about becoming 3-0.
    “We have a process that we are very proud about. We have a lot of pride. It is about how we perform between the lines.
    “It wasn’t good enough, so I wait to get us better, because what you see is what you coach. I didn’t think I did a very good job today irregardless of how many wins I have. It is how good is my team right now, and it is not as good as I need them to be.”
Ben Abrook (#32) lunges out to score a Hilltops touchdown.
    After a scoreless first quarter, the Hilltops jumped out to a 14-2 lead at halftime. The Thunder cut the gap to 14-9 in the third quarter and had the ball at about the Hilltops four yard-line with one snap to go in the frame.
    Thunder quarterback Blake Scherle tried to hit receiver Tanner Zaharia on an out pattern. Hilltops third-year safety Brant Morrow undercut the route, made an interception just inside his own end zone and raced 113 yards the other way for a Saskatoon touchdown.
    Morrow’s score gave the Hilltops a 21-9 advantage.
    “It was my first touchdown in the CJFL,” said Morrow. “It was my first interception of the year, so it was good to get the jitters out of me and finally make a play this year.”
Brant Morrow had two big interceptions for the Hilltops.
    Morrow said it was important for the Hilltops players to get Sargeant his 200th win. The talented defensive player said Sargeant always gives honest feedback on what players need to do to become better and get players to play at a higher level because of that.
    “He means a lot,” said Morrow. “He gets us pumped up.
    “He makes us work hard. What he expects we give. If you’re not going to give it, they’ll put someone else in there.
    “You have to always go out there and make your plays. They’ll put us in good spots, and you have to make your plays.”
    The Hilltops expanded their edge to 25-9 in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard field goal from Rylan Kleiter, who is both a receiver and kicker.
    The Thunder cut the gap to 24-16 with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Scherle hit Zaharia on a four-yard touchdown toss.
    Saskatoon sealed victory, when Kleiter hit a 28-yard field goal with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the visitors up 27-16. 
Ben Abrook piled up 166 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    Backup quarterback Doug Fleming ran in a score from 11 yards out for the Hilltops final touchdown of the contest with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
    The Hilltops first touchdown came courtesy of a three-yard round by power running back Ben Abrook, which capped a 109-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter. Fleming ran in Saskatoon’s second touchdown on a 33-yard run on a third-and-two gamble late in the second quarter.
Regina’s points in the second quarter came off a conceded safety. The Thunder’s third quarter touchdown came on a three yard pass reception by receiver Ethan Douglas.
    Abrook piled up 166 yards on 33 carries to go with his major score. No matter the ups and downs that occurred on Sunday, Abrook said his team wanted get Sargeant his 200th win.
    “We’re super happy to get it for him,” said Abrook. “It was motivation for the guys.
The Hilltops defence gangs up on a stop.
    “We still have a long way to go, but I’m glad to get ‘Sarge’ his 200th.”
    Abrook said words don’t do justice on how much Sargeant means to the team.
    “He is huge,” said Abrook. “He is the absolute backbone of this organization.
    “He instils us with knowledge every day, and he is so passionate. He is huge for the club.”
    Hilltops starting quarterback Tyler Hermann completed 12-of-22 passes for 136 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Receiver Keegan Dicks topped the Hilltops with 55 receiving yards on three catches.
    Scherle completed 19-of-34 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions for the Thunder. Receiver Isaac Ford topped the Thunder with 82 yards on four catches.
Jared Giddings secures an interception for the Hilltops.
    Running back Brayden Long led the Thunder in rushing with 96 yards on 17 carries.
    Defensively, the Hilltops won the takeaways battle 5-3. Morrow had two interceptions for the Hilltops, while boundary corner Jared Giddings had one interception.
    Hilltops defensive back Colton Holmes had a fumble recovery, while Saskatoon forced one turnover on downs.
    Defensive back Brandyn Martin had two interceptions for the Thunder, while fellow defensive back Finn Marcotte-Cribb had one interception.
    The Thunder, who fell to 1-1, return to action this coming Saturday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Rifles (1-1).
    The Hilltops have won their last 21 games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs and their last 25 straight on the road include three victories in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl.
The Hilltops do a team cheer after their win on Sunday.
    They will try to keep both those streaks going when they return to action on Sunday, Sept. 1, when they travel to Edmonton to face the Huskies (2-0).  
    Looking at his 200-win milestone, Sargeant said he is not a numbers guy, but he is proud he shares that distinction with McCrystal adding he got along really well with Rams sideline boss over the years.
    “I have a lot of respect for Frankie, and we spent a lot of time talking football in the past,” said Sargeant. “To be mentioned in the same breath, I’ll take that as a tremendous honour.
    “When you look at how he ran his program and he how conducted his players and all of that, you know what, he has certainly helped me, and he taught me a lot as well. As I said, I am very appreciative to be compared to him, and I want to keep honouring the blue and gold the tradition of the Hilltops. That is why I am here is too keep doing the best I can.
Hilltops president Terry Postey collects the game ball for HC Tom Sargeant.
    “I’m not too worried about numbers. I just want this team to play better. I’m going to work hard to make sure we show up next week and play even better.”

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