Wednesday, 16 August 2017

“Sarge” won’t let Hilltops be complacent

Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant tells it like it is.
    You have to love how Tom Sargeant doesn’t let anything slide with his Saskatoon Hilltops.
    Last Saturday, the Hilltops opened their Canadian Junior Football League regular season schedule with a 37-20 victory over the Thunder at new Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The victory was powered by the Hilltops scoring 21 points off turnovers. Besides those points, Saskatoon scored another seven points thanks to driving a shorter field due to a short Thunder punt caused by a mishandled snap.
    Sargeant, who is the Hilltops head coach, was more concerned after the contest by numerous errors committed by his side. It is common for the opening day game in any sports league to be bumpy for many reasons like the nervousness of new players or returning players getting used to new roles. Participating teams also have to get used to playing in meaningful contests again for the first time in about nine months.
    While many squads could write off a bad performance on opening day to any of those reasons, Sargeant, who has guided the Hilltops to 10 CJFL titles as head coach, wouldn’t use any of those points to take a backdoor out.
    He has a standard of wanting his team to achieve perfection each time they hit the field, and the veteran sideline boss wasn’t happen with what he saw especially with the large number of penalties the Hilltops took in the first half in Saturday’s win.
    “It is not expected at all,” said Sargeant, whose club has won the last three straight CJFL titles. “It is bad coaching.
    “I saw a lot of things I don’t coach I don’t want to see. I guarantee I can’t wait to get back to business and set the tone for my expectations of how we play each and every opportunity we get when we put this uniform on.
    “This is not tolerated. You look over the last six or seven years, we’ve always been the team that has been penalized the least. That is certainly not how we played tonight.”
    You have to love the fact Sargeant expects his team to play at a high standard right out of the gate, and he tells it like it is, when he doesn’t see what he wants to see. It is also great to see the first thing he said was the coaches need to do a better job.
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, left, checks out a replay at new Mosaic Stadium.
    Sargeant has always been great at holding everyone accountable including himself. If he feels he didn’t do well enough in his role, he will tell you that.
    That is one of the reasons he will go down in history as one of the best coaches that has ever worked in the amateur football ranks in Saskatchewan.
    If there was a Mount Rushmore for football coaches from Saskatchewan’s amateur ranks, Sargeant would be on there with former Regina Rams head coach in the late Gord Currie, who is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, former University of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Brian Towriss, who will enter the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on Sept. 15, and former Rams head coach Frank McCrystal, who should be in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
    Sargeant is backed by a solid coaching staff and a strong leadership group within the Hilltops players. They all know the team has to keep improving. The Hilltops have done that throughout their past, and they will get better as the season goes on.
    “We can’t rest on anything like this today,” said Sargeant. “We have to move on.
    “We have to improve and get better. That is what my coaching staff and players are going to do.”
The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Rifles (1-0).

Fans give Toppers new Mosaic memory

The Hilltops meet their fans in the stands at new Mosaic Stadium.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops had to have come away from Saturday’s win with a new appreciation for how great their fans are.
    The Hilltops were making their first visit to Regina’s new state of the art facility on Saturday, and a healthy contingent of supporters followed them down to the provincial capital. When the Hilltops were introduced, they ran out on to the field with a really loud ovation that seemed to catch the team a bit off guard.
    “It was unreal,” said defensive back Logan Kelsey-Stern. “There are no other words that can describe it.
    “It was just unreal how nice it was.”
    When you looked into the stands, it seemed a large number of the 1,947 spectators in attendance were wearing Saskatoon’s blue and gold colours. It seemed like at least 800 to 900 of the fans were from Saskatoon. Many in the group were family and friends of the players, coaches and staff.
    New Mosaic Stadium seats 33,350, but due to how the facility is constructed, it holds noise in. When a group of 900 people cheers, it sounds a lot louder in that park than it does in any other park.
    The Saskatoon supporters could be heard throughout the game when the Hilltops made big plays. After the final seconds ticked away on the Hilltops 37-20 victory over the host Regina Thunder, the Saskatoon supporters lined the stands on the west side of the stadium.
    The Hilltops greeted their supporters after the contest, and the scene resembled the site of when the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders win a West Final on the road.
    “It makes it fun,” said Hilltops running back Adam Machart. “You come in here, and this is where the pros play.
    “It almost gives you a little bit of a kick in the butt, because you know you have to play where the big dogs play.”
    The interactions with the fans definitely made the Hilltops first visit to new Mosaic Stadium that much more memorable.

TV time would be great

Games between the Hilltops and Thunder have been great for Regina TV.
    Road trips to Regina mark the one time annually the Saskatoon Hilltops get to be on television, but you have to live in Regina or southern Saskatchewan to see them on television.
    Access 7 in Regina broadcasts all the Thunder’s home games, and they are available to any household that has Access 7 as their cable provider. Unfortunately, Access 7 doesn’t exist in Saskatoon, which means the people in “the Bridge City” don’t get to see those Hilltops visits to Regina on television. Hilltops home games aren’t aired on television locally in Saskatoon.
    Besides the fact Saskatoon residents don’t get to see the Hilltops win in Regina even on a tape delay basis, they missed seeing the thrilling comeback wins the Toppers manufactured in Regina in 2015 and 2016.
    About 20 years ago, local cable outlets seemed more inclined to share game broadcasts. The local Shaw station in Saskatoon could get tapes of Hilltops game broadcasts from Regina or other locations.
    That doesn’t happen anymore, which is too bad. Saskatoon residents would have loved to have seen those Hilltops game broadcasts that were done in Regina.

Kleiter more active in all trades

Rylan Kleiter boots a punt for the Hilltops.
    Multi-sport athlete Rylan Kleiter is talking on a larger role with the Saskatoon Hilltops in his second year with the team.
    In the Hilltops 37-20 win over the Thunder in Regina on Saturday, Kleiter handled all the punting and kickoff duties with the team. The graduate of Saskatoon’s St. Joseph High School took regular reps on offence as a receiver. On the kicking front, he was booming the football downfield.
    As a rookie last season, Kleiter, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 160 pounds, saw limited reps on all fronts. He turned head in the Prairie Football Conference final last October catching a pair of touchdowns in the Hilltops 43-31 victory over the Calgary Colts at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Besides being talented at football, Kleiter is establishing himself as a rising star in the sport of curling. This past curling season, he skipped a foursome to the Saskatchewan under-18 title and junior title representing the Saskatoon Sutherland Curling Club.
    You can be sure he would love to be part of another Hilltops CJFL title win and follow that up claiming another Saskatchewan junior curling championship.

Burt new face with Huskies

    On Monday, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies named Shawn Burt as the program’s new chief athletics officer.
    The role is a new one in Huskie Athletics and it mostly replaces athletic director position that was held by Basil Hughton, who officially retired on June 30. The position will be geared more to focusing on the business side of the Huskies program. Burt will start in his new role on Sept. 1.
    The Huskie Athletics Board of Trustees approved the unanimous recommendation of a hiring committee that conducted a national search for the chief athletics officer position. Burt will oversee the daily operation of the athletic department.
    The 46-year-old comes to Huskie Athletics most recently from The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in Toronto, Ont., where he was the chief hockey officer. The Kleinburg, Ont., product built from the ground up Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer, which raised $16-million over six years and set two official Guinness World Records. He also worked with Ryerson University, IMG Canada Limited and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Limited.
    Burt earned his bachelor of arts from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Dartmouth College, Burt played centre for the school’s Big Green men’s hockey team for four seasons from 1989 to 1993.
    On an interesting side note, Dartmouth College is also the alma mater of Sarah (Howald) Hodges, who is the long time veteran head coach of the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team. Hodges was a star forward for the Big Green women’s hockey team from 1992 to 1996 piling up 75 goals and 71 assists in 113 career games.

Stars players to represent Canada in exhibition series

Mackenna Parker will play for Canada in an under-18 exhibition series.
    The Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA hockey team will be well represented at an international exhibition series at Lake Placid, New York.
    Defender Willow Slobodzian and forwards Mackenna Parker and Grace Shirley will play for Hockey Canada’s under-18 women’s team that will face the United States under-18 women’s team in a three game set on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
    Slobodzian, who just graduated from Clavet High School, had six goals and 21 assists in 28 regular season games last season for the Stars. She will play for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team in Ithaca, New York, in the upcoming season.
    Parker topped the Stars in scoring last season piling up 24 goals and 20 assists in 28 regular season games, and Shirley was second in team scoring with 21 goals and 16 assists in 28 regular season games. Both will return to the Stars for the upcoming campaign.
    That trio will be joined on the 24-player Canadian team by defender Taylor Kirwan of the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats. Last season Kirwan recorded three goals and 10 assists in 19 regular season games.
    Slobodzian, Parker, Shirley and Kirwan were selected for the Canadian roster after attending a selection camp that concluded on Sunday in Calgary that was part of Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase.
    Following the series, Hockey Canada will track players that participated in the exhibition series with their respective regular teams before naming the roster that will play for Canada at the under-18 women’s world championships, which will be held Jan. 6-13, 2018 in Dmitrov, Russia.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Hilltops cash in on Thunder errors at new Mosaic Stadium

Defending CJFL champs show rough spots in 37-20 win

Running back Adam Machart (#20) rumbles downfield for the Hilltops.
    REGINA – In the face of victory, Tom Sargeant could only think about how his Saskatoon Hilltops could get better.
    On Saturday night a new Mosaic Stadium, the Hilltops scored 21 points off turnovers to down their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder 37-20 before 1,947 spectators in the regular season opener for both clubs. Sargeant, who is in his 20th season as the Hilltops head coach, saw way too many things he didn’t like out of his three-time defending Canadian Junior Football League champions.
    The sideline boss saw too many missed tackles and felt his side really didn’t get out of the blocks executing their game plan.
    “At the end of the day, I am happy we won but not happy in our performance or play,” said Sargeant. “We took a lot of undisciplined penalties that didn’t help us.
Logan Kelsey-Stern returns an interception for the Hilltops.
    “There are a lot of things I am not happy about. The way I coach it is always about we got to get better tomorrow. I can’t wait to get going.”
    The Hilltops took a number of penalties in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, which stalled any momentum the team tried to build. The visitors exited the first 15 minutes holding a 1-0 lead thanks to a single point scored off a 32-yard missed field goal attempt by safely/kicker James Vause.
    Early in the second quarter, the host Thunder grabbed momentum, when defensive lineman Matthew Williams intercepted a pass that deflected off a Hilltops receiver and returned the ball deep into the Saskatoon end.
    Regina star quarterback Sawyer Buettner capped a short scoring drive with a one-yard sneak run to give the Thunder a 6-1 lead. The Hilltops blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to prevent Regina’s lead from growing to six points.
    A short time after that major score, the Hilltops conceded a safety when they were pinned deep in their end on third down to give the Thunder an 8-1 lead. From that point, Regina started to make errors that were costly, and two of them helped Saskatoon score 21 consecutive points to pull ahead 22-8 by halftime.
Hilltops linebacker Adam Benkic takes down a Thunder receiver.
    The first error saw Thunder receiver/punter Kristopher Calcutt mishandle a long snap on a punt deep in his own end. He wasn’t able to get the kick away and was tackled by the Hilltops special teams unit to force a turnover on downs.
    The Hilltops quickly drove 26 yards and tied the contest up 8-8 on a four yard rushing touchdown by star running back Logan Fischer.
    Saskatoon went ahead 15-8, when quarterback Jordan Walls hit fullback Colin Stumborg for a short three-yard touchdown pass in the flat.
    Following that score, the Thunder made their second critical error before halftime, when a pass from Buettner deflected off the hands of Hilltops defensive back Colton Holmes into the hands of Holmes’s teammate Logan Kelsey-Stern near midfield. Kelsey-Stern returned the pick to the Regina 22 yard line.
Quarterback Jordan Walls dives into the end zone for a Hilltops touchdown.
    From there, the Hilltops completed a short scoring drive going ahead 22-8 on a two-yard diving touchdown run by Walls.
    Kelsey-Stern was pumped to make the interception off the tip noting that type of play usually had a different result at Hilltops practice, when the team’s offensive and defensive units scrimmage.
    “At practice, Colton (Holmes) will tip it up, and generally our receivers catch it,” said Kelsey-Stern. “This time, I got it, so it was unreal.
    “It is always good coming to Regina and winning.”
    Regina cut the Saskatoon lead to 22-14 near the midway point of the third quarter, when Thunder running back Ethan Hautz ran in a major score from one-yard out. Saskatoon again blocked the ensuing point after attempt to prevent the Thunder from cutting the gap further.
Hilltops receiver Jason Price zips downfield on a 38-yard touchdown catch.
    Early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder drove into the Hilltops end again but turned the ball over on downs at the Saskatoon 25 yard line. The Hilltops proceeded to dive 85 yards the other way and went ahead 29-14, when Walls connected with receiver Jason Price on a 38-yard touchdown toss off a deep play-action pass.
    Saskatoon kicker Rylan Kleiter added a rouge on the ensuing kickoff to give the Hilltops a 30-14 lead.
    With 4:41 to play in the fourth quarter, the Hilltops sealed the win on a one-yard touchdown run from running back Adam Machart to go ahead 37-14. Machart, who is in his third season with the Hilltops, had an impressive training camp and played most of the second half at tailback in Saturday’s win ripping off a number of strong runs piling up 110 yards rushing.
Hilltops DB Jared Giddings, left, knocks down a Thunder pass attempt.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate said he believed he could make big plays as a tailback with the Hilltops but admitted he has found a new comfort level with the position this season.
    “I think it is more of a mental thing, a confidence thing,” said Machart. “You fix the little mistakes and get them out of your head and just play football and have fun with it again.
    “This year, it is fun again. I love it out there, and that makes it a lot easier to play when you are having fun.”
    Regina rounded out the scoring when Buettner hit Calcutt with a 13-yard touchdown toss with 32 seconds to play in fourth quarter. Including action in the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops have won their last six head-to-head meetings with the Thunder.
The Hilltops defence closes in on Thunder QB Sawyer Buettner.
    Buettner threw for 327 yards for the Thunder, while Calcutt led the host side with 115 yards receiving. Defensive back Tyson Haubrich topped all Regina players with four tackles.
    Walls piled of 271 yards passing through the air for the Hilltops. Linebacker Cody Peters led Saskatoon with six tackles.
    The Thunder return to action this coming Saturday, when they host the Edmonton Wildcats (0-1) at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium.
    The Hilltops return to action on Sunday, Aug. 20, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Rifles (1-0) at 1 p.m. local time.
    Knowing the Rifles thumped the Sooners in Ottawa 51-0 on Saturday, Sargeant said his team needs to play a lot better in their upcoming game in Winnipeg to come away with another victory.
    Sargeant did see things he liked in his club’s win on Saturday.
    The sideline boss was pleased his side scored 21 points off turnovers, Machart ran hard with the ball and Walls and the offensive line improved as the game went on.
The Hilltops meet their fans in the stands after Saturday’s win.
    With that said, Sargeant has a standard where he wants his Hilltops to do everything as perfectly as possible. He believes his players have the potential to play way better than they did on Saturday, and he said the coaches have to help the players reach their potential.
    “The sky is the limit for this team,” said Sargeant. “The growth potential of this team is high. It is exciting. I can’t wait to make them better.”

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Hilltops need to be themselves for fourth straight CJFL title push

The Hilltops celebrate their Canadian Bowl win in 2015.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops don’t need to reinvent the wheel in their quest to win a fourth straight Canadian Junior Football League title.
    For the third time in team history, the Hilltops sit in a rare spot of trying to become the first team ever to win four straight CJFL titles. Considering the league dates back to 1908, it shows just how tough trying to win four straight junior football championships can be.
    The Hilltops won three straight championships at two other points in their history. The first run came from 2001 to 2003 and the second occurred from 2010 to 2012.
    In both instances, Saskatoon’s runs were derailed by rivals from the Prairie Football Conference. The Hilltops dropped a 29-10 decision in the 2004 PFC to the Edmonton Huskies, and the Toppers fell 21-16 in the 2013 PFC final to the Regina Thunder. The Huskies in 2004 and the Thunder in 2013 moved on to win the CJFL title in each of those respective years.
Luke Melnyk (#16) knocks down a pass at the Hilltops Alumni Game.
    While it would be quite the accomplishment for the Hilltops to ultimately succeed in their third attempt to win four straight CJFL championships, the team can’t dwell on that end goal. In order to get to that end goal, the Hilltops have to be themselves.
    That means they have to approach this season much like they have every season in the past. They have to focus on what they have to do to get better each day in the present and enjoy what is happening on that day. Before the players, coaches, team staffers and directors know it, the club’s end of the year banquet will be here and everyone will be reflecting on the season that was.
    The Hilltops open the regular season on Saturday, when they travel to Regina to face the Thunder at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium. The Canadian Bowl won’t be handed out when that game concludes.
    With that said, the season opener with the Thunder provides a lot of factors in the present that should be enjoyed. This game will mark the first time both squads play a regular season game at the new state of the art football facility in Regina, which is home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Jordan Walls is the Hilltops new starting QB.
    When the Hilltops ventured to Regina to play at Taylor Field, which was the Roughriders old home park, those games had extra meaning because the stadium was home to the province’s CFL franchise.
    The Hilltops have defeated the Thunder five times in a row including the regular season and playoffs, but the end result of those head-to-head encounters have never been a given. Last year, the Hilltops took their three encounters with the Thunder by a combined margin of victory of seven points.
    The matches between the Hilltops and Thunder have always been great rivalry games. For this week, all the Hilltops should be focused on is playing the Thunder in a spectacular new facility. Those factors alone should get players excited to play.
    Next week, the Hilltops focus will turn to what they have to do each day leading up to their road game on Aug. 20 against the Rifles in Winnipeg.
    Besides focusing on and having fun with football related tasks, the team should soak in all the social times in the dressing room, on bus trips, in hotels and restaurants. Players should enjoy things like hanging out on off days or telling fun stories during radio appearances leading up to home games. 
    Those are all times that will be remembered forever, and they make the journey in pushing for a championship all that more meaningful.
The Hilltops defence is filled with a lot of playmakers.
    The Hilltops have followed this approach for their existence and it has resulted in 19 CJFL championships. Their best chance to win a fourth straight title is doing what they have always done. Ultimately, it will be good enough or it won’t be.
    The team has a great coaching staff led by head coach Tom Sargeant, who has experienced 13 of the team’s CJFL championship victories as either a player, assistant coach or head coach.
    Saskatoon has a new starting quarterback in fourth-year veteran Jordan Walls, who is more than ready to lead the offence. 
    They have numerous key returnees on offence including receivers Sam Mike, Ryan Turple and Jason Price, running backs Logan Fischer and Adam Machart and offensive lineman Jack Sloboda.
Adam Machart (#20) gives the Hilltops big depth at running back.
    The Hilltops have playmakers all over the place on defence including defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler, linebackers Cody Peters, Bobby Ehman and Cameron Schnitzler and defensive backs Luke Melnyk, Logan Bitz and James Vause.
    Traditionally, the Hilltops have been great as being a next-man-up team, so you know there roster is loaded with players waiting for their chance to step up.
    As the season goes on, the Hilltops will no doubt encounter people asking about their quest to win a fourth straight CJFL. 
    The 2017 Canadian Bowl will be played on Nov. 11 at the home of the champion of the Ontario Football Conference, but that is still a long ways off when you look at the season as a whole.
    The championship chase questions can be answered respectfully, but the Hilltops should always throw in they also want to enjoy the present day for what it is.

Sports reporters better off working for teams

Saskatoon Blades HC Dean Brockman takes part in a media scrum.
    Thanks to the shrinking mainstream media world, anyone that has recently graduated from a journalism program looking to pursue covering sports or is working for a mainstream media outlet covering sports is well advised to consider working for a team, league or sports body.
    On Tuesday, Gregg Drinnan mentioned on his Taking Note blog that he thought it was only a matter of time before major junior teams all go the route of hiring journalists to produce media content on their websites. Drinnan said that statements on a recent appearance on the WHL Unfiltered podcast noting all teams and leagues from the WHL upwards are going to have to go that route.
    I agree with Drinnan.
    For my own experience, I find it is becoming more common to show up at sports events and realize I am the only one there visible on site doing any reporting on that event. NHL and CFL events are still the exception to that observation.
    NFL teams have employed journalists to produce media contest since the late 1990s. Since that time, most other major professional sports leagues have followed the NFL’s lead.
    During my travels, I have advised two young media professionals, who were with the mainstream media, to seek jobs with teams or leagues. Those two young professionals took that advice, and one is employed by a team and the other a league.
    Recently, I sent an ad for an NHL media job opening to a friend, who parted ways with a mainstream media outlet at the end of June.
    As far as notable moves are concerned, the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders turned heads when they hired Ian Hamilton during the off-season. The elite veteran sports journalist parted ways with the Regina Leader-Post late last year. Hamilton’s presence has greatly increased the quality of the Roughriders website with his stories.
    In September of last year, Taylor Rocca, who was one of the best young print sports journalists in Canada, joined the WHL as its communications coordinator leaving the Cranbrook Townsman. In June, he was promoted to be the WHL’s manager of communications.
    Rocca turned heads in Saskatchewan producing a large number of outstanding stories, when he worked as a sports reporter for Kindersley based Jamac Publishing from June 2013 to May 2014.
    Just to be clear, I didn’t have any influence regarding the decisions Hamilton and Rocca made.
    I believe all major junior teams and U Sports athletic programs are going to have to employ their own professional reporters, if they want to continue to stay attached to the communities they reside in. On the U Sports front, that might require a minimum of two or three staffers depending on the size of the athletic department.
    With budget challenges Canadian university athletic programs face, that might be a difficult thing to ask for, but I believe ultimately that will be something that has to come to pass sooner than later.
    In my experience, I feel the will to cover the happenings in U Sports has greatly dwindled in mainstream media outlets in Canada and much faster than the will to cover major junior hockey. That is saying something considering the exposure major junior hockey gets is a shadow of what it once was.
    Working for teams, leagues or sports bodies is the way for reporters to go, if they want to have a career.

Back in the Express with the Tyndall brothers

    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on brothers Wyatt, Mitch and Jesse Tyndall, who all excel in the sport of gymnastics.
    Wyatt is heading into his third season is the National Collegiate Athletic Association ranks with Penn State. Mitch is set to join the University of Nebraska men’s gymnastics team. Jesse is entering Grade 12 and is starting to hear from universities in the United States.
    Their mother, Janice, was a member of the University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team for one season as a walk-on athlete. She helped coach the three boys for a lengthy time.
    The story on the Tyndall brothers can be found here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

When Shultz stirred the pot between Raiders and Blades

The Prince Albert Raiders logo in 2004.
    Tanner Shultz loved returning to his hometown of Prince Albert as the villain when he played for the Saskatoon Blades.
    Shultz, who used to be the pest/agitator for the Blades from 2002 to 2004, came to mind when Gregg Drinnan, who is “the man” when it comes to covering the WHL, and Blades beloved play-by-play voice Les Lazaruk recently made an appearance on the WHL Unfiltered podcast. Both Drinnan and Lazaruk told some colourful stories from their time covering the circuit, and Shultz sprung to my mind with a memory in regards to the rivalry between the Blades and the Prince Albert Raiders.
    When Shultz was a member of the Blades, he returned to Prince Albert during the summer months to work and play on the city’s top midget fastpitch team. One night after one of his fastpitch games in the summer of 2003, we socializing and talked hockey. At the time, I was working as a sports reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
    Shultz, who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 185 pounds, said that I should call him and interview him at some point during the upcoming season before the Blades were to clash with the Raiders. He said he would love the chance to trash talk the Raiders and stir the pot.
The Saskatoon Blades logo in 2004.
    In January of 2004, I decided to pursue that idea. The two teams were to meet in a home-and-home series opening with a clash on Friday, Jan. 30 in Prince Albert and concluding Saturday, Jan. 31 in Saskatoon.
    The Raiders were having a good season sporting a 29-16-4-3 record at that time. The Blades were last in the entire WHL at 6-34-11.
    Shultz had built more than a nice reputation for being loose lipped. I found out afterwards that before being fired earlier in season Blades head coach Kevin Dickie told the pest centre to be silent. That order never seemed to be followed.
    Mike Jenkins, who is now the development and marketing officer for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, was the Blades director of marketing back then, and he was one of those who was always open to doing something colourful to sell tickets. During Jenkins time with the Blades, the team held tailgate type parties before some games at a time when that wasn’t a regular occurrence in the WHL.
    When the Raiders came to Saskatoon one night, he had a “Pound P.A.” promo going, where fans could pay two-dollars to get a sledgehammer swing at a car done up in Raiders markings. The money raised went to the Blades education fund.
    Before the January 2004 home-and-home series, I called Jenkins up looking to talk to Shultz. Jenkins proceeded to give me Shultz’s billet home phone number. While Jenkins might deny it, I am pretty certain he knew the direction the interview would go on the colourful front, and it would create interest in the games.
    On a side note, Jenkins would likely get in big trouble if he did something like this on the Huskies front in the current day.
    Anyways, I get Shultz on the phone at his billet home, and he did his part. He said he really loved to get under the skin of the Raiders and he felt he could easily annoy Raiders left-winger Dane Byers and defenceman Chris Schlenker, who now works in the NHL as a referee.
    “I will try and get everyone (off of their game), but there is a couple of guys I really don’t like,” said Shultz, who was 19-years-old that season. “I will probably get in a couple of fights this weekend to make the games a bit more interesting.
    “Maybe Schlenker and Byers,” Shultz added with a chuckle. “I really don’t like that Byers. Maybe he will be ready to go this weekend.
    “I am always up for it. Sometimes, he bails out a bit. Maybe he will step up this weekend.”
    When he played at the Raiders home rink that was known as the Comuniplex at that time, Shultz went on to say he was at his happiest when the Prince Albert players, coaches, management, fans and maybe even the concession workers are upset with him. Before playing for the Blades, Shultz gained practice returning home to Prince Albert as the enemy playing midget AAA for the Saskatoon Contacts, who are still huge rivals with the Prince Albert Mintos.
    “Coming home, it is a lot more fun,” said Shultz. “You try to get the crowd on you and stuff, and it is pretty fun.
    “They are kind of harsh toward me, but that is the way I like it. I am not going to really complain about it.”
    After finishing the story, I decided the Raiders shouldn’t be tipped off as to what was said. I figured it would be best to run the story on the Friday the day of the first game and see what happens.
Greg Nicholson, who covered sports for an extended time in Prince Albert and was a Daily Herald desker, edited and laid out my story that night. He knew Shultz’s family well.
    When he check out my story, Nicholson said, “I wonder what his (Shultz’s) mother is going to say?”
    At that time, the Prince Albert Daily Herald hit the streets at 11 a.m., and on one of the coldest days and nights of the year, that story was the talk of the town. From what I heard, one of the alums brought a copy of the story into the Raiders coaches office for then head coach Peter Anholt and assistant coach Dave Manson, who is currently an associate coach with the club, to see. That happened shortly after the time the paper hit the streets.
    On the weather front, the night was so cold that people likely shouldn’t have been venturing out of their home, but 2,341 fans turned out to the Comuniplex, which could seat 2,857 spectators in the old Smarty Box seats that were in the building back then.
    Just 47 seconds into the contest and right after the puck was dropped for the game’s second faceoff, Shultz and Schlenker were on the ice, dropped their gloves and took off their helmets to duke it out. That would be classified as a staged fight and is no longer legal in the WHL. The two combatants threw bombs at each other for a good 45 seconds until the officials broke up the bout in what was one of the better fights of the season.
    The Raiders won the game 4-0 to lock up a playoff berth with Prince Albert netminder Rejean Beauchemin making 25 saves to collect the shutout. The contest had six fights in total including a second confrontation between Shultz and Schlenker and 138 minutes in penalties. Chris Savage was the referee for that contest, and years later, he would be one of the big influences that got Schlenker into officiating.
    Anholt cut to chase right away in the post-game interview.
    “Our guys read the paper and I think they understand some things were said,” said Anholt. “I thought Schlenker really stepped up tonight and showed a lot of leadership.
    “I thought our team played real well tonight. I don’t think (the fights are) that big a deal.
    “We feel we have enough toughness on our team that we can handle anything that comes our way. I don’t think we should blow things out of proportion.”
    Schlenker was ready for battle after reading my story.
    “It is just incentive to fire another guy up,” said Schlenker. “Since the pre-game meal, that was all that I was thinking about. I cut the article out in my stall.
    “I don’t really see any need for someone to do that. It worked against him (Shultz). We pretty much took it to them out there tonight.”
    Shultz was pretty proud he stirred up the pot.
    “I know sometimes we come here, and it just feels like we are playing a team in the B.C. Division,” said Shultz. “It shouldn’t feel like that.
    “I am real proud of the young guys at the end. I think we had three 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old drop the gloves. It is about time.”
    One of the undercard bouts saw rookie forward Devin Setoguchi of the Blades and rookie defenceman Jeff May of the Raiders go at it. Setoguchi, who had recently turned 17 at the time, was more known as a goal scorer and wasn’t really a fighter during his WHL career that spanned four seasons closing with one campaign with the Prince George Cougars in 2006-07.
    He has played 516 NHL regular season games with the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings.
    May, who was 16-years-old at the time, was known more as a rearguard that could supply some offence during his five WHL seasons, which concluded in 2008 with a short stint with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He went on to play in the minors and a couple of short stints in France. May has been out of professional hockey for a year.
    Courtney Gillies, who is the niece of former NHL standout Clark Gillies, shot pictures of the game that night. My standout co-worker and partner in crime on the sports beat in Prince Albert took some unreal photos of that first fight between Shultz and Schlenker. The deskers that night elected not to use them saying they were against promoting fighting in hockey, which was an odd sentiment in Prince Albert considering the Raiders rough and tumble traditional reputation.
    With the turnover in staff and the cuts in budget, I am pretty sure the photos from that night have likely disappeared into the abyss, which from a historical perspective is too bad. Media outlets all across Canada have dumped numerous pictures and rolls of video into the trash over the years due budget cuts that have caused a reduction in storage space.
    Shultz ultimately finished that season appearing in 69 regular season games with the Blades collecting six goals, four assists and 331 minutes in penalties. That was his last full season in the WHL as he concluded his major junior career with a one-game stint with the Kamloops Blazers in 2004-05.
    He eventually ended up in the U Sports ranks playing three seasons for the University of Regina Cougars men’s hockey team from 2007 to 2010. Shultz last played professional hockey with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in the Southern Professional Hockey League collecting 17 goals, 23 assists and 121 penalty minutes in 52 regular season games in 2010-11.
    The Raiders downed the Blades 5-2 before 4,512 spectators in what was then known as the Credit Union Centre to complete the home-and-home series the next night in Saskatoon. There were four fights and 72 minutes in penalties in that contest. Shultz and Byers had a bout in that game.
    Nights like that home-and-home series used to be a more common occurrence in the WHL. The league is more businesslike now as compared to then, which is due to how the game evolved over the years.
    With that said, it is still great to remember stories like this, which get lost over the years. For the younger generation, it gives a little glimpse of why the hockey rivalry between Saskatoon and Prince Albert at all levels can still get intense.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Friday, 4 August 2017

New Hilltops starting QB a student of the game

Walls groomed and ready to lead defending CJFL champs

Jordan Walls will lead the Hilltops as starting QB in 2017.
    Jordan Walls is pumped he will finally get the chance to apply what he has learned.
    For the last three seasons, Walls was the understudy to Saskatoon Hilltops starting quarterback Jared Andreychuk and watched Andreychuk build a legacy in the Canadian Junior Football League. Andreychuk led the Hilltops to three straight CJFL championships over the past three campaigns and posted a perfect 9-0 record in the post-season as a starting quarterback.
    Coming out of Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate, Walls was aware players don’t normally step in and become the starting quarterback with the Hilltops. He knew he could eventually be the starter one day, if he could learn and show what he learned in the chances he received in practices and games.
Jordan Walls drops back to pass.
    Walls admitted he had a pretty good role model to watch playing behind Andreychuk and was keenly watching the veteran signal caller in all situations.
    “He (Andreychuk) was always calm,” said Walls. “He never got too excited. He never got too down.
    “He handled himself in pressure moments very well. He just knew how to handle it and how to make the big time throws.
    “I think when you watch from the sideline you learn to see the game from a different view. You get to learn behind Jared (Andreychuk), which was good for me and good for my development. To have the reins now, I am excited to go.”
    At the Hilltops Alumni Game last season, Walls started that contest and gave a glimpse of what he could do. He threw the ball well all over the field and using his eyes to move defensive backs to get receivers open.
    It took a great play by defensive back Joel Lipinski, who is a former member of the University of Regina Rams and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, to get an interception off Walls. After Walls was pulled, the Alumni team stormed to a 41-10 victory.
    During the regular season in 2016, Walls completed 24 of 31 attempts for 245 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions stepping on the field during mop up duty.
    At the Hilltops Alumni Game on Thursday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Walls showed solid command of the offence playing the first half, which the Alumni team won 16-14. The 21-year-old signal caller throws the ball with some good authority despite being smaller in stature standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 155 points.
Jordan Walls throws downfield on the run.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said his team is pumped to have Walls leading the offence and his teammates rally around him.
    “We are excited,” said Sargeant. “Jordan is the guy. He has done everything that we’ve asked him to do.
    “He can make all the throws and all the reads, so now it is just game experience. He just got to keep playing. We have got to get him good situations and good calls.
    “He has to trust the calls. He has to trust himself, and he has to make the plays.”
    Sargeant said there are still some fine tuning things the coaching staff needs to help Walls out with. The veteran sideline boss is confident good things will result as constant improvement is made.
    “He (Walls) has a real strong arm and is accurate,” said Sargeant. “Our job is just to give him a better understanding of what he needs to do and how he needs to do it.
    “When that takes place, you’re going to see this offence blossom, and we anticipate making a lot of plays this year.”
    Walls, by his own admission, said he is working on his vision on the field.
Jordan Walls fires a pass downfield from the pocket.
    “It is getting there,” said Walls. “Obviously, we have a lot of talented players on this offence, and they get open and they find the holes.
    “You get a guy like (running back) Logan Fischer or (receiver) Sam Mike, they make your job pretty easy.”
    Before joining the Hilltops for his fourth season, Walls saw the game of football in a different light, when he became the offensive coordinator of the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League this past spring. He was also the club’s quarterbacks coach. Walls was entrusted with helping groom the Valkyries talented and personable sophomore quarterback Alex Eyolfson.
    With the Valkyries having an elite program guided by head coach Pat Barry and defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie, who is the Hilltops defensive coordinator, Walls found a lot of what he learned in his coaching role could be transferred over to the field guiding the Hilltops as quarterback.
Jordan Walls calls signals at the goal-line.
    “You see it from a different point,” said Walls. “You get to coach with great coaches.
    “Jeff Yausie and Pat Barry, those guys have been around for ages coaching, so to sit down in the meeting rooms with them and kind of hear what they have to say really helped with understanding situations and what defences are trying to do here and there. That helped a lot.”
    Walls is looking forward to getting the regular season going. The Hilltops open the regular campaign traveling to Regina on Saturday, Aug. 12 for a 7 p.m. clash with their provincial rivals the Thunder. That contest will mark the first time both squads play at new Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    The Hilltops are also on a quest to become the first team to win four straight championships in the history of the CJFL dating back to 1908. Saskatoon won three straight CJFL titles on two other occasions from 2002 to 2004 and 2010 to 2012, which means this will mark the third time the Hilltops will try to win four league championships in a row.
Jordan Walls (#19) is protected by running back Adam Machart (#20).
    As the season progresses, Walls said the key for his team will be to focus on the present as opposed to worrying about keeping the Canadian Bowl - the CJFL championship trophy - in Saskatoon.
    “It is daunting I guess when you start to look at the big picture of it,” said Walls. “Obviously, no one has ever done it, and we’ve had a few chances in the past to do it as the Hilltops.
    “I think you have to take it game by game and week by week and slowly work your way towards it. They are not going to be handing out the Canadian Bowl next week, so we know that and we have to stay patient.”

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Adversity will make Slobodzian stronger

Expect Stars grad to “bring it” at Hockey Canada camp

Willow Slobodzian controls the puck at the point for the Stars.
    Over the past 12 months, it seemed like adversity piled up on Willow Slobodzian, but you can expect it to help her in hockey.
    Growing up in Clavet and playing her minor hockey in the Saskatoon area, Slobodzian made the game look easy. The offensive-defender skates beautifully and effortlessly, has vision on the ice to see a game no one else sees and can fire home the puck with a gift of a deadly accurate shot.
    There might not be a sweeter sight than Slobodzian going coast-to-coast and wiring home a goal past a startled netminder.
    As she progressed to play with the Saskatoon Stars of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League, tales started to rise up from the local rinks about how good Slobodzian was growing up, and you don’t know if they are true or not. There were a number of stories of her going to all-boys hockey camps growing up and coming away with the camps award as the best defender.
Willow Slobodzian looks to make a pass in the offensive zone.
    Slobodzian, who turned 17 in January, never confirmed those stories when asked about them. She would smile, laugh and shy away from the queries.
    Off the ice, Slobodzian was the most perfect well-manner teenager you could ever meet. During interviews and interactions with others, she carried herself in a fashion similar to the way Wayne Gretzky did in his iconic NHL playing days.
    Slobodzian spoke with politeness, insight and class. She always had great things to say about her teammates, coaches and opponents.
    It seemed like she would have a charmed life in hockey.
    Last summer, new doors started opening in the sport for her. In July of 2016, she attended a women’s high-performance camp hosted by the International Ice Hockey Federation in Finland.
    In August of 2016, she took part in Hockey Canada’s under-18 women’s team selection camp. From that camp, Slobodzian was selected to play for Canada in a three-game series against the United States later on that month, but she was left off the roster for the under-18 worlds held in January in the Czech Republic.
Willow Slobodzian gets set to make a pass to her defensive partner.
    That marked the first time Slobodzian, who stands 5-foot-7, had been cut from any hockey team she tried out for. After the initial shock, she didn’t let that get her down.
    She returned to play her third and final season for the Stars and was named the team’s captain for her final campaign. Saskatoon romped through the regular season with a 25-2-1 record and advanced to the SFMAAAHL title series for a third straight year. The Stars won the Fedoruk Cup in 2015 and 2016 and earned a berth in the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament in both those years.
    This time, the Stars season ended in March after they were swept 3-0 in a best-of-five series by a stellar Prince Albert Northern Bears side.
    Shortly after that series ended, Slobodzian’s life was turned upside down, when she discovered she would have to find a new post-secondary hockey home.
Willow Slobodzian sneaks in from the point.
    She had committed to joining the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks women’s hockey team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but the team was folded in a shocking announcement on March 29.
    Global’s sports department in Saskatoon localized the story, and Slobodzian spoke to them about the situation shortly after it happened. Often in today’s media landscape in Canada, it is starting to be more common place that teenagers in sports are almost viewed as little kids, and they don’t get asked about tough subjects very often.
    The way Slobodzian handled her interview after the Fighting Hawks folded at age 17 showed more maturity than most adults have especially when you consider that tough situation was totally out of her control.
    Slobodzian caught on with the NCAA’s Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team a short time after the Fighting Hawks women’s team folded and will join the Big Red in Ithaca, New York, for the upcoming season.
    Having graduated from Clavet High School in June, Slobodzian is heading back for a second shot to make Canada’s under-18 women’s team. She will take part in Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase that runs from Aug. 5 to 13 in Calgary.
    Slobodzian is one of 42 players that are part of the under-18 camp. The invitees include now former Stars teammates and forwards Mackenna Parker and Grace Shirley along with SFMAAAHL defenders Hannah Koroll from the Bears and Taylor Kirwan from the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats.
Willow Slobodzian helped the Stars win two SFMAAAHL titles.
    The players will be dived into two teams that will play two intrasquad games against each other. Each will team will also play two games against an under-18 team from Russia. Besides game action, the players at camp will participate in several practices, off-ice dryland training, fitness testing and classroom sessions.
    From the selection camp, 23 players will be selected to play for Canada’s under-18 team in a three-game series against the United States that runs from Aug. 17 to 20 in Lake Placid, New York. Following the series, Hockey Canada scouts along with the team’s coaching staff will continue to evaluate players to choose Canada’s roster for the 2018 under-18 women’s world championships, which will be held Jan. 6-13 in Dmitrov, Russia.
    Going into this year’s under-18 Hockey Canada camp, Slobodzian will be motivated. In sports, athletes often have to rise past disappointments, and Slobodzian has another golden chance to show she can persevere.
Willow Slobodzian gets set to drive a shot on goal.
    During her three seasons with the Stars, she never missed an SFMAAAHL regular season or post season game. Between the SFMAAAHL regular season and playoffs, Slobodzian appeared in 113 career games collecting 25 goals and 59 assists.
    In the 2015-16 campaign, Slobodzian was named the SFMAAAHL’s top defender and a first team all-star. She was an SFMAAAHL first team all-star this past season.
    She is also physically tough, which might be one of her most underrate traits. One time while playing on Saskatchewan’s provincial team, she was hammered hard into the boards by a member from the University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team during an exhibition game.
    Slobodzian injured her shoulder, but she played through the injury and was still effective. Besides already being a great player, that moment made her a warrior.
    Slobodzian has always achieved great things, and you can expect she will continue to achieve great things. Her dream and goal is to play for Canada women’s team at the Olympics, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those hopes become a reality one day.

Shirley, Willoughby and Magwood off to Summer Showcase

Sophie Shirley (#8) helped the Stars win an SFMAAAHL title in 2015.
    Sophie Shirley, Kaitlin Willoughby and Jaycee Magwood will all be participating in Hockey Canada’s National Teams’ Summer Showcase.
    Shirley, who has been part of Canada’s under-18 women’s team for the past two seasons, will be one of 25 players skating as part of Canada’s National Women’s Development Team selection camp. They will be competing for spots on the Canadian team that will compete at the 2018 Nations Cup in Fussen, Germany in January.
    Besides her time with Canada’s under-18 women’s team, Shirley, who is an 18-year-old forward, officially dressed for her first two games with Canada’s Senior National Women’s team in December of 2016 as part of a two-game series in Sarnia, Ont., and Plymouth, Mich.
Kaitlin Willoughby gets set to drive a shot on goal.
    The Saskatoon product also played 36 games last season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy’s female prep team based out of Penticton, B.C., collecting 32 goals and 28 assists.
    Shirley helped the Saskatoon Stars win their first SFMAAAHL title in the 2014-15 campaign and earn a bronze medal at the Esso Cup national female midget AAA championship tournament. She was named the SFMAAAHL’s most valuable player that season.
    The players at the development team selection camp will participate in several practices, intrasquad games, off-ice dryland training, fitness testing and classroom sessions.
    They will also play two games against a national team from Japan and two games against a team of all-star players from the U Sports women’s league.
Jaycee Magwood sets to unload a turnaround shot.
    The roster of the U Sports team was announced on Tuesday and it includes Willoughby and Magwood, who both helped Canada win a silver medal at the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan in February.
    Willoughby is a star centre with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s team. She led the Huskies in scoring last season despite missing time due to her Team Canada commitments recording 11 goals, 10 assists and a plus-nine rating in the plus-minus department in 24 regular season games.
    Her goal total and plus-minus rating were both career highs, and in four seasons, the Prince Albert product has piled up 41 goals and 51 assists in 106 regular season games.
    Magwood is a star forward with the University of Regina Cougars women’s team. She led the Cougars in scoring recording 12 goals, 12 assists and a plus-eight rating. In two seasons, the Killarney, Man., product has posted 23 goals and 27 assists in 52 regular season games.
    The U Sports all-star team consists of 21 players, and they will also the national team from Japan twice.

Amundson commits to Mount Royal

Camryn Amundson drives into the offensive zone for the Bears.
    Speedy Prince Albert Northern Bears forward Camryn Amundson has found a post-secondary home following the completion of her midget AAA career.
    On Monday, the Bears set out a tweet that said Amundson had committed to joining the Mount Royal University Cougars women’s hockey team in U Sports. Last season, Amundson piled up 13 goals and 14 assists in 27 regular season games with the Bears.
    She played a key role in helping the Bears win their second league title recording five goals and three assists as Prince Albert rolled through the SFMAAAHL playoffs to capture the Fedoruk Cup with nine straight wins. The Bears swept a best-of-three Western regional playdown series 2-0 against the Hartney, Man., based Westman Wildcats to advance to the Esso Cup national female midget AAA championship tournament for the first time.
    Amundson will play her 17-year-old and final season of midget AAA eligibility with the Bears in the fall.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Still totally in awe of the house “Rider Pride” built

An inside look at new Mosaic Stadium.
    REGINA - Every time I sit inside new Mosaic Stadium part of me still doesn’t believe what I am seeing.
    I keep having to convince myself that this place is actually real. I attended the first football game ever held at the state of the art sports facility in Regina, when the University of Regina Rams downed the U of Saskatchewan Huskies 37-29 on Oct. 1, 2016 in U Sports action.
    So far, I have made it to two of the Saskatchewan Roughriders home games during the CFL club’s inaugural season in the new park. Even during my third overall visit there on Saturday when the Roughriders downed the visiting Toronto Argonauts 38-27, I kept constantly looking around. I still haven’t gotten over being in awe of the “new” aspect of the place.
The Roughriders Pep Band plays outside new Mosaic Stadium.
    It has been cool to see the Roughriders play in a modern home.
    It is even better to see the charm of game day has transferred over from old Taylor Field to the new park. I will likely have a better appreciation of that fact after I more digest the “newness” aspect of the facility.
    When they built new Mosaic Stadium, they definitely got it right. It is a place the province of Saskatchewan can be proud of. All the amenities are way better than the old park, and I know that is quite the “Captain Obvious” statement.
    At halftime, it no longer takes up the whole break to use the washroom. You are in and out within five minutes even with a lengthy line. Actually, the washrooms of the facility are so immaculate you question if you should be using them.
The Roughriders Drum Line plays at the tailgate party.
    It is easy to get in and out of concessions. It is nice be able to buy beer on tap.
    It has been great to be able to circle the stadium on the concourse. At Taylor Field, it was impossible to see friends on the other side of the park once you entered the place for the game.
    The best surprise has actually been the familiarity around Roughriders games.
    One of the best parts of game day is arriving two hours beforehand to take in the other festivities. It seemed so reassuring when I ran into the Roughriders Pep Band during my first home game at the new park – a 37-20 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 8.
    They were belting out a whole pile of traditional team songs, and it seemed to set a good vibes tone for the rest of the night.
Gainer the Gopher entertains the fans.
    Seeing the drum line parade all over the place is another great site.
    The tailgate party, which used to be on the practice field beside the old stadium, was moved to a newly built park on the west side of the new stadium. It has become a great meeting place. It is filled with games for the kids and concessions and beer stands that are easy to get to.
    The new tailgate area is well shaded by numerous trees and has a relaxed feel to it. The park is also has a spot to bring special things in like a small Canadian Football Hall of Fame exhibit that was present on Saturday.
    Slowly, I am starting to get an idea where the veteran diehard fans are in the park. For the most part, they are seem to be sitting in areas geographically that are close to where they sat in at the old park. If you attend Roughriders games on a regular basis, you develop an attachment to the community that comes to games consistently.
    One minor difference seems to be the fact the south end zone known as “Pil Country” has replaced Section 28 of the old park in being the spot that holds the most rowdy and colourful fans. Section 28 existed on the east side of Taylor Field.
    The only thing that is missing at the new park is the history and the shared memories from the old park. Those can never be replaced.
    With that in mind, new Mosaic moments are starting to be made at the new park.
The Roughriders paid tribute to the late Joe McKnight on Saturday.
    Before Saturday’s game, the Roughriders held a moving tribute for running back Joe McKnight, who was tragically killed in a road rage incident on Dec. 1, 2016 in Terrytown, Louisiana. The tribute included a video honouring McKnight, who joined the club last season. A large contingent of his family was brought in for the contest.
    The team presented the McKnight family with one of the late tailback’s #33 jerseys, which was signed by the members of the Saskatchewan team.
    During the win over the Argos, a great romance moment between team and fan was created by Roughriders receiver Duron Carter. When he made his spectacular one-handed touchdown catch shortly before halftime, he proceeded to give the ball off to 12-year-old lifelong supporter Paige Hansen.
Duron Carter (#89) makes an acrobatic TD catch just before halftime.
    Paige and her mom, Michelle, have been going to games for years, and they know a few of the players. I knew where they were sitting in the north end zone, and when Carter sprinted to that part of the park, I figured he was running to give the ball to them.
    I saw the family after the game, and they said Carter told them before the contest he was going to give them the ball if he scored in the north end zone. I didn’t hang out long enough post-game to see Carter come out, autograph the ball and visit with the family.
    Carter hauled in nine passes for 131 yards and scored two touchdowns that night, but the fact he gave the first TD catch ball to Paige Hansen ensured that game and performance will always be remembered.
    It was great to see media outlets both mainstream and non-mainstream pick up on that story. From there, I learned young Paige survived cancer at age four and has been an ambassador for both the Children’s Wish Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society thanks to Drew Edwards of 3DownNation.
Pil Country” is becoming home to the more rowdy fans.
    I never knew the Hansens’ background story. I always just saw them as great fans, and similar with most fans at the park, conversations focused on the Roughriders and subjects that are light in nature. Their story in connection with Saturday’s game made that night at new Mosaic Stadium that much more special.
    One day, the overall “newness” of the Roughriders new home will pass. The best part is you know in your heart more great memories are waiting to be made.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.