Friday, July 9, 2021

Saskatoon Minor Football rides momentum of national award

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A running back takes off in a high school academy game in fall of 2020.
For crew at Saskatoon Minor Football, the focus was to keep players playing with no thoughts on getting any awards.

When a big award came from Football Canada, it was a pleasant surprise.

This past April, Saskatoon Minor Football was named the winner of Football Canada’s Organization of the Year Award for 2020. The award was given largely due to the fact Saskatoon Minor Football was able to bring back game action with the world stuck in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Most minor football organizations in Canada weren’t able to take the field in 2020.

The administrators and officials with Saskatoon Minor Football put in countless hours of work formulating return to play plans and ultimately were able to get back on the field.

Brian Guebert, who is the executive director for Saskatoon Minor Football, said the biggest reward was seeing players excited over being able to play the game once again.

“We knew it was worth it from the get go,” said Guebert. “Providing opportunities for our kids to do what they love is our number one priority.

“To give a safe environment in which to do that whether that is COVID safety or player safety, that is priority number one for us and the reason why we are a successful organization and have such a loyal following in the city.”

While a huge national accolade wasn’t expected, Guebert said it was still special for Saskatoon Minor Football to earn recognition as Football Canada’s Organization of the Year Award.

“That is super exciting,” said Guebert. “There are so many great organizations across the country.

The Kinsmen Football League was in action in the fall of 2020.
“To be recognized by our national sports organization as one of the best, that just speaks tonnes to our members, our players, our coaches, and all the organizers involved. We’re super proud of that award.”

Guebert said it was extremely challenging to get back on the field in 2020 dealing with all the Public Health Orders and protocols that were brought in to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with those huge obstacles, he added it was amazing to see everyone involved with Saskatoon Minor Football rally to make a season a reality.

“It was a hero’s effort to try and make everything happen,” said Guebert. “Our coordinators, our board and our coaches, everybody just came together.

“Our managers, our people in charge of COVID protocols. Everybody just stepped up and played a huge role to make sure that could make football happen this past year.”

With high school football getting cancelled in 2020, Saskatoon Minor Football ensured high school aged athletes were able to get on the field creating a six-team academy league in the fall of 2020. The caliber of play in the league was top notch.

“It was awesome like really exciting to see those kids playing,” said Guebert. “All the games were so competitive.

“The talent is really remarkable in Saskatoon and what our coaches can do when you put together kind of even like drafted all-star teams like that. It is a lot of fun. Not enough can be said about the quality of amateur football in our city.”

The Kinsmen Football League also resumed play in the fall of 2020 thanks to the work of Saskatoon Minor Football. Players who were in Grades 6 to 9 took part in six-man tackle contests.

“It was great to see the Kinsmen kids playing too,” said Guebert. “There is just so much credit to our coaches for making it possible to happen.

The Rush spring high school football female flag league is popular.
“There was no junior football last year, and there was no high school football last year. Being able to offer something to our players was so rewarding.”

Saskatoon Minor Football road the momentum it established in 2020 to run a number of successful programs this past May and June. The programs included Tykes on Spikes, which introduces players aged three to six to the game, flag football and six-a-side tackle football for various age groups and the Rush spring high school football female flag league.

On top of those programs, Saskatoon Minor Football ran another series of academy games for high school aged players. Players who took part in the academy games were evaluated for the Saskatoon Minor Football all-star teams that will take part in the Prairie Bowl Series against Regina Minor Football.

In the Prairie Bowl Series, the under-16 and varsity high school all-star teams from Saskatoon Minor Football and Regina Minor Football will take part in respective two-game total-points series. The Prairie Bowl Series starts tonight in Regina.

It wraps up in Saskatoon at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Saturday, July 17. The under-16 game is set for 6 p.m. and the varsity contest follows at 8:30 p.m.

“It is another opportunity just to showcase the talent we have in our city and to involve ourselves in great competition with another amazing organization down with RMF,” said Guebert. “The job (RMF executive director) Len Antonini and his crew did down in Regina is just outstanding as well.

“Any time we have a chance to partner with RMF and do a Prairie Bowl Series like this we jump at the opportunity, and we are really looking forward to these games.”

At all levels of football, Saskatoon and Regina have a sound rivalry. For the players that are involved with the Prairie Bowl Series, Guebert said the rival just adds an extra bonus, and he hopes the players can turn the heads of a few post-secondary coaches.

“Any opportunity these kids have to play more football, they jump at it,” said Guebert. “I think it is great.”

A runner tries to escape in a six-a-side spring tackle game.
Looking forward to the fall, Guebert said there is optimism the season will look a lot more normal than it did in 2020.

Before looking ahead, Guebert added he was really satisfied with how well things went in the spring for Saskatoon Minor Football.

“It has been an awesome spring,” said Guebert. “Even though it was a little condensed and a little in question there at the start, we were so happy we able to get out on the field and make things happen.”


For more information on Saskatoon Minor Football, feel free to check out their website

Valkyries return to action, renew rivalry with Riot

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A receiver sets to catch a pass at a Valkyries practice.
The Western Women’s Canadian Football League rivalry between the Saskatoon Valkyries and the Regina Riot has created some unique memories for quarterback Alex Eyolfson.

One of those memories came during her sophomore campaign with the Valkyries in their last regular season visit to fabled Taylor Field in Regina on May 21, 2017. That contest marked the first time Eyolfson guided the Valkyries on a two-minute drill drive in the fourth quarter to win a game.

With seven seconds remaining in the contest, Eyolfson hit veteran receiver Kelsey Murphy with an eight-yard touchdown pass to win the clash 20-17.

“I think that was probably my favourite memory,” said Eyolfson regarding the encounters between the two provincial rivals.

After the 2020 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Valkyries are returning to game action in 2021 with three clashes against the Riot.

The two sides go at it on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Leibel Field in Regina. The Valkyries will host the Riot on Friday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The two clubs will meet for a final time on Sunday, July 25 at a place and time to be announced depending on the total score of the first two contests. Pandemic restrictions that were in effect and are still in effect in different locations have prevented the Valkyries and Riot from playing the WWCFL clubs located in Alberta and Manitoba.

Still, Eyolfson is pumped her Valkyries will renew their storied rivalry with the Riot.

“It would be nice to play everyone, but Regina is our best competition,” said Eyolfson, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School. “I think they are the most challenging games.

“It will be like a good game, so it is exciting. I’m just glad that we get to play a few games.”

While the WWCFL hit the field a relatively short time ago in 2011, the Valkyries and Riot have created a storied and respectful rivalry. 

Alex Eyolfson throws a pass at a Valkyries practice.
They have played each other at least three times a season thanks to having met in each of the WWCFL’s nine post-seasons with the winner of those clashes moving on to capture the league title.

The Valkyries have won six WWCFL titles coming in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019. The Riot captured league crowns in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Eyolfson made her first major imprint in those head-to-head clashes as an 18-year-old rookie in 2016. In the WWCFL Prairie Conference title game played that season at SMF Field, Eyolfson completed 10-of-18 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Valkyries to a 29-14 victory.

On top of the moment where she connected with Murphy for a winning touchdown pass in that road regular season win in 2017, Eyolfson said another big memory was the Valkyries 25-3 WWCFL title game win over the Riot in 2019 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

The Valkyries were playing to honour the memory of their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who died in a plane crash on June 1, 2019. After learning about Filteau’s passing, the Valkyries dedicated their 2019 season to their late coach.

Valkyries head coach Pat Barry said that win was his best memory of head-to-head games with the Riot. He was really proud of what the Valkyries accomplished in 2019 while dealing with Filteau’s passing.

“It was such an emotional season,” said Barry. “The perseverance of our team that year was pretty special not just for this team but truly for sport in Saskatchewan.

“It was one of the more amazing moments that I have seen.”

Saskatoon posted a perfect 9-0 record in that campaign closing with a 39-12 exhibition victory over the Montreal Blitz on July 6, 2019 at SMF Field. At the moment, that stands as the last game the Valkyries have played.

Eyolfson is looking forward to playing a live game for the first time in just over two years, when the Valkyries travel to Regina to face the Riot on Saturday.

A Valkyries receiver head up field after making a catch.
“It will be exciting,” said Eyolfson. “We are all going to get riled up, and it will be fun to play them.”

Eyolfson believes the Valkyries returning players and the newcomers are coming together well. She also believes she has grown as a team leader since first joining the Valkyries in 2016.

“It is exciting to get the girls out and see some new faces,” said Eyolfson. “We are all learning.

“It is exciting. They are learning and they are having fun, so it is good. I feel more confident, and I just feel like I know we are all a unit, and I feel more comfortable.

“I try and lead by example. I’m not the loudest one out there, but I try and put a lot of effort in. It feels good to have five years under the belt.”

Barry is happy the Valkyries are getting back on the field even with just an abbreviated season. He said a lot of behind the scenes effort has made these contests happen.

“It is an immense amount of work,” said Barry. “I give a lot of credit to our board and our volunteers and all of our coaches and these players in making this commitment in a really challenging time (and) the same thing with Regina for wanting to do this.

“For the overall viability and health of the WWCFL, we feel it is really important.”

Barry said the Valkyries still aim to grow the women’s game. Many of the team’s players coach in Saskatoon’s minor football system.

In the north end zone of SMF Field, the Valkyries share a sign with the Canadian Junior Football League’s historic and storied Saskatoon Hilltops. The sign notes the Valkyries have won six WWCFL titles and the Hilltops, who played their first season in their current form in 1947, have captured 22 CJFL championships.

Barry said his Valkyries have always tried to be like their CJFL cousins on the women’s side of the game.

The north end zone sign marks the Valkyries and Hilltops title wins.
“They (the Hilltops) sort of set the bar for amateur football in our province,” said Barry. “They do a lot of things the right way.

“We try to emulate that. That is very difficult to do, but we want to provide opportunities for women to be involved in football. It is the greatest team sport in the world.

“We just want them to have the same opportunities.”


For more information on the Saskatoon Valkyries, feel free to check out their website