Saskatoon HUSA Alumni provincial winners en route to St. John's 2016

Special to Canada Soccer by Lee Kormish

Saskatoon HUSA Alumni have qualified for the 2016 Sport Chek National Championships as Saskatchewan's men's provincial winners. The one-time Challenge Trophy winners will represent their province from 5-10 October in St. John's, Newfoundland Labrador.

Saskatoon HUSA Alumni won the Saskatchewan Shield by acclamation after the only contender, FC Regina, withdrew at the 11th hour because of roster issues. The home-and-away weekend series was canceled.

Winning by acclamation, Saskatoon HUSA Alumni are now in full preparation mode for the upcoming Sport Chek National Championships Challenge Trophy finals. Head Coach Stewart Gillott and his squad have become accustomed to spending their Thanksgiving weekend on the road.

Their planning actually began long before the provincial qualifiers. Meeting in January, the club has a group of 30-35 players who are all vying for their place on the final roster. Gillott gets his team focused on the season’s goals. Practicing twice weekly throughout the year, the roster is narrowed down to the required 20 by the end of July.

There are not many teams against which Saskatoon can compete at home. With a large player pool, they play intra-squad games and have exhibition matches against the current University of Saskatchewan Huskies. This schedule serves well for a team that last reached the podium in 2014. That year, they captured bronze in Vaughan, Ontario after a memorable string of shootouts in those finals.

In past years, other clubs may have welcomed a prairie opponent into their group at the Challenge Trophy finals, but that has not been the case since the Saskatoon club won it all in 2011.

"Since 2011 when we won it, that changed the philosophy drastically," said coach Gillott. "We do have the ability to compete and actually win the tournament. Our goal is to bring home a medal."

Saskatoon HUSA Alumni will open against the Alberta runners up on 5 October and then face the Newfoundland Labrador champions on 7 October. Both of those opponents will be confirmed in September through their respective provincial championships.

"I’m super excited to be heading to Newfoundland Labrador. We’re looking forward to the atmosphere that it brings. It will be an absolute blast: they’re saying 4000 fans (for our match) against the Newfoundland Labrador team. We’ve never played in front of that type of crowd.’

In 2016, Saskatoon HUSA Alumni's lineup has featured Michael Bandula, Austin Boryski, Fitzroy Christey, Dwayne Gareau, Brendan Garrity, Carlos Gonzalez, Brandon Holmes, Jarvis Huyghebaert, Ryan McAllister, Sam Mylymok, Scott Myrah, Josh Northey, Abumere Okonofua, Stephen Patterson, Jean-Marie Perrault, Garrett Peters, Nathan Reis, Jordan Schidlowsky, Dallas Stern, and Jay Tomchuk.

"It’s fantastic," said Gillott of representing Saskatchewan. "We have a great group of individuals and it's changing every year. It’s great to be part of a program that has the respect of the other provinces. We receive many compliments from the bigger provinces."

Canada Soccer’s Sport Chek National Championships have served as our nation’s premier amateur competition for more than 100 years, with the men’s competition inaugurated in 1913 and the women’s competition inaugurated in 1982. At all age levels, the Sport Check National Championships provide a meaningful soccer experience for host cities and participating teams, as well as the players, coaches, support staff, officials, and volunteers. These competitions are complimented by both the Futsal Canadian Championship (since 2015) and the Amway Canadian Championship featuring Canada’s professional clubs (since 2008).