Photo courtesy of Louis Christ Photography
CJFL Commissioner Jim Pankovich has demonstrated an incredible amount of leadership during the COVID-19 crisis and has been named the 2020 CJFL Stewart MacDonald Executive Of The Year.
Starting from the very early days of the pandemic, Jim had envisioned the difficult path that was before us and began to strategize and approach to deal with the situation.
Jim’s calm, cool, and measured approach kept the Canadian Junior Football League on track to making a difficult decision based on a tremendous amount of information from multiple sources. The outcome ultimately wound up being the best decision one could make for the safety and well being for the athletes, coaches and entire CJFL.
The Commissioner spent hundreds of hours, talking with experts, politicians, doctors, CFL football executives and a multitude of CJFL members throughout the country in the early stages of the pandemic. Jim had developed a primary plan as well as many multi leveled and layered contingency plans and was able to present these to stakeholders in a matter that had led to the consistent buy in and ownership of all the parties involved.
His in-depth analysis and planning put the CJFL in a place where the league moved methodically forward while maintaining an optimistic view for what was to come. Timelines were developed for primary and secondary strategies, input was requested and documented and thoroughly discussed with all the key stakeholders allowing for educated thought through debates and decisions.
Although the cancellation of the 2020 season and the Canadian Bowl was not the desire of anyone, when it came time to make that decision everyone was confident that the league had viewed and analyzed all angles and the best decision for the safety of the whole was made. Despite the gravity of this decision the CJFL holds the belief that we are still in a strong position to succeed going forward and faith or optimism has not been lost for future seasons. This was accomplished only because Jim’s complete dedication and commitment to ensure no stone was left unturned before a decision was made. His desire and professional, positive attitude was the glue that held the CJFL executive together throughout this challenging time.
The CJFL did not react hastily nor erratically when it came time to cancel the 2020 season. Jim epitomized the old-World War II mantra of “stay calm and carry on.”
Jim has won this award previously in 2015, and it is a testament to his extreme ability to lead our league that he is awarded the Executive Of The Year five years later. Many have discussed that with Jim Pankovich at the vanguard of this crisis, we were never in a position of defeat but in a position of growth and evolution of the game of junior football in Canada.
What a year for sport in Canada in 1976 as Montreal became the first Canadian city to host the Olympic Games in July.
The year was a leap year, which began on a Thursday and the CJFL kicked off with four Conferences and 31 teams. The Ontario Conference itself had three divisions and 13 teams, the Manitoba Conference had four, the Alberta Junior Conference tallied eight and had teams from Saskatchewan and the BC Conference had six strong. It’s interesting to note only one team finished the season undefeated; the Ottawa Sooners were 8-0 but lost in the Conference semi-final.
In the “Year of the Dragon” the road to the Canadian Bowl featured four Conference champions:
Ontario Football Conference – Hamilton Hurricanes defeated the Verdun Maple Leafs in a best of three series.
Manitoba Junior Football Conference – St. Vital Mustangs also beat the Winnipeg Hawkeyes in a best of three series
Alberta Junior Football League – Regina Rams beat the Edmonton Wildcats 62-28
Big Four Football (BC Conference) – Vancouver Meralomas shutout the North Shore Cougars 24-0
During the 1976 playoffs the CJFL featured a pair of Inter-Conference semi-finals to determine who would play for the Armadale Cup (known today as the Canadian Bowl). The Ontario champion Hurricanes pounded the Manitoba champion Mustangs 23-8 to advance, then the Alberta champion Rams dominated the BC champion Meralomas 48-0 to set a date with the Hurricanes.
The national championship Armadale Cup was played on November 13, 1976 in front of an incredible 10,000 fans in Regina. The Rams used the big crowd energy to perfection and crushed the Hurricanes 45-23. The victory marked the second straight season defeating the Hurricanes in the national championship game. In four 1976 playoff games the Rams’ defence pitched a pair of shutouts.
Off the field in 1976 the Apple Computer Company was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The CN Tower in Toronto opened its doors in June and Rocky was the top grossing movie of the year, knocking out the competition with $55,900,000 earned at the box office.
The first laser printer was also introduced in 1976 by IBM and Wings had the top song on the Billboard Charts with “Silly Love Songs.”
Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister watching the Montreal Canadians sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in four games to win the Stanley Cup. The Toronto Blue Jays were created in ’76, then played their first game the following season.
Back on the gridiron it was a battle of the Roughriders in the 64th Grey Cup when the Ottawa Rough Riders defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 23-20 in Toronto. Some experts still say this was the most thrilling Grey Cup. Meanwhile down south the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl 10.
That was the year of 1976!
Photo courtesy of AllSportMedia.ca
The Saskatoon Hilltops and Langley Rams have met four times this decade in the Canadian Bowl, the Hilltops winning all four meetings including back to back in 2018 and 2019.
The first time they went head to head was in 2012 and the game became a CJFL Canadian Bowl Classic. It was played in Langley on November 10th and with a massive second half the Hilltops came back to win 23-21.
After a scoreless first quarter the Rams would break the tie in the second frame as quarterback Greg Bowcott hooked up with Malcolm Williams on a 16 yard strike. However the lead was short lived as the Hilltops would come right back on their next drive finished off by Zach Schmidt and an 18 yard field goal.
Eight minutes later Schmidt again would kick another field goal, this time from 32 yards out to bring the Hilltops within one.
Before the end of the half Bowcott connected with Michael Patko for a 73 yard catch and run for a touchdown and the Rams led at halftime 14-6.
Coming out of half the Rams kept pouring it on, just four minutes into the third running back Daniel Xavier would punch it in from a yard out to extend their lead to 21-6.
On their next possession however the Rams started to come unglued. Nick Downey fumbled which completely changed the momentum of the game. Mike Waldron recovered the fumble and returned it to the five yard line before Hilltops running back Andre Lalonde scored their first touchdown on the very next play making the score 21-13.
Then in the fourth, Schmidt connected on his third field goal from 30 yards out before quarterback Matt Karpinka found Graham Unruh for a 40 yard catch and run for a touchdown. That gave the Hilltops their first lead of the game, one they would not relinquish.
Unruh made six catches for a game high 208 yards and a major and was named the Offensive Player of the Game.
Karpinka finished with just six completions for 123 yards and a score. He would platoon with rookie Jared Andreychuk who finished 4 of 11 for 69 yards.
Defensively the Toppers were led by the Defensive Player of the Game Dylan Kemp. He tied a Canadian Bowl record with 11 solo tackles. Prairie Conference Defensive Player of the Year that season was Ben Cressman who finished the title game with five solo tackles and had an interception.
The victory was the Hilltops 16th national championship which at that time moved them one head of the Regina Rams for the most national titles in Canadian Junior Football League history.
Each of the next three Hilltops-Rams national title games has been equally exciting, but the game in 2012 stands out as a Canadian Bowl Classic.