Players, coaches and parents of the Sylvan Lake Lions revelled in the past season, reliving some of the special moments as awards were presented at the windup banquet last Wednesday night in the Lions Hall.
Their memories were enhanced when pictures taken by Carol Cire were projected during a video created by team manager Carmen Hermanutz. (Each of the players received their own copy of the presentation along with a team picture.)
Coach John Kriekle said the year was very challenging for coaches from start to finish. “We had four guys back from last year. That was the least amount during his years of coaching. As well there were seven rookies who had never played football before and 11 rookies who came up from the peewee Bears.
“We spent a lot more time teaching fundamentals, basics. Then just as we started to come together we were hit by the injury bug.
“With such low numbers at each game it was like juggling who would play where by who showed up and was healthy enough to play. It was especially challenging on offense,” said Kriekle.
“All said it was probably one of the most rewarding years I’ve had as a coach. To see how you kids played, progressed … I’ve never coached a group of young men like you guys. No matter what you faced you played as a team. I’ve never seen such individual and team improvement, the personal development of these players as they went from boys to young men,” he said.
Kriekle noted that while the win-loss record was not great, they finished games with 12 or 13 players when the other teams had 45 players.
During the evening individual awards were presented to top players. Assistant coach Vic Sloboda awarded the most improved player award to Matt Bossert who was one of the seven who started at the season having never played football before. “He came out, didn’t know very much from the beginning but knew he loved football. He became smarter, became faster and experience taught him what to do in situations he was faced with. He learned the meaning of the word ‘contain’,” said Sloboda.
The Heart of the Lions award was presented to Kristian Peirens by Sloboda. The award is presented to the person who “demonstrates passion, especially leadership and an unwavering desire to win.” Sloboda noted he played injured in some games, where after sitting on the sideline for a few shifts he would say to coaches when another player was injured that he was not that bad and could go back in. “He was pushing his limits.”
Evan Sloboda was presented with the most versatile player award by assistant coach Dave Berg. “One of the things we look for isn’t just playing two ways, being tried in positions, but stepping into positions you haven’t been taught.”
The top lineman award went to Nathan Sloboda. Berg said “it’s not as easy as it looks to play line. To play line well you’ve got to understand football.” He described Sloboda as having “real natural football awareness”. He played both sides of the line, multiple positions. “To find a player that does both that well and hasn’t had a lot of football experience then we put him in centre … in offense the position is leading that line.”
Assistant coach Jamie Peirens described how proud he was of the team. While some will be moving up to the H. J. Cody Lakers team next year, for those returning to the Lions he left them with one word — conditioning. “Come back in shape so we can spend more time working on skills, making a cohesive team.”
He presented the rookie of the year award to Justin Fedun. “This player never complained when we told him to do something new. He was a workhorse in the offensive back field, filled in on the defensive side, was a strong fluid runner, natural runner. For a rookie he has great insight on how the ball has to move.”
Kriekle presented a new award, the all-round team player, to Carter Theriault whom he called “one of the toughest players”.
“He played in pain most of the time. He was not a bigger player but he played big. He was basically sacrificing himself for his teammates,” said Kriekle. “He played well at every position we put him at, basically everywhere he did it and did it well. He always put the team first, and even scored his first touchdown.”
The defensive MVP award was presented to Dylan Keller by Berg. “He was simply, flat out one of the hardest hitters, he hit ferociously. There weren’t very many tackles he missed. He’s a smart football player, has good football IQ, understands the way defense is supposed to operate, understands his role within it. He knew where he needed to be and had the tenacity and speed to get over when the play was not on his side of the field.”
Michael Smyth was presented with the offensive MVP award by Peirens who said, “we had such a small team that everybody played offense. Everybody played 110 per cent, they played their hearts out for us. This young man was called on to do things not many could. We watched him take on the role of leader, someone the team could look up to. It took a while of coaxing to convince him he had the talents to do what we wanted him to do.”
The team MVP awards was presented to Jared Winder by Kriekle. “He gave 110 per cent effort in every practise, every game, he was just phenomenal. He played both sides of the ball. Not only was he a leader but he was a teacher to other players.”