Vancouver, BC – July 10, 2018: The teams for this year’s Saratoga Cup have been confirmed after some highly competitive playoffs in the Interior, the Okanagan and the north of BC. The tournament will once again take place on September 8th to 9th in Penticton, BC and will see teams from Prince George, Terrace, Vernon and Cranbrook/Kimberley competing to lay their hands on the much-coveted: Saratoga Cup. Champions of the 2016 and 2017 tournaments, Terrace Northmen are out to claim a hat-trick of titles but will expect fierce opposition.
The Saratoga Cup is contested by teams from three regions: the Okanagan, the Kootenays, and the Interior. Contrary to the Island and Lower Mainland rugby communities, these regions play their rugby during the summer months on account of the challenging winter weather that they experience between Fall and Spring. This adapted rugby schedule does nothing to diminish the players' passion and enthusiasm for the sport, with club roots and traditions running deep in these communities. To play in these leagues, players can travel ten hours or more across to play other teams, which really shows their commitment and love for rugby. For example, the drive from Prince Rupert to William's Lake is ten and half hours long and a 952 kilometres distance.
This year, the Prince George Gnats and the Terrace Northmen of the Interior, the Vernon Jackals of the Okanagan, and the Rocky Mountain Rogues, representing the Kootenay league, will compete for the Saratoga Cup. The Terrace Northmen will be the team to beat coming into the competition, having claimed the title in the last two years. Northmen’s President Craig Dunfield hopes to do it again, "We know the competition will be hard, but we are looking forward to defending our title in Penticton and reaching our goal of a three-peat”. The Northmen featured Jared Stephens, who plays on the Canadian national team reserves team, the Maple Leafs.
Parity amongst clubs in the interior has been a problem in the past with lopsided results being too common, but recently, even with Terrace topping the results for a few years, things have changed. The Okanagan final between the Penticton Harlequins and the Vernon Jackals was a 24-22 affair and the Rocky Mountain Rogues edged Elk Valley by a single try, 32-27. Troy Mackenzie, Prince George Gnats President speaks about how the Saratoga Cup has become a more fertile ground for competition in recent years, “one of the most difficult parts of playing up here is the inequality of play. From one year to the next one team may be completely dominant over the others in the league. The past few years have seen a reduction in that as the teams have almost balanced, making an ideal league”.
The passion these teams have for rugby is apparent when speaking to them and their commitment to making rugby better in their regions is inspiring. Fewer people in the farther reaches of BC and smaller cities means more travelling and increased effort to just get on the field. Evan van Dyk has been playing for the Terrace Northmen for 11 years and has seen the club grow from fledgling to flourishing. "I have watched this club grow from a group of men and teenagers wearing mix and matched uniforms playing games against Prince Rupert all the way to competing to a three-peat at the Saratoga Cup. The support from the BCRU and this annual tournament amongst the province's summer leagues has really allowed us to grow our club and sport in the region. I am looking forward to this tournament and many years of rugby ahead in Northern BC".
Bryan Cragg’s Vernon Jackals went 7-0 through the regular season and capped it off with a win over the Penticton Harlequins for the Okanagan league championship. His team is hungry for a win in the Saratoga Cup this year, after finishing second in the 2016 and 2017. “We came in with a team goal to take that next step this year, to date we've done what we needed to do to give ourselves the chance to achieve it. Although we have had some good teams in the past, no Vernon Jackals team has hoisted the Saratoga Cup. And if we get there, it would be huge for the club”.
The Saratoga Cup will take place on September 8th and 9th in Penticton, at the Harlequins’ clubhouse, 393 Rigsby Street. Roland Curnow, seen here holding up his end of the Cup, and Ken Simpson, deserve a huge thanks for doing the groundwork that keeps this competition alive. They will be helping to host the event's activities in Penticton. Stay tuned to BC Rugby for more information about the event in the coming weeks.