KELOWNA, B.C.- When Joey Palagian of Canora earned a spot on the Saskatchewan roster for the Football Canada U18 2022 Canada Cup tournament in Kelowna, B.C., the Canora linebacker became part of a program that is used to success.
And after winning gold medals in the two previous Canada Cups, Palagian and his teammates made it three in a row with three straight wins, including an impressive 13-1 win over Alberta in the gold medal game on July 17.
Saskatchewan began the week with a dominant 40 to 0 win over Nova Scotia on July 11. The game was scoreless after the first quarter, but Palagian and his teammates found their groove in the second, building a 17 to 0 lead by halftime on their way to victory.
That set up a Game 2 showdown on July 14 against Ontario, a team that was known for having some of the top skill-position players in the country. But Saskatchewan continued to focus on team play, kept Ontario down to only three points in the first three quarters, and came away with a 23-11 victory. Palagian was once again a key contributor on defence, and as colour commentator Bill Long observed on one play, “That’s tremendous pursuit by Palagian, who came all the way across from the far side of the field to make the tackle.”
The win over Ontario created the matchup against Alberta in the Canada Cup final on July 17, and the opportunity for a “three-peat” for Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan came out strong once again, and held the opposition scoreless in the first quarter for the third straight game on the way to a 13-1 win and the gold medal.
The defense once again was a major factor, holding Alberta to only 115 yards of total offence, while Saskatchewan managed 258 yards. The big story was the running game, which pounded out 200 yards for the winners.
After the big win, Palagian was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Saskatchewan team.
“The experience was fantastic!’ he raved. “I have developed as a player and as a person. I have learned new skills and had the opportunity to play with the best players in the country.
“Another thing that was positive about this experience was that I saw the difference between our team that walked everywhere together, and was respectful and positive, versus other teams where it was all about each individual player showcasing their talent and not about the team.”
Palagian’s father Al observed that this experience could play a large role in shaping his son’s life, both in football and beyond.
“It's how to deal with change as well as a set game plan, but more importantly what it means to successfully adapt, in the moment, to something bigger than yourself,” said Al. “Winning is the end goal. Understanding that it is a team effort is hard to wrap your brain around. It requires trust in your coaches. But trust is earned, and these Team Saskatchewan coaches did that. It is my opinion that the key to winning three years in a row is because it was made clear to the athletes from the beginning that this is going to be hard. We will provide you with everything you need to succeed, but you will conduct yourself as a grown-up with the understanding that you represent something bigger than yourself. And the kids bought in,” he concluded.