V.I. Raiders veterans try for perfect ending

The V.I. Raiders make it to the Canadian Bowl more often than most teams, but even still, they know that these opportunities are special.

The V.I. Raiders make it to the Canadian Bowl more often than most teams, but even still, they know that these opportunities are fleeting, rare, special.

The Raiders will play for a Canadian Junior Football League championship Nov. 9 in Saskatchewan against the Regina Thunder.

“It’s the perfect way to go out, I guess, you can’t ask for anything better,” said Whitman Tomusiak, V.I. receiver, who is in his final year of junior. “It’s interesting, too, that it’s back in Saskatchewan. I get a chance to sort of redeem myself.”

The last time Nanaimo made it to the Canadian Bowl was 2010, Tomusiak’s rookie season, when the Raiders lost 34-23 to the Saskatoon Hilltops on the Prairies. That was offensive lineman Tyler Oldendorf’s first year on the Island, too, and as he gears up for his last game in the black, white and red, he recalls the lessons of that 2010 loss.

“It gives you that hunger, that desire to get back there, and when you do get back there you don’t want to lose it again,” he said.

For some players, the journey back to the big bowl game has been a few years in the making, but really, this is about the 2013 group. At camp the Raiders had youth, talent and potential, and over the course of the season, they became a team, then contenders, then champions.

“I thought we were going to be a championship team coming into the year and I still believed it when we were 1-2 and I’ll believe it now that we’re going to a national championship,” Oldendorf said.

The Raiders are winning right now, he said, because they’re simply playing really good football. They believe in each other and trust one another. If they continue to do those things in Regina, that should be enough.

“I’m just going to go out and play how I’ve always played and whatever happens, happens,” Oldendorf said.

Tomusiak said it’s a bit of different feel reaching this game in his final season, now as a captain, leader and star player.

“When it really comes down to it, I play the exact same position where I started as a rookie, so my job’s still the same,” he said. “I expect a lot of myself – I did back then, too – but I’m going to prepare really hard this week and next week and I expect to play really well.”

As the Raiders head to their fifth Canadian Bowl in their nine-year history, they have cagey veterans, leading brash, brave teammates who haven’t learned that they’re supposed to be daunted by bowl games. Together they’ve won 10 straight football games and they don’t intend to lose now.

“It’s probably going to be a close game. I don’t really see a huge favourite in it; I don’t know who’s the underdog,” Tomusiak said. “I think we’re somewhat equal teams going into it and it’s just going to come down to who plays better on the day … I think our chances are really good.”

GAME ON … The Canadian Bowl will be played Nov. 9 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina at 2 p.m. Central Time, noon Pacific.