50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: Dennis Hrycaiko (1970)


A conversation with…
Dennis Hrycaiko, running back, University of Manitoba Bisons

In Vanier Cup VI, the Manitoba Bisons dominated the Ottawa Gee-Gees 38-11 at Varsity Stadium in Toronto to become the first program to successfully defend the CIAU football banner and to win two Vanier Cups. One of the many Manitoba players to earn a second straight ring in 1970 was running back Dennis Hrycaiko, who rushed for a game-high 95 yards on only 14 carries, including a 29-yard touchdown that gave the Bisons a commanding 20-3 lead early in the third quarter.

What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?

The main difference between the 1969 and 1970 games was that in ‘69, it was played on a frozen, slippery field and it was hard to run, as I was lined up as halfback. It was extremely difficult to make cuts in the first championship win but in ’70, it was a sunny afternoon game and I was surprised how easily we won over Ottawa. There was also a pre-game banquet in both years and I remember that both times there was more talk about the opposition than about us. We were the defending champs in 1970 but hardly received a mention during the banquet. We did not need it but… talk about a motivator heading into the game. We felt that we did not receive the due recognition or respect as defending champions. I also remember that the 1970 Vanier Cup was the first one televised in colour.

What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?

We had an incredibly tough Western Bowl match in Winnipeg against Queen’s the week before and we won 24-20 in overtime in front of over 15,000 people. We knew how good Queen’s was as they had defeated us in 1968. I remember how proud I was of us going back to the national championship and then of course of the fact we became the first team to win back-to-back titles. We had the attitude of not being satisfied with winning one Vanier Cup and what a great feeling it was to win again in 1970 despite not being the favourites.

What do you remember as the key play of the game?

There was not one key play but the thought that sticks out is how we dominated Ottawa throughout the game and how our offence received a lot of the press but the defence was underestimated. Our defence kept Ottawa to only 11 points.

(Note: Manitoba held Ottawa to five first downs and 209 yards of net offence)

What was your personal greatest play or moment?

I remember my 29-yard TD run. I cut it right up the middle and I guess they had shifted the wrong way and nobody was there. I was fast back then and ran straight into the end zone.

Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?

The coaches prepared us and had us focused on the task at hand. Head coach Henry Janzen had us ready with the same intense preparations we had during the entire season. A lot of players were back from the championship win in 1969 and knew what it took to win. In addition, the new players were excited to try and win a national championship.

How did you or the team react to the stadium, the crowd, the weather?

It was a nice day as opposed to the first win in 1969. We could enjoy the game as we were in control for the majority of the contest. I remember we led 13-3 at halftime and 23-3 after three quarters. I think we surprised Ottawa with how good of a football team we had.

What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?

The dressing room was ecstatic after the win and it was an amazing feeling to do something that no one else had done before, winning the Vanier Cup in two consecutive seasons. It was amazing to celebrate with our team, especially the veterans who won both years.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

It was great to return home. The pilot announced our presence on the flight back to Winnipeg and congratulated us to cheers on the airplane. We were then met by a terrific and loud reception both at the airport and then the campus. We had a large pep rally celebration at Bison East Gym at the University and it was great to receive the excited support from students and staff.

At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?

It was another building block for success in the future. I am a big believer in the importance of confidence and the Vanier Cup wins were a big part of helping me with confidence in decisions made in the future.

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup wins?

I will never forget those two wins and being the first back-to-back Vanier Cup champions. As a team, we often reflect on those wins. We had a reunion a couple of years ago and it as great to see so many of our teammates as many flew back to Winnipeg to meet up again. It is always nice to catch up and talk about the good old times!

Did you take your talents to the CFL following your university career?

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers drafted me in 1971 after our second Vanier Cup win and after I was named a Canada West all-star for the third time. They offered about $4,500 for a contract but I knew if I continued with my studies in education I could make $5,500 in teaching to start with. I decided to pass on a professional career. I have no regrets, as I was better off earning my teaching and master’s degree, especially considering I might only have made it as a kick returner for a couple of years in the CFL. I played one more season with the Bisons in the fall of 1971 and I was once again named a Canada West conference all-star, as well as an all-Canadian.

More about Dennis Hrycaiko (courtesy of University of Manitoba Athletics):

Dennis Hrycaiko finished his Bachelor of Physical Education degree in 1971. In 1972, he earned his Education certificate while also winning the Bison Sports Male Athlete of the Year award for his accomplishments in both football and wrestling (Canada West silver medallist). He taught for a year before going to the University of Alberta for a master’s degree. He went on to earn a Doctorate in Sports Psychology in 1976.

Hrycaiko then moved to the University of Windsor, where he was an assistant professor and head coach of the varsity wrestling team from 1976 to 1979. He returned to the University of Manitoba in 1979 to become the head coach of Bison Football until 1989, being named Canada West coach of the year twice over that period.

From 1989 to 1996, Hrycaiko was Associate Dean of Academics in the Faculty of Physical Education at Manitoba and then was the Dean of Kinesiology and Recreation Management from 1997 to 2007. He finished his career as a professor in the same faculty and introduced a Sports Psychology class while he was the Chair of Graduate Program from 2008 to 2013, when he retired.

Scott Harrigan
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