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Friday, May 22, 2015

SAM COMING TO THE CFL

The Montreal Alouettes signed Michael Sam on Friday because they believe he can be a star rush end in the Canadian Football League. His sexuality is a non-issue, as far as general manager Jim Popp is concerned. 

"Michael Sam is a very good football player, and that's the reason we signed him,'' Popp said of Sam, who is openly gay. "He's an outstanding pass-rusher.''

Sam, a free-agent, agreed to a two-year deal. The 25-year-old is to be introduced at a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday and report to training camp the following day.

"I am very excited and proud to join the Montreal Alouettes and want to thank team owner Robert Wetenhall, general manager Jim Popp and head coach Tom Higgins for this opportunity,'' Sam said Friday in a statement. "I cannot wait to put on the pads, get back on the field and work hard each and every day with my teammates to bring a Grey Cup to the great fans here in Montreal.''

The Galveston, Texas, native became a sensation when he came out before last year's NFL draft, and his NFL jerseys were an instant best-seller.

When he was picked in the seventh round by St. Louis, President Barack Obama publicly congratulated Sam and the Rams, who made him the first openly gay player to be drafted for their courage.

CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge did the same on Friday.

"Congratulations to the Montreal Alouettes on the signing of Michael Sam,'' Orridge said in a statement. "Our players come to us from different places, different walks of life and ultimately they take different paths to get to our fields.

"Today is another indication of how open and progressive the CFL is - consistent with our rich and storied history of great football tradition.''

"Michael Sam is a football player that obviously Jim Popp believes can help their team,'' added B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. "He's no different than any other player that we sign that has U.S. roots. He is a football player that I think can be a rush end. The fact that he's had notoriety of other sorts in my mind has nothing to do with him entering into our league.''

Not blind to Sam's celebrity status, the team immediately put his No. 94 Alouettes jersey on sale on their website for $139.95.

Sam was cut by the Rams after training camp last year. He joined the Dallas Cowboys' practice roster but was waived in October. He took another shot at landing an NFL job by attending this year's veterans combine, with no luck.

The Alouettes had Sam on their negotiation list and Popp said he was in contact with him all along. The six-foot-two 260-pound Sam finally accepted a contract after completing his commitment to "Dancing With The Stars.''

Popp said the key to landing him was patience.

"Each time he was let go there were discussions,'' he said. "He wanted to give it one last shot at the combine.''

Popp said Sam was considered a "tweener'' by NFL clubs, not quite the right body type to be a defensive end or an outside linebacker for that league.

But he may fit perfectly in the CFL. Popp feels he can follow a similar path to Cam Wake, who was converted from linebacker to rush end when he joined the B.C. Lions in 2007.

Wake had 40 sacks and was named CFL defensive player of the year in each of his two seasons with the Lions before signing with the Miami Dolphins, where he has had a successful NFL career.

"If he proves (NFL) people wrong it would be great for us and I think he can do it,'' said Popp.
Sam played four seasons for the University of Missouri Tigers in the NCAA, where he had 123 total tackles, 21 sacks and two interceptions.

In his last year with Missouri he helped the Tigers beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

SCRUFFY'S THIS 'N THAT

It's time for the usual weekly thoughts running through my muddled mind, and as always, these come n no particular order

-- Goodbye to Neal Hughes. The news he was retiring didn't come as a surprise, but it was still tough to see someone who has been a favourite of this blogger since his days with the Rams come to an end.

I still remember vividly Hughes completely tearing apart the University of Alberta Golden Bears on a Saturday afternoon at then Taylor Field as he ran for almost 300 yards. My colour man at the time was Keith Colhoun and he saw me writing down as I kept the stats Hughes had 250 yards. We went to a break and Keith said "Are you sure he has 250 yards? Have you added that right? I quickly double-checked my numbers and then responded "Have you been watching the game?"

I don't know if I have ever seen a better performance by a running back in that stadium in my life and that includes what Kory Sheets did on that oh so magical November night in 2013.  While I was in the room after that game talking to several Riders, the one guy I never got to see and congratulate when it was over was Hughsie. I don't know what happened to him and maybe he never ever came off the field as he soaked it in with everyone there, but I couldn't find him. I don't know what his future holds and he said on the Sportscage Wednesday afternoon that he doesn't know what he wants to do when he grows up, but whatever it is, he will be successful. That's just the way he is!

-- Neal also answered a question for me when he was on the Cage Wednesday. What is it about fullbacks that play for the Riders that make them so popular?  Neal might not have had the popularity Chris Szarka had, but there was some genuine love for the former Thom Trojan. He answered with this and I can not argue.

"It's a tough hard-nosed job and there are a lot of tough hard-nosed people in Saskatchewan," Hughes said. "I think a lot of people say that guy isn't flashy, but he just gets the job done. There's a definite relation that's for sure!

-- Does Roger Goodell go to Foxboro for the NFL season opener after what has happened between him and the Patriots? I am guessing he won't get a positive reception especially if number 12 is not on the field. He does have an obligation to be there, but perhaps there is a conflicting "family matter" that will prevent him from being in attendance.

-- Congratulations to the Philadelphia Flyers! GM Ron Hextall went outside the box and didn't recycle an NHL coach or promote a current assistant. He went out and brought University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to the world of professional hockey. Hakstol has been in charge of arguably the best Division 1 NCAA program and he has coached many NHL'ers like Jonathan Toews, Brock Nelson and T-J Oshie just to name a few. He will turn the Flyers around and leave North Dakota with a huge hole to fill even though assistant coach Brad Berry is taking over

-- Is it just me or could Hakstol and Mike Babcock be brothers, You decide!


In the words of the immortal Stampede Wrestling manager J-R Foley---"Money Talks". I was shocked to see Babcock leave Detroit for Toronto. I honestly thought he would stay in Detroit, but when the money comes callin, you answer it.  Its my belief Babcock saw the job Todd McLellan did with Team Canada at this year's Worlds and said to himself he wanted to be the coach of that team next year.  Good luck in Toronto Mike.....you'll need it! By the way, what the hell is with Saskatoon boy Babcock referring to the Leafs as "Canada's Team". All of us in Saskatchewan know who is "Canada's Team" and it sure the h-e double hockey sticks is not the Maple Leafs. Cmon Mike!!  Babcock also told George S on Thursday night that he listens to country radio so he doesn't have to listen to talk radio......I'm just going to leave that one alone.

-- Canada wins gold at the World Hockey Championship and there was no one from the Toronto Maple Leafs on the roster. Coincidence?  Maybe Babs took the job because he wanted to be the coach of Canada's team at the Worlds next year and repeat what happened this year.

-- Has Alexander Ovechkin ever beaten Sidney Crosby in an international game between Russia and Canada? Crosby's team beat Ovechkin's team at the World Juniors in Grand Forks, we know what happened at the Olympics in Vancouver and in Sochi, and now Sunday's win at the World Championship.

-- I think its safe to say at this point, the Oilers have won the off-season with the ping-pong ball falling their way to get Connor MacDavid along with Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan and that Buffalo is the big loser with not getting MacDavid or Mike Babcock. Again, I have to think this is the hockey gods way of punishing them for tanking the final few weeks of the season. It looks good on them!

-- I think its too bad MacDavid isn't getting the chance to go out with a Memorial Cup appearance. While a lot of us have seen MacDavid play some games this year, it would have been great to have a national audience watch his final week of junior hockey. That being said, I am sure the Memorial Cup won't suffer with four great teams going at it.

-- The Prince Albert Raiders need a GM. Two names come to mind 1) Curtis Hunt 2) Chad Lang.

-- How popular will Pats assistant coach Dave Struch be in the off-season when it comes to possible coaching gigs? There is no doubt John Paddock owes a lot to Struch for the success he had. QCSE might be wise to lock up Mr. Struch and perhaps be the successor to Paddock down the road if John has the desire to get off the bench. That being said, I don't think he does anytime soon,

-- IF Montreal is successful in getting baseball back, what would it do to the Alouettes? I don't think there would be any desire to move into what would have to be a new stadium in Montreal as the Alouettes are fine in their cozy little locale, but a baseball team would take away from their fanbase I would think.

-- Why doesn't the CFL have an Instagram account? Is this not a good way to get the younger demographic involved in the game? The Riders have one, but the league should also have one IMO.

-- The pictures of the new stadium that were put out by many individuals on Thursday has to get you excited, Construction is nearing the halfway mark. I can't wait to see how much progress will be made by the time the Labour Day game comes.  I think when that game hits, I will truly start to realize that games at the old Mosaic Stadium will be counting down to the last one. I don't know what gamut of emotions will run through yours truly on that afternoon and I think you can say the same about yourself. It will be a game to remember even if the Riders should lose by 40. How long will it take for everyone to leave?

-- As the Foo Fighters played on Thursday night, the stark realization that something on my bucket list would not get accomplished occurred. David Letterman said goodbye with what was a great hour and 20 minute final show finished by the Foos. I didn't see Johnny Carson in his heyday, but I watched a lot of Letterman and enjoyed many laughs. I still think the suit of Alka-Seltzer was one of my favourites and after the horror of September 11, his monologue a few short nights later was just a sign that life could get back to normal after that terrible day in our history. I always wanted to see Letterman do his thing live and I guess I won't. Thank you Dave! To me, you are the king of late night television.

-- NHL 16 will have a playoff beards feature. That is awesome! What will Crosby's look like? Can the game bring back Mike Commodore!

-- That's all I got. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

NEW MOSAIC STADIUM CONSTRUCTION PHOTOS


The good folks at the City of Regina were nice enough to invite us down on Wednesday for an update on the construction of New Mosaic Stadium.  To date, the facility is 41% complete and on time for its opening in August of 2016.   Here's an impressive look at the eastside progress..


An eastside view from the north end of the structure...



The north building.  This will house the Rider Store, ticket office and Rider office space..



Here's what's going on in the bowl, which isn't visible from outside the PCL fences...



The westside is coming along nicely too..



Some of the 250 workers on site working atop the eastside of the facility...


A view from the upper concourse from the eastside.  The Roughriders will enter the field from that blue and black area in the northwest corner.  The Rider locker room will be underneath the westside stands. The turf will be 30 feet below ground level...



Here is a view of the upper concourse, behind the eastside's upper deck...



A shot of the Grand Ol' Lady and beautiful downtown Regina...

RP

RIDER NOTES

The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced today that national long snapper Jorgen Hus has signed with the team. As per club policy, details of the contract were not released.

Hus (6’1 – 230) was originally selected by the Eskimos in the fourth round (31st overall) of the 2013 CFL Draft. Over the last two seasons the Saskatoon native and University of Regina product has spent time with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs.

The Riders acquired Hus’ CFL playing rights on May 11 along with a third round selection in the 2016 CFL Draft from Edmonton. In exchange the Riders sent national wide receiver Cory Watson and a second round selection in the 2016 CFL Draft to the Eskimos.    

· The Riders also announced they have added four territorial junior players to their training camp roster. Receiver Preston Bews and offensive lineman Matthew Halbgewachs  of the Regina Thunder and receiver Evan Turkington and defensive lineman Matt Kozun of the Saskatoon Hilltops will join the team at the University of Saskatchewan.

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RIDER TRAINING CAMP PRESENTED BY COORS LIGHT

The Saskatchewan Roughriders will open their 2015 training camp at the University of Saskatchewan next week. Two-a-day workouts will start on Sunday, May 31st on the turf at Griffiths Stadium.

The Riders have teamed with Coors Light on a presenting partnership for what will be known as the Riders Training Camp presented by Coors Light.  

The team is scheduled to return to Regina for a walk through in the afternoon of June 18th. They play their final preseason game on June 19th, versus the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium.

IMPORTANT TRAINING CAMP DATES

Saturday, May 30:
·         Players report and team travel to Saskatoon.

Sunday, May 31:      
First day of training camp at the University of Saskatchewan’s Griffiths Stadium.
Walk through: 9:45AM – 10:45AM. Practice: 3:00PM – 4:45PM

Thursday, June 4:
·         Walk through at Alfred Jenkins Field House in Prince Albert: 2:30PM – 3:40PM
-       30-minute on field autograph session to follow

Saturday, June 6:
·         Green and White Fan Day
-       Warmup: 3:15PM – 3:55PM. Mock Game: 4:00PM – 5:00PM.

Monday, June 8 & Wednesday, June 10:
·         Morning practices at SMF Field at Gordie Howe Park: 8:30AM – 10:40AM

Saturday, June 13: Pre-Season Game ‘B’
Saskatchewan at Edmonton – 8:00 pm – Fort McMurray

Thursday, June 18
·         Walk through at Mosaic Stadium in Regina

Friday, June 19: Pre-Season Game ‘C’
Saskatchewan vs. Calgary – 7:30 pm – Mosaic Stadium

RED SOX SIGN LOCAL PLAYERS

Regina Red Sox general manager Bernie Eiswirth officially announced that the team has signed seven local players for the 2015 WMBL season.

Jordan Schultz (Strasbourg), and Brandon Radmacher (White City) are returning to the Red Sox for their third WMBL season.

Schultz brings his big bat back to Regina as he had a school record 14 home runs with Minot State this year. Radmacher pitched in relief for the College of San Mateo.

Dan Geordie McDougall (Regina), Jager Toffan (Regina), Jeremy Sylvester (Regina) and Nathan Adelman (Pilot Butte) will play their second season for the Red Sox in 2015.

McDougall spent the 2015 spring season at Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Alberta. Toffan batted .283 in 61 games at Blinn College while Sylvester recorded 2 wins and a save in 8 appearances with the Galveston College Whitecaps. Adelman struck out 25 batters in 32.1 innings pitching with Monterey.

Kendal Daniels (Regina) will make his WMBL debuts with the Red Sox this year. Daniels played at Taft University this year, pitching in 21 games, recording 34 strikeouts and only 11 walks.

“Saskatchewan is becoming known as a hot bed for great baseball talent”, said Eiswirth. “We are proud to have so many local players wear the Red Sox uniform.”

The Red Sox open their 2015 Training Camp on Saturday May 23rd at 2:00 pm at Currie Field in preparation for the season home opener Friday, May 29th against the Weyburn Beavers.

THURSDAY RODSERVATIONS

10 ONE-TIMERS

1 - WHAT TO DO IN MOOSE JAW?:   At long last, we're heading into the final weekend of the CFL off-season.  Our clan will be spending it at the Moose Jaw Mineral Spa, and enjoying all the Band City has to offer.  Any suggestions on eateries and things to do?  Unfortunately Bonanza is out - the girls draw the line on buffets - but that wing place Deja Vu is certainly on the agenda.  What else?  Please advise.

2 - SO LONG HUGHESIE:  The curtain came down on Neal Hughes' 11-year career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Wednesday.  As an unheralded fullback, the highlight reel of his career is relatively brief but it would include his unlikely touchdown in the 2007 Western Final at B.C. which helped propel the Riders into the Grey Cup.  On 620 CKRM's SportsCage Wednesday evening, Neal said he was left uncovered by Lions linebacker Javier Glatt and dearly wanted to make good on the playcall.  He did.

And that's what Neal will be remembered for best:  he always did what was asked of him and never let the team down.  Scruffy pointed out the little-known fact that Neal Hughes caught Darian Durant's first-ever touchdown pass, in a game at Hamilton in 2008.  Neal related on air that he reluctantly gave the football to Durant after the play.  Knowing Darian, he still has the ball displayed prominently somewhere.

CBC's Glenn Reid noted that Neal's retirement news conference was the most highly-attended by current and past Roughrider personnel that he's covered in his 30-year career which tells you what Neal has meant to this football club over the past 11 years.  Interestingly, Neal said his career highlight was being on the field for the final play of the 2013 Grey Cup admitted to being "as shocked as everyone in the stands" at the game's conclusion.

Rider Assistant GM Jeremy O'Day said Neal Hughes was a Roughrider who never took a single day of his career for granted.  He looked forward to pulling into the stadium parking lot each day and loved to practice.  Neal said every time he strapped that helmet on with the /=S=/ on the side, he felt he was representing the whole province.  O'Day said the current Rider who displays the same type of gratitude is offensive lineman Dan Clark.

Hats off to you Neal.  You were a great Roughrider.

3 - ARRRRRRGGGOOOOOOS:  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll remember that I've written  several times over the past few years that Toronto football people weren't too concerned about the state of their franchise despite all the squalor around it.  As it turns out, they were right.  In a seemingly tidy business deal, the Argos were sold to Bell and MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum on Wednesday and the team will be moving to BMO Field for the 2016 season.  That seemed easy, didn't it?  So why did it take so long?

The move has been applauded across the CFL.

"Hopefully it's great news for the team and some security for the organization," Jeremy O'Day, a former Argo, said on Wednesday.  "Obviously they're a huge part of the success of the CFL, and its success going forward.  It's always a good day.  It's a positive day when you can see an ownership group take charge of the organization.  They had a very good owner (David Braley) who helped them through some tough times.  Looking forward to seeing some changes and the move that's gonna happen there.  Hopefully it'll only strengthen our league."

This truly is excellent news.  The Argos have always been my second favourite team.  It's likely because blue is my favourite colour.

4 - GREY CUP IN TORONTO:  It wasn't officially announced on Wednesday but it's expected the 2016 Grey Cup will be held in Toronto - preferably BMO Field - but Rogers Centre will be ready if needed.  That will make for an interesting scenario.  The temperature dipped to minus-20 in Toronto for the 2007 Grey Cup and I remember it well because I tore the knee out of my suitpants while slipping on some ice on Front Street during Grey Cup Week.  But, it will be fun to broadcast outdoors at Riders-Argos games and it'll be equally as exciting to finally get into the home of Toronto FC.  Here's hoping the Riders are in that championship game in 2016.

5 - STEROIDS?:  The comments of former CIS President Dick White in the MMG over the CFL's flimsy steroid policy drew some national attention but it's still a reluctant topic in pro football circles.  Perhaps it's an uncomfortable topic too.  Here's my take:  fans generally don't give a rip if pro athletes use Performance Enhancing Drugs.  Did I care as a child watching my heros in the WWF knowing full well they stick a needle in their butt before every workout?  Not a chance.  It really is no different with pro football players, and the teams don't seem to mind either.  In society, steroids are thought of as bad.  So the pro leagues have a "steroid policy" but it's only about optics in order to calm the public and show there's a concern about it.  Amateur leagues such as the CIS and CHL have a policy as well, and they should, because we're dealing with amateur, young athletes.

However if you're an aspiring slugger, football or hockey player, or even a pro wrestler (or your child is), make sure you read up on all the nasty side effects.  Two words: Lance Armstrong.  If you're not concerned about losing a sexual organ because of PED's, have 'at er.

6 - FOLEY MOUTHS OFF:  God bless Argonauts defensive end Ricky Foley.  He's getting lambasted for his Twitter comments on Wednesday regarding the timing of the Maple Leafs' hiring of Mike Babcock, but thank God he's willing to speak his colourful mind.  Life in sports would be awfully boring without guys like Ricky Foley.

"Dick move announcing Babcock news the day the Argos are finally sold," Foley wrote on social media.  "Guess some people are still jealous we the only team who wins in this city.  So congrats on your new coach Maple Leafs.  Hopefully 50-mill and sky high ticket prices are enough to give your players heart and a compete level."

Nothing more needs to be said here.  Although hopefully Foley has an endorsement deal coming from my new favourite breakfast restaurant, "Ricky's".

7 - BABCOCK ROCKS:  Sometimes you get a nagging feeling about something and for me, it was that Mike Babcock would be named the next head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  That's why I had no hesitation in writing in the MMG that the Leafs would hire Babcock and it happened a day later.  (That's no pat on my own back however, as I've been wrong at least as many times with predictions like this and I know it).

To me, the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only plausible destination for the Saskatoon product and that's for two reasons: 1) They weren't going to be outbid and Mike was going to go to the highest bidder and 2) Toronto presents the grandest stage and biggest challenge for Babcock and that suits his ego magnificently.

And that's no shot at Babcock.  As I've learned over the past few months, the term "ego" doesn't necessarily have to be a swear word although it generally is in the sports and entertainment worlds.  It speaks to one's confidence in their abilities and Babcock is the best in the world at what he does.

I know Mike, although not well, but he was nice enough to open his home to me in Spokane in the 1990s.  I recall it because I remember thinking Mrs. Babcock bore a striking resemblance to Maura Tierney in the movie Liar, Liar.

Again, Toronto was the only logical landing spot for Babcock and it's going to be incredibly entertaining to see how this all plays out in the seasons ahead.  Good hire.

And regarding these 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, how could you ask for anything more?  Especially Tampa Bay's 6-5 overtime win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.  These guys are playing their berries off.

8 - DAAAAAAVIDDD LETTERMANNNNN:  With all that's been going on in sports this week, it's been tough to keep an eye on the actual news but everybody's worked up about the retirement and final show of late night talkshow king David Letterman.  Regina news outlets have aired some tremendous stories this week on the 1995 phenomena of Regina gas pump jockey Dick Assman, who was made popular by Letterman that year.  Dave was infatuated by Assman's surname and flew him to New York to appear on his show.

The Roughriders got swept up in the craze as well, having Dick Assman perform a ceremonial kickoff before a game in 1995.  Those were the days!  I remember Globe & Mail football writer Marty York predicted the Riders to win the Grey Cup that year so the Riders flew him in for a ceremonial kickoff too.  Those days are lonnnnnng gone but God were they fantastic.  I'm just glad to have been around for it.

Regarding David Letterman, Saskatoon Star Phoenix writer Corey Wolfe once asked me in an article who were the top three people I'd like to meet or have dinner with.  They were: 1) George Strait 2) David Letterman and 3) my late Grandpa Marion Nicholas.  I've been fortunate enough to meet the first two, and the third will have to wait until I get to the big press box in the sky.

My favourite Letterman shows were when a dog drank milk out of his owner's mouth during Stupid Pet Tricks, and when Mike Vanderjagt kicked field goals in the back alley with Letterman holding.

Last night's final show was side-splitting but it was shocking that Howard Stern wasn't part of the 10 stars who came out to read the final Top 10 list.  Among those who were: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carey, Julia Lous-Dreyfuss, Alex Baldwin and Bill Murray.

9 - DOING IT RIGHT:  Kudos to former Regina Pat and long-time NHLer Jamie Heward for being named an assistant coach for team Canada Red in the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge on Wednesday.  Heward's spent the past couple seasons as an assistant coach for the Swift Current Broncos but this latest posting shows Jamie's serious about the coaching craft and is willing to take the necessary steps to realize his dream.  Another Regina product, 36-year old Kris Knoblauch, will be the head coach for Canada Red.  After being dumped by the Kootenay Ice, Knoblauch only went on to coach Connor McDavid with the OHL's Erie Otters this year.

10 - KINDLY CAL:  The Murphy family is keeping alive the memory of dear old Canadian Football Hall of Famer and former Rider head coach Cal Murphy with the Holy Cross Cal Murphy Memorial Golf Tournament on Sunday, June 14 at Aspen Links Country Club.  It's a Texas Scramble with a shotgun start at 1:00 pm.  For information or to register, please call Cal's loving wife Joyce Murphy at 306-789-1983.

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THAT'S ALL! THANKS FOR READING...
RP
@sportscage
Instagram: ridervoice

A GREAT DAY FOR THE ARGOS AND THE CFL


TORONTO (CP) - Sixty-five years after watching his first Toronto Argonauts game, Larry Tanenbaum is taking the storied franchise back home.

Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, was introduced Wednesday along with Bell as the new owners of the CFL club. And they'll relocate the 142-year-old franchise to BMO Field, pending renovations to accommodate football, starting next season.

A return to the lakefront soccer stadium is significant because it's located at Exhibition Place, the same grounds where the Argos thrived in the 1960s and '70s before relocating to Rogers Centre in 1989.

But Tanenbaum's association with the Argos goes back even further to the 1950s when they played at Varsity Stadium. It's at that time the chairman of Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Limited, a Toronto-based investment company, dreamed of one day owning the CFL franchise.

"It's every kid's imagination, you're either playing or owning the team,'' Tanenbaum said during the news conference at BMO Field. "I couldn't play so I'm glad to be able to own the team.

"It's especially rewarding as we look back at the history of this team to be here today at BMO Field. We look forward to bringing back the Argos to the Exhibition Place grounds ... where we hope to celebrate many Grey Cup championships right here in front of our fans.''

The deal also reportedly calls for two Grey Cups to be held in Toronto, including the 2016 game. But CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge politely declined comment.

Twelve Grey Cup games were held at Exhibition Stadium, the last being in November 1982 when 54,741 spectators watched the Edmonton Eskimos beat Toronto 32-16 in a game affectionately dubbed "The Rain Bowl.''

The transaction is expected to close Dec. 31 with Bell and Tanenbaum working closely with present owner David Braley this season. The Argos will play at Rogers Centre this season.

The Argos' lease at Rogers Centre, also the home of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, was scheduled to expire after the 2017 campaign. But they had the option to leave earlier if they found a new home.

"When I purchased the Argos (in 2010), I thought it would be a two- or three-year journey and I'd have the problem solved,'' Braley said. "Under Bell and Larry Tanenbaum's ownership, the Argos have a very bright future.

"They're the best choice to move the Argos forward.''

Braley, a Hamilton businessman, fondly remembers watching his home-town Tiger-Cats facing their arch rivals at Exhibition Place. Wednesday's announcement capped roughly a year of talks between Braley, who also owns the B.C. Lions, and MLSE.

"My mother used to bring me over from Hamilton and we'd watch the games around the 10-yard line,'' he said. "To be playing at the same location is something special.

"Sometimes you have to be patient while people have different points of view and sort out the problems and get the job done. In the long run, people usually do the thing that's right and this is the thing that's right.''

Wednesday's sale also drew a thumbs up from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, a former minority owner of the Argos with late actor John Candy and former L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall.

"The reality is you need the franchise in Toronto to be stabilized,'' said Gretzky, in town for a child safety charity fundraiser. "Hopefully the sale will help stabilize this franchise and help the entire league.

"I think it's great for the CFL.''

The sale and relocation of the Argos would appear to resolve the CFL's issues in southern Ontario. Last year, the Ticats moved into their new facility, Tim Hortons Field.

Absent from the deal is Rogers Communications, which is part of the MLSE ownership group with Bell and Tanenbaum. Rogers, which owns Rogers Centre and the Jays, was reportedly not interested in acquiring the 142-year-old franchise, likely because it has no ties to the CFL while Bell has a vested interest through its broadcast affiliate TSN.

But drastically dampening Wednesday's announcement was the Toronto Maple Leafs hiring Mike Babcock as coach, a move that drew the ire of Argos defensive end Ricky Foley.

"D--- move announcing Babcock news the day #Argos r finally sold,'' the outspoken Foley tweeted. "Guess some people still jealous we the only who wins in this city. #CFL''

Fans have long complained about the lack of atmosphere at Rogers Centre, where Toronto averaged under 20,000 spectators last year in a stadium that can hold over 50,000 fans for football. Also, the Argos have found it difficult to secure decent home dates because of stiff competition from baseball and special events.

In a glaring example of that, the Argos were forced to schedule their '15 home opener against Edmonton in Fort McMurray, Alta., due to conflicts with the 2015 Pan Am Games and Jays.

Such logistical nightmares for North America's oldest existing sports team are unlikely at BMO Field. While Major League Soccer's Toronto FC will remain the stadium's primary tenant, it requires far fewer home dates than the Jays.

Some soccer fans oppose the conversion of BMO Field for the Argos, contending CFL play will impact the quality of the playing surface. But Tanenbaum said those concerns are unwarranted.

"I don't believe they should have anything to be worried about,'' he said.

JLB ELECTRIC THURSDAY EYE-OPENER

Tampa Bay needed an overtime goal from Nikita Kucherov to take the lead in the Eastern Final against the New York Rangers. The 6-5 victory on home ice gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading to Game 4 in Tampa Bay on Friday night. Ondrej Palat popped in a pair of goals and added an assist for the Lightning.

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The United Center in Chicago will be rocking tonight as the NHL's Western final resumes with the Blackhawks hosting the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of their series. The Western finalists split the opening two games in Anaheim, including Chicago's triple-overtime 3-2 victory on Tuesday.

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LeBron James scored 31 points and J.R. Smith made eight three-pointers and added 28, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers past the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks 97-89 in Game 1 of the NBA's Eastern final. Game 2 is Friday night in Atlanta.

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Houston Rockets centre Dwight Howard says he has a sprained left knee and is unsure whether he'll be able to play against the homecourt Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the Western Conference final tonight. Golden State leads the series 1-0.

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Future hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur has signed a three-year contract to become the St. Louis Blues' assistant GM. The 43-year-old former goalie played seven games for the Blues this season before retiring in late January. Brodeur won three Stanley Cups in his 21 seasons with New Jersey and is the all-time leader in a host of goaltending stats.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are making a big bet on the man they hope will help them end a decade-long streak of not making the playoffs. The Leafs have hired Mike Babcock, who has coached Detroit the past 10 years. Babcock signed an eight-year, 50-million dollar deal that makes him the highest-paid coach in the NHL.

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The bullpen coughed up another loss for the Toronto Blue Jays last night. Reliever Steve Delabar gave up a two-run double to Marc Krauss in the seventh inning that put the LA Angels ahead to stay in a 4-3 victory. The Jays have lost seven of their last eight games and are a season-worst six games below break-even.

(CP)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

NEAL HUGHES RETIRES

The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced today national fullback Neal Hughes is retiring from the Canadian Football League.

Hughes is a veteran of eleven CFL seasons and played 140 career regular season games after making his Rider debut July 16, 2004. The Regina, SK native was originally signed as a free agent in April, 2004 after a standout career at the University of Regina.
 
Spending the entirety of his career in Green and White, Hughes totaled 70 carries for 277 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while adding 46 catches for 505 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also registered 18 kickoff returns for 246 yards, one punt return for 21 yards and is third all-time in Rider special teams tackles with 100.     

He is a two-time Grey Cup champion having won with the Roughriders in 2007 and again in 2013.

CALLED IT IN THE MMG

TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs have hired Mike Babcock as their new head coach.

The team says in a news release he will be introduced at a news conference.

Babcock has spent the last 10 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and going to the final in 2009.

His contract expires at the end of June but the Red Wings had given him permission to negotiate with other teams.

The Leafs must send a third-round pick to Detroit as compensation.

Toronto reportedly beat out several clubs for Babcock's services, including Detroit, Buffalo and San Jose.

Babcock, a Saskatoon native, led Canada to two Olympic gold medals.

The Leafs fired head coach Randy Carlyle in January, replacing him on an interim basis with assistant Peter Horachek.

(The Canadian Press)

THE WEDNESDAY THRILLER ... WITH PHIL ANDREWS

Voice of the Pats Phil Andrews
Happy Wednesday!

The Western Hockey League announced on Monday that the State of Washington passed Senate Bill 5893 further clarifies the status of WHL players as amateur athletes and non-employees. The signing of the Bill by Governor Jay Inslee is the final approval required for the legislation to become law in the State of Washington. Previously approved by the bipartisan Senate and House of Representatives, the Bill concerned the status of amateur athletes and, now law, ensures WHL players will not be treated or defined as employees in the State of Washington. This affects all four Washington WHL Clubs, the Spokane Chiefs, Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds and Tri-City Americans.

WHL Commissioner Ron Robison says this is a good ruling for the league. "Some very good news. this is certainly something we have been pursuing for some time. Following the decision by the Saskatchewan government to exempt amateur athletes from employment standards and this is now the same thing in Washington State. That's very important for us moving forward as it gives us the certainty we were looking for."

I asked the Commissioner if he was apprehensive about what the ruling might be. "You are always concerned, It's quite a lengthy process, there is a lot of steps but we were very encouraged by the support we received from both the Senate and  the House of Representatives in Washington. They embraced the concept from day one. Felt it was important to preserve these franchises and the important roles they play in the communities as well as giving these players the opportunity. Again Saskatchewan was so critical to establishing the original legislation that we are now hopeful that all jurisdictions and particularly provinces in Canada will do the same thing."

It's certainly a polarizing issue. Yes players spend hours upon hours during a season at the rink and on the bus and playing games but are provided with the benefits of university education, food, shelter, and equipment. There are people on both sides of the argument. But at the end of the day a lot of teams would not be able to continue operations if the players were considered employees. Robison says that is true but that there is a more important aspect to the issue. "There is certain restrictions that would apply and there is also the economic aspect of it as well but more importantly it's about preserving amateur sport as we know it. Historically we have been operating as a league for close to 50 years and have been doing so on the basis that these players are registered as part of the amateur hockey system in Canada and the United States for that matter. So all we were looking for was government to confirm that they are amateur athletes and we can continue to operate as we have in the past."

Saskatchewan and now Washington State have the legislation leaving Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and Oregon as provinces and states which house WHL teams without anything in place. Robison says they are working towards getting something done in those areas as well. "Since Saskatchewan passed the legislation almost two years ago now we have been in constant contact with all provincial governments, particularly in Alberta and B.C. as well as the States. For all the jurisdictions in which we play it's important that everyone is playing under the same conditions. We have been given some excellent discussion in all provinces, we are focusing right now on B.C. in order to hopefully have them adopt this new legislation real soon."

While some may think that players deserve more money for what they do I would disagree simply on the basis that teams would not be able to keep things going. I highly doubt Swift Current, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Brandon, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge would be anywhere close to sustainable if players got payed minimum wage. I love junior hockey and don't want to see it die.

SLAP SHOTS

- The Tampa Bay Lightning looked much better in game 2 on Monday than they did in Game 1 against the New York Rangers. Instead of chasing New York around the rink they pushed the pace themselves and were the much better team. It was tough to see so many penalties called in game 2 but at the end of the day there is no way the refs could keep the arm down on those calls. It was a sloppy game discipline wise but was fun to watch.

- Tyler Johnson of the Lightning has to be the favorite right now for playoff MVP if Tampa Bay gets by the Rangers. He has been the best player by far in my opinion. The undrafted former Spokane Chief is outplaying everyone, including his super-star teammate Steven Stamkos. Love the underdog story.

- What a fun game to watch last night between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. I think the winner of this series wins the cup. They are both so good, the only thing the East has better in my opinion is the goaltending. Henrik Lundquist and Ben Bishop are the best of the final four.

- The Edmonton Oilers hired Todd McLellan as their new coach yesterday. I think it is safe to say it's the best decision the Oilers have made in a long time. I do have my reservations that McLellan won't be the guy to lead Edmonton to a Stanley Cup considering the roster he had in San Jose and the lack of playoff success. He might be the in between guy but he will have Connor McDavid and the rest of that skill up front. Plus he's a Saskatchewan boy, we make em the best.

- Mike Babcock is going to stay in Detroit, at least that's what all the reports said yesterday. Yes he met with the Buffalo Sabres but I would be surprised if he doesn't stick with the Wings. I wouldn't blame him either. The track record of drafting and post season appearances is outstanding. Why would a guy leave the best organization in the NHL? If I was him I wouldn't leave and at the end of the day Detroit is going to pay him.

- Congrats to former Regina Pats Landon Peel and Dane Schioler on winning the RBC Cup on Sunday with the Portage Terriers. The Terriers were the first host team to win the RBC since the 2005 Weyburn Red Wings. Portage wasn't a typical host team though, they won the MJHL League Championship, went to the Western Canada Cup and qualified for the RBC Cup and then beat the Carelton Place Canadians in the final.

- Former Regina Pats forward Dyson Stevenson is playing in the Western Conference Finals of the ECHL playoffs right now with the Allan Americans. The Americans and Ontario Reign are tied at a game a piece with game 3 going tomorrow night. Dyson who finished the regular season in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers was sent to the ECHL to keep playing. Dyson has a goal and an assist in the post season so far.

- The Mastercard Memorial Cup gets underway in two days time in Quebec. The host Ramparts will take on the WHL Champion Kelowna Rockets. I love when this tournament comes around every year. Romouski and Oshawa will play their first game against each other on Saturday. As a hockey fan I am a little disappointed that Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and the Erie Otters are not in the tournament. Would have been a great showcase with those top NHL draft prospects but at the end of the day it will be a great tournament.

- Good to see the Argonauts sale is almost done. Needs to happen, along with a new place to play and all of that but this is the first step.

That's it from me today, have a great week!

Phil
@PhilTheThrill18

FINALLY, GREAT NEWS FOR THE ARGOS


TORONTO - The Toronto Argonauts have found a new home and owner.

Two league sources confirmed Tuesday the CFL team has been sold to Bell and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. The official announcement will be made Wednesday.

The sources say the deal also includes a lease agreement for the Argos to begin play at BMO Field as early as next season. That's pending renovations needed to accommodate the CFL field but they're expected to be completed in time for the football franchise to play at the lakefront stadium in 2016.

The Argos will play this season at Rogers Centre. Their lease there is to expire after the 2017 campaign although they have the option of leaving earlier if they find a new venue.

The announcement will cap roughly a year of talks between Argos owner David Braley and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. It was generally accepted that the sale of the team and lease agreement at BMO would be announced together but the deal had to be completed by June 1 for the football team to have any chance of playing at Exhibition Place in 2016.

Absent from the deal is Rogers Communications, which is part of the MLSE ownership group with Bell and Tanenbaum. Rogers was reportedly not interested in acquiring the 142-year-old franchise, likely because it has no ties to the CFL while Bell has a vested interest in the league through its broadcast affiliate TSN.

Rogers, which owns the Rogers Centre and Toronto Blue Jays, prompted the Argo search for a new home by telling them the plan to install grass in the domed facility meant they had to leave.

Braley, who also owns the B.C. Lions, assumed assumed control of the Argos in February 2010 from Toronto businessmen David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski.

While Cynamon and Sokolowski tried to move the Argos from Rogers Centre, Braley remained committed to the CFL club playing there. However, Braley has said repeatedly in recent months that fan discontent with the dome prompted him to begin looking for an alternative home venue for the storied franchise.

Fans have long complained about the lack of atmosphere at Rogers Centre, where Toronto averaged under 20,000 spectators last year in a stadium that can hold over 50,000 fans for football. Also, the Argos have found it difficult to secure decent home dates because of stiff competition from baseball and special events.

BMO Field, a city-owned stadium that's home to Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, is undergoing a $120-million renovation with MLSE footing most of the bill. MLSE owns TFC and managed the stadium.

The first phase, completed earlier this month, added some 8,000 seats in the form of a second tier to the east stand, as well as more premium club options.

The second phase, to be completed by May 2016, involves putting on a canopy around three sides of the lakefront stadium as well as installing a new audio and lighting system.

To convert the field for CFL play, the seats in the north stand will have to be reconfigured while the first seven or eight rows in the south stand will have to be converted into retractable, removable seats.

New, bigger dressing rooms will also have to be built to accommodate football.

Bob Hunter, MLSE's chief project development officer, estimated the cost of CFL conversion at anywhere from $20 million to $23 million.

Some soccer fans have opposed the idea of converting BMO Field for the Argos, contending that CFL play will impact the quality of the playing surface. A banner saying "No Argos BMO'' was hung on the south stands at the last Toronto FC home game.

Outgoing MLSE CEO and president Tim Leiweke insists soccer fans will notice no difference if CFL football is played at the stadium.

Others hope that the move to a more intimate setting from the cavernous Rogers Centre will help revive football in Toronto, as it did in Montreal.

Neither source would confirm specific details of the sale, which reportedly includes two Grey Cup games being held at BMO Field. The first would be the 2016 CFL championship game.

(CP/CFL.ca)

CAMCO PLUMBING & HEATING WEDNESDAY EYE-OPENER

Marcus Kruger scored in triple-overtime to lift the Chicago Blackhawks to a 3-2 win over the Anaheim in Game 2 of the Western Conference final. That evens the best-of-seven series at a game apiece. Game 3 goes Thursday in Chicago.

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk underwent a successful liver transplant yesterday. The team says both Melnyk and his annonymous donor are resting comfortably at Toronto General Hospital and doing well. The Senators announced last week that Melnyk was in need of a live liver transplant and put 12 people through a screening process.

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The Houston Rockets couldn't stop Steph Curry. The NBA MVP hit two free throws in the final seconds to finish with 34 points, and the Golden State Warriors rallied from 16 points down in the second quarter to beat Houston 110-106 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. James Harden had 28 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets.

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Make it six losses in seven games for the Toronto Blue Jays. David Freese drove in the tiebreaking run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning as the Angels topped Toronto 3-2 at Rogers Centre. Aaron Sanchez pitched seven-and-a-third innings for the Blue Jays, striking out five batters in the loss.

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Around the league, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli hit home runs as the Boston Red Sox beat Texas 4-3. A-J Pollock had a pinch-hit, tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth to lift Arizona to a 4-2 win over the struggling Miami Marlins, and Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe went yard as the Minnesota Twins topped Pittsburgh 8-5.

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The NFL will turn to the South for its host cities for the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls. New Orleans, Atlanta, South Florida and Tampa will bid for those games. Of those four, New Orleans staged the game most recently, after the 2012 season, when the Superdome had a power outage in the third quarter. The Big Easy has hosted 10 Super Bowls.

(CP)