It wasn't that long ago Chris Williams was terrorizing CFL defences.
The speedy receiver opened the 2016 CFL season with a bang, registering 25 catches for 493 yards and six TDs in Ottawa's first three games. He and quarterback Trevor Harris developed an immediate chemistry as Harris's first completion as a Redblack was a 71-yard touchdown pass to Williams, who finished that game with eight catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
Harris returns under centre for Ottawa (4-3-1) on Thursday night when it hosts the B.C. Lions (5-3).
B.C. comes off a decisive 37-9 home loss to Calgary in what was expected to be a much closer battle between the West Division's top two teams. Jonathon Jennings was just 10-of-22 passing for 153 yards while backup Travis Lulay completed 4-of-7 passes for 19 yards as the Lions failed to scored a TD.
Linebackers Solomon Elimimian (game-high 11 tackles) and Adam Bighill (nine tackles) were solid statistically but the Lions' defence had no answer for Calgary starter Bo Levi Mitchell, who threw for 340 yards and two TDs. However, B.C. is 3-1 on the road this season.
Winnipeg (4-4) looks for a fourth straight win under starter Matt Nichols, who has surrendered just one interception since replacing Drew Willy. The defence has been outstanding, forcing 13 turnovers (nine interceptions, three fumbles, once on downs) over the win streak. The Bombers are 0-4 coming off a bye since 2013 but hope instead to register a fourth consecutive victory for the first time since 2011. Montreal (3-5) scored a season-high six touchdowns last week against Ottawa with quarterback Kevin Glenn completing 25-of-30 passes for 382 yards and five TDs. Receiver Duron Carter, barring an arbitrator rejecting his appeal of a one-game suspension before kickoff, will play.
______________________________________ SASKATCHEWAN AT EDMONTON, FRIDAY
Edmonton (4-4) has won two straight, including a solid 46-23 decision last week in Toronto. After opening the game with a pick-six, starter Mike Reilly finished with 362 passing yards and three TDs. Cornerback Pat Watkins had two interceptions for a defence that's playing well of late. And that's not exactly good news for Saskatchewan (1-7), which has lost four straight and is coming off a lopsided 46-point defeat in Hamilton. Starter Darian Durant threw four interceptions against the Ticats while backup Mitchell Gale also had one. Riders head coach/GM Chris Jones faces his former team for the second time as the Eskimos won the first meeting 39-36 on July 8.
Pick - Edmonton
________________________________________ HAMILTON AT CALGARY, SUNDAY
A second straight marquee matchup for league-leading Calgary (7-1-1) after dismantling B.C. last week. Mitchell is second overall in passing (2,534) and tied with Reilly in TD strikes (14) but the Stampeders' defence has allowed just 34 points the last three games. Defensive lineman Charleston Hughes is tied for the league lead in sacks (seven) while kicker Rene Paredes has made 27-of-31 field goals (87.1 per cent). The Stamps (3-0) are also the only team with a winning home record. Hamilton (4-4) throttled Saskatchewan 53-7 last week as Zach Collaros threw for 381 yards and five TDs. Collaros has 712 passing yards and seven TDs since returning to the Ticats.
HOCKEY IS BACK! - The Regina Pats and the rest of the WHL are set to start, or have started, their 2016 training camps. The Pats will open theirs Saturday at the Co-Operators Arena.
Head Coach and GM John Paddock says it should be a good weekend to start the year."I think we are all looking forward to it. The players that have been here for two years, you know they change every year and dwindle a little bit and new players come in but they know the program, they know the gig so to speak. Brooks, Steel, Leschyshyn, Wagner, Zborovskiy, Hobbs, those type of guys. So I think everybody should be feeling comfortable, I think everybody should be feeling confident in themselves and confident in the organization that we are a good place to play and that we are going to be a competitive team."
Paddock on how he feels about the potential for this years team. "You are only as good as your last game or I look at it in another way, you don't win anything on paper. Just because we are a year older with much of the same group, it's what did you do to improve in the summer, what are you going to do during the season. We need the same kind of performance and better from these guys, basically better because they are a year older. We look like we could be all right on paper but paper doesn't win anything."
The Pats will return 17 players from last years club but Paddock says there are still decisions to be made. "Not so much the goaltending but I think there is not a lot of decisions but there is decisions to make on defence and up front. Based on our initial thoughts we've got about 15 or 16 forwards that we think are capable of playing or that we are going to give every opportunity to play in the league and we probably have 9 or 10 defencemen that we think are capable of playing in the league. They all can't play so there is some decisions to make. I hope that they are actually tough enough that I/we have to make them. Usually the players make the decision for themselves, you can't be a blind man and do it but you make the decisions. For us I hope that's the case where we actually have to make a decision."
Paddock says just because a player played last year, it doesn't mean his place is secure this time around. "Spots are open, there are jobs to be won and lost. If there are two centerman who are better than Adam brooks and Sam Steel then they will be the 3rd and 4th centers, that's how you approach it. There isn't but guys being back doesn't have a lot to do with it. we are adding some people that are going to play on the hockey team. We moved some people in the summer but Filip Ahl is going to be on the hockey team, Dawson Leedahl is going to be on the hockey team, Nick henry will be on the hockey team when we come to some agreement. Those people are going to be on the hockey team and they are going to contribute so some people are going to be moved about."
SCHEIDL SIGNS - Former Regina Pats forward and 40 goal scorer Lane Scheidl has signed a contract extension with the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings. He will skate in his fourth season of professional hockey and his third with the Wings. Scheidl posted career highs last year in games played with 72, goals with 17, assists 25, and points 42.
ANNING TAKES OVER IN BRANDON - The Brandon Wheat Kings have promoted David Anning as their new head coach. Joining Anning on the bench this season will be longtime coach and fellow Winnipegger Don McGillivray and former WHL All Star defenceman Aaron Rome. Former assistant coach Darren Ritchie meanwhile becomes the Wheat Kings’ new Director of Scouting and Tyler Plante rejoins the organization as the club’s Goaltending Coach.
WHEAT KINGS NEW GM - Kelly McCrimmon announced that Grant Armstrong has been named the team’s new General Manager on Tuesday. Armstrong joins the Wheat Kings after spending the past four seasons as an Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel with the Victoria Royals.
The 54-year old North Delta, B.C. product joined the Royals in 2012 after spending four seasons as Head Scout for the Portland Winterhawks. Joining Armstrong as Assistant General Manager will be Mick McCrimmon. The 30 year old is a recent graduate of law school and has an extensive background in the game. He will assist on both hockey operations and business operations as he begins his career in management.
BLAZERS/ROCKETS TRADE - The Kamloops Blazers have acquired 19-year-old defenseman Joe Gatenby, 18-year-old defenseman Daniel Gatenby and a conditional fifth round pick in 2019 from the Kelowna Rockets in exchange for 18-year-old forward Jake Kryski. Joe Gatenby has played 174 regular season games with the Rockets over the past three seasons and has 44 points and is a +64 over his career. He has also suited up in 52 career playoff games, and five Memorial Cup games.
Daniel Gatenby is Joe’s younger brother. The defender played in 22 games with the Rockets in 2015-16 and 15 games for the Okanagan Rockets of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League. Kryski played the last two seasons with the Blazers compiling 65 points in 136 career games.
ZAITSEV COMMITS TO MOOSE JAW - 18-year-old import defenseman Dmitri Zaitsev has committed to the Warriors. Zaitsev, 6’1”/185lbs, is from Togliatti, Russia and was selected 33rd overall by the Warriors during the 2016 CHL Import Draft. He played last season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), in 53 games he had seven goals, 15 assists, 22 points, and 74 penalty minutes, and was named to the All-East Division Rookie Team.
WARRIORS ADD COACH - Scott King has been named the new Assistant Coach/Coordinator, Player Development in Moose Jaw. Originally from Saskatoon, King played one season with Boston University (NCAA) in 1995-1996, and then went on to join the Kelowna Rockets in 1996-1997. In 1997 King signed as a free agent with the Montreal Canadiens and went on to play four years in the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League from 1997 to 2001. During this time he would be named an AHL All-Star, was voted an ECHL MVP, and was an ECHL scoring champion.
Last season King served as the Warriors Skills Coach, he also was Hockey Canada’s Head Skills Development Coach in 2015-2016. KOOTENAY HIRES NEW ASSISTANT - Tuesday the Ice announced the Club has hired Roman Vopat as an Assistant Coach. Roman Vopat played 16 seasons of professional hockey including 133 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. In addition to time spent in the American Hockey League and International Hockey League, Vopat also played overseas in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and his native Czech Republic. Prior to his professional career he played two seasons in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Prince Albert Raiders. He spent the past two campaigns as an Assistant Coach with the Prince George Cougars.
RAIDERS POST PROFIT - The Prince Albert Raiders hosted their Annual General Meeting on Monday night. The club reported an operating surplus of $3,892 from the 2015-16 season. The membership also re-elected Dawn Kilmer and Brent MacDonald to the Board of Directors. Team president Dale McFee said it was a good year for the team, especially seeing the team “back in the black.” He also noted the importance of continuity with structural aspects of the organization, such as the coaching staff.
THUNDER FALL IN CALGARY - The Regina Thunder fell to 1-1 with a 36-17 loss in Calgary to the now 2-0 Colts on Sunday afternoon.
Regina quarterback Sawyer Buettner was 20 of 32 passing for 226 yards and 3 interceptions. Running back Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette ran for 188 yards on 26 carries and scored the teams lone touchdown, he also caught 3 balls for 39 yards. Nathin Fortin led the club with 41 receiving yards.
The Thunder are on the road again in week 3 when they visit the Winnipeg Rifles (1-1) on Saturday.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders returned to the practice field on a windy, cool day Tuesday at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders are coming off their fourth loss in a row, 53-7 at Hamilton on Saturday night which dropped their record to 1-7.
Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant says it's not a game tape they can take a lot out of.
"It's one you just trash," Durant offered. "I mean of course there's some learning things throughout the film but we'll bring that up the next time we play those guys. As for now, it's time to trash it and get ready for Edmonton and a western battle. It was one of those days."
Several Rider fans have mentioned that the team "wasn't ready to play" in Hamilton, falling down 13-0 after the first quarter and 27-4 at halftime. However Head Coach & GM Chris Jones took umbrage with that notion.
"I've watched the effort," Jones snorted. "I've watched it very closely in all three phases. We played, probably, our best special teams game. If they don't like it, they can go back and watch the film like I have. The effort was there, even in the fourth quarter. The score's not indicative of how hard we played. Did we play smart at times? No. Did we play execution football? No. That's the way I'd answer that."
Fans are also concerned at the amount of change the roster has seen through the club's 1-7 start, including 10 changes from Week 9 to 10. Four more transactions were announced on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately we can't help that (cornerback) Buddy Jackson got hurt so we had to put #45 Kacy Rodgers in the roster and then we've had some injuries on the offensive line and have got some players coming off of 6-Game that we were able to return," Jones answered. "They were starters coming out of training camp for a reason. They were the best guys and when we get those guys back, we have to insert them. As for the cohesion, we're looking for that."
Jones noted that slotback Rob Bagg is "doubtful" for Friday's game at Edmonton after taking a hard hit against the Tiger-Cats. Offensive tackle Xavier Fulton is scheduled to return from injury and he'll try it out in practice this week. Newly-acquired defensive back Fred Bennett will be activated for Friday's game.
STAMPEDERS #1: The Calgary Stampeders have stretched their unbeaten streak to seven games, but they'll have to handle a dangerous Hamilton Tiger-Cats squad this week if they want to keep it going.
On Sunday, Calgary (6-1-1) will host a Hamilton squad coming off a lopsided 53-7 home win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. What makes the Tiger-Cats especially dangerous now is they have their offensive leader back.
Zach Collaros was a one-man show against Saskatchewan. In just his second start since returning from a serious knee injury, Collaros completed 23-of-30 passes for 381 yards and five TDs as Hamilton (4-4) rolled up an impressive 509 yards offensively with seven different receivers catching passes.
Collaros was 24-of-40 for 331 yards with two TDs in his 2016 debut, a 45-38 road loss to B.C. He'd been out since suffering his knee injury last September against Edmonton.
Hamilton opened the season 3-3 under backup Jeremiah Masoli, who for the most part performed admirably outside of two lopsided losses to Winnipeg.
But the Ticats were cruising with an 8-3 record under Collaros last season before his injury. Collaros was leading the CFL in passing (3,376 yards), TDs (25) and passer rating (113.7) with an impressive 70.2 completion percentage.
He also guided Hamilton to the 2014 Grey Cup, where the Ticats lost 20-16 to Calgary.
The Stampeders are currently the class of the CFL, especially after their 37-9 road win Friday night over the B.C. Lions (5-3). Calgary not only extended its unbeaten streak to seven games (6-0-1) but also improved to a stellar 6-1 within the West Division.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the 2014 Grey Cup MVP, was 28-of-38 passing for 340 yards and two TDs. Mitchell is the CFL's second-leading passer (2,534) behind Edmonton's Mike Reilly (2,843) and the two have both thrown a league-leading 14 TD passes.
But Collaros and Co. will try to solve a Calgary defence that's allowing a league-low 20.1 points per game. The unit held B.C. to just three field goals last week while recording three sacks and two forced fumbles.
--- HARRIS RETURNS: Trevor Harris will be under centre Thursday when the Ottawa Redblacks face the B.C. Lions.
Harris suffered a right leg injury in Ottawa's 30-29 road loss to Saskatchewan on July 22. Veteran Henry Burris, the CFL's outstanding player last season, was pressed into action despite suffering a finger injury in the club's season-opening win over Edmonton.
The Redblacks (4-3-1) have dropped three of their last four yet still are atop the East Division.
Harris was the CFL's hottest quarterback prior to his injury with a completion average of 82 per cent. Harris, who threw a CFL-high 33 TD passes last season with Toronto, enters Thursday's contest with 1,499 yards passing and nine touchdowns with just one interception.
--- SECOND TIME THE CHARM?: Chris Jones makes his second trip to Edmonton this season hoping to fare better than he did the first time around.
Edmonton earned a 39-36 overtime win over Saskatchewan on July 8, Jones' first appearance in the Alberta city since he was hired as the Riders head coach/GM. Jones served as the Eskimos head coach last season, leading the club to a Grey Cup championship.
But the Riders and Eskimos are currently on opposite ends of the spectrum. Saskatchewan (1-6) is coming off a lopsided 53-7 road loss to Hamilton on Saturday and has dropped four straight while Edmonton defeated Toronto 46-23 at BMO Field on Saturday also for its second consecutive victory.
GREAT APPROACH: There's plenty to like about Mike Reilly.
The Edmonton Eskimos' star is not only one of the CFL's best quarterbacks but one of its toughest. But he's also a master of not taking himself too seriously.
Reilly opened Edmonton's 46-23 road win over Toronto on Saturday by throwing an interception that linebacker Keon Raymond returned 39 yards for the touchdown that stake the Argos to an 8-0 lead less than a minute in.
Reilly easily overcame the miscue, passing for 362 yards and three TDs but could only chuckle in explaining his opening pass.
"I threw a touchdown pass the first play of the game and that's generally a great omen,'' Reilly deadpanned. "Keon is a veteran guy, he jumped it and made a great play.
"It wasn't the greatest decision to throw but I'm not going to take anything away from him as well.''
RAY BACK?: The expectation is the Toronto Argonauts will have veteran quarterback Ricky Ray back when they resume their CFL schedule Aug. 31 hosting B.C.
Ray has missed the last three games recovering from a sprained knee. But Toronto removed him from the six-game injured list last week before its 46-23 home loss to Edmonton.
Ray didn't dress for that contest but will now have more time to prepare to face the Lions. Toronto was 1-2 with youngster Logan Kilgore under centre.
Kilgore had consecutive 300-yard passing performances his first two games but just 41 yards and two interceptions versus Edmonton before being replaced by rookie Cody Fajardo in the third quarter. Kilgore threw nine interceptions in his three starts, including five in a 34-17 home loss to Winnipeg on Aug. 4.