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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

LULAY TO THE ROUGHRIDERS?

Lulay at 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto
The CFL rumour mill got a good spin on Tuesday when Vancouver football writer Mike Beamish reported veteran Lions quarterback Travis Lulay is the centre of trade rumours involving the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The gossip certainly caught me off-guard, but Beamish said the Riders are apparently kicking tires all over the league as they try to find a replacement for Darian Durant (including in their own backyard).

Not surprisingly, Beamish didn't say where the rumour came from and went so far as to say it's not even credible.

Lions Head Coach & GM Wally Buono was quoted in the piece but didn't deny the talk altogether.

Meanwhile Darian Durant hasn't even been an Alouette for a week and he's already embroiled in a quarterback controversy.  Hall of Fame writer Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette reports incumbent Als quarterback Vernon Adams wasn't enamoured with Friday's acquisition of Durant and he won't give up the starter's job without a fight.

Futhermore Sportsnet's Arash Madani said on Tuesday's SportsCage on 620 CKRM that everyone should pump the brakes at the notion of Durant being the saviour in Montreal.

"That trade is not putting Montreal over the top," Madani advised. "Let's get that out of the way.

"Their roster isn't anywhere near getting over the top.  Who's Durant going to throw the ball to?  Who's going to block for him?  Right?  Sure they're excited and of course they're gonna say they're excited.  They gave up two draft picks but Darian needs some help around him to be successful.  Now it's up to Kavis Reed to make it happen."

CFL insiders insist that the Roughriders haven't given up the chase of Eskimos back-up quarterback James Franklin in time for the 2017 season and I asked Madani if he can envision any scenario in which that plays out.

"I just don't know," Madani said.  "(Edmonton GM) Ed Hervey's going to want a king's ransom and maybe Jones gives it up.  At this stage, are the Riders built to win in 2017?  Probably not.  So if that's the case then you have time to find, develop and build somebody.  The scuttlebutt is Saskatchewan's now one of the frontrunners for Kevin Glenn.  We'll see if that happens and he's a capable player and definite insurance."

Arash feels the Riders are more likely to develop from within when it comes to finding Darian Durant's replacement.

"Ultimately now Saskatchewan has to be in the mode of finding the next franchise guy who's going to be around for 11 years," Madani concluded.

We'll have more on Wednesday's SportsCage at 4:00 pm on 620 CKRM.

RP
@rodpedersen

THE END OF AN ERA

Photo by John Burwell
Were there any tears shed around here on Tuesday when the demolition of old Exhibition Stadium - the decades-long home of the Regina Pats - began?

It certainly didn't stir up anything in me.  In fact, I haven't set foot in the facility for years however it got listeners to 620 CKRM's SportsCage feeling very reflective.

Dozens of people wrote into the show via text or Twitter saying it was an emotional day for them because they grew up going to Pats games with their father in the aged arena.  Others said that's where they became a Pats fan in the first place.

I'm proud to say I was able to catch at least a couple of Pats games there, when the 1980s Pats were forced out of the Agridome due to a scheduling conflict.  I got to play a few games in there as well, but it was far from luxurious.

Built in 1919, Exhibition Stadium played host to hundreds, if not thousands, more events than its neighbour Taylor Field across the street however its closure hasn't received anywhere near the hullabaloo.


Legendary Pats historian Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston published a staggeringly comprehensive article on the building at his website www.reginapatsalumni.net and it's worth a read if you're a big enough fan.

The most notable event to come out of Exhibition Stadium?  Likely the fact that Peter Parker broadcast the first-ever professional hockey game on radio in 1923 on CKCK Radio (beating the Leafs' Foster Hewitt by eight days).

For me, the most memorable event to ever occur in that facility was when Tiger Williams of the Swift Current Broncos went into the stands in 1974 and assaulted Pats fans with his hockey stick.  He was subsequently charged with assault, and the charge remains on his record to this day!

He just re-told the story Saturday night in Indian Head at the sports dinner we spoke at.

Was Exhibition Stadium given its proper farewell?

Who knows.

But it's too late now to do anything about it.

RP
@rodpedersen

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

THIS WEEK IN COUGAR ATHLETICS

Men’s Hockey – The Cougars lost a pair of road games on the weekend against the No. 6 Alberta Golden Bears, dropping 6-2 and 5-2 decisions. Ian McNulty and Kirk Bear had goals on Friday, while Stephen Langford and Logan Harland scored on Saturday. Regina (3-16-1) is home this weekend looking to snap an eight-game losing streak against Mount Royal at The Co-operators Centre on Friday night (7:00) and Saturday afternoon (3:00).

Women’s Volleyball – The Cougars (1-13) return home after suffering a pair of road losses to Brandon last weekend, losing in four sets to the Bobcats on Thursday and in straight sets on Friday. Regina hosts Winnipeg this Friday and Saturday at the CKHS, a team which will come into the weekend series with an identical 1-13 record to the Cougars. First serve is set for 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Men’s Volleyball – The Cougars (0-14) dropped two matches at Brandon last Thursday and Friday and return home this weekend for two of their final four home matches of the season. The U of R will play host to a Winnipeg team that comes in with a 6-8 conference record and sits just one win back of seventh-place Calgary for the seventh and final Canada West playoff berth. Match time is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Women’s Basketball (U SPORTS Ranking: No. 3) – The Cougars improved their conference record to 10-2 with two big home wins over Manitoba, taking down the Bisons by scores of 93-44 and 92-59. Katie Polischuk piled up 45 points over the two games, and on Saturday became just the 11th player in program history to score 1000 career points for the Cougars. The U of R is back in action this weekend with two road games against Brandon (7-7).

Men’s Basketball – The Cougars fell to .500 in conference play after losing twice at the CKHS to Manitoba, falling 93-81 on Friday and having a fourth-quarter comeback come up short in an 84-75 loss on Saturday. Now with a 6-6 Canada West record and tied for eighth place in the 17-team Canada West standings, the Cougars continue the conference schedule at Brandon (5-9) on Friday and Saturday.

Women’s Hockey – The Cougars were swept on home ice against the No. 9-ranked Alberta Pandas last weekend, falling 3-1 and 2-0 at The Co-operators Centre. Emma Waldenberger scored in Friday night's game, which saw Morgan Baker make 24 saves in net. Jane Kish stopped 29 shots on Saturday. Regina (9-9-2-0) sits two points back for fourth-place Saskatchewan, as the Cougars will take to the road this weekend to square off against Mount Royal (7-10-1-2).

Wrestling (Women’s U SPORTS Ranking: No. 4 / Men’s U SPORTS Ranking: No. 7) – The men's wrestling team defeated Minot State University 29-23 in a dual on Thursday, thanks to wins by Daniel Amberson (54 kg), Joshua Zimroz (61 kg), Geraldo Fox (76 kg), Gaelan Malloy (90 kg), Waylon Decoteau (100 kg) and Jordan Tholl (heavyweight). The men’s team wrestles Northland College in a dual on Wednesday night in Jamestown, N.D.

Track & Field – Joy Becker led the Cougars at the Downtown Lions Sled Dog Meet with first-place finishes in both the 60-metre dash (7.61 s) and the long jump (5.97m) as she now ranks third in the nation in the two events. Kaytlyn Criddle (1500-metre run) and Reagan Fedak (weight throw) also placed first, while Alex Eiswerth led the men’s side with a first-place finish in the 600-metre run (1:21.21). The Cougars continue their season this Friday and Saturday at the Golden Bear Open in Edmonton.

Swimming (Women’s U SPORTS Ranking: No. 9) – Five members of the U of R’s swimming teams competed at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas over the weekend. Brian Palaschuk had the highlight at the elite meet with a first-place finish in the C final of the 400-metre individual medley, finishing with a time of 4:33.21. Noah Choboter also qualified for a C final, placing fourth to finish 20th overall in the 100-metre backstroke (58.91 s). The Cougars will continue the 2016-17 season the first weekend of February at the Colleges Cup in Calgary.

(Courtesy Braden Konschuh/U of R Athletics)

CFL NOTEBOOK: NICHOLS, BOMBERS AGREE TO TERMS

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
CFL insider Justin Dunk of 3DownNation.com reports quarterback Matt Nichols and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have agreed to a contract extension, per sources.

Sources made it known the 29-year-old was in Winnipeg for work in the community. He had been set to become a free agent in February and was considered one of the premier pivots potentially available – particularly after Saskatchewan dealt the rights to Darian Durant to the Montreal Alouettes.

Nichols made 13 starts last season going 10-3 for Winnipeg and he now has a 17-15 career record as a starter.
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WINNIPEG –  The Winnipeg Blue Bombers today announce the club has signed international receiver Kenny Stafford to a two-year contract.

Stafford (6-3, 205, Toledo, April 20, 1990 in Columbus, OH) spent part of last season with Montreal, where in nine games he caught 16 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford’s best season came in 2015, hauling in 47 receptions for 732 yards and nine touchdowns in 18 regular season games with Edmonton. He also recorded four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown in the 2015 playoffs, helping Edmonton win the 103rd Grey Cup.

“Kenny is an experienced receiver in our league, with great athletic ability and big play capability,” said Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters. “He’s got the range to go up and get the football and he’s a competitor. We’re very confident he will fit comfortably into our locker room, and are excited about what he will bring to our offence.”

Stafford has played 41 career CFL regular season games, catching 89 receptions for 1,214 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I’m really excited to start a new chapter of my career with an organization who wants me and a fan base who is so passionate about its team,” Stafford said. “Every time I have played in Winnipeg, I’ve thought about how great the atmosphere is, and to be on the good side of it will be a great thing. This is a team on the rise with great leadership, and I’m looking forward to getting started."
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WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed receiver Darvin Adams on Monday to a contract extension through the 2019 season.

The six-foot-two, 200-pound Adams was scheduled to become a free agent next month.

Adams had 51 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns in just eight games last season. He had over 100 yards receiving in four of his 2016 contests.

"Darvin has continued to develop over the past two seasons, and in our view, is now one of the league's top-end targets,'' Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters said in a statement. "He was having a great season last year before unfortunately suffering a tough injury, but we look forward to watching him build off of his season in 2017 and beyond.''

Adams had 61 catches for 839 yards and a team-high six TDs in 2015, his first season with Winnipeg. He has 133 catches for 1,790 yards and 14 TDs in 35 career CFL games.

"This was something I wanted to get completed, and not head into free agency,'' said Adams. "This is such a great organization, and for them to want me back, with the direction the team is going, that means a lot to me.

"I couldn't be happier to be remain a Bomber.''
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EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos have signed Vidal Hazelton, who joined the team's practice roster last year after being part of a wide receiver purge by Toronto.

The New York native had 27 receptions for 361 yards and three touchdowns in eight games for the Argonauts last season when he was cut along with Kevin Elliott, Tori Gurley and Phil Bates after a loss to Montreal.

Hazelton had a strong 2015 with Toronto with 70 receptions for 803 yards and six touchdowns and was the East Division finalist for CFL Rookie of the Year.

Prior to the CFL, Hazelton spent time with the NFL's San Diego Chargers (2011), Cincinnati Bengals (2011-12), Tennessee Titans (2012) and New York Jets (2013).
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VANCOUVER - The B.C. Lions signed rookie quarterback Alex Ross on Monday.

The six-foot-one, 205-pound Ross attended the Atlanta Falcons training camp last summer before being released.

Ross played collegiatedly at Coastal Carolina and left in 2015 as the school's all-time leader in passing yards (9,918), attempts (1,174), completions (760) and touchdowns (72).

"Alex enjoyed a very successful college career and possesses the kind of unique quarterbacking skills that make him well-suited to our game,'' Lions head coach/GM Wally Buono said in a statement. "Competition at every position on the field is critical in building a championship team and we look forward to seeing what Alex has to offer when he is up for mini-camp in April.''

(With files from The Canadian Press)

Monday, January 16, 2017

THE MONDAY MORNING GOALIE


13 LATE HITS

1 - In the end, I was wrong.  Very wrong.  But you could fill the internet with the things I'm wrong about or don't even know.

Friday morning's news that Roughrider legend Darian Durant had been traded to the Montreal Alouettes was like a splash of cold water to the face.

First came the email at 7:15 am on Friday that Chris Jones was to address the media at 9:00 am at Taylor Field.  Frankly at the time I had no idea what Jones was to talk about.  Then 15 minutes later I received a text message that read, "Wake up.  Durant to Montreal for two picks."

I was wide awake by that point.

2 - I was wrong because as recently as Thursday, I'd written in this space that I didn't expect an abrupt end to the Darian Durant situation with the Roughriders.  No matter how it was going to turn out, I expected one side or the other would leak the news to the media days in advance.

However that didn't happen.  None of the CFL media insiders had any idea when they awoke Friday morning that the Durant trade with Montreal had been consummated.  All of this while Chris Jones was arriving in Regina at midnight on Thursday after travelling all day from Florida.  No one said a peep, which is the way it should be.

It was also important to Jones that he deliver the news in person, before a jam-packed news conference at the Rider offices.

3 - It has not sunk in yet that the Darian Durant Era in Saskatchewan is over.  Frankly I haven't yet allowed my mind to process the situation and I don't think it'll truly set in until Day 1 of Roughriders Training Camp when Durant isn't out there slinging the ball around like he has for the past 11 years.

As former Rider and current CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder Tweeted on Friday, "Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened!"

There hasn't been a bigger Rider news story come down the pike in the social media age as this one and Friday's news of the trade definitely "broke the internet" in Saskatchewan.  Heck, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were even trending on Twitter in Calgary on Friday.

Rider fans far and wide were posting selfies of themselves and Darian from his many public appearances over the last number of years.  It had to make you damp at the eye.

I was scrambling to find some selfies myself with Durant, but soon realized I don't have any in my collection.

4 - But that's okay because I have something far better.  MEMORIES!  Darian Durant attempted 3453 passes as a Saskatchewan Roughrider and I called each and every one of them.  His exploits on the field are the stuff of legend, but I'll also remember the many road trips where he mosied onto the team airplane and settled into his seat across the row from me with his shades and headphones on.  That was his time to escape from the world, if only for an hour or two.

We also did several sports dinners around the province over the years and I saw him blossom from a shy, young man into a franchise icon right in front of my eyes.  One night in Estevan in the spring of 2015 we did a Q&A at the Bruins dinner and when he walked off stage, he received a long and raucous standing ovation.  Frankly I don't think he'd ever been happier and his smile was a mile wide.  He asked me to send him a pic of the moment afterwards.

5 - There was only one other time where I think Durant was happier as a Roughrider and it was immediately after the 2013 Grey Cup.  You all saw it.  Darian was a mix of elation and agony because even though he was celebrating with his teammates and the millions in the Rider Nation, his family was back home in the USA.

Durant had instructed his family to stay home that Grey Cup Week because he didn't want any distractions.  His sole focus that year was delivering a Grey Cup in the biggest game in franchise history and as you all know, the club wouldn't have even got there without his 97-yard rushing effort in a division semifinal win over BC.  But delivering for the Riders was more important than his family on that November day at Mosaic Stadium.

He gave every ounce of sweat, blood and tears that he had for this franchise for his 11 seasons.

Now it's over.

6 - But don't cry for Darian.  When I spoke to him on Friday, he was in good spirits and said, "These things happen."  He was intent on attending Weston Dressler's wedding in Bismarck, ND on Saturday and would deal with the trade in the days which follow.

And he's got a new lease on life.  He's going to a team where he's wanted BIG TIME, and it appears he'll get the money he feels he deserves.  He'll also get a multi-year contract too, although as of Friday I'm told the contract has not yet been signed.

I'm told not only do the Alouettes want Durant for 2017, but for the immediate years ahead.  They feel he's got plenty left in the tank and theirs is a team that's set up to WIN NOW.  All they felt was missing was a proven, veteran quarterback.

Darian's going to be just fine, and he leaves here with his head up.

7 - It struck me too that this latest contract squabble should serve notice to any future quarterback of the Roughriders that one thing is abundantly clear: the team always wins.

Whether it was Kent Austin, Henry Burris, Kerry Joseph or now Darian Durant, they've ALL ended up playing elsewhere the next season after being embroiled in heated contract talks.

And the General Managers in these scenarios were Alan Ford, Roy Shivers, Eric Tillman and Chris Jones.

The team always wins.  Or at least, it looks that way.  I can't recall a situation where the quarterback won but maybe we just didn't hear about it.

8 - As for Chris Jones, he's still comfortable wearing the black hat at this point in time.  3DownNation.com writer Drew Edwards wrote on Friday that this contract dispute all boiled down to Chris Jones' ego but I hope and pray that isn't the case.  I really don't think that it is, and the second year HC & GM is simply putting the needs of the organization first.  Not his own.

Amidst all the furor that's been blasted at the team through Twitter and Facebook since Friday, one reasonable fan offered this assessment of the situation Saturday night at the sports dinner in Indian Head I spoke at: "Chris Jones' job depends on this move," the gentleman said.  "I can't imagine he'd do anything that would jeopardize that."

Amen.

And Jones and his righthand man John Murphy aren't fazed at all that they don't have an established quarterback at this point in time.  "It's January 13," Murphy said flatly on the SportsCage on Friday.  I'll be writing about that later this week on the Roughriders' official website.

9 - Let it be said that I think Jeffrey Orridge is doing a wonderful job as Commissioner of the Canadian Football League and am glad he'll be back for Year 3.  Remember, I had his back over the concussion debate at the 2016 Grey Cup.

On stage with Tiger and the Big D
10 - Some other last things: Saturday night's sports banquet in Indian Head was the first of its kind in that community for many years and it featured Tiger Williams, Matt Dominguez and me.  The local folks were raising money to build a skateboard park for town kids and we had a million laughs in the Memorial Hall.

Dominguez said he's on board with the Durant trade, and that if this is what's best for the franchise, he's all for it.

Meanwhile someone from the crowd asked Dominguez who his best teammate was during his time with the Riders and his answer was "Wes Cates".

The same question was posed to Tiger Williams and his response was Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald.

One patron asked, "Tiger, were you ever afraid to fight?"

He quipped, "Every night when I go to bed with my wife!"

When one of these events is coming to your town, I encourage you to buy tickets because it's win-win.  You get to support what's going on in your community, enjoy a good meal and be entertained by some legendary sporting figures.  I get to tag along for the ride.

11 - How about those Regina Pats?  The Riders and Darian Durant stole their thunder over the weekend but they had some wild, topsy-turvy games over a three-game weekend if you weren't paying attention.

On Friday they jumped to a 4-0 home lead over Tri-City just 10 minutes into the game but unfortunately decided at that time their work was done for the night.  They went on to lose 6-5 to the Americans and while fans were howling for the head of Pats goalie Tyler Brown, I maintain the entire team should've been fitted for goat horns.

On Saturday they fell down 4-0 to the visiting Prince Albert Raiders before rallying for a 7-6 home overtime win. Then on Sunday then went to P.A. and routed the Raiders 5-1.

Tyler Brown didn't play in the last two games because of an upper-body injury however he's expected to be back in the crease next Friday night.

The fact remains: the Regina Pats are the best team in the league and should win every night.  However apparently they're not good enough to "turn it on when they want to" when they're facing a quality club like Tri-City.

John Paddock has two months to figure it all out, and the team is vastly better after the trade deadline.

It's going to be a fun ride.

12 - One thing that continues to irritate me: Pats fans are starting to talk about booking travel arrangements for the Memorial Cup in Windsor, ON in May.  The trouble is, who wants to spend 10 days in Windsor?  Or 10 days in Red Deer, or Brandon, or dare I say Regina, or anywhere other than a sunny, tourist locale?

No, the Canadian Hockey League needs to tighten up the Memorial Cup schedule and play two games per day.  I've been saying it for the past few years.

The World Juniors are doing it.  Even the curling people have it figured out, as evidenced by the soldout Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas this weekend.  Four days of fun and then it's over, rather than sitting around your expensive hotel room all day waiting for games in the evening.

13 - The clock struck midnight on the Cinderella season of the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday afternoon's Divisional Playoff game at AT&T Stadium, when they fell 34-31 to Green Bay in a wildly entertaining game.  What can be said?  The Packers outplayed the Cowboys and Aaron Rodgers was as good as he's ever been.  The Cowboys' defense let the team down, not rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, and it left Cowboys alumni like Lance Frazier spitting mad.

"All I have to say is horrible defensive playcalling and even worse execution," the former Rider DB fumed on Twitter.  "Our D-Coordinator and D-players were on the same yacht!"

I've got to agree with the pundits.  If Tony Romo was at quarterback for Dallas with this result, it would be world-ending.  However with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm, the Cowboys are set for the next decade.

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THAT'S ALL! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4
RP
@rodpedersen