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Thursday, June 22, 2017

ALOUETTES 17 ROUGHRIDERS 16

 

MONTREAL - Darian Durant threw touchdown passes to B.J. Cunningham and Ernest Jackson in his Alouettes debut as Montreal defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 17-16 on Thursday night.

The Roughriders had a chance to win it on the final play of the game but Tyler Crapigna's field-goal attempt from the 45 was wide to the right.

Boris Bede's fourth-quarter field goal stood up as the game-winning points for Montreal. Durant played his first game since he was acquired in January after 11 seasons in Saskatchewan.

Kevin Glenn, back with the Roughriders after starting last season with Montreal, threw a TD pass to Bakari Grant. Crapigna added three field goals.

Durant marched the ball to the Saskatchewan 37 on the opening drive, but Bede missed the 45-yard field-goal attempt.

Neither side was able to mount much on attack until 10:25 of the second quarter, when Cunningham got behind safety Mike Edem for a 65-yard touchdown reception.

Glenn hit right back with a 10-play drive capped by a 19-yard TD pass to Grant at 13:27, a play that stood up to video review when Grant was stripped of the ball just past the goal line.

A shanked Bede punt gave the Roughriders another chance and, aided by a 33-yard strike to Nic Demski, Crapigna was good from 35 yards for a 10-7 halftime lead.

A 27-yard run up the middle by Cameron Marshall on the opening play from scrimmage in the second half helped set up Crapigna's 40-yard field goal at 3:27.

Montreal answered with an eight-play drive that saw Jackson make a 12-yard TD catch in the end zone at 7:07.

The end of the third and start of the fourth quarter saw three straight possessions end with turnovers _ a fumble by Marshall, a Jonathon Mincy interception and a Nik Lewis fumble. None produced points.

An 18-yard Crapigna boot at 8:04 put the Riders ahead, only to have Bede match it with an 18-yard kick at 12:31.

Alouettes defensive back Travis Hawkins was injured on the first play of the second half and did not return.

(Canadian Press)

GAME DAY IN MONTREAL!


WEEK 1 NOTES

1 - Thursday's 2017 CFL season-opener between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes is hotly-anticipated for a ton of reasons (5:30 pm Sask Time, TSN, 620 CKRM Rider Radio Network). For one, it's always exciting to be the first game on the CFL schedule and the Riders and Als haven't hooked up in a CFL season-opener since the famed Canada Day Comeback in 2010 (a 54-51 overtime victory for Saskatchewan).

2 - For two, you could call this game the Bad Blood Bowl, that wasn't. Starting quarterbacks Darian Durant and Kevin Glenn have swapped teams, and it's generally agreed upon that neither was wanted by their old clubs. For his part, Glenn spent a good deal of time on Wednesday explaining to reporters that he harbours no illwill against his former clubs, particularly since he's been property of eight CFL teams over his 17-year career. If he held hard feelings, he wouldn't have many friends left in this league!

Durant certainly said all the right things to reporters this week but you know there's a fire simmering deep in his belly with regards to all the things that went down leading up to his trade to Montreal on January 13.

It's doubtful that he'll play angry - or with a huge chip on his shoulder - but we all know Darian enough that he'll be significantly motivated for this contest and want to prove Chris Jones wrong for showing him the door.

But one thing was made very clear to me on Wednesday - Darian is not angry, and that caught me by surprise.

Even still, his desire to prove Jones wrong makes this match-up salacious.

3 - There are other players who've swapped Montreal jerseys for green Saskatchewan uniforms, and vice versa. Roughrider receiver Duron Carter was kicked off the Alouettes late last season and reporters tried their darnedest to pry some venom out of him at Wednesday's media session but he wouldn't bite.

Nor would new Saskatchewan cornerback Jovon Johnson, who was released by Montreal on the weekend. He feels he got caught up in the numbers game with the Alouettes, but landed on his feet as the starting field corner for the Roughriders this week.

And offensive lineman Matt Vonk was shipped to Montreal in the Radford deal, but he was all smiles on Wednesday as we shared a few minutes. He's just happy to be anywhere!

4 - As far as Kevin Glenn goes, even the Alouettes players said on Wednesday they feel they've upgraded at quarterback with the addition of Darian Durant. It couldn't have been intended as a slight at Kevin but professionally, it was. But the fact is Kevin Glenn has had a magnficent pro career and is in the Top 10 all-time passers. All that he's missing is a Grey Cup ring, and then he'll be considered an all-time great. Until then he's the CFL's Dan Marino, which really isn't too shabby when you think about it.

5 - Roster Stuff. The Riders unveiled their roster for Week 1 on Wednesday and while there weren't many surprises, there certainly were some interesting tidbits. Saskatchewan has dressed seven offensive linemen, with Dariusz Bladek and Josiah St. John listed as the two back-ups. Clearly it was too close to call as to who's ahead of whom, so the team brought both.

And with WR Rob Bagg sent to the 1-game Injured List, veteran Nic Demski will start in his spot with Desmond Radford as the back-up. Radford was acquired from Montreal in a trade early in training camp, but it was with the understanding he'd be a defensive back and/or returner. Now he's been moved to the offensive side of the ball.


6 - Included on the Riders' depth chart this week was their Injured List and it's already long. On the 1-game Injured List are: WR Rob Bagg, LB Sam Eguavoen, OL Dillon Guy, RB Kienan LaFrance, DB Derrick Moncreif, DE Jonathan Newsome and K Quinn Van Gylswyk. On the 6-game Injured List are KR Chad Owens and DB Tevaughn Campbell.

7 - CFL Game Notes Tidbits: The Roughriders are the CFL's youngest team at 26.9 years average while the Alouettes are the oldest at 28.4 ... Saskatchewan had the largest roster turnover from last year with just 29 returning players ... 7 of the 9 first round picks in this year's CFL Draft made opening week rosters while 14 of the 18 players selected in the first two rounds made their clubs ... For just the second time in CFL history, the season begins with the past seven Grey Cup winners being seven different teams. The topic of "CFL parity" came up over lunch with CFL agent Tim Fleiszer on Wednesday, but it appears it's at an all-time high.  The intention for the salary cap was to even the playing field, and it has ... Only four CFL teams are starting the same quarterback as they did in Week 1 last year. They are B.C. (Johnathan Jennings), Calgary (Bo-Levi Mitchell), Edmonton (Mike Reilly) and Toronto (Ricky Ray). The changes are Hamilton (Zach Collaros), Ottawa (Trevor Harris), Montreal (Darian Durant), Saskatchewan (Kevin Glenn) and Winnipeg (Matt Nichols).

8 - More Notes: Visiting teams are 32-26 all-time in season-opening games dating back to the origin of the Canadian Football League in the 1950s ... The CFL Statistics Department is adding a handful of new categories this season including Drops and Quarterback Pressures. It'll be interesting to see which receiver leads the CFL in drops this year! He likely won't be around for long.

9 - Thursday's game is not soldout, which should be a concern. And, I'm told, the Alouettes season ticket base is the lowest it's been since the team relocated from Baltimore in 1996.

10 - The forecast calls for 24 degrees Celsius and sunny. The Alouettes are favoured by 6.5-points.

RP
@rodpedersen

BEAVERS 12 RED SOX 4

With their 12-4 victory at Currie Field in Regina on Wednesday, Weyburn improved to 8-8 on the WMBL season. The loss dropped Regina’s record to 10-5.

Weyburn smacked out 15 hits in the game while Regina had nine in the contest. Both teams struggled in the field as the Beavers committed three errors while Regina had four fielding errors.

Neil Ring, a catcher from Spring Hill College, had two runs, three hits and three RBI for the visiting Beavers. Luis Jimenez added three doubles and 1 RBI to the Weyburn’s score card.

425 fans at Currie field watched field Justin Erlandson collect two hits including his fifth double in a losing cause.

Conner Starke, a junior from Mayville State University, earned his second victory of the season pitching four shutout innings for the Beavers.

Will Moore was the loser of record giving up seven runs on eight hits over 4.2 innings of work.

Regina and Swift Current are now tied for first overall in the Eastern Division.

Next up for Regina is a pair of games against the Edmonton Prospects at Currie Field. Both Thursday and Friday games start at 7:05 pm.

(Courtesy Outlaw Communications)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CAMPBELL, DESJARDINS EXTENDED THROUGH 2020

OTTAWA-GATINEAU - The Ottawa REDBLACKS of the Canadian Football League today announced that General Manager Marcel Desjardins and Head Coach Rick Campbell have each agreed to contract extensions that will keep them in their roles through the 2020 season.

“The results speak for themselves,” said Jeff Hunt, President of the REDBLACKS parent company, OSEG Sports. “Marcel and Rick have taken the team to the Grey Cup championship game in each of the last two seasons. They’ve shown exemplary skills assembling and leading our football operations department and making the REDBLACKS a model franchise in the CFL. Having stability in both of these roles is a tremendous asset to have - we’re proud of their work and delighted that they’ll both be with us for at least the next four seasons.”

Desjardins and Campbell joined the REDBLACKS prior to their expansion season in 2014 and built the team from the ground up. They assembled a scouting staff and coaching staff and acquired all players that have ever worn the sawblade “R” since the team’s inception.

The REDBLACKS open the 2017 season at TD Place with a Grey Cup rematch against the Calgary Stampeders Friday night at 7:30 p.m. A limited number of great seats are still available starting at $33 at OttawaREDBLACKS.com, by calling 613.232.6767 X1, or in person at The Box Office at TD Place.

DURANT READY TO FACE ROUGHRIDERS


MONTREAL - Darian Durant hasn't had to wait long for his first game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The veteran quarterback, who spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Regina, will play his first game for the Montreal Alouettes against the Roughriders on Thursday night at Percival Molson Stadium (5:30 pm Sask Time, TSN, 620 CKRM Rider Radio Network).

Unwanted by Riders coach Chris Jones, the 34-year-old Durant was traded to Montreal for two draft picks on Jan. 13.

As fate would have it, he will face his old team in the opening game of the Canadian Football League season. It adds some drama to a matchup between two teams that missed the playoffs last season.

"I've spent my whole career there and I have a lot of great memories,'' Durant said Wednesday. "It's a special ball game, but at the end of the day it's a game we need, a game that can get us off on the right track and that's how we're looking at it.

"Saskatchewan just happens to be our opponent.''

The Alouettes hope Durant's talent and experience will give them the stability at quarterback they haven't had since Anthony Calvillo retired in 2013. More than a dozen pivots have taken snaps in recent seasons, including the Roughriders' new starter Kevin Glenn, who began last season in Montreal but lost the job to the since-departed Rakeem Cato.

Receiver Duron Carter, who was released by Montreal last October after a feud with Cato, and veteran defensive back Jovon Johnson, a surprise cut by the Alouettes last week, are also now in green and white.

Durant, who signed a three-year deal with the Alouettes, was a popular figure in Regina, particularly after leading the Riders to the 2013 Grey Cup on home turf. In Montreal, he can expect more anonymity than in football-mad Saskatchewan.

"I like it for sure,'' he said. "Living downtown makes it a little easier because there's a lot of English going on and I can understand a lot more.

"But it's a beautiful city. Every time we came out here as visitors it was always fun to walk around and just enjoy the atmosphere. There's great food. There are plenty of festivals and different things like that going on, In Saskatchewan, where the whole province is all about football, you're easily recognizable. Here, there's so much going on it's easier just to walk around and be yourself.''

But there is pressure. The Alouettes dominated the East Division through the 2000s, but they haven't won a Grey Cup since 2010.

Montreal missed the playoffs the last two seasons. The latest campaign sparked wholesale changes in the off-season, with several new faces on defence and the offensive line.

There is also a new general manager in Kavis Reed, while Jacques Chapdelaine returns as coach after taking over from Jim Popp last September and going 4-2 down the stretch. Their off-season priority was finding a proven quarterback and that turned out to be Durant.

"Darian is embracing this opportunity,'' said Chapdelaine, who is also offensive co-ordinator. "It's fresh.

"I appreciate what he brings to the table as far as his skill set is concerned. He likes the system. It's a good match and we're seeing good things in practice and the meeting room. He's invested in everything we're doing. We're seeing a guy that's enjoying all this.''

For Montreal's veterans, having Durant is a relief. He also gives them hope that the bad years are behind them and that they will be a winning team again.

"I don't think we've had the quarterback before,'' said defensive end John Bowman. "We had young guys that had abilities that didn't translate onto the field, or they got hurt at inopportune times and didn't have time to grow or progress.

"Now we've got a seasoned guy who, barring injury, every year is up for (most outstanding player) candidacy. If he remains upright and we do what we need to do on defence to help him out, I don't see why we can't be better.''

Injuries are a concern. Durant has not played a full season since 2010. He suffered a season-ending injury in the opening game of 2015, but got into 15 games last season.

He will be without injured receiver Samuel Giguere, who will be replaced by Alex Pierzchalski. Jonathan Mincy will play for injured defensive back Raymon Taylor.

The Riders are without two big pieces on offence - receiver/kick returner Chad Owens and receiver Rob Bagg. Bagg is expected back next week.

(Bill Beacon/Canadian Press)

RIDERS VERSUS ALS ALL ABOUT DURANT? TEAMS SAY NO


REGINA - The Roughriders held their final practice of the week on Tuesday morning and afterwards HC & GM Chris Jones announced WR Rob Bagg and KR Chad Owens will miss Thursday's season-opening game at Montreal.

There are online reports Owens has been placed on the 6-game Injured List.

Bagg was injured in a practice at Saskatoon's SMF Field after Preseason Game 1.


Also on Tuesday, the team released non-import receiver Joshua Stanford and import linebacker Myke Tavarres.

The Riders arrived in Montreal early-evening on Tuesday and will hold a walk-through Wednesday at 11:00 am at Concordia.

We'll be eager to attend the Alouettes' walk-through, also scheduled for 11:00 am ET, to get the pregame thoughts of Alouettes quarterback Darian Durant.

Frankly, the hype over this "Durant Versus The Roughriders" scenario isn't nearly to the level I expected when Saskatchewan shipped their franchise legend to Montreal on January 13.

In the days leading up to Thursday's season-opener, both sides have downplayed any bad blood.

“The hype and drama is from the outside. It’s the first game of the season," Durant told Herb Zurkowsk of the Montreal Gazette. "This is an opportunity to get out on the right track. It doesn’t matter who we play. We just want to win. There’s no extra motivation. This is a new regime. It’s a new beginning for myself and a lot of guys. We want to get this thing started right.”

CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder says this game isn't "all about Durant facing the Riders" for the first time.

"No," Mullinder surmised Tuesday in Montreal. "When you look at the team aspect, and this Rider team in general, they look really good on paper. I think they're beginning to start their own journey and that doesn't include Darian Durant unfortunately.

"As much as people in Saskatchewan want to focus on Darian, you don't talk about him in the locker room. You talk about your special teams battles and the offensive threats that they have and their defensive capabilities.

"If you make it about one player, you're literally taking the focus off of 23 other guys. You don't want that. The Alouettes are lions lying in the grass right now and if you focus on only one lion, the other ones will come out and bite you."

We'll discuss Wednesday's happenings from Montreal on 620 CKRM's SportsCage at 4:00 pm.

RP
@rodpedersen

RED SOX BANKRUPT MILLIONAIRES 7-3

 
The Regina Red Sox got back to their winning ways with a 7-3 victory over the Millionaires in Melville. Regina improved their record to 10-4 while Melville fell to 4-11. The loss also extended Melville’s losing streak to five games.   

Regina starter Dalton England was very productive on the mound allowing just two runs on six hits over 6.2 innings of work. The senior from North Dakota State also struck out six batters on the way to his first win of the season. 

Manager Mitch MacDonald turned to the Red Sox bullpen to finish things out. Ruddy Estrella, Kal Daniels and Kevin Borst all saw action. Borst got the final six outs to earn his third save of the year. 

Melville’s Brody Curry took the loss. He was tagged for six runs on seven hits over seven complete innings. 

Broderick Rodocker knocked out his second homerun of the year for the Red Sox. Outfield Justin Erlandson had another great night at the plate. He was three for four with a double and two stolen bases. 

Melville’s Gentry Ford got the 141 fans at Pirie Field excited when he went yard. It was Ford’s his first homer of the season. Shortstop Cole Henley added two hits and a walk in the contest. 

Regina now returns home to Currie Field for a four-game home stand. First game is Wednesday night when Weyburn comes to town. Game time is 7:05 pm

(Courtesy Tony Playter/Outlaw Communications)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ESKIMOS SEASON PREVIEW

EDMONTON - The fortunes of the Edmonton Eskimos in 2017 rest on a high-flying offence, fixing a suspect defence, and spiking a recurring problem with penalties.

It's Year Two of head coach Jason Maas's up-tempo offence, which focuses on options at the line, adjustments on the fly, and multiple reads and progressions by quarterback Mike Reilly on every play.

"There's not a single play that we'll put in our offence that doesn't have answers for any possible thing that a defence can do,'' Reilly said.

"That puts a lot of added workload on the players in the sense the wide receivers have to know what's going on (beyond their own assignments). They have to be at the right depths and landmarks and the quarterbacks have to know their reads.''

Receiver Adarius Bowman agreed.

"Within the play is almost three plays,'' he said.

"In the beginning it can definitely feel overwhelming, but once you understand it, you feel like you know the answer to the test before it happens.''

Last season, Reilly and the pass-catching duo of Bowman and Derel Walker shredded defences. Edmonton averaged almost 419 yards a game in net offence, best in the CFL. Edmonton averaged 30.5 points a game, second only to Calgary's 32.6

Coming off a Grey Cup win in 2015, Edmonton finished with a 10-8 record and a crossover loss to Ottawa in the CFL's Eastern Final last season.

Reilly led all quarterbacks in yards passing, while Bowman and Walker were one-two respectively in receiving yards.

Walker has since left to try his luck with Tampa Bay in the NFL.

Among the other receivers, Brandon Zylstra, looks to build on a strong finish to 2016. Longtime Eskimo Shamawd Chambers is back after a year in Saskatchewan. Chris Getzlaf, Vidal Hazelton, and Bryant Mitchell are also in the mix.

John White returns as running back, coming off an 886-yard rushing season, fourth best in the CFL. Ageless wonder Calvin McCarty is back at the fullback spot for his 11th season in green and gold.

Reilly will throw behind a strong offensive line anchored by centre Justin Sorensen and twin tower guards Simeon Rottier (six-foot-six ) and Matt O'Donnell (six-foot-11). Joel Figueroa will start at one tackle position, while Tony Washington and Colin Kelly fought it out in training camp at the other end of the line.

On defence, Mike Benevides' squad put up average numbers in 2016: fifth in points allowed per game (27.6) and sixth in net offence allowed (375 yards a game). On top of that, linebacker and special teams tornado Deon Lacey has left for the NFL and his replacement, Argonaut veteran Cory Greenwood, suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

The heart of the defence remains middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt. The Eastern Washington product is now in his seventh year, recording 77 defensive tackles and six forced fumbles in 17 games last season.

Veterans Odell Willis, Almondo Sewell, and Marcus Howard return to the defensive line alongside Philip Hunt and newcomer Euclid Cummings, a free agent signing from Winnipeg.

Question marks remain in the secondary that allowed more than 305 yards passing a game. Neil King is back at safety along with veteran Marcell Young, newcomer free agent Johnny Adams, Garry Peters and Brandyn Thomspon.

Sean Whyte returns to kick field goals after an impressive 2016. He led the league with a 93.8 field goal percentage. He'll also handle the punting following the off-season departure of Grant Shaw.

The other major change for Edmonton happened not on the field but in the front office. General manager Ed Hervey left in April over contract talks and philosophical differences with team management. Former Ottawa Redblack assistant GM Brock Sunderland has since been hired.

The key will also be penalties. Edmonton was flagged 206 times last year, including calls that were declined. Only Saskatchewan (209) was worse.

The trend continued this pre-season. In two games, Edmonton was flagged 35 times for 328 yards.

Maas said that is being addressed.

"We've got a board set up in our hallway that pays attention to every penalty a guy gets,'' he said.

"I call them out every day out in the meetings, every day after practice, so you get a routine going of who are the main culprits. The main culprits more than likely are not going to be here and that's where you really set the tone.''

(Canadian Press)

LIONS SEASON PREVIEW

VANCOUVER - The B.C. Lions took some important strides in 2016.

With legendary head coach Wally Buono back on the sidelines, the CFL club rebounded with a 12-6 record after a couple disappointing seasons before winning a playoff game for the first time in five years.

Then the Lions ran into the powerhouse Calgary Stampeders in the West Division final and learned first-hand that the difference between good and great is in the details.

"We took big steps in terms of production and guys making plays, but there were still a lot of mistakes,'' B.C. wide receiver Bryan Burnham said while reflecting on that 42-15 blowout loss in November. "You play a team like Calgary, they expose that.

"We've got to get the little things right.''

The Lions are keenly aware that unseating the Grey Cup finalists - a franchise that's topped the West three of the last four seasons while going a combined 58-13-1 - will require razor-sharp focus.

"Part of what this team has to do is mature (and) understand when you play big games you have to rise up to that level,'' said Buono. "That's sometimes just part of growth.''

Despite the disappointing end last season, there's lots to get excited about on the West Coast ahead of the Lions' opener against the Edmonton Eskimos on Saturday.

"We have a very talented team, that's one thing we know for sure,'' said B.C. defensive lineman Bryant Turner Jr. "I can't wait to see what happens.''

Coming off his first full year under centre, quarterback Jonathon Jennings looks poised to build on a breakout campaign where he threw for 5,226 yards and 27 touchdowns, with the only blemish a CFL-high 15 interceptions.

"I want to focus on being smarter in general with the football,'' said Jennings, who became just fourth QB in franchise history to surpass 5,000 yards.

The 24-year-old has another weapon after B.C. added free-agent deep threat Chris Williams to an attack that already includes Emmanuel Arceneaux and Burnham - the CFL's third- and fourth-leading receivers last season.

"I've tried to coach against Chris for a lot of years,'' said Buono, also the club's general manager. "Chris makes you aware of who he is and where he is.''

Williams might not be ready for the opener as he continues to rehab a surgically repaired knee, but even without the speedster there are plenty of weapons.

The electrifying Chris Rainey is back to return kicks - along with Williams when he's healthy - while also getting some touches out of a backfield where Jeremiah Johnson will be leaned on more heavily after splitting time with the departed Anthony Allen in 2016.

Canadian receiver Shawn Gore retired, but the Lions have veteran Marco Iannuzzi and second-year man Shaq Johnson to help pick up the slack as nationals.

B.C. looks primed to start four Canadians on the offensive line, a move that would allow for another American at a skill position, after acquiring former NFLer David Foucault from Montreal for six-time all-star Jovan Olafioye.

Swayze Waters, meanwhile, has been brought in to handle all three facets of the kicking game after Richie Leone inked a deal with the Arizona Cardinals.

The biggest question mark is undoubtedly on defence, where half the starters have moved on. Linebacker Adam Bighill, the CFL's top defensive player in 2015, signed with the New Orleans Saints, while defensive back Ryan Phillips was released before joining Montreal.

The battle to replace Bighill on the weakside in training camp came down to Tony Burnett and Micah Awe, with both making the 46-man roster.

B.C. allowed the fewest yards against last season and tied for the league lead in sacks with 52, but had just 29 takeaways, including a league-low nine interceptions.

The Lions will be looking for a lot more out of their secondary, especially with Steven Clarke, Ronnie Yell and T.J. Lee back healthy following serious injuries in 2016.

"It's sickening, annoying,'' Lions defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington said of his team's lack of picks in 2016. "We had opportunities to change the game and we weren't doing that.''

The defensive line lost Alex Bazzie's 11 sacks when he decided to test the NFL, while Jabar Westerman signed with Winnipeg.

Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the league's most outstanding player in 2014, and top defender two of the last three years, is now the unquestioned leader of a unit that might have some early growing pains.

Not that he's willing to accept any.

"As long as we have the right mindset, athletically we're capable of getting the job done,'' said Elimimian. "We're young in some areas, but that's not to say we can't be good in those areas.''

(Canadian Press)

BLUE BOMBERS SEASON PREVIEW

John Woods/Canadian Press
WINNIPEG - Matt Nichols seems to have found a favourite word to describe how the Blue Bombers offence will be this season.

In a scrum with reporters after Tuesday's practice, the quarterback used the word "explosive'' six times.

"I think we've got the guys here to make the explosive plays and to get us to that next level and get us over the hump,'' Nichols said.

"I think we have a championship team here and I think the offence is going to be extremely explosive.''

The team will have to wait a bit to ignite. Winnipeg has a bye the first CFL week and hits the new Mosaic Stadium field on July 1 against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Nichols took over Drew Willy's starting job when the team was 1-4 last season. He led them to an 11-7 record and a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011, which ended with a 32-31 loss to the B.C. Lions in the West Division semifinal.

He pointed to the team's 10 returning starters on offence, including the entire offensive line, as one of the reasons for his optimism that the club might just end its 26-year Grey Cup drought.

There's also continuity with all-star running back Andrew Harris and veteran receivers Darvin Adams, Clarence Denmark and Weston Dressler.

Canadian receiver Julian Feoli-Gudino should be a full-time starter after Rory Kohlert signed with Calgary, but veteran free-agent receiver Kenny Stafford was cut and has since joined the Edmonton Eskimos' practice roster.

Nichols praised the athleticism of new six-foot-four receiver L'Damian Washington, a 26-year-old lanky wideout who's overcome professional and personal odds to play pro ball.

Washington was five years old when his father was murdered. His mother died of a stroke at one of his basketball games when the Shreveport, La., native was 15.

The University of Missouri psychology grad has spent time with seven NFL clubs and two weeks on Edmonton's practice roster last September.

"I came here to put my best foot forward and that's all I can ask for,'' said Washington, noting he thought his career was over in 2015 after his calf muscle split and ripped off the bone.

Winnipeg's offence was fifth in the CFL in points (497) last season, sixth in net offence (361.8 yards per game), second for completion percentage (70.1) and second in giving up the fewest turnovers (30).

While fans are hoping the offence will build off last year's turnaround, the team's defence has some question marks.

The defence led the league last season in takeaways with a lofty 59, but was last in allowing passing yards (6,033), last in net offence (407.9 yards per game) and sixth against the run (88.6 yards per game).

Veteran cornerback Chris Randle said the secondary, which has new starting cornerback Brandon Alexander, knows what it has to fix.

"We took a huge step forward from years previous by causing turnovers and that's going to be our MO (modus operandi), but we have to understand our weaknesses to get better,'' said Randle, who's going into his sixth season.

"We know that we gave up explosion (plays) and half of them was based on just understanding where you're supposed to be and assignment.''

Winnipeg's 35 sacks finished seventh in the nine-team league and now there are two newcomers to the defensive line after last year's new guys, Euclid Cummings and Keith Shologan, were released.

Defensive end Jamaal Westerman will have former Toronto Argonauts Tristan Okpalaugo on the other end, with ex-Hamilton Tiger-Cat Drake Nevis joining six-year Bomber Jake Thomas in the middle. Okpalaugo was the East Division's most outstanding rookie in 2014, his first of two seasons with Toronto.

"I think there's question marks on everybody who doesn't make the Grey Cup,'' Westerman said.

"Overall, I think we're a better group.''

(Canadian Press)

STAMPEDERS SEASON PREVIEW

CFL.ca
CALGARY - There will be a few clenched jaws among the Calgary Stampeders when the Ottawa Redblacks are introduced as the defending Grey Cup champions Friday at TD Place Stadium.

The Stampeders open their 2017 season against a Redblacks team Calgary was heavily favoured to beat in last year's Grey Cup game, but didn't.

A 15-2-1 season and numerous individual player awards made for a successful 2016, but short of dominant because of a 39-33 overtime loss to the underdog Redblacks in November's Grey Cup.

For the Stampeders and their fans, the CFL's traditional Grey Cup rematch to open the season is a painful reminder of a championship that got away.

"The only way I can answer it is I'm glad we're playing Ottawa Week 1,'' said fullback Rob Cote, the longest-serving Stampeder in his 11th season.

"Why is a good question. Because why not? If you're going to play somebody, if you're going to get this thing started, it hurts to say, but let's go take a shot at the champs.''

The Stampeders also get the Redblacks in Week 2 for their home-opener at McMahon Stadium, but last-year talk likely won't be as prevalent as it will be heading into Friday's game.

"I'm really excited about getting this game out of the way,'' Stampeder safety and co-captain Joshua Bell said. "because we can start working on becoming the 2017 Grey Cup champions.

"Because until we play this game, everybody will talk about the 2016 Grey Cup champions.''

Continuity has been a Calgary hallmark since John Hufnagel took over as head coach and general manager in 2008.

He groomed Dave Dickenson for several seasons to replace him at coach in 2016, when Dickenson won the CFL's coaching award.

The Stampeders have retained their entire coaching staff from last year, 23 starters from the Grey Cup game and eight of nine CFL all-stars.

Quarterback and CFL Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell, rookie-of-the-year DaVaris Daniels at wide receiver and CFL top rusher Jerome Messam headline a deep, experienced offence.

But Calgary's front five must compensate for the loss of left tackle Derek Dennis, the CFL's top offensive lineman in 2016, to the Saskatchewan Roughriders via free agency.

CFL sack-leader Charleston Hughes, all-star cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Tommie Campell and defensive back Jamar Wall lead what should be a strong defence again.

Calgary also has an uncanny ability to unearth talent and plug it in when a starter gets injured.

Daniels is a prime example having started 2016 on the practice roster. The 24-year-old wideout became an impact player in the league when two players ahead of him on the depth chart were injured.

"We feel like the pieces of the puzzle are there, but we need to always tinker a little bit,'' Dickenson said.

"We weren't scared last year to put in Ciante Evans and Tommie Campbell at the corner position and I don't think anyone saw that coming. DaVaris came out of nowhere.

"There will be some more new faces, some new bodies that hopefully give us those wins that we're looking for.''

Mitchell, 27, is 43-7-1 in CFL starts and sits fifth all-time in Stampeder passing yards (14,649) after five seasons. He says he took some time before watching game tape of the Grey Cup.

"Not right away. Kind of let the healing process happen,'' the Texan said. "Film is film, so we had to watch it.

"Definitely something I'll carry with me for the rest of my career as far as a learning moment. It's good to have those.

"Every great player who has played in any league has always failed. I'm going to make sure I use that to my advantage to make sure it never happens again.''

Former Canadian university star Andrew Buckley of Calgary earned the backup job behind Mitchell with former NFL prospect Ricky Stanzi at third string.

(Canadian Press)

THREE PATS NAMED TO HOCKEY CANADA SUMMER SHOWCASE

Regina, Saskatchewan – Hockey Canada announced Tuesday that three members of the Regina Pats organization will take place in the upcoming men’s summer showcase.

Forward Sam Steel and defenceman Josh Mahura are among 42 players selected to attend Summer Development Camp in Plymouth, Michigan for the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Steel, a first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, was among the last cuts prior to last year’s World Junior’s. The Sherwood Park, Alberta product led the entire CHL in scoring in 2016/17 with 131 points, 50 of them goals. The reigning WHL Player of the Year has represented Canada at both the Under-17 and Under-18 tournaments, winning gold with the Canadian Under-18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2015.

Mahura, also a Ducks prospect, put up 53 points during the 2016/17 season and exploded for 21 points in 23 playoff games. The St. Albert, Alberta product was also a teammate of Steel’s on the 2015 Gold Medal winning Team Canada squad at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

Meanwhile prospect forward Cole Muir will attend the national under-17 development camp in Calgary. He is one of 111 players invited. A product of Vista, Manitoba, Muir scored 16 goals and had 32 points in 40 games with the Yellowhead Chiefs of the MMHL last season.

The Pats will also be represented by Assistant Coach and Assistant General Manager Dave Struch, who is the head coach of Team Canada Black at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge to be held in Dawson Creek & Fort St. John, BC in November; while Equipment Manager Gord Cochran will serve as the Equipment Manager for the Canadian U18 team headed to the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. Both Struch and Cochran were a part of Team Canada’s staff for the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

(Courtesy Phil Andrews/Pats PR)

KEVIN GLENN LEADS RIDERS INTO 2017 CFL SEASON

Kevin Glenn returns for his third tour in Sask
REGINA - Call it the comeback story that wasn't.

Among the Saskatchewan Roughriders' many off-season moves at quarterback, the signing of former Texas Longhorn and NFL quarterback Vince Young garnered the most attention.

But the 34-year-old, who hasn't played a regular-season NFL game since 2011, had his shot at cracking the Riders' 46-man roster cut short after he tore his hamstring at training camp on June 6, removing him from any pre-season play. The club cut Young 11 days later.

"It's disappointing that we didn't get to see him in the pre-season, because it's an easier time to be able to evaluate someone in a real game situation,'' said Roughriders general manager and head coach Chris Jones. "It was just unfortunate.''

The Riders opted to go with Canadian Brandon Bridge and rookie Marquise Williams to back up veteran starter Kevin Glenn, who signed with the team in January.

At 38 years old and with 16 years of CFL play-calling experience - including a Grey Cup loss in 2012 - Glenn takes over one of the worst offences in the league.

Saskatchewan's offence ranked last among CFL clubs in 2016 for points scored, touchdowns scored and passing touchdowns scored. It ranked second-last in rushing touchdowns scored, net offensive yards, first downs and sacks allowed.

After their team's dismal 5-13-0 finish, Jones and offensive co-ordinator Stephen McAdoo agreed the offence needed serious work: a sound running game, dependable blockers and consistent quarterback protection.

Jones believes the players he acquired in the off-season will meet those needs.

Offensive linemen Derek Dennis (2016's most outstanding lineman), Peter Dyakowski (a nine-year CFL veteran) and Dariusz Bladek (the Riders' second-round draft pick in 2017) should give Glenn the pass protection he needs.


Jones said he also wanted depth on the line in case of injures, building a group that can handle two starters going down.

He thinks that former Winnipeg running back Cameron Marshall can lock up the run game, and that Marshall's size is well suited for blocking.

"I like the fact that he's big and that he gets downhill,'' Jones said. "You've got to be able to put your head down and get us in second-and-medium.''

The 25-year-old's career average for yards gained per rush is 4.4 yards.

As for blocking on the perimeter, Jones said the offence will be solid with a healthy Naaman Roosevelt returning to the lineup and newly signed Bakari Grant, both of whom will start in the slotback position.

The addition of Grant was welcomed by Glenn, who played with the physical receiver in Hamilton in 2011.

"He's not afraid,'' Glenn said. "He's a receiver who acts like an offensive lineman sometimes, or acts like a defensive guy on the offensive side of the ball. He wants to hit you instead of you hitting him.

"Bringing another guy onto your team, onto your roster, with that kind of mentality is just going to feed off to other guys.''


Jones wasn't done with the offence. Along with Grant, he signed lanky, boisterous Duron Carter and speedster Chad Owens, further deepening the receiver position.

The three join an already talented group that includes Roosevelt, Rob Bagg, Caleb Holley and Ricky Collins Jr.

Roosevelt said the extra firepower through the air ups everyone's compete level.

"It just makes it better for all of us,'' he said. "I feel like we got the team to do it with coach Jones brining in the talent he brought in. I feel like we just got better than last year. So for us it's just to get the chemistry down and just win this Grey Cup this year.''

The Roughriders' first game is Thursday in Montreal against the Alouettes, who will be led by former Riders quarterback Darian Durant.

(Canadian Press/Evan Radford)


RIDERS HOLD FIRST PRACTICE IN NEW STADIUM


REGINA - Under sunny skies and in 19 degree Celsius temperatures, the Saskatchewan Roughriders held their first official practice in New Mosaic Stadium on Monday.  Here are some notes:

- Head Coach & GM Chris Jones said it was "pretty cool" to hold that first workout, and that the club gained an extra half hour because players didn't have to drive to the old training facility at Albert & Dewdney for "a lift". Jones also said the players enjoyed the meeting space in the lavish new facility.

- Monday's practice wasn't padded, and was something of an elevated walk-through as the club prepares for Thursday's season-opener at Montreal (5:30 pm, TSN, CKRM Rider Radio Network).

- Left Guard Brendon Labatte returned to the field after missing much of the past two weeks with a lower body injury. However veteran returner Chad Owens was absent.


- Regarding facing Darian Durant and the Alouettes on Thursday, most everyone downplayed the drama surrounding the game. LB Henoc Muamba smiled, "I'm sure he's going to want to beat us!" 

QB Kevin Glenn said he really has no idea what Darian's thinking leading up to the game. Glenn's been on several teams but never harboured any resentments towards his former clubs.

Chris Jones wasn't interested in taking any bait, and said the Riders have moved on as a football club.

 

- In fact they've moved on so much that rookie LB Cameron Judge wore #4 in his first practice with the team on Monday but had no idea the significance of the number, nor of the player who wore it before him.  Chris Jones said right now it looks like Judge will make his CFL debut on Thursday.

 

- The Riders signed FA DB Jovon Johnson (#17) on Monday, a recent cut of the Alouettes. Johnson said he'll be getting some time with the offensive coaches this week and telling them everything he knows about the Montreal players and offense.

Jones said they signed Johnson because of the injuries in the secondary the team has suffered in training camp and preseason games.

- Johnson was also a member of the 2007 Grey Cup-winning Roughriders but he left over a dispute and wound up selling his Grey Cup ring. He said Monday that he regrets that move and would like to get it back.

- Chris Jones also referred to Vince Young as "retired", two days after the club released the 34-year old quarterback. Jones said Young is back in Texas rehabbing his torn hamstring but if he's interested in rejoining the Roughriders, Jones said the team would be open to that.

- The Riders practice Tuesday at 11:00 AM before leaving for Montreal in the afternoon.

- The Riders visit the Alouettes in the season-opener Thursday at 5:30 pm on TSN and 620 CKRM.

- Montreal is favoured by 6.5-points.

- The forecast for Thursday's game is sunny and 24 degrees celsius.

RP
@rodpedersen

PLEASE KEEP THE GIRLS ON THE ICE!

The Saskachewan Hockey Association has made an unfortunate decision to ban out of town female hockey players from playing in larger centres where "All Girl" teams are available.

They are essentially forcing many girls to quit hockey!

Older girls would be forced to play on boys' contact hockey teams, dress in a separate change room and be isolated from their teammates.

Parents who are willing to pay their fees are dedicated team members and are willing to drive their children to a larger centre. They should have the choice to do so.

This is a backwards step for female hockey and is very disappointing to parents, coaches and above all, players. Unfortunately many girls will no longer have a place to play hockey. They are losing out on the incredible benefits of sport.

Please sign the petition here to help Keep Girls On The Ice!