Saturday, March 23, 2019
2 - OH CANADA: Regina Minor Football boss Len Antonini is considered one of the country's leaders in minor football. I was with him Friday and posed the "ratio question". It took him an hour to make up his mind, so that tells you how much of a photo finish this issue is. However he doesn't believe a ratio reduction would be a good thing. In fact he thinks it would be bad for minor football and young Canadian players who grow up dreaming of winning a Grey Cup. Registration numbers are steady and concussions are WAY down in recent years. He's met with Ambrosie on all of these topics. Meanwhile Lenny says the Top 3 football-playing provinces in Canada are Saskatchewan, Quebec and Alberta, in no particular order.
3 - COMBINING: Some pundits and fans scoff at the notion of football combines but one fact remains: the kids participating at the CFL National Combine this weekend have been waiting for this opportunity their whole life and that needs to be respected. That includes Regina product Brayden Lenius-Dickey (pictured), whose family is at this weekend's event in Toronto. Brayden is the son of former Rider WR Troy Dickey and was raised my his Mom Shauna, whom I've known for years. The Riders have been lacking in local content for some time now, and I'm praying Brayden ends up in Green & White. Meanwhile Regina product Kade Belyk of the Guelph Gryphons posted a tidy 4.67 in the 40-yard dash at the Ontario regional combine. This is actually really interesting stuff to follow and CFL.ca has live coverage.
4 - CFL LIVE DRAFT: Sources tell me the CFL has explored the possibility of an NFL- or NHL-style Draft to be held in Toronto, live on TSN. It's probably time for a bold move like this for the Canadian College Draft since this hasn't been tried since the early 1990's. We're living in a much different world now. I'm told the Live Draft won't happen in 2019, but there's a good chance it will next year.
6 - AAF: Are you watching the Alliance of American Football? Will you now that Johnny Manziel is in the league? I've been watching it all along on NFL Network and enjoyed it a lot, even if one veteran CFL coach labelled the calibre of play "average". This week the AAF announced its championship game is moving from 40,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas to Dallas, and the Cowboys' 12,000-seat practice facility. The NFL - particularly Jerry Jones - is a huge backer of this league and will continue to pour money into it in the early stages. They need a developmental league such as this, and it's great for everybody all around. And as far as the CFL goes, competition is a good thing.
7 - #HUMBOLDTSTRONG: Where to start? The Humboldt Broncos are back in the SJHL Playoffs and the road to the RBC. My heart swelled to walk into the Elgar Petersen Arena Monday night for Game 3 against Estevan. Here's what I can report: the Broncos are playing with an incredible amount of heart and pride - for a myriad of reasons - but the Bruins aren't rolling over for them. Meanwhile the cloud is lifting in Humboldt. It's not gone, but there are smiles in the EPA. It's an amazing community. Always has been. And they were very welcoming Monday night.
8 - LUBIE: Over to Saskatoon, where we found ourselves Friday night to witness Game 1 between the Warriors and Blades. Being invited to sit with Blades legends Darryl Lubienicki, Lorne Molleken and Jack Brodsky was another reason for my heart to pound. Apparently this trio hadn't been together for quite some time and it was amazing to watch the NHL scouts, one by one, come by and shake all their hands throughout the game. Lubie regaled me with story after story, but my favourite was of him "saving Mike Babcock's life" after Dave Brown was beating him to a pulp IN PRACTICE in the early 1980's. Apparently Babs disputes this story, but witnesses swear it's true.
9 - KILLER: The rumour making the rounds at SaskTel Centre Friday night is that the next coach of the SJHL's La Ronge Ice Wolves will be none other than Blades great Kevin Kaminski. The Churchbridge, SK product played 139 NHL games and is currently head coach of the WSHL's Fresno Monsters. I HATED Kaminski in the 80's but now we talk all the time. Turns out we're cut from the same cloth. LIFE!
10 - GO CRAZY SASKATCHEWAN: I'm being urged to write a book on my generation in the broadcast booth with Canada's Team. You know, inside stories on Cal Murphy/Al Ford, Danny Barrett/Roy Shivers, Jim Hopson, Kent Austin/Eric Tillman, Corey Chamblin/Brendan Taman and Chris Jones. The only trouble is, I'm 46 years old! Jim Hopson didn't take over the Riders until he was 54. Marc Trestman didn't come to the CFL till he was 52. Who writes their memoirs before the story is over? The best is yet to come!
Dan Dawson and Casey Jackson added two goals and five points apiece for the Seals (8-4) while Austin Staats also chipped in with a pair of goals.
Ben McIntosh led the Rush (6-6) with three goals and three assists while Jeff Shattler added two goals and two assists.
Frank Scigliano made 39 saves for the win as Adam Shute made 43 saves in defeat.
Darren Hackwood, the CFL's senior director of officiating, said Friday's recommendation came the result of commissioner Randy Ambrosie's annual cross-country visit with fans. Currently, CFL head coaches have just one challenge per game.
"He basically asked the fans what they thought about that one . . . and they all kind of were overwhelmingly in favour of letting that happen,'' Hackwood said. "So (Ambrosie) brought that to the rules committee and coaches were in favour of it as well.
"Obviously the discussion was around if they have to use their challenge early in the game having another one if something big happens at the end was a good thing.''
The rules committee consists of CFL head coaches, GMs, team presidents, league officials and one representative of the CFL Players' Association. Its recommendations will go to the league's board of governors, which will render a decision later this spring.
The committee is also proposing the command centre be able to upgrade a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty to 25 yards for a direct blow to a quarterback's head or neck with the helmet. The defender must have had a clear view of the quarterback and there be no mitigating circumstances on the play like the quarterback ducking.
The committee would also like the command centre to help game officials with called and non-called roughing-the-passer penalties. That would include instances where an obvious call was missed because a referee's view was blocked.
Another recommendation is that a play be whistled dead any time a quarterback carrying the ball gives himself up by sliding with any part any part of his body. Currently, a quarterback can only give himself up by sliding feet first.
Those proposals, Hackwood said, put an emphasis on player safety and further protecting the quarterback.
"We want to make the quarterback a focus, for sure, and player safety in general,'' Hackwood said. "There were kind of three points going into the rules committee and player safety was No. 1.
"Second was looking for ways to improve the game and the third was trying to make the game easier to officiate.''
Other recommendations include:
- A 10-yard objectionable conduct call be made for diving.
- The command centre be able to upgrade spearing to a 25-yard penalty when a defender delivers a blow with the top of his helmet and has a clear view of the opponent. Also, there can't be any mitigating circumstances such as the opponent ducking his head.
- A player receiving two 25-yard penalties in a game be disqualified.
- A kicked or thrown football remain live instead of becoming a dead ball when it touches a goal-post ribbon.
- The command centre being able to assist on-field officials in calling penalties when the injury spotter has intervened in a player-safety situation.
- The command centre be allowed to assist on-field officials with called and non-called roughing-the-kicker penalties.
- Removing the stipulation that a defender be allowed to contact a kicker's plant leg without penalty if the defender has touched the ball before contact.
- Clarifying the definition of spearing to be when a player uses the top of his helmet as the primary contact point to deliver a blow.
- Making the use of three or more wedge blockers on kicking plays illegal.
- A defensive player not being allowed to deliver a forcible blow to the long snapper while the snapper's head is down and he's in a vulnerable position.
If the recommendations are accepted, it will mean the command centre being utilized more during games.
"Technology has got better,'' Hackwood said. "If the referee doesn't have a clear picture of what happened he can turn on his headset and ask the replay official for help.
"We don't see that being a full-on stop ... it's like a quick, 'Hey, I think that was roughing the passer. Do you guys see anything different? No, then here's the flag and let's go on.'''
(Canadian Press/Dan Ralph)
Friday, March 22, 2019
You decide. This is what Manziel said, as captured by Memphis News reporter Jason Munz:
"Not seeing a 12th guy on the field, and not seeing an extra person. This is what I've done my entire life. This is back to the football that I know; protections, run game, the coverages. I know what I'm doing. I've played two years at a very high level and as high level as you can play in college football. I've learned this game to a point and that's the biggest thing. It's back to what I've known my entire life. It's not learning a new game. That's what it is."
As far as the rest of his session went, Manziel was happy with his first day.
"Fun day! Good practice," Manziel revealed. "I thought there was a lot of energy. Thought we did some good things. Fun. Everyday is going to keep getting better. Keep coming out and do what I can do to try and give my best everyday. It's all about effort. Come out, put all the effort in, put the time in in the playbook and come out and see if you can't execute on the field.
Manziel was asked if he's simply happy to have the pads back on.
"Yeah just the whole, what this is," Manziel shrugged. "Being around a team, being out having organized practices, getting reps, throwing routes, getting back into the mix. Felt a little bit rusty today but that'll wear off with getting to know these guys and getting to know the system a little bit better. As the days go on, each day will be better and better. I can promise you that.
"What I can do is come out and give good effort. I can come out and put time into my playbook, making sure I know things like the back of my hand. Come out and keep working everyday whether it's footwork, whether it's ball-placement, whether it's getting the ball to come out of my hand a little bit better which I feel it didn't come out as good as I normally throw it today. A new environment, a little bit windy, no excuses but I'm going to keep working at it everyday."
--If the intention of whomever gave Justin Dunk the information about reducing the Canadian player ratio in the CFL was to divide the union, then mission accomplished. Since that news came out there have been a thousand different takes on it. A lot of them are solid arguments on both sides.
There are plenty of quality Canadians who have shown they can play the game whether it be on this side of the border or in the NFL. There needs to be a spot for these Canadians to play. It is as simple as that. You can argue all you want on a variety of other things and at the end of the day, you will be right in some areas and wrong in the other. There is a lot of gray area.
The thing that gets me is the outrage of the fans. Hardcore CFL fan or not, the bottom line is 90 percent of you don't care where a player is from, you just care about how good he is and whether or not he can help your team win. The proof in that is the fact many of you thumb your nose at University and Junior Football. You show that by not attending games whether it be in Regina, Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg. I have said time and time again that Canada West Football produces players that you have no idea about until they are drafted. When that narrative begins to change, then the fans discord on the ratio will matter, but right now it doesn't.
I don't think the ratio should change. I think it could go up a couple because there are a lot of players who either don't get the chance they deserve with their current team or they simply don't get a chance period. If the idea is to reduce Canadians to add Mexicans, Germans, Italians etc. etc than that is wrong as well.
If the league and the PA are serious on this topic, they are walking a very slippery slope and one that could have drastic repercussions at the grassroots level.
--I have to admit I was surprised to see Dakoda Shepley sign on with the Riders when he did. I thought he would take another shot at finding NFL employment. Shepley is a beast. He was a force at UBC ( again many would know that if they watched the T-Birds play when he was there) . He makes what is a solid Rider o-line even better. Add with him Labatte, Bladek, Blake and Clark and the Canadian depth the green-and-white have in that area may be the league's best.
--The first CFL mock draft I have seen is out. Mock drafts are what they are and we all know you can't put a lot of stock into them, but the one on CFL.ca has the Riders taking DL Robbie Smith from Laurier. Is DL an area of need for the green-and-white when it comes to Canadian talent? You can never go wrong with an o-lineman and as always there are a lot out there, but I would like to see the team maybe upgrade its Canadian talent at RB. There are a couple of good Canadian RB's out there in Maleek Irons and Brady Oliviera, but I don't know if you take either at 6. It's always at this time of year when I am fascinated by what goes through organization's minds and the mock draft after mock draft after mock draft that they engage themselves in. I would love to be able to sit in a war room one night and watch things go down.
--A video of Johnny Manziel has surfaced in which he talks about the CFL. Some believe Manziel is cutting down the league in his interview with reporters in Memphis. I think he is being kind. He talks about the 12th man and how uncomfortable he was up here,
--Mike Trout is making $430 million to play baseball. I'll just leave this here.
--Opening day is now less than a week away. Who's taking next Thursday off?
--It's time to get real in the WHL as the playoffs begin tonight. The Moose Jaw-Saskatoon series should be fascinating. On one side of the blueline is a Moose Jaw team that has not had a lot of playoff success with some very good teams---teams better than this one against a Blades squad that is stacked and has not been to the playoffs for a while. I could give you a lot of reasons as to why Saskatoon wins and a lot of reasons as to why Moose Jaw does. This should be a great matchup. It's a coin toss to me, but I will take Saskatoon just for the fact I think they have the better goalie in Nolan Maier. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to go to WHL Live to watch some playoff games around here? The fact the WHL doesn't have a TV deal outside of the one Access has with the Pats is just wrong. It hurts the overall product.
--The Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched first place in the NHL overall standings. They are the team many figure will win the Stanley Cup and for good reason. With the season they are having, do they deserve to be called one of the best of all-time. You have to win 16 games in the playoffs to ensure that, but is this Tampa team as good as those Islander and Oiler teams of the 80's the Wings of the 90\s and the Habs of the 70's?
I don't think there is any doubt Nikita Kucherov is the league's MVP, but would you give Andrei Vasilevskiy the Vezina? Would you give Jon Cooper the Coach of the Year Trophy. I wouldn't be. You can't ignore what the Lightning have done this season, but are they the best team we have seen in the last few years? I guess that debate will start if they win the Cup.
--Jaskirat Sidhu gets sentenced in Melfort today for what happened April 6, 2018. I truly don't know what type of sentence he will get, but whatever it is, will it be enough? I'd like to say he will get at least 5 years.
--Motley Crue has done a remix of Madonna's "Like A Virgin". Why? I repeat why? WHYYYYY??!!
That's all I got. Have a great weekend!
Thursday, March 21, 2019
But first, let’s go back a couple of days:
1 - TIEBREAKER - Where were you Tuesday night? If you weren’t at your computer, smart phone, tablet, etc. watching the WHL’s first tiebreaker since 2016 you missed out. The arena in Kamloops was packed to the rafters as the Blazers knocked off the visiting Kelowna Rockets to earn the final berth in the 2019 playoffs. Listening to Blazers’ broadcaster Jon Keen call the third period was a treat. What a scene!
2 - SAS (2) vs MJ (3) - This series will be a lot of fun. There is plenty of animosity built up between these two provincial rivals and that could spill over into an emotional opening-round series.
The Warriors boast the best line in junior hockey. The trio of 20-year-old Tristin Langan, 19-year-old (now 20) Justin Almeida, and 17-year-old rookie scoring leader Brayden Tracey combined for 122 goals and 305 points. The talend drops off significantly after that but they do boast a talented back end led by the Eastern Conference defenceman-of-the-year and Montreal Canadian’s prospect Josh Brook.
On the other side, the surging Blades are loaded with depth. Up front, five players recorded at least 65 points and 10 had at least 30. Former Medicine Hat Tiger Gary Haden along with former Portland sniper Ryan Hugues each hit the 30-goal mark while former Tiger Max Gerlach lead the team with 42. Kirby Dach may be ready to make a final statement before the upcoming NHL entry draft after a season in which the top prospect registered 73 points in 62 games. The back end has been retooled to add veteran leadership with the top-four being made up of Dawson Davidson (20), Nolan Kneen (19), Brandon Schuldhaus (20), and Reece Harsch (19). Davidson matched Brook for the lead in WHL defensive scoring with 75 points, leading the Blades.
I’ll take the Blades in four, but, make no mistake, this will be a battle.
3 - PA (1) vs RD (WC2) - The Raiders are good. They can score, play hard and physical defensively, and Ian Scott is among the best goaltenders in the country. In a season in which Prince Albert captured the Scotty Munroe trophy as regular season champions, they also won three of four meetings with the Rebels.
The Rebels have a chance at the upset if they improve their power play (just 1/12 in the season series) and continue to stay out of the penalty box (PA had just seven chances in the four games). Brandon Hagel registered 41 goals and 102 points to lead the Rebels and must be a factor in this series. Reese Johnson is also one of the best faceoff men in the league, a skill very important this time of year.
Red Deer will win one at home, but ultimately the Raiders will be take it in five.
4 - LET (2) vs CGY (3) - This series will be a lot of fun! Lethbridge went 5-1-0-0 in the season series including the last five. The Hurricanes are led by a pair of former Regina Pats’ stars in Nick Henry (94 points) and Jake Leschyshyn (40 goals). Highly-touted draft prospect Dylan Cozens finished second on the team with 84 points while 20-year-old Jake Elmer finished the season on an 18-game point streak (19g, 16a). Watch out for 21-year-old Taylor Ross. The Kronau, SK native recorded 69 points in 68 games and was magical last spring, posting 22 points in 16 games as the Canes made their way to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Calgary Hitmen were written off early in the season but stormed back in a big way to make the postseason. They are dynamite on the powerplay at 27.9% overall and even better on the road (34.5%). Up front, James Malm is a wizard with the puck on his stick and Mark Kastelic led all WHL players with 24 powerplay goals. Both led the team with 77 points.
My x-factor in the series could be 18-year-old (now 19) goaltender Carl Stankowski. Remember him? He led the Seattle Thunderbirds to a WHL Championship as a 16-year-old but has been battling injuries ever since. He’s back and healthy and could use that experience to fuel the Hitmen.
Flip a coin because I think it will go the distance. In the end, Lethbridge will continue their quest to appear in a third-straight conference final.
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5 - EDM (1) vs MH (WC1) - The Oil Kings went 5-0-0-1 in the season series and enter the playoffs having won 11-in-a-row. Trey Fix-Wolansky turned in a phenomenal regular season registering 37 goals and 102 points to lead the Oil Kings while Medicine Hat boasts three 30-goal scorers.
In goal, 19-year-old (now 20) Dylan Myskiw played in all six meetings with the Tigers putting up a 1.79 goals-against-average and a sparkling .940 save percentage. On the other side, former Regina Pats’ goaltender Jordan Hollett, and import goaltender Mads Sogaard split time in the crease. But, it was the Aalborg, Denmark product Soogard who put up the more impressive numbers. The 2019 draft prospect recorded 19 wins in 37 appearances, a 2.64 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage.
The Tigers will be a handful but ultimately I see Edmonton moving on in six.
6 - VIC (2) vs KAM (3) - The Blazers, fresh off over half a dozen must-win games down the stretch including the tiebreaker just to get into the playoffs, meet the Victoria Royals in the opening round and that seems like a good place to start.
The Royals took five of the nine meetings this season but Kamloops won the last three including an 8-0 win just eight days ago. The Blazers’ 17-year-old Connor Zary of Saskatoon may be one to watch. He’s riding a six-game point streak including multi-point games in each of the last three (1g, 1a in the tiebreaker). For Victoria, their success will be dependent on the play of 20-year-old goaltender Griffen Outhouse. The Likely, BC product has 20-games of playoff experience and, after playing 60+ games in each of the last two seasons, appeared in just 49 games this season.
Take the red hot Blazers in 6.
7 - VAN (1) vs SEA (WC2) - Let’s stay out west and turn our attention to Vancouver and Seattle. These two were separated by a whopping 31 points in the standings but split the season series. Both of these teams have been hot down the stretch but the nationally-ranked Giants are deep. Nine players recorded at least 35 points led by 20-year-old Davis Koch with 78. Defenceman Bowen Byram might be the top draft prospect in the country and was third on the team with 26 goals and second with 71 points. Leading the way for Seattle is 19-year-old Matthew Wedman who joined the 40-goal club and lead the team with 77 points. Nolan Volcan provides leadership and was a part of the 2017 WHL Champion T-Birds. He has 49-games of playoff experience.
In the season series (split 2-2), both teams won their games on the road. Still, I like the Giants in five.
8 - SPO (2) vs POR (3) - Separated by just a single point in the standings and splitting the season series, this has the potential to be one of the best opening-round series in a while.
Spokane had seven players reach 50-points compared to five for Portland. But the Winterhawks boast the league’s leading scorer in 20-year-old San Jose Sharks’ prospect Joachim Blichfeld who had a whopping 114 points and 53 goals. Right behind him is 19-year-old Vegas Golden Knights’ first-round draft pick Cody Glass who put up 69-points in just 38 games. Riley Woods will be someone to watch for the Chiefs. The 20-year-old from Regina lead the team in scoring and put up 14-points (4g, 10a) in the six game season series.
The edge for the Chiefs may be on special teams. They boast the league’s top-ranked power play unit at 29.1% and were over 35% in the season series.
Still, I’ll give Portland the edge in a hard-fought seven-game series.
9 - EVT (1) vs TC (WC1) - In the eight-game season series Everett won five times including the last three. The Silvertips finished with 99-points while the Americans limped into the postseason having dropped their last five games and nine of their last 10.
Minnesota Wild prospect Connor Dewar put up 81 points in 59 games to lead the way for Everett but their edge comes in goal… big surprise. In his first full season as a starter, 17-year-old Dustin Wolf played in 61 of the Tips’ 68 games and was sensational, setting a new franchise mark with 41 wins. Along the way he put up a league-best 1.69 goals-against-average and .936 save percentage. Oh, and he had seven shutouts too.
Beck Warm might be the equalizer for Tri-City though. The 19-year-old played in all eight games against the Silvertips and recorded a .941 save percentage.
I’ll take Everett in four.
10 - LOTTERY BALLS - The WHL held its annual draft lottery on Wednesday morning and it was the Winnipeg Ice who won it. They’ll have the first overall selection in this May’s bantam draft. The top picks look like this:
1 - Winnipeg Ice
2 - Prince George Cougars (acquired from Swift Current)
3 - Saskatoon Blades (acquired from Regina)
4 - Prince George Cougars
5 - Kelowna Rockets
6 - Brandon Wheat Kings
That’s it for today. Get some rest and get ready for the playoffs! Talk to you next week
(Follow Darren on Twitter at @darrendupont)
The national combine takes place after three regional combines across Canada: the Western Regional Combine in Edmonton, Eastern Regional Combine in Montreal, and Thursday’s Ontario Regional Combine in Toronto.
CFL.ca will provide two days of live programming featuring play-by-play commentary from Combine Analyst Marshall Ferguson as well as analysis from CFL.ca host Brodie Lawson and former all-star defensive back Davis Sanchez.
Coverage begins on Saturday, March 23 with the Bench Press, where prospects showcase their brute strength. Sunday features a jam-packed day of programming where players blaze through the ultimate test of speed and acceleration in the 40-Yard Dash before letting their play do the talking. The Combine culminates with the Individual Player and 1-on-1 Drills as part of the on-field testing where prospects strap up the pads and prove to scouts and general managers why they should be cemented on the draft boards of teams across the league.
Fans can follow along with up-to-the minute stats, results and leaderboards on the CFL.ca home page followed by extensive analysis as the road to the Draft continues.
In addition to the top Canadian prospects, 18 ‘global’ players from Denmark, Germany, Finland, France and Italy will participate.
(Lucas Barrett/CFL PR)