* It's too bad so many people say they've soured on the NHL because of the work stoppage. For me, being without NHL hockey made me realize how much I love it and I'm ecstatic that it's back. However the most disappointing thing over the weekend was reading comments by NHL beat writers who were initially scorning the owners and players during the lockout. Then once the news came down that it was over, they ripped the owners and players for cheating the fans (and media) by not being able to settle their squabbles even though these guys finally have something to write and talk about. Such is the case with a lot of people in this business; they're not happy unless they're not happy.
* Not here! The NHL coming back is a positive thing and I'm pumped to get back into hockey in a big way. Perhaps I'll lean on these NHL contacts to provide a little more insider coverage in the months ahead. These guys know I'll never divulge their identities. But it's fun to be known somewhat as a "hockey pundit", at least on the Global Morning News. Friday morning I mentioned on their show the NHL lockout would come to an end over the weekend and Monday morning at 7:30 I'll be in-studio at Global discussing what's next. Thanks a lot for having me on! It's much appreciated.
* The end of this lockout has many people getting down on their knees and thanking God. In Minnesota the owners of the Eagle Street Grille in downtown Saint Paul actually issued a news release on Sunday. This is from co-owners Joe Kasel and Kevin Geisen:
"We are thrilled that the league and players have reached a tentative agreement. We look forward to the deal being finalized, the schedule being announced and hockey back at the X (Excel Energy Center).
We would like to express sincere gratitude to our loyal customers and dedicted staff for their support.
The lockout has had a dramatic impact on our business. We took the difficult, yet appropriate, measures to ensure our business's survival through this difficult time. Our staff and our customers are like family to us, we can't wait to have our hockey family back.
We look forward to a great season."
* What a smart and classy thing to do. Sending out the news release costs them nothing and if news outlets pick it up, it's free advertising. Good PR.
* Regina sports bar owners say they've been losing $20,000 per month because of the lockout. Now they can turn the taps back on.
* It was a treat listening to all the various comments from hockey fans around here in the past 48 hours with the news the lockout is coming to an end. "The Oilers are in mid-season form!" one Edmonton fan said, referring to the fact Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz and Yakupov have all been playing at a high level the past several months. A Leafs fan said "Toronto actually has a chance!", referring to the shortened season. For the first time in years the Maple Leafs are playing meaningful games in January. Everybody has a shot this year!
* Word came down on the weekend that the Dallas Stars plan to radically change their logo and jersey design in time for next season. My question is: WHY?! Why do people have to go around changing things all the time? I commented to Dale Derkatch at the Pats game the other night how nice it was to see the Pats' and Medicine Hat Tigers' jerseys. They virtually haven't changed since Day 1. The Tigers' sweaters certainly haven't.
* And how about those Regina Pats? They're smokin'! Sunday night the Queen City Kids downed the Brandon Wheat Kings 3-1 in the Brandt Centre for their fifth-straight win. Only Portland and Kelowna have longer current winning streaks. The Pats were up and down like a toilet seat prior to Christmas and were incredibly inconsistent. One minute they were getting shutout 7-0 by the Blades on Teddy Bear Toss Night and the next game they were shutting out the first-place P.A. Raiders. Weird.
This past Friday I took in the Pats and Tigers for more of a social outing than anything. Before the game and in between periods we recalled hockey stories with former Pats coaches Dale Derkatch and Leo McDonald and Leader Post sports editor Rob Vanstone in the media/scouts room. However on the ice, the Pats were forcing us to step up and take notice. Just like what was noted here in the MMG before Christmas, the addition of Colton Jobke and Chandler Stephenson would make a big difference. It surely has but everyone else is pulling on the rope as well. They are a fun team to watch and they work extremely hard. Head coach Pat Conacher does indeed have the Midas Touch.
* You hate to use injuries as an excuse, but in the Pats' case that certainly seems to be the reason for their first-half foibles.
* Having said all that, the prevailing feeling amongst the hockey crowd around here is that the Pats HAVE to deal off their assets at the trade deadline in order to fortify for the years ahead. Last year Chad Lang kept his cards and it paid off. No one would blame him for folding this time around. We shall see. Lang will discuss it with us on his regular weekly radio appearance Tuesday at 5:30 pm on the Sports Cage.
Okay, okay you may not have come here to talk hockey. Here are some football thoughts to begin a new work week:
* First and foremost our sympathies go out to the Toronto Argonauts and the family of Chandler Williams. They 27-year old wide receiver died while playing in a flag football game in South Florida over the weekend. Williams suited up for seven games for the Argos in 2012. Williams is survived by his fiancee, Vanitia Harrigan and daughter, Tori Williams.
* Happy Birthday to Rider alumni and staff who celebrated birthdays last week: Marcus Crandell (39), Tim Kearse (53) and Barron Miles (41). TODAY former Rider Hugh Charles turns 27. He's currently doing backflips with the Edmonton Eskimos.
* It's a Rider Monday in the Sports Cage but unfortunately due to a scheduling snafu, we will not have Rider GM Brendan Taman on the program. That's okay, Rider great Matt Dominguez will join us to discuss the latest on Canada's Team plus the NFL playoffs. The show airs 5-7 pm on 620 CKRM.
* Many, many Rider fans are upset about Craig Dickenson resigning as Rider special teams coach on Thursday and being named to the same position with Winnipeg the very next day. People aren't so worked up that he's gone, rather they think there should be tampering charges filed. However that's just not going to happen. There's nothing more here than meets the eye. The reasons for Dickenson's departure have been well-documented and the Riders allowed him to step down in good graces. There will be no tampering charges filed.
* Saturday afternoon was spent at the Mueller Museum watching NFL playoff action with Larry and Marc Mueller of Regina Rams fame. We put our heads together and tried to come up with some candidates for the vacant Rider special teams coach position. Some of those included Dave Easley, Jeff Reinbold and Jim Daley. It HAS to be someone with CFL experience. It may even be filled by someone on the current staff.
* Larry needled me that I haven't worked since Grey Cup. Initially I was offended but then I conceded he's pretty much right. That ends Monday as I'll be back in the Sports Cage chair. But I DID go somewhere warm for that break between December 13 and today. MY COUCH! Barely left it and it was glorious.
* There are grumblings that free agent defensive end Odell Willis has NFL tryouts lined up but I asked him over the weekend and got no response. Knowing him, I'd imagine that if he HAD something lined up he'd be letting everyone in the world know.
* Speaking of the NFL, Saturday's news that the Chicago Bears plan to interview Marc Trestman for the head coach's position caught everyone off-guard. There was also word over the weekend that Jim Popp will interview for the Carolina Panthers GM job so there's potential for a massive cave-in for the Alouettes as both their head coach and GM could move on to the NFL. Owner Bob Wetenhall should be flattered, not worried.
* The most exciting game on Wildcard Weekend was the Seattle-Washington match with a bushel of big plays to go around. The rest of the match-ups were anti-climactic.
* Last week the New York Jets signed long-snapper Travis Tripucka. He is the grandson of legendary Roughrider and Bronco quarterback Frank "The Trigger" Tripucka.
* Quick - which NFL team sells the most amount of merchandise in Canada?
If you said "the New England Patriots", you'd be right.
* How long can the Roughriders afford to wait on their nexts offensive line coach? Bob Wylie is at the top of their wishlist however it's clear he will exhaust every NFL opportunity before returning to the CFL. How long will that take?
* The 2013 CFL season will be the 25th in the CKRM broadcast booth for Carm Carteri has radio colour commentator. Consider this as an official nomination for him to get into the Roughrider Plaza of Honor for his dedication and contributions to the franchise.
* The Seattle Seahawks added play-by-play man Pete Gross (1976-1992) to their Ring of Honor in 1992.
* The champion of college football will be crowned tonight as Alabama takes on Notre Dame. This blogger is cheering for the Crimson Tide, for a variety of reasons.
* Saturday night at Kevin Dureau's surprise 40th birthday party at the Press Box Sports Bar, Carm and I were discussing the return of Ottawa to the CFL. Neither of us can wait for it to happen. Here are some artist renditions of the renovated Ottawa stadium from CFL.ca:
* Who will be Ottawa's GM? A decision is said to be coming before the end of the month and Duane Forde seems to be a popular candidate. However would ownership, and fans, be eager to turn the fledgling franchise over to a managerial rookie?
* Seperated at Birth?: Former Sask NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter and former Ravens coach Brian Billick, now of the NFL Network.
* CKRM football analyst John Lynch was a good enough sport to dress up as Santa Claus for Access 7's children's programming over the holidays. Here's a photo:
* Congratulations to Mitchell Blair for becoming a full-time employee of Harvard Broadcasting. It was announced on Friday that "Scruffy" is joining our news department at 620 CKRM and I couldn't be happier for him or us. It'll be great to have an emergency host or co-host available just down the hall!
* Tim Horton's new slogan "Canada's Favourite Coffee" is a bold one, wouldn't you say?
* Don't forget the Press Box Sports Bar's Monday lunch special of All You Can Eat Soup & Salad for $7.99. It's a real treat.
Here come the big boys.
The NFL's wild-card weekend is over, with nary an upset. Moving on are division winners Green Bay, Houston and Baltimore, along with NFC West runner-up Seattle and the only rookie quarterback still standing: Russell Wilson.
Ahead are some daunting challenges as the Ravens visit Denver, the Texans go to New England, the Packers head to San Francisco and the Seahawks journey to Atlanta.
Only the Seahawks-Falcons isn't a rematch.
Seattle isn't intimidated one bit about facing the NFC's top seed.
"Despite the fact that we have a 'nobody' team,'' Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said after Sunday's convincing 24-14 comeback win at Washington, "a team not full of first-rounders and things like that, we have a lot of guys that play at a high level.''
Of course, so do the Falcons (13-3), Broncos (13-3), Patriots (12-4) and 49ers (11-4-1).
"They have a great coach and a great quarterback and they have great role players on their team,'' Texans running back Arian Foster said of the Patriots, who routed Houston 42-14 last month. "I have a lot of respect for them, but we can play ball, too.''
The Texans beat Cincinnati 19-13 on Saturday, then Green Bay took out Minnesota 24-10. In Sunday's other game, Baltimore eliminated Indianapolis 24-9.
The playoffs continue next Saturday with Baltimore (11-6) at Denver, followed by Green Bay (12-5) at San Francisco. The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 three weeks ago, while the 49ers knocked off the Packers 30-22 in the season opener.
On Sunday, it's Seattle (12-5) at Atlanta, followed by Houston (13-4) visiting New England.
Ravens at Broncos
Not only is Baltimore thrilled to keep playing and keep star linebacker Ray Lewis' career going, but the Ravens got the opponent they sought for the divisional round.
"I wanted Denver,'' said Anquan Boldin, who set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown against Indianapolis (11-6). "Because they beat us. We'll make it different.''
Lewis made 13 tackles in his first game back in nearly three months. He ended his last home game in Baltimore before his impending retirement by lining up at fullback for the final kneel-down. Then Lewis went into a short version of his trademark dance before being mobbed by teammates. He followed with a victory lap, his right triceps, covered by a brace, held high in salute to the fans.
Joe Flacco became the first quarterback to win a post-season game in each of his first five seasons and John Harbaugh is the first coach to do so.
"I love our team,'' Lewis said, "and I'm really looking forward to going out there and playing them next week.''
The loss ended the Colts' turnaround season in which they went from 2-14 to the playoffs in coach Chuck Pagano's first year in Indianapolis. Pagano missed 12 weeks while undergoing treatment for leukemia and returned last week.
Andrew Luck completed 28 of 54 passes, the most attempts by a rookie in a playoff game, for 288 yards.
Packers at 49ers
It's been a long time since these teams met on kickoff weekend, and much has changed.
Green Bay has become a bit more balanced on offence and somewhat stingier on defence than it was back in September. San Francisco has second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick instead of Alex Smith, and receiver Michael Crabtree finally has developed into a threat.
The Packers held league rushing king Adrian Peterson to 99 yards in beating the Vikings (10-7), 100 yards less than he got on them the previous week.
"I don't think we had our identity at that point,'' QB Aaron Rodgers said of the Packers team San Francisco beat. "We were trying a lot of different things.''
Seahawks at Falcons
Atlanta has flopped in its last three playoff games, including losing at home to Green Bay two years ago in a similar scenario.
Seattle won't bring as high-powered an offence as the Packers did to Atlanta, but it's versatile enough with the creative Wilson, bulldozing halfback Marshawn Lynch and a deep group of receivers.
The most significant challenge for the Falcons, though, will be a defence that completely shut down the Redskins and a hobbling Robert Griffin III for the final three quarters of their wild-card game.
Washington (10-7) had 129 yards in the first quarter and 74 for the rest of the game.
"Seventy yards in 3 1/2 quarters is ridiculously good defence,'' coach Pete Carroll said after his Seahawks won their sixth straight and snapped Washington's seven-game winning streak.
Texans at Patriots
Both teams say the Monday night romp by New England on Dec. 10 is not an indicator of what's ahead. For their sake, the Texans better hope that is true.
"We didn't play our best football up there and we hurt ourselves with penalties and mistakes,'' said Foster, who rushed for 140 yards and a TD against the Bengals (10-7). "Anytime you give (the Patriots) opportunities, they'll take advantage of them. But we'll play our best up there.''
They have no choice, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick fully expects a tighter game.
"When you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different. They never go the same way,'' Belichick said. "We'll be able to certainly look at some of the matchups individually, guys that faced each (other) in the game. As far as plays and calls and things like that matching up, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles. I'm sure we'll have some, too. It will be totally different.''
OK THAT'S IT - BACK TO WORK! TUNE INTO GLOBAL AT 7:30 IF YOU GET A CHANCE
(With files from AP)