NEW YEAR'S OBSERVATIONS
* THE TALK ON COFFEE ROW: While getting an oil change for the Titan Auto SportsCage cruiser on Thursday afternoon, I wandered over to a local coffee shop to kill an hour. It's one of my favourite pastimes; sitting alone with an XL-double cream coffee and eavesdropping on the discussion at nearby tables. Creepy? Possibly. Good show prep? Absolutely.
The discussion on this day was of Canada's 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Switzerland at the 2014 WJHC in Sweden earlier in the day. "Did you watch the game Al?" is how it started, with one plaid-clad man questioning another. Al perched his ballcap on the back of his head, stirred his java and confirmed that yes, he had indeed tuned into the TSN telecast. They generally concurred that the contest wasn't the most exciting of all-time but Canada played a solid game. Most everyone around the table agreed that Canada won't be stopped the rest of the way, and our country will claim its first World Junior gold medal since Ottawa in 2009 when Jordan Eberle became a national hero.
It was also interesting to note that the Roughriders weren't brought up once in this particular discussion. That's rare in this province. However I have an interesting Rider tidbit further down in the column.
* NEXT UP, FINLAND: Team Canada will face Finland in a semifinal Saturday morning with a trip to the gold medal game on the line. For my money, the most dominant players in Canada's quarterfinal victory were forward Nick Petan and goalie Zach Fucale. Petan, whose club team is the Portland Winterhawks, is absolutely magical with the puck. What a shame East Division WHL fans won't get to see him live this season. However that's a topic for another day. He was apparently unaffected by signing an NHL contract with the Winnipeg Jets over New Year's.
As for Fucale, it says here he will be Canada's next dominant goaltender in the NHL. Why was he not starting all along in this tournament? The Halifax Mooseheads puckstopper already has a Memorial Cup championship on his resume and a World Junior Gold Medal would really strengthen his cause. Of course the last great Canadian goaltender to come out of the junior ranks is Montreal's Carey Price. Incidentally it was the Canadiens who drafted Fucale last June. CBC's Kelly Hrudey and I had this discussion once - about the lack of top-tier Canadian goalies in the NHL - and the former Medicine Hat Tiger concluded that it's "cyclical". It's just been a very long cycle.
* GIVE RAMBO A MEDAL: Has anybody noticed the tireless work of TSN play-by-play man Dave Randorf and colour commentator Craig Button at the World Juniors? By my count Randorf, nicknamed "Rambo", called at least three games back-to-back on Thursday. It might have even been four, I just happened to catch him on three. TSN went with the curious move of carrying the TV audio on their TSN Radio broadcasts for their affiliate stations across the country with Jim Tatti and Jack Miller anchoring the intermissions. Unfortunately you can't get the radio broadcasts in this area unless you subscribe to Sirius/XM satellite radio's NHL channel. Country 100.7 in Moose Jaw has habitually carried Canada's games but I couldn't find them on the dial locally over the holidays. What a shame.
* WE WALK AMONG YOU:
Hey Rod, we were in Malmo, Sweden. I have Kevin McGran from the Toronto star and Julie Robenheyer from hockeybuzz in Rider gear.
Bob and Karen Richardson from Melville
Rider season ticket holders
* WEYBURN'S ON FIRE: The Hospitality Capital of Saskatchewan could also bill itself as the Sports Capital of the province these days. Weyburn's Derrick Pouliot, also of the Portland Winterhawks, put the Switzerland game away with a late goal prompting this Tweet from fellow Weyburnite Graham DeLaet of PGA fame: "@GrahamDeLaet: Good ol Weyburn boy ices this thing against the Suisse. #teamcanada #worldjuniors".
The junction of 13 and 39. The KFC buffet. Mac. Spinner Spencer. Weyburn certainly has a ton to puff its chest out about. I simply can not wait to get down there for the Weyburn Red Wings annual fundraising dinner on January 18 along with Kory Sheets, Curtis Joseph and Duane Ward. We certainly have plenty of catching up to do.
* WILL EBERLE BE IN OR OUT?: There weren't a lot of surprises when USA Hockey announced its Olympic team roster this week. However Canada's roster selections will be endlessly debated when they are unveiled on Tuesday. Canada had three Reginans in their summer ball hockey camp: Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz and Jordan Eberle. It might be presumptious to expect all three to make the final cut. With the much-publicized struggles of Eberle's Oilers, not to mention his personal six-game goalless drought which was recently snapped, Canada's greatest-ever World Junior player may not be a lock.
* WHAT'S UP WITH THE PATS?: It's been an oft-asked question this week. The Queen City Kids shed some detractors with Saturday's 8-4 home win over Brandon but they followed it up with a pair of home losses (4-0 to P.A. and a 6-3 defeat at the ends of cellar-dwelling Lethbridge). Entering tonight's home date with Saskatoon, the Pats are tied for sixth in the conference but are only two points up on ninth-place Red Deer.
Pats GM Chad Lang finds himself in a familiar conundrum at this time of year; should he be a seller or a buyer at the upcoming trade deadline? A poll on the Voice of the Pats Phil Andrews' blog indicates that fans want Lang to load up for a playoff run. I've missed all post-Christmas Pats games but will be in attendance tonight and can hopefully find the answer to the question, "What's up with the Pats?"
Speaking of the Blades, their streak of six consecutive years in the WHL playoffs is in jeopardy.
* GET YOUR TICKETS: Somewhere I read that Pats' attendance is down 12% from last year at this time. No one seems to know why because they're playing an exciting brand of hockey but it has been maddeningly inconsistent. However it's a much different sports world now than when I came into the league in 1993. Back then there was only one hockey game on TV each week, Saturday night, and there was no UFC to contend with. No one had a big screen either, unless you were really rich. Last Saturday, when the Pats were toiling with the Wheat Kings, I went to a local watering hole to watch UFC for the first time ever (I'd seen it at friends' homes before, but never at a bar). What I saw was staggering -- the place was packed with men, and a few women, aged 20-to-40 and they were absolutely riveted to the TV screens. They only stopped to visit between matches and even that was to discuss the previous match, not to ask "So how was your Christmas?"
The competition for the sports dollar is fierce in today's world. I'm glad I'm not a sports marketer. Sort of.
* A PIPE-DREAM IN NANAIMO: A newspaper story in Nanaimo, BC this week quoted WHL Commissioner Ron Robison as saying the league has interest in Nanaimo as a potential market but until a quality arena is built, no team will move there. Civic officials seemed lukewarm to the idea however Victoria Royals ownership has encouraged them to at least look into it. If the WHL does indeed return to Nanaimo, it's years and years away.
* WILL THE NFL EVER SURPASS THE CFL FOR POPULARITY IN CANADA?: A Canadian Press poll last month was comforting in that it stated the vast majority of Canadians still prefer the CFL to the NFL but you have your head in the sand if you don't think the gap is closing. We've got weekend football parties planned to watch Wildcard Weekend. Pulled pork and chili on Saturday followed by steak on Sunday. Here are the matchups: Saturday (Chiefs at Colts 3:35, Saints at Eagles 7:10 pm) and Sunday (Chargers at Bengals 12:05 pm, 49ers at Packers, 3:40 pm). The anticipation makes me shake. What a great sports weekend ahead!
* THE WOLVES HAVE LEFT: In late September I wrote that the wolves were lining up outside Rider coach Corey Chamblin's door. The four-game losing skid and the Dewdney Incident were rising up and choking the franchise's wind off and the wolves were howling. However, Chamblin somehow righted the ship and guided them to the fourth Grey Cup in franchise history. The jury was out on whether or not Chamblin could deliver, but he did in spades. It's clear to me he knows what he's doing.
Now, I'm told, there's an appetite from the upper reaches of the franchise to sign Chamblin to a contract extension. Pronto. I don't believe those talks have started yet but it will likely be a top priority here in the New Year. The trouble is Chamblin still has a year left on his contract and he may desire to "play out his option", seeing what's out there once his deal's up. He's going to win 2013 CFL Coach of the Year, ( at least he should ), and he's going to be very attractive to NCAA programs, and perhaps even the NFL. This will be a very interesting scenario to watch.
That's why I said to give the man whatever he wants after the semifinal victory over BC. That was the hump game as the Riders went on to outscore their opponents 80-40 over the next two match-ups and coast to the Grey Cup.
Now, Chamblin has all the leverage.
* SOCIAL MEDIA: How is it that Linkedin can tell you who's creeping your profile but Facebook can't? Come on Mark Zuckerberg. Please get on that.
* MOVIE REVIEWS: Pretty much all I've done for three weeks is watch movies and read books. It's been glorious. But in the way of movies, I'd suggest you go see both of The Wolf of Wall Street and Last Vegas. Given a choice, go with the latter. It's like The Hangover, but for senior citizens as it stars Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline who congregate in Las Vegas for a bachelor party. Wolf is fantastic too, but your jaw gets sore after being on the floor for three hours. If you go, take an open mind.
* DELIGHTFULLY TACKY, YET REFINED: Had a dream last night that I was served in a Hooter's restaurant by Rouleau's Bill Aulie, who was also doing the cooking. I gorged myself on 10 breaded hot wings, a Buffalo Chicken burger, curly fries and a pitcher of Diet Coke. I woke up so happy. Perhaps it will last all day, all weekend, or even all of 2014. Here's hoping.
HAVE A GREAT DAY!