10 FUN THURSDAY NOTES:
1 - STARTING WITH FOOTBALL: We are 24 days away from the start of 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp in Saskatoon. Thankfully May hasn't been as agonizingly long as I predicted, and that may be due in part to the fact the Roughriders have done a good job keeping themselves in the news. The fact the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been so entertaining hasn't hurt either.
On the topic of How Will The Roughriders Be This Year?, I refuse to believe Saskatchewan will be anything short of a Grey Cup contender in 2015. That's not news, but I'm old enough to remember when that wasn't the case. There were years when we knew in June that the football club didn't have a chance but that hasn't been the case for at least a decade.
The naysayers will continue to pick apart the team but when you consider what ailed you as fans in 2014, the Riders have moved swiftly to make the necessary corrections. 1) The club didn't have a capable back-up behind Darian Durant. That's been fixed. 2) Fans weren't happy with the offense or play selection. The offensive coordinator was replaced. 3) The Riders had a hole in the middle of the defense. That was quickly shored up with the addition of Shea Emry.
The Rider braintrust and coaching staff knew what the problems were likely long before anyone else noticed but clearly it was too difficult to change gears on the fly, mid-season. I fully expect the Riders to be in the 2015 Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
2 - MOTHER'S DAY BRUNCH: Want to have Mother's Day Brunch with Roughrider players Macho Harris and Paul Woldu? You can, but you'll have to go to Fort McMurray, AB. In an effort to promote the preseason clash between the Roughriders and Eskimos in the Northern Kickoff in June, the Riders are sending two players to Fort Mac to mingle with fans this weekend. If you're in the area and would like to attend, contact Shell Place in Fort McMurray. Tickets are $35 for adults and $12 for kids. The Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts have already held events for the public up there.
3 - RISE OF THE EVIL EMPIRE: The Edmonton Eskimos announced a nearly $4-million profit in 2014 at this week's Annual General Meeting and their season ticket sales are 9% ahead of last year at this time. As it was, the Eskimos led the CFL in attendance last season. Don't look now, but the Green & Gold are back.
4 - CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz (a former captain of the Regina Pats) is clearly getting the last laugh. Less than a year after being kicked to the curb by the Nashville Predators, Trotz has his team one win away from the NHL's Eastern Conference Finals. The Caps beat the Rangers 2-1 on Wednesday to assume a 3-1 series lead in that second round affair. Trotz wasn't even named as a finalist for NHL Coach of the Year on Wednesday (those honours went to the Rangers' Alain Vigneault, the Flames' Bob Hartley and the Predators' Peter Laviollette), but Trotzie may be the last one standing when all is said and done.
Former players of Trotz's in Nashville have told me they don't care much for his abilities on the bench, saying he's not much of a tactician or strategist. Meh, you can't go by what the naysayers say. GMs, coaches and players should be judged by their record and sports resumes. That should be enough, and Trotz seems to be the missing tonic the Capitals lacked.
Interestingly enough, the Rangers have been in an NHL-record 11 consecutive one-goal games in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
5 - HAB-NOTS: Where have all the Montreal Canadiens fans gone? Likely in the tank, just like their team who fell down 3-0 in their second round series with Tampa Bay courtesy of Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Amalie Arena. And what a cruel way for the knife to turn! The Bolts scored with just one second left in regulation to smash the Habs' hearts. Surely Montreal can't come back now. And when will Tampa coach Jon Cooper's interesting story finally be told? The former Notre Dame Hound and Wall Street investment banker has toiled with remarkable success amidst the relative hockey obscurity in Florida.
6 - THE HAB FACTOR: Many, many hockey people - including the SportsCage's own Tiger Williams - feel the odds are always stacked in the Montreal Canadiens' favour when it comes to officiating and league decisions. New York Islanders great Bryan Trottier feels the NHL sabotaged their quest for a fifth-straight Stanley Cup by introducing a 2-3-2 format for the 1984 Stanley Cup Final against Edmonton. If you ask Trottier, the league didn't want the Canadiens' record of five straight Stanley Cups to be tied, or broken. However in the case of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens can't even help themselves.
Some say the pressure in Montreal is too much for the team to handle. They say the same goes in Toronto. I say that's hogwash. In life there are optimists and there are pessimists. In the end, both are proven right.
7 - SPORTS TEAM BRANDING: Check out this photo from before Game 3 of the Flames-Ducks series in Calgary on Tuesday courtesy Getty Images:
There's a shot of Calgary Flames alum Joel Otto greeting fans and posing for photos at an autograph session out front of the Saddledome. What a great idea! I've implored several sports teams around the continent to have an alumni autograph station set up outside their venue. One team did for awhile, but it fizzled out and the reason given was "it was too much work". Other teams said, "it costs too much". Newsflash: nothing worthwhile comes easily or is necessarily cheap. And the alumni is the backbone of any sports franchise. From now on I'm going to stash these ideas in a special file and stop giving them away for free. One day they'll see the light.
8 - THE HOCKEY GODS ARE ALIVE AND WELL: Had the Calgary Flames lost Game 3 against Anaheim on Tuesday, they would have been forgiven for smashing garbage cans and throwing water bottles. The disallowed third period goal by Sam Bennett was clearly a crock. Hey I'm pulling for the Ducks, but knew that goal was in. Everybody did. However NHL officials felt otherwise. But the hockey universe corrected itself with Johnny Gaudreau's last-minute goal and Michael Backlund's eventual OT winner for Calgary. The biggest question I had was: where were Getzlaf and Perry in the last half of the game and overtime?? Oh well, the series has been prolonged and if our prediction of Anaheim to win in six games is to come true, Calgary's got to win a pair anyway.
9 - GO PATS GO: Kudos to John Paddock of the Regina Pats for being named WHL Coach of the Year on Wednesday. There figures to be some shifting to take place in the Pats' front office this summer with the rumour that assistant coach Dave Struch is being courted by other WHL teams to be head coach. How can the Pats retain the highly-coveted Struch? Perhaps by throwing some more money at him and giving him a written guarantee that he'll eventually replace Paddock as coach. Or, as a rumour going around on Wednesday evening suggested, they may make him Assistant GM. Gotta love rumours.
Meanwhile the WHL Bantam Draft begins at 8:30 am Thursday in the Saddledome. The event holds little interest for me however Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Pats taking Colten Teubert #1 overall. Regina grabbed somebody named Jordan Eberle in the 7th round of that draft. It's hard to get wound up about 15-year old hockey players and the list of players who never take a shift in the WHL seems to be as long as the ones that do. However it'll be interesting to see who the Pats take in Round 1, and how many Regina kids get selected.
And lastly on the Dub, Vancouver Giants GM Craig Bonner said they'll get serious about hiring a head coach once the draft is complete. The usually-solid Giants have had three coaches in the past year between Don Hay, Troy Ward and Claude Noel. Bonner told a Vancouver newspaper he's received 50 resumes for the job but only 10 are "legitimate". You get every Tom, Dick and Harry applying for these jobs.
10 - JUST NOTES: At this point I'm only watching the NBA Playoffs to see analyst Charles Barkley on halftime of TNT broadcasts. He's the best in all of sports TV right now. Barkley does make public speaking appearances and I think he'd be a hot ticket in Regina. Perhaps the Regina Kinsmen would consider bringing Barkley in for next winter's Sports Celebrity Dinner & Auction ... The banquet circuit is petering out but TSN's Brian Williams will be in Regina on Saturday for the annual Ducks Unlimited fundraiser and on May 28, Islanders greats Clark Gillies and Bob Bourne will entertain the masses at the Cougar Mens Hockey Alumni dinner at the Travelodge. I'll be the MC for both events ... The registration deadline for the 2015 Regina Minor Football season is Friday. You can download a form at www.reginaminorfootball.ca. RMF is introducing a new Mighty Mites tackle football division for kids aged 8 and 9 sponsored by Jon Ryan's new Gear Up Foundation. Jon has vowed to make an impact on the Regina minor football community and he's put his money where his mouth is ... Regarding all the concussions in sports and subsequent lawuits these days, here's a tip: if your kid seems to have a soft head and is injury prone, get him out of the sport sooner rather than later. It'll save everybody a lot of time and headaches ... Shock of the Week: a Starbucks peanut butter cookie (my kryptonite) will cost you 480 calories. You're better off to get a Tim Hortons muffin. It's the same amount of calories but more filling ... The FitBit fitness wristband may be the single greatest invention since Cheez Whiz. My goal each day is 10,000 steps however the best record I've heard so far belongs to Cameco P.R. man Jonathan Huntington who hit 55,000 steps in one day. Riders Special Teams coach Bob Dyce hit 28,000 steps on Day 2 of Rider minicamp in Florida ... The new Ricky's All-Day Grill restaurant in Harbour Landing is making progress! We only waited 30 minutes for our breakfast on Sunday versus the 50 minute wait on our first visit. But man is it worth the wait. I indulge on a giant breakfast only once a week, and try to make it on Sunday mornings.
THAT'S ALL FOR TODAY! SEE YOU IN THE CAGE AT 4 PM