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Monday, June 22, 2015



1.  REMEMBER THIS?:  The photo above was taken from the Mosaic Stadium home radio broadcast booth at about 6:25 pm Friday.  I distinctly remember the time because we were about to go live at 6:30 pm with the Radio Nation Pregame Show on 620 CKRM and the hail was pounding the aluminum on the stadium so bad that I feared our broadcast would be inaudible.  It looked like a November blizzard!  The Roughriders and Stampeders had just vacated the field prior to this, when the pea-sized hail battered the Grand Ol' Lady.  Chalk up another crazy story in the annals of Rider home game history.  I'd be interested to know in the comments section where you were when the storm hit.  Miraculously the game was only delayed 15 minutes and by the time it kicked off, the field seemed back to normal.  And surprisingly, in the haste to ask Corey Chamblin about his team's performance in his post-game news conference, no one thought to ask the Rider head coach his thoughts on the storm or the playing conditions left behind.

As for the stadium itself, we're just counting down the days until it sees its last game.  It's just barely holding on.  Anyone who thought it should simply be refurbished needs their head examined.

2.  WEEK 1:  Don't look now but the forecast for Saturday's season-opener between the Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers calls for sunshine and a high of 29 degrees Celsius (86 above Fahrenheit).  However no forecaster called for the hailstorm which pounded Regina on Friday evening so as always, expect the unexpected next weekend.

3.  BACK TO THE CALGARY GAME:  I think we all left Friday's 37-29 preseason loss to the Stampeders feeling rather good about the Roughriders' chances when you consider the team's performance when it was "starters versus starters" against the Grey Cup champions.  The Riders had Grey Cup MVP Bo-Levi Mitchell out-of-sorts, forcing him into two turnovers.  Calgary Sun football writer Scott Mitchell wrote that the Stampeders' depth won them that game, and perhaps it did since their back-ups pulled out the victory in the end.  You're going to hear a lot of the term "depth" in the weeks ahead as the Riders continue to discover what they have behind their "1's".

It was a good game, more cleanly-played than the loss to Edmonton the week before, and the team has come a LONG way since Day 1 of training camp.  They're definitely going to be in the mix when all is said and done.

It was also interesting to see former Rider lineman Ben Heenan - now of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts - in attendance at Friday's game, wearing a #97 John Chick jersey.  Was he paying off a bet?  Is John his favourite Roughrider?  Former Stampeders centre Brett Jones - now of the NFL's New York Giants - was in attendance as well, wearing a gray Stampeders hoodie.

4.  WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE?:  It may take some time before we find out the identity of this team but I still contend it's their defense which will win them the majority of their games.  They've been criticized for being old, but the Riders likely prefer the term "veteran".  Kevin Glenn is the oldest at 36 but of course the club hopes he remains on the sidelines.  Jamel Richardson is at 33 followed by Darian Durant and John Chick at 32.  The other core veterans all hover around 30 and then there's a rash of rookies which cracked the roster like receivers Nic Demski and Alex Carroll, linebackers Telvion Clark and Jeff Knox Jr, defensive linemen Rory Connop and Tim Agbaje, and fullback Matt Rea.  That's a LOT of rookies.

“I think it’s a very good mix," Chamblin said on CKRM's postgame show Friday. "And the one thing I’ll tell you about these young guys; a lot of them have been through a lot in their personal lives and I think they’ll use that in their professional lives.  They’re tough and they’re ready to go.”

5. SO LONG PAUL AND ALEX:  Of the 26 players released on Saturday, none got people talking more than Paul Woldu and Alex Pierzchalski.  Woldu's a three-time Grey Cup champion who was entering his eighth CFL season and, by all accounts, had a decent training camp.  He was shocked at the news.

"It's been a pretty tough 24 hours," Woldu said via text message Sunday night.  "Feeling better today then I was yesterday.  I just didn't see it coming ya know."

Woldu told the Leader Post that he isn't ready to call it a career, and will be looking to latch on with another CFL team.  Perhaps he'll have some good news for us Monday when he joins the SportsCage at 4:35 pm.

If Woldu was stunned, then Pierzchalksi had to feel like he got clubbed in the face with a shovel.  Last year's second round Rider draft choice worked his butt off to prepare for camp and was extremely noticeable during three weeks in Saskatoon.  He even caught a touchdown pass in Preseason Game 1 against the Eskimos.

"I am as surprised as any to be leaving Rider Nation," Pierzchalski wrote on Twitter.  "Can't thank my teammates, coaches and the fans enough for the experience.  Thank you."

Pierzchalski was offered a spot on the Riders' practice roster but he declined, telling GM Brendan Taman that he feels he belongs on the field.  On Monday morning, he signed with the Ottawa RedBlacks.

There's consternation out there that Regina Thunder receiver Preston Bews made the team over Pierzchalski but that's not the case.  Bews made the team out of the old territorial exemption rule, and will practice with the Riders while playing for the Thunder.  Centre Dan Clark used to do the same thing.

6.  REMEMBER TINO?:  No one got the reaction of Tino Sunseri before he left town after being cut by the Riders last weekend.   I took the opportunity to ask Taman on Friday's pregame show how that exit conversation went.

"He was very disappointed," Taman said.  "He was very, down-in-the-dumps, per se.  I don't think anyone who goes through a conversation like that is too happy.  He was professional about it, he was upright, obviously he didn't agree with it, but that's just the way hit is."

Taman said the competition for the third string quarterback job was an under-the-radar battle which came to the surface in the Northern Kickoff.

"Going into the game, I didn't foresee Tino's name being on the list of cuts on Sunday," Taman continued. "But when the team came back from Fort McMurray it was pretty apparent that name was going on the cut list.  I honestly thought it would go another week but we made the decision when we did, Brett Smith needed the work, and the decision was made."

7. SETTING THE PRACTICE ROSTER:  This task seems to be more difficult than it has in previous years.  While some teams announced their practice roster via news releases over the weekend, the Roughriders may have to take until Tuesday morning to get theirs finalized.  It appears it's taking a considerable amount of convincing since practice roster players will only earn $750 per week and with the weak Canadian dollar, the rookie Americans will almost be playing for free.  But this isn't the first time this has been the case.  How badly do you want to play pro football?

I think it used to be an honour to be on a pro football practice roster and now it's an option.  These days players, like all their age entering the workforce want it ALL righf NOW.  Money for nothing and chicks for free.  I've seen this coming for years and have written about it here.

8.  TWEET OF THE WEEKEND:  It came from David Ainsworth, father of sophomore Roughriders defensive end Dylan Ainsworth who wrote to me, "@sportscage: Thanks for keeping the fans and families up to date on the team.  Always nervous this time of year".  Fortunately for the Ainsworth clan, the story had a happy ending as Dylan made the club for a second straight year.  But it was nice to receive the kind words from the elder Ainsworth, who reminded me of my top priority; to convey the happenings of the Saskatchewan Roughriders to people like you.  It's a big job, a privilege, and one I take very seriously.  Some may not agree with how I choose to do my job, but that's just the way it is.

9. NO HARD FEELINGS:  Lots of folks seemed to think I should be upset about the Roughriders providing a live videostream of Friday's preseason game over their website and the TSN Go app.  Really?  My response was that it's 2015 and this how pro sports work.  The more eyeballs and ears on the product, the better.  It also didn't hurt that the Riders' Dan Plaster called the play-by-play of the game for some 85,000 viewers through the Riders' video channels.  Dan and I have been close friends for almost 20 years.  A Calgary fan pointed out on that Dan's call was a TRILLION times better than mine.  Perhaps it was -- it didn't hear it.  Haha.  Calgary fans.

But no, the Riders' livestream didn't bother me.  I'm not insecure.

10.  ANOTHER LANCASTER IN THE HOUSE:  Ron Lancaster's youngest son Bob will be an observer at Roughriders practice this week.  The last I heard, Bob was an assistant coach of football at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.  It will be great to see him again.

11. KUDOS TO THE RIDERS...: ... For allowing John Chick to miss Friday's game to serve as the best man at his brother's wedding in the USA.  As a blog commenter pointed out here on Thursday, if the same gesture was afforded to Darian Durant, the quarterback likely would've been criticized endlessly.  But maybe not.

12.  CHEELEADER DOWN!:  When I was wandering the tunnels of Mosaic Stadium three hours prior to Friday's game, I noticed one of the Rider Cheer Team administering medical attention to one of her teammates around the eye area. It appeared to be the result of a nasty spill.   I notified the Stampeders and they graciously patched her up.  One of the Stampeders assistant coaches noted, "I've always wondered why they practice on the pavement?"   Great question.

13.  RAMS IN THE CFL:  With CFL rosters mostly set over the weekend, there are five UofR Rams grads in the league: DB Tevaughn Campbell (Calgary), REC Chris Getzlaf (Saskatchewan), LS Jorgen Hus (Saskatchewan), OG Brendon Labatte (Saskatchewan), REC Addison Richards (Winnipeg).  Unfortunately Richards won't be able to make his CFL debut in his hometown this weekend as he's been added to the Bombers' 1-game injured list.

On air with Jordan Eberle and the Oilers' Keith Aulie
14. EBS:  It was a pleasure to spend some time with Edmonton Oilers star Jordan Eberle during Thursday's Hockey & Hearts Charity Classic in Avonlea/Rouleau.  The Regina product came onto the SportsCage at Rouleau's town hall and said he's already itching to get the 2015-16 NHL season started.  Eberle admitted it "burned a little" to see Chicago raise the Stanley Cup since he feels the two clubs play a similar style.  He also admitted he got sick of losing "about three years ago" and he's anxious to make the playoffs this year for the first time since he arrived in 2010.  Regarding my question of whether he intends to remain an Oiler for his entire NHL career, he danced around the question.

15.  JON RYAN CHARITY EVENTS:  The Seattle Seahawks punter is another NFL player who's back in his hometown this week and he'll be hosting a variety of events including the inaugural Wednesday Night Live at the Saskatchewan Sound Stage featuring comedian Sarah Colonna, country star Gord Bamford and rock group The Trews.  I'll be MC'ing the event and tickets are still available by calling Krysta at 306-596-9723.  The 3rd Annual Jon Ryan Charity Golf Classic goes Thursday at the Royal Regina but it's been sold out for months.  We'll be broadcasting the SportsCage on-site both days.


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