1 - Immediately after the Roughriders' Wednesday afternoon workout here in Saskatoon the team announced it had released 3-year veteran non-import receiver Alex Anthony. Originally drafted by the Riders in the 5th round of the 2013 CFL Canadian College Draft, it appeared that Alex was finally coming into his own. He had a solid showing at the Florida minicamp and appeared to carry it over to main camp. However the powers-that-be saw otherwise.
However as camp wore on it became apparent that the Wilfred Laurier product was going to have a tough time finding a spot on the roster, even as a back-up. We've been reporting for two weeks about the solid stable of Canadian receivers the Riders have under contract and competition has been fierce. Rob Bagg isn't going anywhere and with the emergence of younger Canadians such as Alex Pierczalski, Alex Carroll and first round pick Nic Demski, the writing was on the wall. Perhaps Anthony was one of the "bubble" players head coach Corey Chamblin referred to on Tuesday.
And, I'm told, Anthony was given his release well in advance of the first mandatory roster cutdown date so that he could land a spot on another CFL team. Don't be surprised if that happens.
2 - It was likely a very sombre, discouraging drive for Alex Anthony out of Saskatoon but he left with his head held high. He was classy upon his departure, writing on Twitter: "Life happens. Move on and stay positive. I will never forget my time here. Great organization and amazing fans! Thank you Rider Nation!"
3 - As we speak, the Roughriders football operations staff is huddling up to formulate a roster for Saturday's preseason game against Edmonton in Fort McMurray (8:00 pm, TSN, CKRM Rider Radio Network). This much is known; Darian Durant will start at quarterback but won't see action past the first quarter. And former Stampeder Keenan MacDougall will start at safety in place of the injured Tyron Brackenridge. Beyond that, who knows? Chamblin was asked by reporters how many players will make the trip and he was coy with his answer, laughing that they'll have enough to field a team for four quarters. At this point, I don't think they even know for sure. The public will know by Frida afternoon.
4 - The importance of "winning" Saturday's preseason game will be bantied about in the days leading up to the game but Chamblin's already covered that. He expects Eskimos coach Chris Jones will be out to win however Saskatchewan is more intent on evaluating their depth players. The Riders were 1-1 in exhibition games in each of the last two seasons, but it's how you play in the games that matters. On June 14, 2013 in Edmonton, when rookie Sunseri led the team on a game-tying drive with a 1:00 to go and Graig Newman sealed the win with a pick six in the dying seconds, I knew there was something special in the making. The Riders will be looking for a "special" performance out of their players Saturday night, no matter what the scoreboard says at the end.
5 - Players I'll be paying the most attention to in the Edmonton game: Darian Durant (obviously), centres Dan Clark and Corey Watman, tackles Fulton, Adock, Phillip and Richards, receivers Ryan Smith and Jamel Richardson, defensive tackle Rory Connop, middle linebackers Shea Emry, Akwasi Antwi and Jake Doughty, defensive backs Keenan MacDougall and Paul Woldu, kickers Chris Milo and Ray Early and a rash of youngsters like Nic Demski, Melvin Abankwah, Devin Wilson, Naaman Roosevelt, Marrio Norman and Eltoro Freeman. Players will be moving in and out at a frantic pace but we'll do our best to keep on top of it.
6 - FATHERS: Are your wife and kids hounding you for ideas for a Father's Day gift? Ask for a Fit Bit. I've been raving about mine since I first strapped it on and the conversation continues daily since most of the Roughrider coaches wear them as well. The device monitors your steps in a day, heartrate, calories burned, distance walked and stairs climbed. Rider coach Corey Chamblin says he habitually walks 30,000 steps during a typical day of training camp. By comparison, I strive to reach 10,000 per day! Chamblin noticed CBC's Glenn Reid was wearing one on Wednesday morning and chirped, "How many steps you at? I'm at 5,000!" I'm glad he didn't ask me, because I was ashamed to admit it was only at 1200. You can get a Fit Bit Charge at SportChek or Best Buy for around $180. Just like the coaches wear.
7 - Many of you will know a regular caller into the SportsCage who goes by the nickname "Sarge". He's a war veteran of many tours overseas in the Afghanistan War but retired after a 25-year career with the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 43. He's an old gym buddy of mine but lives in Saskatoon now and showed up at Rider camp on Wednesday with a 1966 Grey Cup football autographed by the entire Roughriders team! He discovered the ball in a box at his parents' house. The signatures are as plain as day, and feature the likes of Ron Lancaster, George Reed, Alan Ford, Ted Urness, etc. Immediately he asked me the ball's worth and I was stumped. Anybody have any idea? He's currently considering what to do with the priceless heirloom, including donating it to the football club.
8 - I continue to marvel at the passion of Rider Pride here in the Bridge City. There is Rider merchandise EVERYWHERE. And no matter what restaurants Luc Mullinder and I frequent daily, the patrons all know us and come over to chat about the team. Invariably they ask, "How's the team looking?" I always respond with, "Like Grey Cup champs!" but when we dig deeper into the conversation, I tell them that we have a serious Grey Cup contender on our hands. Football maven John Lynch has gone so far as to predict a 14-4 season, but that's without seeing a milli-second of training camp. Who knows? Maybe he's right. But it's exciting to know this team has a chance.
9 - We are deep in the throes of the Roughriders but a lot of talk on Wednesday around here centred on the latest lease fiasco between the Arizona Coyotes and the City of Glendale. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the matter in the second intermission of Wednesday night's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final and not surprisingly, he took the Coyotes' side. It should be noted that both Coyotes GM Don Maloney and head coach Dave Tippett say they've been through all this before and expect a reasonable and peaceful solution to be found. It's interesting to read the comments of media and fans regarding Coyotes ownership and hockey in the Valley in general. After spending hours discussing this situation with the team's owners, I've concluded you can't paint these guys with the same brush as Coyotes' ownership in the past. However they're all lumped in together. And as for hockey fans in that market, they're passionate and loyal. However at present there just aren't enough of them.
Of course this latest lease fiasco has people in this city suggesting the team be moved to Saskatoon.
STOP. Just stop. Stop.
The Blades are an afterthought and your minor league baseball team just folded. It's a fantastic city but who on earth believes the NHL could work here?
And I continue to hear more about Regina while in Saskatoon than I do in Regina!
And I continue to hear more about Regina while in Saskatoon than I do in Regina!
10 - Thursday is D-Day for Kelly McCrimmon. The Owner/GM/Coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings has until June 11 to accept or decline a management position offer with the Toronto Maple Leafs. What a conundrum! Crim must be having some sleepless nights this week. I put my head together with hockey writer Daniel Nugent-Bowman of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix Wednesday and discussed the matter. On one hand, this could be Kelly's last shot at the NHL and he was hand-picked by the new Leafs regime as the top junior hockey mind in western Canada. On the other hand, the Wheat Kings are entering a very special season in which they're expected to seriously challenge for a Memorial Cup title, which would be their first-ever. If McCrimmon were to accept the job, he'd then have to find a new Governor, GM and coach and things haven't worked out that well for the Wheat Kings when Kelly's not on the bench. Whatever he decides, we wish him well. He deserves the best.
ANOTHER HOCKEY NOTE: Happy 78th birthday to my Dad! He's the best, and toughest, man I've ever known. And up until his retirement, he was the longest-serving employee of the Dallas Stars (26 years)!
THAT'S ALL FOR ANOTHER DAY! THANKS FOR CHECKING IN...