CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE
1 - HAMILTON -- In sports circles in North America, this is where the action is this week. Maple Leafs/Canadiens, Blue Jays/Rangers MLB playoffs, Roughriders/Ticats. How fortunate we are to basically be right in the middle of it. Hamilton is 32 miles from Toronto (however it's at least an hour's drive), but it's part of the fabled Golden Horseshoe and for this week anyways, being in this area is a sports fan's dream. Again, how lucky we are.
2 - Honestly I expected more hype. Walking through the Toronto airport upon our arrival on Wednesday, there was one store with wall-to-wall Blue Jays merchandise stamped with their playoff slogan "MISSION OCTOBER" and "TAKE OCTOBER". However other than that, there hasn't been much craziness. Anywhere. I'm told once we get to downtown Toronto, the Jays Fever will be ramped up and off the charts. We're going to Game 1 of the ALDS today between the Rangers and Blue Jays at Rogers Centre so we'll know soon.
3 - Quick: can you name the Roughriders' marketing slogan/campaign for 2015?
4 - The front cover of the Toronto Sun's sports section today blares "LEAFS WORK HARD, DROP HOME OPENER", following Toronto's 3-1 loss to Montreal last night. More on the game further down in the column, but it shows you where the Blue Jays are in the pecking order. They're in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years but they still get trumped by the perenially bad Maple Leafs.
5 - Let's not forget we're here for a football game! The Riders visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Friday night but it doesn't look like it'll be a great night for football. The forecast calls for showers and 18 degrees. The Ticats are favoured by 7.5-points. They have far more to play for given the fact they're in a three-way tie for first-place in the East, while the Riders are one loss away from being mathematically eliminated. This 2-12 Roughriders season is just now providing some challenges in our area of the game. Local fans seem to have lost their zest whatwith the NHL season starting up, the Blue Jays in the playoffs and the NFL going into Week 5.
6 - The Ticats haven't won since Zach Collaros went out with the season-ending knee injury so Friday's game is huge for Hamilton to prove they can still contend for a Grey Cup with rookie Jeff Mathews at quarterback. It'll be interesting to pick Ticats coach & GM Kent Austin's brain later today on how they plan to win without their top pivot.
7 - The Calgary Stampeders have already clinched a home playoff game and are headed to the playoffs for an 11th consecutive season. The Montreal Alouettes currently have a 19-year playoff streak going while the B.C. Lions have achieved the postseason for 18 straight. One of those will likely fall since Montreal's fourth in the East but, as of today, not in position for the crossover. The Riders are looking at missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons and any belief otherwise is Fantasy Football. At least the Riders' braintrust noticed they were heading off path and made the necessary adjustment. This off-season will be critical in Saskatchewan.
8 - The touchdown catch by B.C. quarterback Jon Jennings last week against Saskatchewan got the CFL statisticians scrambling. That doesn't happen very often. The last time a Roughrider quarterback caught a touchdown pass was Kerry Joseph in 2006. Incidentally, Lions offensive coordinator George Cortez called this week to reiterate that he doesn't recall Jon Jennings from the Riders' 2014 Florida minicamp. He wasn't fibbing when he told reporters that on Friday. It's likely once Cortez and the Riders made their minds up which quarterbacks they were going to keep, they moved on and flushed everything else.
9 - Some in the media (Scruffy) thought the Austin Collie-to-Jon Jennings touchdown pass was a display of poor sportsmanship Saturday night. They felt the Lions shouldn't have run a trick play while up 33-5. I called the game and felt no such way. It's part of the game. B.C. put Jennings at considerable risk by running that Quarterback-Reverse-Throwback and a Rider defender could've (should've) taken his head off in the endzone. We move on.
10 - The CFL vs NFL debate rages. One area where the Canadian game lags is in credibility and lack of defense. The NFL Monday Nighter saw Seattle beat Detroit 13-10 in a gem. The next night Toronto beat Ottawa 38-35 in a track meet. In that sense, (or in my view), the NFL game was more enjoyable to watch. However the CFL game ended in a mind-boggling onehanded TD catch by Toronto's Chad Owens which was replayed endlessly on USA television networks. Meanwhile the NFL game ended in a botched referee's call which had the NFL issuing an apology to the Detroit Lions later in the night. Maybe the leagues aren't as dissimilar as we think!!!
11 - You'll be reading a lot about what I'm seeing on American television networks after I got ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN U, ESPN3, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and every other channel hardwired into my house this week. I'll NEVER give up my Access subscription and digital boxes, but this is a nice little supplement and contrary viewpoint. I may never watch Canadian Sportscentre again.
12 - If the CFL's going to take a major step forward with sports fans, they need to make a foray into sports betting. Once they do that, they need to get more more serious about being transparent with injuries. We knew on Saturday of last weekend Colts quarterback Andrew Luck wasn't going to play due to a shoulder injury. Meanwhile in the CFL, coaches have historically kept their starters a secret until kickoff. That needs to change, and pronto.
13 - One word came to mind while watching Glenn Healy provide between-the-benches commentary of the Leafs-Habs game Wednesday night: awkward. Why is he there? It seemed quite often like throwing to Healy was an annoyance for colour commentator Craig Simpson, and rightfully so. At one point they showed all the NHL awards Montreal goalie Carey Price won last season and Healy followed that up by bringing some of childhood awards to the booth. So weird.
14 - And whatever happened to showing highlights of other games during your telecast? The Rangers and Blackhawks opened the new season last night but if they showed any of the goals on Sportsnet, I didn't see them. I thought opening night of the NHL season, as far as television broadcasts go, was a fail.
15 - An NHL P.R. company sent out some interesting odds this week. The odds-on favourite for the first coach to be fired is St. Louis's Ken Hitchcock at 5/2. Next is Arizona's Dave Tippett at 4/1. Calgary's Bob Hartley wasn't on the list but I'm told he could be out by Christmas. Last night's 5-1 loss to Vancouver wasn't a good start.
16 - Connor McDavid's odds of being named Calder Trophy winner as NHL Rookie of the Year are 1/1. Doesn't that make it a lock? The top four favourites to win the Stanley Cup are Chicago (7/1), Tampa Bay (8/1), L.A. (10/1) and N.Y. Rangers (10/1). Those are the exact Stanley Cup favourites chosen by ESPN's Barry Melrose this week on Sportscenter. The top early favourite Canadian team is Montreal at 15/1.
17 - The Arizona Coyotes are the biggest longshot at 250/1 to win the Stanley Cup. That blushingly suits them just fine since they'll then be in prime spot to take Auston Mathews, the #1 prospect who hails from Scottsdale, AZ. He fell in love with hockey after attending a Coyotes game at the age of 3. Mathews represents the best chance to save hockey in The Valley.
18 - And as far as team popularity goes, the Edmonton Oilers have seen a 131% increase in ticket sales (home and road) from this time last year and you can thank Todd McLellan and Connor McDavid for that. Edmonton's gone from the 16th highest-selling ticket to 6th in the NHL. The Oilers are the 7th-best road selling team in the NHL. The top four are the N.Y. Rangers, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. The top Canadian home-selling teams are Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal.
19 - NFL owners wrapped up meetings in New York this week and ESPN had a reporter camped outside the boardroom. Here are the conclusions from the meetings: 1) They will vote on franchise relocation (Rams, Chargers, Raiders) to Los Angeles in December, 2) Commissioner Roger Goodell still wants Tom Brady to serve his four game suspension for Deflate-gate and will vigorously pursue it, 3) Video Review will be revisited after the Monday Night Football debacle, 4) Sirius/XM renewed their satellite radio rights deal for six more years and 5) Rams owner Stan Kroenke shifted ownership of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche to his wife in order to comply with the NFL rule that an owner can't have ownership of a team or teams in another league.
20 - The CHL Top 10 rankings came out this week and the Calgary Hitmen are now the WHL's #1 team, and #3 in Canada. The Wheat Kings slipped to #4 in the CHL. Both teams shutout the Pats on the weekend, but now you know why. The Red Deer Rebels are #9 while the Prince Albert Raiders earned an honourable mention. The Regina Pats are home to the Vancouver Giants Friday night at 7:00 on 620 CKRM.
THAT'S ALL FOR TODAY! ENJOY THE GAMES ..