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Monday, November 16, 2015



1. The forecasting ability of the Las Vegas oddsmakers continues to astound.  Going into the CFL's Division Semifinal Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were 2-point favourites over the Toronto Argonauts in the East while the Calgary Stampeders were 9-point favourites over the B.C. Lions in the West.  When all was said and done, the Ticats outlasted the Argos 25-22 while the Stamps demolished the Lions 35-9.  They had it right, again.

2. As far as excitement goes, the CFL batted .500 on Sunday.  The Eastern SemiFinal was a classic with Justin Medlock winning for Hamilton on a last-second 46-yard field goal while the Western SemiFinal was a snoozer.  Literally.  I fell asleep early in the third quarter with the Stampeders up by something like three touchdowns.  Hey, it's better than having two laughers.

3. That old Austin Magic was on display Sunday at a soldout Tim Hortons Field.  Austin won a do-or-die game with his fourth-string quarterback (Jeremiah Massoli), showing why he's a savant.  After the game on TSN, Massoli was asked what his coach told him after the game.  "Oh nothing," Massoli shrugged.  "Just that he has complete faith in me.  Just like the rest of our players.  We're a complete team."  And one to be reckoned with next Sunday in the Eastern Final at Ottawa.  Is anybody going to count them out now?  What a job done by Kent.

4. It was an unseasonably warm day across Canada, leaving some around here to bemoan the fact the Riders weren't playing host to a Western SemiFinal.  You can't blame them for feeling that way.  However in Calgary, 26,306 showed up at McMahon Stadium amid 14 degrees Celsius and a 30 km/h wind.  Some are scorning the Stamps for the lack of a sellout, but I feel the attendance was respectable.  By the way, was that John Hufnagel's final game in Calgary as Coach/GM of the Stampeders?  More on that a little further down.

5. Chatting on the phone with my Mom after the CFL games, she was gnashing her teeth that Jerome Messam tallied 147 yards for the Stampeders in the win.  Judi - a Rider season-ticket holder - was still upset that Messam's no longer a Roughrider and she's likely not alone with those thoughts.  However, don't forget, Jerome will be a free agent in February and could still sign back with the Green & White.  That'll be up to whomever is the Roughriders General Manager, to try and win a game of Salary Tetrus with the Riders' salary cap.

6. Long-time hockey man Bryan Raymond - a former Pats and Warriors employee along with a scout for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets - asked in the media/scouts room before Friday's Regina Pats game, "Don't you guys ever get tired of talking on the radio about who's going to be the Roughriders' next GM?"

No, we don't.  Not by a long shot.  And we're just getting warmed up.  Last week in this space it was written that I couldn't wait for the 2015 football season to be over so that we could turn our attention to the Riders' 2015 GM Watch.  So far we haven't figured anything out, but dang it sure is fun.

7. Sportsnet/CKRM CFL Insider Arash Madani noted on Thursday's SportsCage that if he was laying down a bet on Saskatchewan's next Coach & GM combo, he'd throw some change on Jeremy O'Day and Paul Lapolice.  A caller chimed in moments afterwards that Mike Benevides would make a great defensive coordinator in that scenario.

We should caution that this is just a guess by Madani but as a caller from Calgary pointed out, Arash is rarely wrong.  SportsCage co-host Mike Abou-Mechrek concurred, however he predicted the Roughriders will lure John Hufnagel away from Calgary in a combo role.  That, too, was just a wild guess by Abou.

However if the Riders were to convince Hufnagel to return to Saskatchewan just like so many other Calgarians, it may take the richest deal in CFL history.  Would you be prepared to pay it?

8. With UBC's stunning upset 34-26 win over the top-ranked Calgary Dinos in Saturday's Hardy Cup, one has to wonder if Roughriders President Craig Reynolds will be interested in chatting with Thunderbirds architect Blake Nill about the vacant roles here.  Perhaps the former Montreal Concordes defensive lineman - a two-time Vanier Cup champ and 1999 CIS Coach of the Year - is ready for a move back to the CFL in a prominent role?

9. Now with the Toronto Argonauts' 2015 season over, perhaps GM Jim Barker will address the rumour that he's applied for the Roughriders' GM position.  It sounds a tad farfetched but there's been no denial from Barker as of yet.  It should be noted too that Argos coach Scott Milanovich was interested in getting out of Toronto prior to the team's ownership change last spring so anything is possible.

10. On Friday there was a scheduled coffee row gathering of the infamous "railbirds" at the Tim Hortons at Evraz Place.  These are the guys, and gals, who earned their nickname by habitually watching each and every Roughrider practice along the railroad at the old grass practice facility west of Mosaic Stadium.  They still show up to watch every practice whether it's +40 or -40.  They were gracious enough to offer me a spot at their table and I took a poll of who's in favour of Jeremy O'Day becoming the Riders' next General Manager.  Four of the five are pulling for O'Day while the lone dissident said he's nervous about Jeremy's lack of experience.  There's nothing Jeremy can do about that.

11. The railbirds had an unofficial list of the Roughriders free agents and were going through who should stay and who should go.  The list remains unofficial because the Roughriders confirmed over the weekend that they will not be making public their list of free agents until next month when the CFL reveals its entire list of the League's available players.

The Leader Post's Murray McCormick published a partial list of free agents last week which included Chris Getzlaf, Rob Bagg, Ryan Smith, Alex Hall, Tyron Brackenridge, Macho Harris, Weldon Brown, Tyree Hollins, Paul Woldu, Marshay Green and Anthony Allen.  I'm not sure how official that list is, and it didn't include any of the five national players who were re-signed on Tuesday thus avoiding free agency.  However Murray did a good job of piecing together whatever names he could.

Unlike most Rider observers, I'm not getting too giddy over free agency.  The contracts really aren't worth the paper they're printed on and are heavily weighted towards the teams.  For instance, the players can have their contracts terminated at any time while the coaches and GMs are guaranteed their money.  To me, the most-interesting part of these deals pertains to rookie Americans like Jeff Knox Jr. who must sign a mandatory two-year deal on their first agreement.  (One wonders how Tyree Hollins could've made the Leader Post's list under this rule).

Still, it's provided us more than enough to discuss on our shows and blogs.

One more Rider note: Happy 30th Birthday today to former Rider quarterback Cole Berquist.  I thought he never had a fair chance to display his skills during the ill-fated 2011 Roughrider campaign.

12. The CFL's Board of Governors will have plenty to discuss at their next round of meetings, whenever they are.  Perhaps it's too soon to sound the alarm bell - we should wait until Sunday's TV ratings are divulged - but there seems to be a worrying trend afoot.  While my wife was shopping in the Cornwall Centre on Sunday, I popped into Jersey City hoping to watch the CFL Eastern SemiFinal on their TVs however I was horrified to discover both screens were tuned to the NFL.  It's their store after all, so I didn't ask them to change it.  My TSN-Go app served just fine to watch the game in the food court, but you wouldn't think you'd have to do that in this town.

Incidentally that TSN-Go app is one of the biggest reasons why I'll ALWAYS have an Access cable subscription.  You need it to log into TSN's feed.

13. In 2008 the CFL switched its playoff games to Saturdays (I'm guessing because of the NFL threat) however the ratings plummeted and they were quickly moved back to Sundays.  But this is a much different sporting landscape seven years later and the NFL's become a monster around the world.

14. As we've mentioned many times, TSN personnel have often scoffed at the threat of the NFL to CFL broadcasts but it's that type of thinking which lost them their NHL deal.

Meanwhile, again, while NBC was showing the Arizona-Seattle NFL game in prime time last night, rival ESPN was showing World Series of Poker.  ESPN knows enough not to pound a square peg into a round hole and, as they say, "even the wisest general knows when to surrender".

15. And hats off to NBC colour analyst Chris Collinsworth who said Sunday night what everyone else is thinking in 2015, "This game's become impossible to officiate right now".  He was referring to a challenge which took over four minutes to decide.

16. The Regina Pats are scoring goals by the boatload right now.  On Friday they tagged the Red Deer Rebels 8-5 in anything but a goaltending duel while on Sunday they vanquished the Lethbridge Hurricances 5-3 to up their record to 9-8-1.  Both opponents are ranked in the CHL's Top 10.

Pats coach John Paddock warned us that this will be a trying year with such a young team but the impact of captain Colby Williams' return on Friday has been enormous.  He was the #1 star on Friday night with a goal and an assist and added a +3 performance on Sunday.  He's a Washington prospect and Capitals Assistant GM Ross Mahoney was in attendance on the weekend and was smiling ear-to-ear.  They took Colby to camp in September despite his off-season injury.

The Pats are 2-1-0 on their four game homestand which concludes Tuesday against the Medicine Hat Tigers.

17. I did not miss Columbus coach John Tortorella while he was out of the NHL.  However he's telling people he's mellowed since his firing in Vancouver two seasons ago.

Meanwhile it was a treat to listen to Bob Cole call Sunday's Maple Leafs-Rangers game from New York on Sportsnet.  At first glance it made me wonder if it was Stanley Cup Playoff time however I was brought back to earth with the realization Toronto was playing.

18. Can't wait for Wednesday!  I'll be taking a couple of days off to catch the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks at Rexall Place and will provide a full report in the Thursday observations column.  It's a shame Connor McDavid won't be in the Oilers' lineup but at least we got to see him live in the preseason in Vancouver.  However it'll be fantastic to see Jordan Eberle play live again.

19. Should've taken that bet in Las Vegas that Connor McDavid will be the NHL's Calder Trophy winner as Rookie of the Year.  Right now the leader in that category is Arizona's Max Domi who took only nine games to score his seventh career goal.  It took his father Tie 128 games to score his seventh goal!  However it's unfair to compare Max to his Dad.  It's unfair to Tie!  What a role reversal from what we're used to in that type of discussion.

20.  And finally, what an honour it was to be a part of history this weekend when Saturday Night Fights 10 at the Conexus Arts Centre was the first-ever professional MMA card in Regina history!  Coach and promoter A.J. Scales brought me on board as the ring announcer and the event was beyond description.  The venue was filled to capacity and the adrenaline was flowing out of control.  There were three events going on simultaneously in the old Centre of the Arts and the roar of the MMA crowd had to have flooded through the walls to the other functions.  It was deafening!

And what a scintillating experience it was to interview those fighters live on the mic immediately after they knocked out, or choked out, their opponents.  Sedate sports like curling and baseball pale in comparison to Mixed Martial Arts, especially for someone in my role who's interviewing these fighters live on the mic right after what they've just accomplished.  They're standing there shaking, bloodied and winded but on top of the world.

For instance, I asked Regina's Adam Wayne how it felt to choke out his opponent 3:44 into the first round.  "It shoulda been sooner!" Adam screamed through his mouthguard.  "It shoulda been sooner!"

Can't wait for the next one.


IG: ridervoice