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Monday, February 1, 2016



1.  HOPEFULLY, THE END OF THE JOHN SCOTT TALK -  There are many views on the latest hot topic in the National Hockey League and today, here's mine:  No doubt enforcer John Scott being named the MVP of the 2016 NHL All-Star 3-on-3 Tournament (by another fan vote) on Sunday is the nicest feel-good story of the season so far.  However that's where it should end.

Unfortunately when fans and pro athletes from other sports got #CallUpJohnScott trending on Twitter Sunday evening (including Riders defensive tackle Rory Connop), somebody had to inject some common sense.  Even established media pundits (like the clueless Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette) were suggesting that Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin call up the 6'8" enforcer from AHL St. John's due to Scott's two-goal, MVP performance in Nashville ... However the truth remains, he shouldn't have even been there.  From all accounts, Scott is a helluva nice guy.  The IceCaps people say he's first-class all the way.  Heck, we're even Facebook friends but when Scott disobeyed the wishes of the NHL and his GM when they suggested he bow out of the event a few weeks ago, I thought this story was turning ugly.  I'm an advocate of doing what you're told by your superiors.

However John Scott penned a great essay at Derek Jeter's website last week in which he stated he was going to participate in the All-Star Festivities so that his children would one day learn their father was an NHL All-Star.  However, unfortunately, when his kids are old enough to Google their Dad's name they'll realize he was voted in by fans as a gag.  A ruse, since he's the very definition of a "fringe player" and possibly the least-talented player in the NHL (and as we know, he's currently not even in the NHL).  I'm not sure it's something he'd want to be remembered for. ... What occurred on Sunday is a warm and fuzzy story for sure, but a 3-on-3 rec hockey tournament played at 80% speed is by no means an indication that Scott belongs in the NHL's elite.  However it appears that some hockey fans and observers actually feel he does. ... The silver lining in the story is that the situation garnered TONS of publicity for NHL All-Star Weekend and likely drove TV ratings through the roof.  I'd have watched it anyway, but was glued to the television for when Scott's shift came up.

However come Monday, it'll be back to reality for John Scott and he'll be just another guy slugging it out in the minors.  And it won't be long before he realizes if he'd just complied, he'd still be cashing cheques from the Arizona Coyotes in the gorgeous Phoenix sun.  Frankly THAT would have been what's best for his family. 

2. RIDER NEWS - We'll know a lot more of what's up with Canada's Team when Assistant V.P. of Player Personnel John Murphy joins the SportsCage's Rider Monday at 5:10 pm on 620 CKRM.  The Riders reportedly had dozens of staff in Mobile, AL last week to scout the NFL's Top Prospects and hold their own staff meetings for the first time as a group.  However once the game kicked off on Saturday live on the NFL Network, the Rider staff had already vamoosed to Texas where they held a pair of free agent tryout camps over the weekend (Saturday in Houston and Sunday in Carrollton).  ... These camps appear to have been fruitful, as they've already signed a handful of players including 6'2" receiver Shay Hodge who's spent time previously with Washington, Cleveland and Hamilton.  Two of the other signees, DBs Marte Sears (6'5") and Robert Sands (6'4"), were with Chris Jones last year in Edmonton and their size shows you the plan for the Riders' secondary this season. ... The fourth signee is non-import receiver Jordan Reaves, the son of CFL great Willard Reaves, who was signed by Winnipeg last year before being cut after training camp.  Hopefully John Murphy can shed some light on what they think Reaves' upside is.

3. MORE CFL NOTES - Offensive line coach Doug Malone won a Grey Cup with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2013 before bolting to B.C. with George Cortez for the 2015 season.  Malone announced on Facebook last week that he's joined Western Illinois University which is a lot closer to his home in Tennessee.  Malone is a great coach and a fantastic fellow.  We wish him nothing but the best! ... We've hurled enough criticism at CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge in this space but you've got to give credit where it's due.  TSN CFL Insider Gary Lawless applauded Orridge last week for instituting the league's new anti-tampering police for coaches and management movement and feels he now needs to take it one step further and invent a similar policy for player tampering.  For years and years - in fact as long as I've been in the CFL - shameless tampering with pending free agents has gone on at this time of year and many felt it could never be fixed.  However if they can enforce the new restrictions on coaching movement, it shouldn't be a big leap to extend it to players and it would enhance the CFL's credibility tenfold. ... Having said that, the league still has light years to go in that regard.  I reached out to the CFLPA recently to ask if I'd be welcome at their spring meetings in Las Vegas to cover the proceedings for this blog.  However the answer I received was that the meetings would be "too boring" and not of interest to you the readers.  I contend that in 1981, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle told ESPN the same thing about its annual Draft however the network was undeterred and look at how that turned out.  I always say, "Leave it to us to decide what's interesting to the fans".  But, we tried.

4.  COACHES POLL - TSN's Bob MacKenzie had some very interesting results in his annual coaches poll for  Garnering votes from their peers as Coach of the Year so far are Washington's Barry Trotz, Florida's Gerard Gallant, Chicago's Joel Quenneville, New Jersey's John Hynes, Carolina's Bill Peters and Arizona's Dave Tippett.  Tippett's name always comes up in the Jack Adams discussion.  A similar poll in the CFL would be fascinating, but the head coaches are so untrusting that I'd be surprised if we could ever get a vote like this done successfully.  TSN does a nice players' poll, but I'm unaware of any involving the coaches.

5. GO PATS GO - There's so much to discuss with the Queen City Kids. ... First the good news:  a season-high crowd of 6023 showed up Friday night at the Brandt Centre to watch the Pats skate circles around the Saskatoon Blades in a 4-0 victory.  Former Pats broadcaster Kevin Gallant (1980-88) was in attendance and marvelled at the atmosphere, the crowd, the game presentation and the game itself.  It truly was a fantastic night to be a Pats fan, and the crowds keep growing and growing.  I roamed around the facility watching the first period in the Pats owners box and then watched the rest of the game with local sports types such as Carm Carteri, Kurt Wickenheiser, Curtis and Bill Hunt and the legendary Johnny Kolonich.  The Pats even added a real classy touch with a pregame tribute to former club owner Morley Gusway to passed away 10 days ago.  The crowds are only going to continue to go up. ... That should continue Friday night when the Pats host the Medicine Hat Tigers and it's an added bonus for me because our Access 7 television broadcast of the game will be picked up all across Western Canada on the Shaw Network.  What a huge opportunity for yours truly.

Now the bad news:  This is how the Pats are an immature team -- they followed up Friday's performance by getting molly-whopped 7-3 by those very same Blades on Saturday in Saskatoon.  The Pats aren't immature in the sense of taking silly penalties but they seem allergic to stringing a solid performance together game-in, game-out.  They're running out of time to solidify things if they want to make some noise in the playoffs. ... Several NHL scouts were in attendance Friday night and when we projected that the Pats figure to be one of the WHL's most-dominant teams in 2016-17, one scout whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "I can't see it".  I guess we'll see. ... And regarding the play of NHL first-round prospect Sam Steel of the Pats, the scouts mentioned that they'd like to see him skate more, work a little harder and definitely shoot more.  He's made a living of waiting for the game to come to him - with some success - but they don't feel his junior career has continued the trajectory it showed during his rookie campaign last year.

6. FOR THE CURLING FANS - Regina's Jolene Campbell dethroned two-time defending provincial champ Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon on Sunday in PA.  Campbell will be making her fourth trip to the Scotties, but her first as a provincial champ.  She was an alternate for Amber Holland's team in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  Thanks to the Canadian Curling Association for the info on that.  Saskatchewan's mens champion will be determined next Sunday, or Super Bowl Sunday as it's better known.

7. OH CANADA - Details are minimal but congratulations to Canada's Under-18 football team for winning their International Bowl game on Sunday against Team USA by a score of 31-13 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, home of the Cowboys.  Canada's entry was quarterbacked by Regina's Mason Nyhus, son of former CKRM announcer and current account rep Perry Nyhus.


Friday's post regarding Rider Coach & GM Chris Jones' address in Estevan Thursday evening was very popular but it contained only half the quotes from his 40-minute Q&A session.  So today, again courtesy of Bruins play-by-play man Jeromy Corrigan, here's the rest of the transcript of what Jones had to say to the Estevan crowd at the Bruins annual fundraising dinner:


CJ:  I saw the illegal contact on Adarius Bowman down there but there'd been ton of 'em that were worse than that that we challenged and didn't get.  So I'm sitting there asking our guys if we had a replay and they didn't and I'm like, "How do we not have a replay?"  They ain't gonna replay it in the box.  So I looked over at the playclock and it's 14, 13, 12, so I burned a timeout.  They didn't think I had a timeout but the head official, who's from Winnipeg, said "Jones you've got your one freebie" so I threw the flag.  I saw the replay, barely caught it, threw the flag and that's how we got down there.  And I told 'em not to even think about kicking a field goal.  If we couldn't get a yard, we didn't need to be there.


CJ:  Defensively and special teams, we'll be very fast and physical and do all the things we've always done.  We've already got some good ingredients and we're going to add to that group.  Offensively it's gonna be methodical.  We'll stretch the field a little bit but we'll have our checkdowns and end up in 2nd-and-2 and we run the ball.  You control the football, control the clock and play great defense, that's how you win.  When we took over in Edmonton we had the same philosophy and we had a bunch of guys who don't care about their stats.  I went into the first meeting with Odell Willis and #91 and I said I don't care how many sacks you have.  That matters none to me.  None.  It's wins and losses.  If we win enough games, you'll have your staffs.  I know who should come free if we run a twist.  I can set somebody up if we're winning the game.  But we don't worry about stats.  Win, and everything else handles itself.


CJ:  People do jump balls on us a lot because we're a man team.  We flipped the script on them a little bit this year because I think the rule was put in for us and Hamilton because they were trying to up the points.  Basically they're trying to protect the quarterbacks.  Points are down because everybody's quarterback is hurt.  They try to create rules to help him and what happened was it spiked up the penalties which I told them was gonna happen.  Then we got used to it and the penalties came down but it really hurt TV ratings and stuff like that early in the season.  You can't have 18 flags per team, and keep peoples' attention.  When there's a stoppage, you go to the refrigerator.

I had an experience like this in the Arena League and they had an NBC contract but somebody said down there that if you increase the penalties, you're gonna lose that contract.  I tried to tell the CFL that but it fell on deaf ears.  And if they'd move the season up two weeks, we wouldn't have to play in these minus temperatures.


CJ:  They're both big projects.  The only thing a bit different here is Mike Reilly was healthy in Edmonton when we took over and here Darian is just coming off an injury.  We've got to wait and see exactly, but it's supposed to be completely healed.  I've gone against him and he makes the rest of his team rise their level of play when he plays.  He's hard to tackle, he's a short little squatty guy but he's stronger and faster than you think.  It's a matter of seeing if he's healthy but it's going to be interesting and I'll tell you this; it's gonna be a whole lotta fun.


CJ:  Oh ya.  From all indications he's coming back completely healthy.  I had dinner with him down in Atlanta and had a real good talk about things he needs to do.  We're getting real good reports from his trainer and everything looks good to go.


CJ:  Some people may do that but he's still a player.  I'm a football coach and GM and you know he likes him.  They've been together forever but we have to make the necessary decisions for our entire football team and not just a couple of people. Unfortunately that's the reality of CFL economics.


CJ:  It's going to be interesting to see.  We're not gonna right back into spending credit card money.  We'll be very frugal with our money and make sure it goes in the right direction, not only for the short-term but for the long-term as well.  We want to win as much as anybody so these will be long-term decisions.


CJ:  Have you seen what some of these other guys have been signing for?  It's crazzzzzy.  I don't understand it.  It's the CFL, not the NFL.  We need to be real careful as GMs and not drive up the expectations of the players or we're going to be right back to what it was in the 80's when they almost drove it in the ground.  I'm probably the youngest GM but we need to start looking at that in my opinion.

Your quarterbacks are always going to be the highest-paid guys.  This year it's $400,000 and then it's $500,000 and where does it stop?  You want your entire team to be compensated so we just have to make sure we're making sound long-term decisions for the health of the league.  The CFL's been around 100 years, it's tremendous football and people love it down south.  It's been on ESPN and ESPN2.  It's fun for Americans to be able to watch the players that have been down that way and how they mesh with the Canadian kids.


CJ:  I can answer these questions and tell you what we do.  I'm confident in myself, I know where I came from, and it's more about the players, you know?  The game's about the players.  You don't win with one guy.  It's not about me.  It's about my players and the guys that go with me.  That's how I view how to go about things.  It's a "we" thing.


CJ:  Win the Grey Cup.


CJ:  I didn't know that.  Somebody told me that.  You're judged off of 'Did you win your last game?'  I'm still pissed we didn't win that game in Winnipeg against B.C. (2006 Grey Cup) and in overtime against Edmonton in B.C. (2005 Grey Cup) because those were winnable games.  That's why you do it.  You do it to win every single football game.  It's not realistic to think you'll win every game but that's why you get in it.  To win.


CJ:  We've got 2 or 3 down of them in Houston right now to meet our coaches and we'll know a little bit more over the weekend.  I'm not gonna stop until we find some more.  We're gonna keep on hunting.


CJ:  He's never played good in the big game.  I'd mix a lot of coverages.  We'd gotta play a lot of 2-man because he ain't gonna run so you show off and go up and press.  Play with two high safeties, and make him have to run.


CJ:  Blitz him on every play and make him be a quarterback.  We gotta tackle, send one more than they can block and get him on the ground when we get there.