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Monday, March 28, 2016


Jim Hopson, Gregg Zaun and me with the Bulyea Rustlers Saturday in Strasbourg, SK

1 - HOPPY EASTER:  Former Saskatchewan Roughriders President Jim Hopson (2005-2014) made his way home from his Mexican estate on Friday for the first of several spring speaking engagements.  Saturday night Hopson and Sportsnet's Gregg Zaun were the keynote speakers in Strasbourg, SK for the Bulyea Rustlers fastball team's fundraising dinner.  I was the Master of Ceremonies for the event which was held before a soldout crowd at the Strasbourg Community Hall.

I noted above that Hopson's tenure concluded after the 2014 CFL season although he didn't actually handover the reins of the Roughriders to Craig Reynolds until the end of March 2015.  However I don't think he'd care to have the 3-15 campaign of 2015 on his record!  Does he bare some responsibility for what happened last season?

That's included in this partial transcript of our Q&A from Saturday night:


JH:  Yes I would have because I believe once you hire a GM and Head Coach, you've gotta be supportive of their decisions.  I love Weston and I love John.  I know them well personally but Craig made the decision to bring in Chris (Jones) and I don't think it was a bad decision.  I look at Chris's record in the CFL and he's been a winner everywhere he's been.  He has a vision and the salary cap is our reality now.  He made a decision and it'll all come down to winning.

If Chris and the team do well and win, it'll all be great.  And if he doesn't, he knows the consquences will be a lot of unhappy people but he's willing to do that.  I give him credit for having a vision and being strong enough to move forward.

We all know there were times in the past where we probably hurt ourselves by not making those tough decisions.  I remember Bobby Jurasin probably played a year too long and us probably listening to the fans more than we should have.  I can't criticize the decision.  If you're gonna hire a GM, you've got to turn him loose and let him do his job.


JH:  I know this:  if Brendan Taman would've stayed, he would've had to have done something as well.  There had to be some adjustments made.  Brendan went "all in" to win the 2013 Grey Cup and he was competing against some other teams for Weston and John so he paid what he had to pay.  But it was unsustainable and something had to give.


JH:  It's easy to say yes but their first three years were very, very good years.  The first year (2012) the team got better and got to the playoffs.  The second year, we won the Grey Cup at home.  The third year, it looked like the best team in the league until the quarterback got hurt.  The first three years were very good.

Based on that, I made a decision to keep them on.  Unfortunately 2015 couldn't have been worse.  You can blame injuries but there were coaching decisions, officiating decisions, bad luck, all kinds of things happened.

I've never said this to anybody but when I reflect, maybe when you look at 2014, when Darian got hurt, maybe we didn't handle the adversity very well.  Our quarterback went down and we made the playoffs but we only won two games after Darian got hurt.  We were 2-6.  Maybe that was a hint that we didn't handle adversity well.

Certainly last year, of all the things, that was the biggest challenge; we didn't respond to the adversity.  Having said that, last year Hamilton lost their quarterback and went 2-5 afterwards.  But I think that was the biggest challenge, how did we handle the adversity and we didn't handle it very well.


JH:  I'm a Craig Reynolds fan.  I really respect the young man.  I think he's got a lot going for him.  As Rod and I were saying earlier, he's "an accountant with personality and courage".  He's had a tremendous role in the new stadium, has been a real leader in that, and I think the stadium will be the finest in North America in terms of an outdoor facility.  I think it'll be a credit to the province, the fans and so on.

I think we're on the right track.  Craig has a vision.  Chris has a vision.  I don't offer any advice to Craig unless he asks but Craig wants us to be a championship-calibre team in 2017 when we move into the new stadium.  This year we have to be patient, hopefully we'll be competitive, but I think they're really geared up that next year should be a strong year for us.  This year is going to be a really special year for us.


JH:  We can't afford it!

* Hopson's 30-minute address was excellent.  He informed me that he has about three different speeches that he uses but Saturday's was all about his time with the Roughriders including playing with Ronnie and George, Ed McQuarters, Bill Baker, etc. and also his time as President of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

To book Jim to speak at your event, call Joe Gunnis at 306-631-4123.


Sharing a laugh with Gregg Zaun
2 - THE ZAUNTOURAGE:  Sportsnet's Gregg Zaun was his usual, entertaining self as the final speaker to take the stage Saturday night in Strasbourg.  Interestingly enough, the Bulyea Rustlers banquet was the 20th speaking engagement for Zaun - a 16-year Major Leaguer and World Series champion - this off-season while he had exactly ZERO in the winter of 2015.  Why the difference?  Obviously the Blue Jays' post-season run of 2015 made Zaun a household name as the analyst on Blue Jays Central with host Jamie Campbell.  Don't let it be said that the team's performance doesn't affect the broadcasters' popularity!

However as Zaun took the stage Saturday night in Strasbourg, he cautioned the patrons to put their cameras and smartphones away so that "We can have a little fun!"  At that point, I turned my tape recorder off.  The Los Angeles product certainly gave a no-holds-barred assessment of the Toronto Blue Jays, one which might ruffle a few feathers with the ball club.  However here are some takeaways:

- The Boston Red Sox will give the Jays their biggest competition in the American League East in 2016.

- The infamous "Throwback Incident" in the 7th inning of the Jays' Game 5 series-clinching victory over Texas in the ALDS last season was 100% the correct call despite the protests from the Blue Jays and their fans.

- Jose Bautista's batflip was "a tad excessive".

- His favourite ballpark as a player was Toronto's Skydome while his least-favourite were Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and both New York stadiums.

- Jose Bautista will not get his $150,000,000 five-year deal from Toronto because "He's simply not a $30-million dollar player at this age".  And furthermore, "He signed a bad contract.  He's got to live with it."

- Zaun also spent a great deal of time discussing comparisons to Hockey Night In Canada's Don Cherry.  Many have tabbed Zaun, "Baseball's Don Cherry" or "The Next Don Cherry".  Gregg refutes this saying Cherry only wears a sportcoat while Zaun prefers to be adorned in full-bodied, three-piece suits.  "For instance the one I'm wearing is worth about the same as the GNP of a small country".

On the car ride out to Strasbourg we spent a long time discussing Gregg's relationship with Cherry.  Zaun said they talk regularly because he generally finds himself in the centre of controversy and Cherry knows a thing or two about that.  He said Cherry once mentioned to him, "Just when you think you're in trouble with the network, you're actually not in trouble at all.  In fact it's probably a good thing for your popularity."

I can't really remember where along the line Gregg Zaun and I got to be such close friends but I'm sure happy we did.  He's as genuine as they come.

And finally Zaun is a noted philanthropist and on Saturday night he donated a pair of Blue Jays fan trips which included game tickets, airfare and hotels plus batting practice passes to two winners.  They were auctioned off for a total of $7,000 which all went to the Rustlers' bottom line.


3 - RIDER MONDAY:  We'll be back on the football beat on Monday's SportsCage on 620 CKRM at 4:00 pm with our popular Rider Monday.  Our guests will include new Roughriders running back Matt Walter, Rider great Don Narcisse and the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes, Rick Moffatt.

4 - CFLPA BLOODSHED?:  TSN's Gary Lawless reported on Sunday there may be a coup atop the Canadian Football League Players Association at this week's annual meetings in Las Vegas.  Lawless reports Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman Jeff Keeping will attempt to unseed Scott Flory as CFLPA President and the matter will come down to a vote.  Lawless says the Players Association is unhappy with the leadership provided by Flory over the past few years. Flory seemed to think this is all rumour.  It should be an interesting week in Sin City.  The MMG arrives in Las Vegas on Saturday, but the whole matter might be over by then.

5 - RIDER RADIO OPPORTUNITY:  Rider Radio 620 CKRM is looking for a game-day operator for our 2016 Roughriders broadcasts which entails pushing buttons and producing our broadcasts from the CKRM studios.  The position is ideal for a broadcasting/journalism student or anyone else hoping to get their foot in the door in the broadcasting industry.  I performed that same role for Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcasts back in 1991 and 1992 for Tom Cheek, Jerry Howarth and the Telemedia Radio Network.  Interested parties should email CKRM's Program Director Grant Biebrick at

6 - DUB HUB:  The Regina Pats are coming back home after earning a split of Games 1 and 2 in Lethbridge in their first round WHL Playoff series with the Hurricanes.  I watched Game 1 on my Android box at home and was mortified by the Pats' effort in that 6-3 loss on Friday.  The same problems which plagued the club up until about mid-January reared their head again, like the Pats panicking in their own zone and forgetting the details.  Adding to the problem were the 12 powerplay opportunities they gave up, leading to four goals on the penalty kill.  However the good news was all their problems were self-inflicted and they seemed to shore them all up in Game 2 on Saturday when they came away with a 3-0 triumph.  Games 3 and 4 go Tuesday/Wednesday in the Brandt Centre.

Most WHL teams are going with flashy playoff campaigns like Brandon's "Gold Rush", Moose Jaw's "Whatever It Takes" and Lethbridge's "Cane Train".  What is the Regina Pats' playoff motto?  Are we supposed to wear red on Tuesday?  I'm so confused!

It's interesting too that Regina is finally getting aboard the Pats bandwagon.  So many people texted or emailed over the weekend wondering where they could watch the games in Lethbridge on Web TV.  It's that old adage, "I don't follow them until the playoffs".  That's fine.  I'm the same way when it comes to baseball for the most part.

Meanwhile the P.A. Raiders and the Brandon Wheat Kings are both in 0-2 holes after dropping the opening pair of games to Moose Jaw and Edmonton respectively.  Does anyone actually think Brandon's going to lose that series?  I don't.  However the Raiders are in a world of trouble.

And please, please don't offer up the phrase, "You're never in trouble until you lose a game at home in a seven-game series" this spring.  The lower seed could win all their home games and still lose a seven-game series.  Stop it!

One other junior hockey note:  the Erie Otters are the first OHL team in history to record three straight 50-win campaigns.  Their coach for them all?  Kris Knoblauch who was dumped as coach by the Kootenay Ice before heading east.  With the Ice finishing with the WHL's worst record this season, Knoblauch certainly is getting the last laugh.

7 - FEEL THE RUSH:  The Saskatchewan Rush swept a pair of games from the Toronto Rock over the weekend and at 9-3, have clinched a berth in the NLL Playoffs which will allow them to defend their league title.  With an average attendance of 10,400, the Rush sit 4th in the NLL in that category.  They trail only Buffalo, Denver and Calgary.  Well done Saskatoon!

8 - JUST NOTES:  Today's Pet Peeve:  People who ask for advice and then don't take it ... The funniest line I heard from a comedian last week: "The only reason you need a landline in your home is to call your cell phone when you can't find it!" ... They say it's getting ugly in Vancouver with the Canucks' eighth straight loss last night.  Hey - don't blame coach Willie Desjardins (the pride of Climax, SK).  They've got no players!  I wrote that here after seeing their final preseason last fall against Edmonton at Rogers Arena. ... On this date in 1982 Wayne Gretzky scored his 92nd goal of the season, setting an NHL record which still stands today. ... The Arizona Coyotes held a townhall meeting with fans, President/Co-owner Anthony Leblanc and GM Don Maloney on Saturday prior to the team's 2-1 win over Philadelphia.  Leblanc said it's "highly, highly unlikely" the team will be playing at Gila River Arena in Glendale past the next two seasons.  And Maloney said they absolutely will NOT be trading their franchise cornerstone Oliver Ekman-Larsson to whichever team wins the draft lottery so that they can select Scottsdale's Auston Mathews in the June draft.  We'll see!  I still think they will.

9 - CANADA'S TEAM:  Many have asked my thoughts on Sportsnet marketing the Toronto Blue Jays as Canada's Team heading into the 2016 MLB season.  My take?  They are Canada's Team!  In November when I took in the Oilers and Blackhawks at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Blue Jays first baseman and outfielder Chris Colabello received a standing ovation from the Edmonton faithful when he was introduced.  They surely wouldn't have done that for Darian Durant!  The Canada's Team moniker as it pertained to the Saskatchewan Roughriders was a simple marketing schtick that worked out perfectly.

And as for Edmonton, the Oilers are asking for fans' favourite memories of Rexall Place/Northlands Coliseum during this Farewell Season.  Mine came in the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs just before Game 3 of the Oilers-Stars series.  I was standing behind the Stars' net with my Dad - who was in his 10th season with Dallas at the time - and every single light in the arena was killed just before the opening faceoff.  You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face.  Then a spotlight knifed through the darkness as "Rock And Roll All Night" by KISS rocked the facility.  Over our heads they were dropping the banners of COFFEY, GRETZKY, MESSIER, FUHR and HAMILTON, and the place was absolutely coming off its hinges.

Just as memorable was an incident after that game in the Stars' coaching offices when GM Bob Gainey was furious over Ken Hitchcock not taking a timeout when the Oilers were mounting a frenzied late-game comeback.  I was nervously staring at the floor, wondering how the hell I even got in there.  Kelly Buchberger scored the OT winner that night and the Oilers went on to win the series but Hitch got his due in 1999 when the Stars won the Stanley Cup.

But nobody does pregame theatrics like the Edmonton Oilers.  Nobody.

10 - THE SUMMIT:  Spots are filling up for the inaugural Pedersen Media Summit on Saturday, May 14 at Mosaic Stadium's Pilsner Place.  Thanks to the Swift Current Broncos/Ryan Switzer, Estevan Bruins, Sean Nelson and Nelson Hackewich for signing up over the weekend.  We've brought in some of the Saskatchewan Roughriders digital media staff as well as an MMA promoter to serve as collaborators for the day.  It'll be an idea-sharing, best-practices marketing and social media event where breakfast and lunch will be served as part of the $150 fee.  For more details or to book your spot, visit