THE WEEKLY NOTEBOOK
1 - OILERS DO IT RIGHT: The Edmonton Oilers and their wonderful fans sent Northlands Coliseum out with a bang Wednesday night, trouncing the Vancouver Canucks 6-2 in the final game ever in the 42-year old facility. Here are some thoughts: 1) Leon Draisitl scored the last-ever Oilers goal at "Rexall" while Jordan Eberle scooped up the puck at game's end. ... 2) Wouldn't it have been something if disgruntled forward Nail Yakupov's second period goal would've stood up as the game-winner in a 1-0 victory? That certainly would've left a stench in Skyreach Centre. ... 3) The interviews before, during and after the game paid homage to the storied franchise and featured names we haven't heard of in years like Craig Muni, Brad Isbister and Georges Laracques. They were all fantastic. ... 4) Hockey fans across the country bemoaned the length of the postgame ceremony on Sportsnet featuring close to 200 Oilers alumni but those viewers had the option to change the channel at anytime. Enough with the whining! The ceremony was for the team and us long-time Oilers observers/fans. ... 5) The 16,839 fans in attendance had to have left the facility teary-eyed, but hopeful better days are ahead since the club finally didn't let them down when it mattered the most. .... 6) However just because they're moving into the "finest hockey arena on the planet" (as tabbed by the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones), it doesn't mean the Oilers won't be picking #1 again in 2017. ... 7) Jordan Eberle received a long, raucous ovation when he was introduced by Sportsnet's John Shannon after the game. We still think of "Ebs" as a Pat, but he's spent much more time as an Oiler than he did as a Regina junior. Methinks he won't be on the trading block anytime soon. ... 8) I was dismayed that former Hall of Fame Voice of the Oilers Rod Phillips wasn't brought in to call the game on 630 CHED just as Bob Cole was for Sportsnet. However, I appeared to be the only one who was dismayed. Time marches on I guess, and maybe it's time to move on. Phillips hasn't called Oilers games for five seasons. ... 9) The Farewell ceremony and the Oilers' season-long celebration is a boon for the Roughriders who will be going through the exact same thing in 2016. Surely the Roughriders will pick up some great ideas but the Oilers have set the bar very high.
2 - STADIUM ENVY: It will be infinitely fascinating to watch the narrative out of Calgary over the next few years as they scramble to find the funds for their Calgary-NEXT project; the movement to construct new NHL and CFL facilities. You have to know it's driving them bonkers that Saskatchewan and Edmonton are putting the finishing touches on the finest stadiums in the land while Calgary's facilities are fast becoming the oldest in their respective leagues. Take for instance this excerpt from a story written on CHQR Radio's website, written by the Voice of the Stampeders Mark Stephen:
"When the Oilers open the new building in the fall, they will be doing the Calgary Flames a huge favour. Once Calgarians take a peak at the new Edmonton building, a serious case of stadium envy will break out.
Differences associated with building Calgary NEXT will quickly disappear. The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group, politicians and other civic leader will hear a loud, clear message -- build the dang thing! Somehow the current obstacles will disappear."
* I was flabbergasted when I read that. Is Calgary expecting to raise a billion dollars with the snap of their fingers or the wave of a wand? A mountain like that doesn't just melt away. They'll be playing in the Saddledome and McMahon Stadium for years and years to come.
Sportsnet's Rich Sutter told the SportsCage that the Calgary Flames "got ahead of themselves" with regards to where they are as a team in 2015-16. It seems they're doing the same thing with the arena project.
3 - ON ROUGHRIDERS: Beginning this weekend the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be front-and-centre in CFL circles when they get the jump on everyone else by hosting their annual spring minicamp in Vero Beach, FL. Details on the camp are minimal right now but I'm told there will be EIGHT quarterbacks participating. The Riders really have no idea how many players will show up for the "Play-In" tryouts on Saturday. Players are simply asked to show up with $100US and fill out a registration form. If they're not invited over to the minicamp beginning Sunday, their money will be refunded. It looks to me like it'll be a mad scramble Saturday morning and then once the minicamp begins, I'm not sure if the club will even be practicing with helmets. No matter, Chris Jones will be able to tell very quickly who can play at this level and who can't.
It's all well and good to see who has the fastest 40 time or the most benchpress reps but it'll be in the minicamp itself where the Riders will discover who has the required heart and football intelligence.
The camp roster is also closely-guarded and at this point, we're not sure how many veterans will participate other than quarterbacks Darian Durant and Brett Smith. Some vets have said over the past few weeks that the Rider brass had hinted that they'd be invited, but nothing was confirmed at the time.
Coverage of the minicamp will be vast as we'll be broadcasting the SportsCage on 620 CKRM Sunday at 2:00 pm live from Dodgertown followed by 4:00 pm shows on Monday and Tuesday. There will be comprehensive coverage here on this blog as well as video livestreams on Riderville.com and coverage from all the Riders' various digital media platforms.
And the Floridians seem to be excited to welcome the Saskatchewan Roughriders to Vero Beach, FL even if they aren't sure what they're in for, or who exactly we are.
Take for example this headline (on the left) in the Treasure Coast Palm newspaper on Wednesday!
4 - FACE PALM: One of the patrons on the 620 CKRM sponsors excursion to Las Vegas this week asked me if we'd have time to swing by Disneyworld in Orlando, FL while we're down there. Another Rider fan said he'd be in the area and asked if he'd bump into me on the beach.
Uh, no! I learned very quickly over the past couple of minicamps that these affairs are sun-up to sundown propositions. For the coaches, they're working 16-18 hour days between organizing, coaching, evaluating and even more evaluating. For us reporters at minicamp, it's covering the workouts, broadcasting our shows and then posting reports, interviews and photos. Truthfully the only difference between a Florida minicamp and Rider training camp in Saskatoon is the glorious weather. It's all business and the second it's over, we're gone.
5 - EVIL EMPIRE: After spending much time examining the volatile blowback I received from Eskimo players Mike Reilly, Odell Willis, Nate Coehoorn and Calvin McCarty over my 2016 CFL West Division predictions, I've reached this conclusion: the anger over losing Chris Jones and his coaching to Saskatchewan has been simmering since December and my prediction was enough to cause the Eskimos to blow their stack. The tipping point. I mean, how else would you explain such heated emotions over the near-meaningless prognostications from a simple play-by-play guy from a rival team? It still doesn't make sense to me. An Edmonton-area radio host went so far as to label me "The Donald Trump of the CFL"! To that, I said "Thanks".
6 - THE GREATEST TEAM YOU NEVER KNEW: We maintain the Saskatchewan Roughriders will surprise in 2016. The biggest reason why they're under-the-radar right now is that most CFL fans are barely familiar with names like John Chiles, Jeremy Kelley, Shamawd Chambers, Andrew Jones, Greg Jones, Curtis Steele, Ed Gainey, Kendial Lawrence, Otha Foster and Curtis Steele. But they're all mid-to-late 20-somethings on their second CFL contracts and are just approaching their prime. The 2015 Roughriders were a collection of rookies and aging vets with barely any players in that "Sweet Spot" of their careers. However that's the age of players you win with in the pros, whether it be NHL, CFL, NFL, etc. Combined with the best, tightest, coaching staff in the CFL, look out for Canada's Team.
However another patron on the CKRM trip to Las Vegas posed this question to me this week: "Why aren't the Riders willing to give Kory Sheets another shot because of his Achilles injury yet they're pinning all their hopes on Darian Durant who's coming back from the exact same problem?" I don't know the answer to that, but it's something we can deliberate on Friday's SportsCage.
7 - I HOPE THIS ISN'T RIGHT: Sportsnet's Arash Madani got a tip from inside a meeting room at the CFL's Congress meetings this week that the league "intentionally went quiet" this off-season. Sort of an "under-the-radar" philosophy. I have to ask whose idea this was? What would the league sponsors think if this is in fact the case? This is the kind of situation that makes me panic and gets my palms sweaty. Who would condone such a strategy? Oh well, all I can control is me and this blog will continue to keep cranking out the CFL coverage.
And I'll save the CFL a seat at my seminar about how to attract attention to your team, league, business or organization. Details at www.pedersenmedia.ca.
8 - OKAY BLUE JAYS: The Toronto Blue Jays got a controversial split of their season-opening four game series in Tampa Bay this week and now get set to host the Boston Red Sox in their 2016 home-opener on Friday. Toronto sportscaster Jim Lang told the SportsCage on Wednesday that Blue Jays Fever is at a pitch not even rivaled by their great teams of the early-90's. TV ratings of the Jays' Opening Day win at Tampa Bay smashed those of Hockey Night In Canada for the first time ever. Meanwhile, across town, fabled Toronto reporter Marty York Tweeted that the Toronto Blue Jays are "overrated". Please discuss.
9 - GO PATS GO: The Regina Pats are gearing up for their second round WHL Playoff series which begins Saturday in Red Deer. It's the second time in history these two clubs have met in the postseason with the first being in 1997 when the Rebels upset the Pats in a five-game series. What a tough pill that was to swallow! A 43-win season fizzled into oblivion. Rebels Assistant GM Shaun Sutter told the SportsCage on Wednesday that they'll "have their hands full" with the Pats in this one and I'm starting to think the Pats have a real shot at winning it. Red Deer is hampered by injuries including first-round Arizona Coyotes prospect Connor Bleakley while Regina is healthy and playing their best hockey of the season. Pats in seven?
By the way, regarding Lethbridge Hurricanes coach Brent Kisio not shaking hands with the Regina Pats staff after Round 1, I'm hoping Kisio was simply displaying his youth and the tradition slipped his mind. However word's coming out now that Kisio shook John Paddock's hand, but not his assistants.
Still, shake hands guys. It's not going to kill you.
10 - LEAVING LAS VEGAS: I was excited to get back on the SportsCage on Wednesday and discuss the Blue Jays-Rays fiasco, the NHL playoff races and the Pats-Rebels series but it was awfully tough to leave Sin City on the very day they were holding the grand opening of T-Mobile Arena. The 31 degrees Celsius was glorious too. ... Unfortunately we weren't able to get a new arena tour because of the hubbub of the week so that will have to wait until our next visit. ... How ironic that they were opening the greatest facility on the continent in Las Vegas on the very day famed Northlands Coliseum was being closed down. ... It was a busy week in Las Vegas with plenty of meetings and they were fruitful. I got to have a coffee at separate times with Rider Chairman Wayne Morsky, popular former Roughriders punter Eddie Johnson and Riders' Las Vegas-based scout Vic Poma. ... Eddie flew in from Newport Beach, CA for the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday at MGM Grand however he was able to find time for me. He wants his fans to know that he's busy in front of the camera taking acting lessons and appearing in all kinds of commercials for such companies as Volkswagen, Just For Men and Verizon. However he's quick to point out it's "acting" and not "modelling". ... A note for any Las Vegas travellers this spring and summer -- get on Vegas.com and book your shows early! Jerry Seinfeld and Mike Tyson's shows were sold out days in advance so we had to settle for Rock of Ages at the Rio. However that was a fantastic show, particularly if you're into 80's rock. ... And, finally, it truly is just a matter of time before Las Vegas is awarded an NHL expansion franchise. The locals are talking like they have a team already. After all, why would the NHL be ammending its Expansion Draft rules if they weren't planning on adding a team (or two)? And as one local aptly pointed out as we were leaving Wednesday morning, "Vegas always gets what it wants".
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! THANKS FOR READING ...