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Monday, June 6, 2016



SASKATOON -- Perhaps, in retrospect, when we filed into Saskatoon's SMF Field for the Roughriders' annual Green and White game on Saturday, we shouldn't have expected the second coming of the New England Patriots.

I don't know what we were expecting exactly, but Saturday's performance by Canada's Team was labelled as a "poor display" by Head Coach & GM Chris Jones.   So much so that Jones said the showing "made me want to throw up", in a quote which made headlines from coast-to-coast.

In my role as public address announcer for Saturday's game (thanks again to the Roughriders for that opportunity by the way), I wasn't able to closely dissect anything more than who threw the ball, who caught the ball or who made the tackle.  Things were moving fast and furious and it was difficult to get into personnel groupings and individual performances.

However even I could see it wasn't a well-oiled machine and perhaps that's where we stand in the Rider Nation right now:  needing to be much more patient as this thing comes together under an entirely new regime.

As for the nauseau Jones was feeling Saturday night, he backed off somewhat when he talked with reporters on Sunday after the club's afternoon workout.

"It was very sloppy," Jones maintained at Griffiths Stadium.  "Turnovers and penalties were the two things that kind of stuck out in my mind but defensively, they played a little bit faster than what I gave them credit for.  They're just not getting their legs back.  I mean we tried to get off their legs Sunday so hopefully Monday we can get back out there and get to playing fast again."

After carefully reviewing the tape of Saturday's game, Jones said there were a few more bright spots than he'd originally noticed.

"Yeah the QBs, a couple of them had some drops so their percentages would've been better had they not had the drops," Jones surmised.  "So, we've just got to clean that type of thing up."

The Roughriders have been going exceedingly hard in training camp since it opened on May 29, wearing pads each and every day except Day 1.  And there's no reason to expect that will change as training camp enters Week 2 on Monday.

"It's a little early to pull off the accelerator," Jones advised.  "We've got to continue to work.  We won't be able to work them quite as hard as we did because I want to get to that B.C. game and evaluate guys that aren't leg-weary."


Along this theme of "being patient", 28-year Roughrider radio analyst Carm Carteri feels the fanbase may be unwilling to accept that notion.

Carmelo came up to Saskatoon on Friday saying fans back home are "waiting to jump on" Jones and Co. because of their unpopular decisions to cut free franchise legends Weston Dressler, John Chick and Chris Getzlaf this winter.

Should this team start 0-2 or 0-3 - which isn't out of the realm of possibility - how will the Rider Nation react and if it's negative, how will it be received by Jones?

"First of all, he won't care," Carteri said on Sunday.  "Just in his mannerisms, he knows what he's doing.  I think Rider fans are just going to have to be patient because I think it's going to take a little bit of time until we see this offense in action and then we've got two preseason games to evaluate that.

"And then of course the bye week in Week 1.  So this coaching staff will have a little more time to get this team ready.  Chris Jones, he knows what he's doing Roddy.  We've seen him in practice and he's got the confidence, he's a great teacher out there and he's a leader.  He's a big-time leader and these players are looking to follow a leader.  I think he's got what it takes to be that leader here in Saskatchewan but it's just a matter of the way came in here - I don't want to say 'too abrupt' in what he did with cutting favourite players - but hey, he's got to do it his way.

"They've given him a three-year contract to build that.  We're all hoping it comes together in Year 2 with that beautiful new stadium opening up in Regina, but I think it's a matter of, we've all bought in to Chris Jones right now.  Now we just have to let him do his job and I think he will."

So the Roughriders have another full week of practice before they get set to host the B.C. Lions in the last-ever preseason game at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday at 7:00 pm (TSN, CKRM Rider Radio Network).

Will they be ready?

"I certainly hope so because they certainly weren't ready in that scrimmage," Carteri laughed.  "But yeah, I think they'll be ready and we all know the big day is the day after, the Sunday, when they make their cuts.  They've gotta shrink it so the family can come together.  Right now there's so many guys out there that it's hard to get them together, per se, but after cutdown date, that's when they're gonna gel."


Durant Saturday in Saskatoon
Of course nobody will be harder on the Saskatchewan Roughriders than the players themselves.

That's always been the case and franchise face Darian Durant has long been known to carry the burden of a lacklustre performance or an antsy fanbase on his back when need-be.

I asked the 11-year veteran out of Florence, South Carolina if the Rider Nation needs to dial its expectations back for 2016, even if it's just in the early going.

"I don't think so," Durant shrugged.  "I think that we all have to put things into perspective and realize that we're five, six days into camp.  When you're dealing with so many new guys and new systems, it's not going to be perfect right away.  And that's what we realize.  So just have to go in and correct the mistakes.  If we do that, we'll be fine."



Move over Saskatchewan Roughriders.  You've got company as the Big Boys on the Saskatchewan pro sports landscape.

Saturday night's 11-10 victory by the Saskatchewan Rush over the Buffalo Bandits before a capacity crowd at Saskatoon's SaskTel Centre completed a sweep of the NLL Champion's Cup and indeed, made sporting history in Saskatchewan.

The inaugural season for the Rush after relocating from Edmonton could absolutely not have gone any better.

To win a championship on a breakaway goal by Jeff Cornwall with just 12 seconds to go to send the 15,000-plus into a complete frenzy?  C'mon.

If someone would've written a movie script like that, you wouldn't have believed it.

"It doesn't get better than that," Rider coach Chris Jones said after witnessing the Rush victory firsthand Saturday night.

And with that, Saskatoon is now on the pro sports map in Canada.

Sportsnet's Arash Madani admitted on the 620 CKRM's SportsCage last week that he'd never been to Saskatoon before and frankly, why would he?  He doesn't cover Memorial Cups, the Vanier Cup, World Junior Championships or Briers.

But now, Saskatoon is swinging with the big boys and they achieved that by showing a national television audience on TSN2 that this town can rock with the best of them.

As far as the Roughriders are concerned, the more the merrier.  Rush owner Bruce Urban grew up within the shadow of Taylor Field while Rush President Lee Genier was a long-time member of the Calgary Stampeders sales and marketing department.

They are no strangers to the Saskatchewan Roughriders are indeed, friends.

Some up here have suggested the Roughriders had better look out, or the Rush could overtake them as Saskatchewan's favourite pro team.

Stop it.

We're talking about 106 years of history versus one.  Let's just be happy over the positive vibes emanating from the Bridge City right now.

It was a whirlwind maiden season for the Rush in the 306 but they couldn't have pulled off a better performance from start to finish.  Their marketing and community relations departments are exemplary and clearly Coach & GM Derek Keenan knows what he's doing.  What else is there?

Now they just need to get their players living and breathing in the community year-round - or at least during the season - and not have them commuting in for games.

That will all come in time.

But for now, they can enjoy being champions.

Bravo Rush.  Take a bow.


Virtually from the time Saskatchewan Place opened its doors in 1988, a lot of Saskatoon sports fans have been complaining about its location (half a mile or so northwest of the city).

Even now, many bemoan the lack of enough exits for the facility which can really become a headache for a Rush game or a Garth Brooks concert.

But that just seemed like so many excuses to stay away over the years and trust me, no one was complaining about the drive or the parking lot on Saturday night.  If you want to go to something, you'll go.

However there's a movement afoot to construct a brand new sports facility - a home for the Blades and Rush and other events - somewhere downtown.  It just seems like so much crazy talk to the Monday Morning Goalie but the long-time voice of the Blades - Les Lazaruk - says it's more than idle chatter.

Les Lazaruk
"Well, again, it's not happening tomorrow and it's not happening in five years," Lazaruk explained on CKRM on Friday.  "This is something that has to happen in 20 years.  The biggest thing when talking about a new arena is there has to be some foresight.  They're talking about putting a new arena in the city yards north of downtown and people are saying there's no room to park.  Well we're not talking about right now.  We're talking about in 20 years.

"In 20 years you should be able to direct your infrastructure in such a way that you'll have entrance and exit points to have proper parking.  It's not that bad to get to SaskTel Centre nowadays but when you have 15,000 fans for Rush games, the concourses are squeezed because you've built corporate boxes after the arena was built.  The concourses are bottlenecked and the washroom and concession facilities were built for, basically, a 7300 seat facility which it was when it opened.  Now you're doubling that so you have very long lines.  There's no kitchen at SaskTel Centre so things have to be brought in from outside.

"There is a need for a new arena but it's not going to happen for another 20 years.  And it's not just for the Blades and the Rush.  It's also a huge concert facility and ask anybody who's going to go to six Garth Brooks concerts next week and see what their experience will be like.  I think it's going to be disastrous.  It's great that it's coming but it's going to illustrate the need for a new arena."

I asked Les if a little of this has to do with the fact that Saskatoon's wary neighbour down south, Regina, is putting the finishing touches on the finest outdoor stadium in the country.

"I think it's a 50/50 thing," Lazaruk observed.  "Everybody understands that there's a need for a new Mosaic Stadium in Regina.  Taylor Field has been outdated for 30 years.  I used to go there as a Winnipegger in the 80's for the Labour Day Classic but even back then it was woefully inadequate.  30 years later, it's still the same.  You need a new stadium and this one looks great.

"What's bad about it is now Regina has the new facility and from a Saskatoon perspective - that rivalry that exists whether it's needed or not - the fact is there will be events that go to Regina that could of come here and Tourism Saskatoon probably isn't that pleased that it's happening.  That's it.  That's all I'm willing to say about that because I can get myself in a lot more trouble if I go on!"

It will be a situation worth watching.