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Thursday, June 23, 2016

THURSDAY RODSERVATIONS

A REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

1 - SO LONG COMMENT SECTION:  This blog lasted just over 10 years with a vibrant comment section for readers which was undoubtedly a big reason why it's twice been voted Canada's #1 sports blog (2007, 2011 Canadian Blog Awards).  However on Tuesday I made the tough decision to pull the plug entirely on allowing reader comments.

Why?  Well the answer is obvious for the readers who've been with me for a very long time.  The comments simply got way too far out of control and a good thing was ultimately ruined.  Long-gone are the regular posters with colourful names like Woz, Devo, Caesar, Obama, etc. and they all tell me the online bullying just got to be too much for them.

The hatred displayed by many from the "Anonymous" family was quickly becoming a turn-off factor but it ran far deeper than that.  It got to the point where I had to take a deep breath each time I opened up the "Comment Moderation" page and a voice inside my head kept saying, "Get ready for the hate".  It's something I didn't need and I wonder now why it took so long to reach this decision. But, I liked fans to have the ability to share their thoughts. Unfortunately some idiots ruined it.

What you saw was bad enough.  What you didn't see - the comments which were never published - were far more vile, ruthless, obnoxious, and unfortunately, personal.  Common sense isn't that common anymore and apparently there are many angry, disillusioned people amongst us.  True losers in life.

Oh I've been to the police in the past couple of months and showed them some of these comments which come in via email from the blog server.  "You definitely have a case for harrassment," the head of internet crimes told me.  The question became how much time did I want to dedicate to pursuing the culprits?

The Roughriders shut down their message board in 2001 after I personally received a death threat on their site.  (Ask then-Riders marketing manager Trent Fraser about that one).  They seem to have done just fine without it.

I've seen where some message board posters elsewhere have predicted that the comment section will return here by Game 1 of the Roughriders season.

Nope.  Uh uh.  Once my mind is made up on something, there's no going back.

My IT people are working on a plan to incorporate a Facebook component to commenting on this website whereby posters will have to identitfy themselves.  At the very least, you'll need to sign in with your Google ID.  However the good old days of the wild, wild west on this website are a thing of the past.  Interestingly, there are several great comments coming in on my Facebook page related to this column already.

For the time being, you can visit here:
https://www.facebook.com/rodpedersencom-722702824499075/

Will it cost me a few readers?  Maybe, but it's doubtful.  Website hits are actually up over the past couple of days and 99% of the websites I visit daily don't even have a comment section.  We can certainly get by without them.

While the comments were often fun and entertaining, many of them served to "cheapen" this blog and it doesn't need or deserve that.

This is progress.

2 - DRAFT KINGS:  I can't accurately put into words what a gargantuan step forward it is for the Canadian Football League to have partnered with the fantasy sports betting app Draft Kings this week.  In a lot of ways, it's all the CFL has been lacking lately.  Sure there are a few other deficiencies in this league but the absence of a credible Fantasy Football component was glaring.

Now, that's behind us.

It was astounding to have been able to have Draft Kings co-founder Matt Kalish on the SportsCage this week.  Speaking from his office in Boston before he boarded a train, Kalish initially came across as a brainiac tech guy but once he realized he was talking to three guys with established Draft Kings accounts (Luc Mullinder, Phil Andrews and myself), he opened right up.

Of all the things Kalish said during the 10-minute interview, one stood out to me the most.  "If you're a sports fan and you're not playing Draft Kings," Kalish observed, "You're missing out."

It's a bold, new world for the CFL and my Iphone has been blowing up with fans signing up for the app and several inviting me into leagues and weekly challenges.  I had to forewarn some of them:  I can't get into these challenges with everybody who sends an invite or else I'll be broke in a week.

However we'll be discussing the games even more intently on the SportsCage this season and will certainly be paying even more attention to games not involving the Roughriders because we'll have money on the line.

This is what catapulted the NFL past MLB and NBA for popularity in the USA. These days, they're so far out in front it's not even close.

This advancement is also a boon to us in the sports media business because fans - particularly those in the coveted 18-34 age bracket - will be scouring blogs like this one, our Twitter feeds and radio shows, to get the latest roster updates and injury news.

What I'll be sacrificing in hits because of the new "No Comment" policy will be made up for by the new readers chasing fantasy news.

Now all we need is for Riders Coach & GM Chris Jones to be a little more forthcoming with injury and starter updates.

Good luck with that!

3 - WEEK 1 FANTASY ROSTER:  Many CFL fans are new to Draft Kings but it really couldn't be more simple.  Simply download the app, create an account, select a contest to enter (you can bet as little or as much as you want) and then pick a team which consists of one quarterback, one running back, two receivers, two "flex" players (of any skilled position) and one team's collective defense.

Here's my Week 1 CFL fantasy roster:
QB: Drew Willy
RB: C.J. Gable
WR: Adarius Bowman
WR: Weston Dressler
FLEX: Kevin Elliot
FLEX: Tori Gurley
DEFENSE: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Draft Kings contestant who assembles the best roster (consisting of players who have the best weekly stats), wins his or her contest.  Scruffy has a great breakdown of how the fantasy points are awarded over on his blog.

Enjoy and good luck!

4 - DO WE HAVE A GOOD TEAM?:  Whenever asked, Chris Jones has asserted the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders are going to be a very good football team.  He points to talented players, great leadership and a great coaching staff which has a long track record of success in other places.

Riders Assistant V.P. of Player Personnel John Murphy was on the SportsCage this week and I asked him what has this regime so optimistic?

"For one, nobody's ever going to go into something with the other (losing) mindset because if you did, you won't be doing this for any extended period of time," Murphy explained.  "Secondly, the guys we brought in, we looked for guys who had more to them than their style of play and their activity on the field.  There are a lot of guys with substance, were team captains, and were winners both collegiately and professionally, and are willing to do the hard work on their own.

"And also the way we approached the preseason.  We've done a lot of things in a different pattern.  There were 10 two-a-day opportunities but we only did six.  There were opportunities to push guys and do more but we did less with the purpose of the real progress being over the 18 games of the season and not in the preseason.  And also not rushing guys back from ticky tack injuries for fear of them lingering.

"Some guys got an extended look in the preseason that you knew weren't running with the 1 or 2 groups for different reasons.  Certain position groups didn't play together for an extended period of time.  But they were able to get more practice in than game action.  I think you'll see us come back with fresher legs next week to open the season than a lot of other teams had the chance to have.  There will be a ton of excitement to see these guys for the first time and if you want to do that, there are still tickets available for the season opener."

To get your tickets to next Thursday's home-opener against the Toronto Argonauts, go to Ticketmaster.ca, Riderville.com, call 1-888-4-RIDERS or visit the Mosaic Stadium ticket office.

5 - RIDERVILLE?:  The fantastic town of Avonlea, SK was named "Riderville" in a team-sponsored contest in 2010 for being the community with the most Rider Pride in the province.  What a fabulous idea that promotion was by the way.  But is Avonlea still full of Rider Pride?  With the release of Chris Getzlaf (whose father is from Avonlea) and last week's release of rookie offensive lineman Aaron Picton (whose mother is from Avonlea), one has to wonder.

I feel like a buffoon because so many of Picton's extended family asked me this spring and summer if he was going to make the team.  Judging by the work he was getting and his play, he seemed to be a shoo-in.  It was actually a shock when he was released on Sunday.  Moreso to Aaron and his family, I'm sure.

However as Murphy noted above, they're doing things in an unorthodox nature.  As I noted in Monday's column, they have a plan in place but it's not immediately clear what it is.

6 - OPENING DAY:  It's finally here!  The 2016 CFL season kicks off Thursday at 5:30 pm Sask Time with Toronto hosting Hamilton at the Argonauts' new home, BMO Field in downtown Toronto.  The Voice of the Argos Mike Hogan and the former Voice of the Argos Jim Lang both said on the SportsCage on Wednesday that there's far more excitement around the actual "event" than there is on the actual game between the Argos and Ticats.

The game is not yet soldout - and isn't expected to be - which is a bit of a downer but it really won't matter in the end.  If this thing plays out like the Argos expect, it's going to become the hottest ticket in town and there will a long string of sellouts at BMO.

It's incredibly "CFL-ish" that the BMO Field endzones are only 17 yards deep but heck, Boston Garden featured a shortened ice surface for many years for the legendary Bruins.  Hogan revealed that Argos coach Scott Milanovich is already devising a way, and playcalls, to maximize the "homefield advantage".

And, as Hogan pointed out, Toronto team officials feel the worst seat at BMO Field is better than the best seat at Rogers Centre.

Ratings are going to be sky-high on TSN Thursday night and I'll be one of the interested viewers.  With my Draft Kings app open along the way.

7 - GAME NOTES:  The CFL did its typically wonderful job of compiling interesting tidbits and factoids in its weekly Game Notes package.  Here are some which stood out to me:

* Thursday's coaching match-up features Hamilton's Kent Austin versus Toronto's Scott Milanovich.  Austin has a lifetime CFL coaching record of 41-31 while Milanovich has a career mark of 38-34.

* Saskatchewan's Chris Jones (26-10) has the highest winning percentage (.722) of any current CFL head coach with a minimum of two seasons under his belt.

* B.C.'s Wally Buono returns to the sidelines Saturday night when the Lions open up against the Calgary Stampeders at B.C. Place.  Wally's 254 career victories dwarf the total of ALL OTHER EIGHT CFL COACHES who are at 150 combined.  However someone stated awhile back that Buono is the longest-tenured current CFL coach but I feel his four-year absence poopoo's that.

* This is the 103rd season of Canadian football and the actual 59th season of the Canadian Football League.

* Home teams were 45-36 last year in CFL play.

* The East Division snapped a 10-year drought in 2015 by going 22-18 versus the West.

* Here's a really interesting one:  The Argonauts have the most rookie players on their 55-man roster with 14.  The Roughriders come in third in that category with 10.  The Montreal Alouettes have the fewest amount of rookies at 8.  This shouldn't be confused with who are the youngest and oldest teams, but I expect a stat will be published on that in the weeks ahead.

8 - VERY WINNIPEGISH:  Kudos to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for recognizing long-time play-by-play man Bob Irving in their 2016 Hall of Fame induction class. The Lestock, SK product will go in along with John Helton and Bob Molle.

At what point will the Roughriders Plaza of Honor committee recognize the contributions of people like Lloyd Saunders, Bob Hughes, John Lynch, Carm Carteri, etc.?

9 - BACK TO PHOENIX:  It appears we're headed back to the Valley of the Sun.  Terry Kaszas at Marlin Travel informed me on Wednesday that the SportsCage Ultimate Sports Trip VI will head to Phoenix, Arizona from Dec 1-6, 2016.  Join me and other sports fans as we take in the NFL's Cardinals/Redskins and the NHL's Coyotes/Kings and the Coyotes/Blue Jackets.  You'll also be part of our live SportsCage broadcast from Arizona!  The NBA schedule isn't out yet but if the Suns are home that week, we'll be heading to that as well.  Talking Stick Resort Arena is a fantastic venue to watch sports in.  To purchase your spots, email terry.kaszas@marlintravel.ca or call 306-585-0055.

10 - VIVA LAS VEGAS:  It won't be long before Las Vegas will be a destination on the SportsCage trip.  In fact, fans on last year's trip to South Florida were already discussing Las Vegas last December.  T-Mobile Arena is jaw-dropping and the possibilities for that franchise are limitless.  There was plenty of negativity on Twitter regarding Wednesday's announcement that the NHL is expanding to Nevada, but that's unfortunately a sign of the times.  What do they say, "People mock what they don't understand?"

The only thng that troubles me is that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman feels the addition of a 31st team won't dilute the talent pool in the league.  How would he know?  He wasn't even an NHL fan until 1990.  The best hockey the NHL has ever seen was already gone by then.

11 - ROAD TRIPS:  I heard someone say on the radio last night that if they're leaving Regina for an NHL road trip, they're going to drive six hours to Winnipeg.  Good luck with that!  After being stranded in Winnipeg in a snowstorm two years ago after watching the Jets and Boston Bruins, I swore I'd never go back.  At least try flying 2 1/2 hours to Las Vegas and watching some hockey down there in the sunbelt and see if you ever want to go to Winnipeg again in the winter.  Although, the Las Vegas Black Knights won't be making a living on tourists to fill their arena.  Their goal is to fill it with locals, which should've been the goal of the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes all along.

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THAT'S IT FOR TODAY!  IF YOU'D LIKE TO COMMENT, BLAME THE HATERS AND THE TROLLS!
RP
@rodpedersen