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15 LATE HITS
1 - If opening night was any indication, the National Hockey League is in great hands. Auston Mathews netted all four of Toronto's goals in a 5-4 OT loss at Ottawa. Several Roughriders staff were on hand at Canadian Tire Centre to watch the #1 overall pick make history in the greatest debut by an NHL player ever.
Not surprisingly, Mathews is the talk of the hockey world this morning. "Hurricane Mathew," blared one headline in The Big Smoke.
Old-time Leaf followers are comparing him to Darryl Sittler.
Of course, the Scottsdale, AZ product scored four goals but his Maple Leafs still lost.
2 - Meanwhile over in Edmonton, a capacity crowd of 18.441 was on hand at Rogers Place to watch the Oilers dismantle the Calgary Flames 7-4. Edmonton's Patrick Maroon scored the first-ever goal in the new Oilers arena while in his first game as Oilers captain, Connor McDavid netted two goals and an assist.
Who scored the first-ever goal at Northlands Coliseum in 1974? That would be Ron Buchanan.
The stars of opening night in the NHL were Auston Mathews and Rogers Place.
A downturn in the Alberta economy? You wouldn't have known it by watching the Flames-Oilers broadcast.
3 - There was something overwhelmingly comforting about seeing Wayne Gretzky watch his Oilers from a luxury suite at Rogers Place Wednesday evening. The Great One smiled glowingly as McDavid put on a show on the ice and as Sportsnet's Jim Hughson mentioned on the telecast, "Connor McDavid is making himself at home".
Earlier in the day, Gretzky was named to the Oilers' management team as Vice Chairman and Alternate Governor. What will his duties be? No one seems to know for sure, and no one seems to care. All that matters is that Wayne is back with the Oilers.
4 - The Edmonton Eskimos' win at Montreal on Monday officially eliminated the Roughriders from playoff contention in 2016 and it was a punch to the gut for anyone connected to the team. Given their 1-10 start, receiver Rob Bagg admitted that it was "unrealistic" to expect all the stars to align down the homestretch in order for his club to make the playoffs.
That didn't make Monday's result any easier for the man in charge of the Green & White.
"I haven't been able to sleep since we were eliminated from the playoffs," Chris Jones said on 620 CKRM's Coaches Show on Wednesday. "I'll always remember that day. I've never felt that way before because it's hard to know that you don't have a chance to move on and compete. But it's given us a great opportunity to move forward."
Jones has never missed the playoffs in his 15 seasons in the CFL, until now, so it's clear he's in uncharted territory. It's caused him to reach out to his mentor for advice.
"I had a great conversation with Bill Parcells this morning at 5:00 and we spoke for about an hour," Jones revealed. "We talked about moving forward and exactly what we should do with our personnel and targeting what we ourselves could have done better. We're looking forward to keeping this thing rolling."
This will be the longest off-season in memory, as the club moves over into New Mosaic Stadium and an exciting team continues to be built.
5 - The 4-10 Roughriders visit the 5-10 Toronto Argonauts on Saturday at 2:00 pm Sask Time (TSN, 620 CKRM Rider Radio Network). Bodog has the odds listed as a "Pick Em", meaning it's a coin flip to guess who wins. The forecast for Saturday at BMO Field calls for sunshine and 18 degrees Celsius.
6 - It'll take more than ideal conditions to draw fans out to Saturday's game in Toronto. The Toronto Blue Jays are scheduled to visit the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 of their American League Championship Series at the exact same time as the Riders-Argos game.
I questioned on the SportsCage this week how many Rider fans will be tuned into the football game versus the baseball playoff telecast but I should've known better. In a landslide, the vast majority or respondents said they'll be watching or listening to the Roughriders.
That shouldn't have been a surprise.
7 - The MMG predicts the Blue Jays will beat Cleveland in a 6-game series. Toronto's playing as a team, their starting pitching rotation appears to be better than Cleveland's, and their offense is unquestioned. The season series was pretty close with the Indians winning four of seven meetings.
8 - The Roughriers are building on a record they've already set in the CFL. The Riders have used a league-record 90 players in 2016, bettering the old mark of 88 set by Hamilton in 2013. It's proof positive that Chris Jones has been the architect of the largest rebuild in Canadian Football League history. If they finish at 8-10, it'll be astonishing.
9 - This is the craziest ending to a CFL season that I've seen in my time in the league. While the four top teams in the West Division have all clinched a playoff spot, all four East Division teams are still in playoff contention. However if both Montreal and Toronto lose this week, a crossover from the West Division will be guaranteed. Mathematically, only the top two teams in the East Division will make the playoffs, but all four are still alive with four weeks to go. Amazing!
10 - The West Division has won 13 straight games against the East Division lately but who honestly saw this western dominance coming? We all knew every team in the West would be better going into 2016, but who predicted the implosion of the East? Not very many people.
11 - The Calgary Stampeders have locked up homefield in the West Division Final but they still have plenty to play for. They've got a shot at the best regular season-ever in the CFL, and they have a chance to set a CFL record for the lowest turnover total in league history. Calgary's at 20 turnovers while Winnipeg is at 21, and the league record is 23 set by the B.C. Lions in 2012.
12 - A startling trend in CFL Thanksgiving Monday doubleheader TV viewers:
Game 1, 686,000 viewers, Game 2, 956,000 viewers
Game 1, 782,000 viewers, Game 2, 843,000 viewers
Game 1, 580,200 viewers, Game 2, 598,300 viewers
* Not one CFL game in the 2016 season has had an average audience of a million-plus. That's the first time that has happened since the 2000s.
13 - As was noted in last week's column, the National Football League is mired in a similar slump. So many millenials are telling me they've "cut the cord", (cancelled their cable subscription, favouring the internet instead). That's great for NetFlix viewers, but it means you can't watch live sports programming in your home.
The ratings are reflecting this trend but with so many sports viewers going to live-streaming, that is ultimately "trackable" and the numbers will eventually correct themselves. That's the fun part of the ratings business; trying to to stay on top of the technology and trends.
14 - Something big was missing on the CFL on TSN panel this season. Now it's back, in the form of 6'8" Chris Schultz. Welcome back big guy!
15 - The Regina Pats are still unbeaten in regulation time, however they ended their homestand with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Portland Winterhawks on Wednesday evening. Earlier in the day, the Pats were given a #5 ranking in the CHL Top Ten but they looked decidedly average against Mike Johnston's Winterhawks.
It was a treat to watch the game in the east end upper deck with the Molleken family (Lorne, Doug and Dustin) but the MMG gives the Brandt Centre hotdogs a 5-out-of-10 on Weiner Wednesday.
THAT'S IT! SEE YOU ON THE RADIO AT 4:00 PM