|Keith Hershmiller Photography|
1 - The curtain rises on the second round of the WHL Playoffs Thursday night in Regina as the Pats (52-12-7-1) entertain the Swift Current Broncos (39-23-4-6) at 7:00 pm on 620 CKRM, Access and Shaw. The two teams have the stage to themselves as it's the only game in the Dub Thursday evening.
2 - On paper, it's a mismatch. The Pats finished 24 points ahead of the Broncos in the standings and held a 7-0-1 record in the season series. The Pats are also riding a 12-game win streak into the Eastern Conference Semifinals so no matter how you gauge a playoff match-up - the season series or recent play - Regina has it all covered.
SportsCage NHL Insider Rich Sutter predicted on Wednesday that the Pats will take the series in six. I'll concur, but most everyone can agree that it's going to be a whale of a series and the Broncos won't roll over.
3 - Here's a bold prediction as far as the Pats are concerned: The best is yet to come from the Queen City Kids. Their 4-game losing streak near the end of the regular season capped a dizzying stretch where the team played six games - in six different cities - in nine nights. Even after that stretch was over, the club was playing seemingly on every second night. It was exhausting to follow as a fan so I can't imagine how the players felt.
The Pats needed the rest afforded by a first round sweep of the Calgary Hitmen to collect themselves, heal up, and breathe.
Now, look out.
4 - Game 1 on Thursday will be a tone-setter for the entire series. The Broncos are riding the wave of their 7-game first round series win over Moose Jaw and rightfully feel they're on a roll. If they continue that momentum into the Brandt Centre and can somehow steal Game 1, they'll give themselves a chance. However if the Pats come out flying, as expected, and get up early, this truly will become David vs Goliath as the records indicate.
5 - First-year Broncos Head Coach & GM Emmanuel Viveiros seemed calm, cool and collected in his appearance on the SportsCage on Wednesday. Calling into the program from the Broncos team bus on its way into Regina, Manny displayed no signs nerves. Why? Because all the pressure is on Regina. Swift Current isn't expected to win so they can play loose, and their way.
"We like our group," Viveiros cheerfully advised, and said the regular season is no measuring stick for the team he's bringing into Regina.
The Pats seem fine with that scenario.
Let the games begin.
6 - DUB HUB: Can you believe the 1989 Memorial Cup-winning Broncos won 55 games in the regular season and went 12-0 in the WHL playoffs before capturing the title with a 3-2 OT win over the Blades in Saskatoon? What an absolutely dominant performance. It's not like I didn't know, but I was doing some reading up on it on Wednesday ... Meanwhile hockey fans around here are asking if the Moose Jaw Warriors will can Head Coach Tim Hunter after he threw players Jayden Halbegewachs and Noah Gregor during their first round series. I have to absolutely say no, they won't. I re-read the quotes and Hunter simply sounded like an exasperated coach. Is he right? All I know is, he sure upset a lot of people.
7 - We are over the hump of the CFL off-season. Four months have gone by, and we've got less than three months to go before the start of training camp at the end of May in Saskatoon. While things may appear quiet in Riderville, I can assure you they're anything but. The Football Operations staff is furiously detailing plans for the spring minicamp in Florida in two weeks' time, and the invite list is being endlessly scoured. Once the first ball goes in the air at Dodgertown in Vero Beach on April 25, it'll be an endless string of Rider news right up to training camp (including the 2017 CFL Draft on May 7).
One CFL item of note on Wednesday came from Montreal where the Alouettes signed former Roughriders and RedBlacks receiver Alex Pierczalski.
8 - I guess we can start with the predictions now. It was April 1 last year when I threw out my predictions for the CFL West Division which rankled members of the Edmonton Eskimos considerably. I said the Esks would be scrapping for fourth-place (which is where they finished) but I completely whiffed on picking the Riders for first-place. (I'm still amazed that prediction shocked people).
I won't predict an order of finish this year - at least not yet - but I'm still comfortable with forecasting a 10-win season for the Green & White.
9 - Former Rider lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek had no issue with making his West Division predictions for 2017 on Monday's SportsCage on 620 CKRM. The 10-year CFL veteran sees the West shaking down this way:
Let Twitter go wild with that one.
10 - Very sad news out of Toronto on Wednesday that TSN Radio has made the decision to simulcast CFL TV and radio broadcasts on 1050 AM Toronto this season. That means long-time Argos radio play-by-play man Mike Hogan is out of a gig and he opined about it on Facebook after the fact.
Is TSN so broke that it needs to nickel-and-dime things like CFL radio broadcasts? It's a highly disturbing trend.
11 - Back to hockey for a minute. Hockey fans are howling far and wide about the NHL's refusal to send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Commissioner Gary Bettman has shouldered most of the blame from the Facebook postings from fans I've seen. Even the players themselves are upset about the NHL's stance, with Washington's Alex Ovechkin saying he's going to South Korea no matter what.
To me, that's a selfish stance by the players and an overly-emotional one by the fans. History shows that NHL involvement in the Olympics has done nothing to enhance the game's profile globally and all it is is a "fun" exercise for the players. It's also led to the death of the national mens hockey program in Canada.
I say move over and give some new players the chance to be heroes! The Miracle On Ice in 1980 wouldn't have even happened if there was NHL involvement back then and Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione and Herb Brooks would just have been "some other guys".
That particular tournament in Lake Placid did more for hockey in the USA - and maybe even the world - than any other international event has before or since.
Keep the NHL players at home, and let's see who else is ready to become a star.
12 - I'm not the biggest fan of golf but I always perk up on Masters weekend. It was earth-shattering news on Wednesday that Masters favourite Dustin Johnson may have to pull out of the major after tripping on some stairs in his Augusta rental home and badly injuring his back. The proper bets now should be whether Johnson plays at all?
If his father-in-law Wayne Gretzky has any say in the matter, Johnson will tape an Aspirin to his back and be ready to tee off at 2:03 pm local.
13 - Very much looking forward to next week's Harvard Broadcasting trip to sunny Las Vegas, NV. I've got all my muscle shirts packed. Now all I need is muscles.
BIRTHDAYS: Happy Birthday to Pats legend Clark Gillies who turns 63 on Friday!
THAT'S IT! TALK TO YOU FROM THE BRANDT CENTRE AT 4