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Friday, May 27, 2016

This and That



Welcome to Friday!  Here are the weekly collection of thoughts running through my muddled mind, and as always, they come in no particular order!

The hashtag #isitjuneyet can be replaced by #junehasarrived.  CFL training camps are starting, and I think it is safe to say no team is happier to put the 2015 season in the rearview mirror than the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a new season is here. In 2013, no one wanted training camp to come because Rider Nation wanted to keep celebrating the Grey Cup victory. In 2016, Rider Nation wanted training camp to start December 1 after a miserable 3-15 season.  As camp begins, every team has questions including the Riders.  Here are my top ones

1. IS BRETT SMITH THE BACKUP QB?

 Knock on wood Darian Durant's injury problems are behind him and he can play a full season. If that happens, we won't need to see the backup get meaningful time under center.  After a 2015 which saw Smith elevated from 3rd string to be the starter after Kevin Glenn was hurt. He managed to throw for almost 2-thousand yards and 15 TD's which really wasn't that bad on what was a bad team. At the end of last season, he believed he had done enough to show he could come into 2016 as Darian's backup. Did he show Chris Jones he has what it takes? I would have to think Smith gets the number 2 spot because there is no experience there should Durant suffer another injury.  BJ Coleman is the only other QB on the roster right now, but you would have to think another arm or two are coming in. There is also talk the Riders wouldn't mind getting Rakeem Cato from Montreal. A Smith-Cato battle would be interesting.

2. WHO IS THE STARTING RB? 

  It would appear Curtis Steele gets that honor, but I am guessing that isn't written in stone. Matt Walter did a great job in Calgary when he had to take over for Jon Cornish, but can he be the number one guy? Having a Canadian starter at running back would free up an American elsewhere so he could very well get the spot becaue of nationality. I also wonder where Kendial Lawrence fits in. Could he be a Corey Holmes type player?

3. WHO IS THE KICKER? 

 This might be one of the best battles in training camp. Tyler Crapigna was no slouch in the CIS, and once he was given his shot the McMaster product made all 4 of his field goals. The team then went out and drafted UBC's Quinn Van Gylswyk who was likely the best kicker in the CIS in 2015. I have seen this guy play enough to know he has CFL written all over him. I was surprised to see the Riders take him in the draft because of Crapigna. You can't keep both. Van Gylswyk can punt too, so he could have a leg up(no pun intended) going in,

4. WHAT WILL THE SECONDARY LOOK LIKE? 

  What will the secondary look like? The bigger question might be what will the starting 12 on defence look like. Yes, it will be a lot better than last year which shouldn't be hard.  Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicotti will be the ends. Greg Jones and Jeff Knox Junior will be two of the three linebackers and I would think your secondary will include Ed Gainey, Matt Webster and Otha Foster, although Foster could be one of the starting linebackers.

  With the exception of Knox and Webster, that starting 12 will have a whole new look to it. Is it too much change back there? After last year, one would say no, but how long will it take for this group to be a cohesive unit.

5. WHAT ROLE DOES JOSIAH ST. JOHN PLAY?

 While the CFL's number one draft pick has not signed a deal with the green-and-white yet, one has to think he will and that he will be ready to go for the start of camp on Sunday. Is there a thought he could be a starter after his career at Oklahoma? Ben Heenan started after being selected as the #1 pick overall didn't he? The Riders had their choice at offensive line and they took St. John for a reason and I am guessing that reason was they thought he could contribute immediately.

Isn't it great to talk Riders in earnest again?

--ESPN's Stephen A Smith apologized to Canadians after the Raptors won Game 4 of the NBA East final against Cleveland. The Raptors should apologize to Canadians for laying one great big dinosaur egg in Game 5. WHAT WAS THAT?  I think this basically summed it up....


Is embarassing even the word to use for what happened in Game 5?  How can a team that was so good at home, be so bad on the road.  Even if Toronto should win Game 6, does anyone have confidence in them pulling out a Game 7 win? By the way, was that George Yannitsos yelling at Dwane Casey in Game 5. My eyes had to be playing tricks on me!

Still with the Raptors, DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph are taking a lot of heat for being at a Cleveland casino (which was attached to their hotel) until 2 AM on the night of Game 5. Did they have a curfew? If not, there is no problem, but if there was, there's a big problem. If there wasn't a curfew, someone should ask coach Dwane Casey why that was. Hey, Carroll and Joseph could have done worse and it isn't like they were far away from their hotel. However, the message it sends is somewhat wrong---especially when you are the only two who have really been playoff tested. 

--Is it just me or was the Weyburn KFC buffet story that broke this week something you would see in a Corner Gas episode? How Saskatchewan!

--The Penguins and the Sharks in the Stanley Cup final. YAYYYY!!!

--It is a mock draft, but the website draftsite.com has Pats forward Sam Steel going 52nd overall to the Flyers. Teammate Adam Brooks is slated to go in the 5th round to Boston at pick 134. This same draft has Warriors forward Brett Howden going to Florida at 23 and if that holds true, he would be playing alongside his brother.

--Is TSN televising CFL exhibition games? If they are, I missed the memo.

--I wasn't able to attend the Glen Johnson visit this week as he showed everyone his rules presentation video. Some say the "eye in the sky" isn't going to be as big a problem as first thought, but I need to see a game before I make any decisions on this initiative.

--The Regina Red Sox open things up Sunday afternoon at Currie Field against the Weyburn Beavers as another WMBL season starts. Let's hope for a decent afternoon for ball and let's see a good crowd for the season opener. 

--All the best to "Tragically Hip" lead singer Gord Downie as he goes through his battle with cancer. I find it unbelievable he is going on tour, and I find it disappointing that tour won't stop in Saskatchewan. I am not as big a Hip fan as others I know, but there is no denying what he is on the Canadian landscape. Let's take it out this week with my favourite tune from the Hip. Have a great weekend everyone!!!



 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Riders Sign Four From 2016 Draft




The Saskatchewan Roughriders are pleased to announce the signing of four players from the 2016 CFL Draft class.

Kicker Quinn Van Gylswyk, linebacker Alex Ogbongbemiga, offensive lineman Alex McKay, and receiver Joshua Stanford have all signed with the team.

Van Gylswyk (6’2 – 192) was selected by the Riders in the third round, 26th overall. The 25-year-old Victoria native has spent the last three seasons at the University of British Columbia where he was named a two-time CIS All-Canadian and two-time Canada West All-Star. Last season, Van Gylswyk led Canada West kickers with a 83.3% field goal percentage and a 43.6 yard punting average as the Thunderbirds marched to the Vanier Cup as CIS national champions.

Ogbongbemiga (6’0 – 235) was selected by the Green and White in the fifth round, 36th overall. The 23-year-old Calgary native spent last season with the Calgary Colts of the CJFL, recording 20 defensive tackles and one sack in four conference games. Prior to that, Ogbongbemiga spent three seasons at the University of Calgary where he recorded 26.5 defensive tackles in 17 Canada West contests.

McKay (6’4 – 300) was picked by the Riders in the sixth round, 52nd overall. The 25-year-old Winnipeg native spent the last four years at the University of Manitoba. McKay started all 32 regular season and seven postseason games during his collegiate career with the BIsons. Following last season, he was selected to participate in the 2015 CIS East-West Bowl.

Stanford (6’0 – 190) was selected by the Green and White in the eighth round, 62nd overall. The 21-year-old spent last season with the at the University of Kansas after transferring over from Virginia Tech where he spent three seasons. While at VTU, Stanford established freshman school record with 40 catches and 640 yards.  

First overall selection, Josiah St. John has yet to sign with the team while third round pick Elie Bouka is currently with the Arizona Cardinals after signing a free agent NFL deal in April. The Riders fourth round pick, David Onyemata, recently signed a league required four-year contract with New Orleans after the Saints selected him in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.

The Riders also officially announced offensive lineman Xavier Fulton is returning to the team having signed a new contract. 

Baseball's Bad Boys Defend Themselves

Picture: Minneapolis Star-Tribune


The Toronto Blue Jays remain the bad boys of baseball - loud, emotional, passionate and really not giving a damn what you think of them.

Jose Bautista, the face of the Blue Jays organization, has a hearing Thursday morning at the Major League Baseball offices to explain himself and avert a suspension for actions and comments in their recent brawl against the Texas Rangers. He skipped the team bus late Tuesday night to convey the sentiments of the entire frustrated team to USA TODAY Sports.

“There’s no reason why people should hate us because we play with emotion,’’ Bautista said in the quiet of the visiting Yankee Stadium clubhouse after their latest loss, dropping the Blue Jays into last place in the AL East. “We have a lot of personalities that wear their emotions on our sleeve. That’s our style. We like it. We embrace it. “And we’re not going to shy away from it. We don’t go around telling people how to act or do their job, so why should people try to do that to us? We’re not going to change who we are.’’

“We don’t lie. We’re real,’’ Bautista said. “We’re straight up and honest about everything in here. A lot of clubhouses are not like that. People put up fronts. People lie. People cover their stuff up. We don’t do that. There’s no phoniness in here, but there’s a lot of people in the league not like that.

“So I think sometimes people have trouble believing the fact that we’re honest and straight up. I think they get confused. They think we’re phonies, like the rest.’’

You don’t like Bautista’s bat flip? Then don’t let him hit the Blue Jays’ most dramatic home run since Joe Carter’s World Series’ clinching walk-off in 1993, with his Game 6 Division Series homer against the Texas Rangers.

“It was 22 years of bottled emotion into one building, I don’t see what the big deal was,’’ Bautista said. “I see bat flips every single day on a Tuesday night in Kansas City or San Diego. I didn’t plan it, and didn’t try to humiliate or offend anybody by it, but obviously losers always get offended.’’

The Rangers, of course, showed their displeasure over it seven months later when pitcher Matt Bush drilled Bautista in the ribs last week, Bautista responded with a hard slide into Rougned Odor at second base, and Odor came out swinging, leading to the brawl that resulted in Odor’s eight-game suspension and Bautista’s one-day suspension.

“I was playing baseball that day,’’ Bautista said. “I don’t know if everyone was.’’

You don’t like reigning MVP Josh Donaldson’s style? You better keep your thoughts to yourself, as the Minnesota Twins discovered last weekend when he homered, and glared at Twins bench coach Joe Vavra, still livid that he yelled at him a day earlier for not hustling to first base.

“I’m not going to go out there to make sure the opponents like what I’m doing,’’ said Donaldson, who hates the new sanitized rules in baseball. “I go about my business in a certain way, and as long as the people in my clubhouse appreciate what I do, ultimately that’s all that matters.

“I can’t control what people necessarily think of me, nor do I care, but I will stand my ground. I’ve shown that. It’s that everything is being taken out of the game, the old-school way, where I can’t play the way I was taught.’’

And if you simply just don’t like the Blue Jays? Well, their comeuppance may be at hand. The defending AL East champs entered Wednesday night’s game with a 22-25 record, already seven games out of first place behind the Boston Red Sox.

“We have a passionate bunch, maybe the most passionate bunch I’ve ever been around,’’ said R.A. Dickey, the Blue Jays’ 41-year-old knuckleballer who's helped the rotation lead the AL in opponent batting average (.234) and OPS (.672). “The only problem with passion is that it can work the other way, too. So when you’re not performing well consistently, you carry a lot of weight.

“I love how passionate we are, but sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves, and that causes another type of momentum that’s not as healthy. We’re kind of in the middle of that now. When you’re on a downward trend like we have been on, you have to find ways to arrest it. That’s what we’re looking for.’’

The Blue Jays, who in 2015 led the majors with 891 runs - 127 more than the runner-up Yankees - and outscored opponents by 221 runs, have disappeared offensively. They have the third-worst offense in the AL, and are averaging 3.96 runs per game compared to 5.50 a year ago.

“That’s been the mystery,’’ Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We know we got a good hitting team, but then again, last year might have been an aberration, too.

“To score more than 100 runs than the next-best team, sometimes it’s just one of those years, man. You can’t explain it. You don’t even try.’’

The frustration has been unbearable at times, with Gibbons already ejected four times, suspended three games, and fined $10,000. In the last nine games, Gibbons has lasted only nine innings in three of them. Even his wife, Julie, teased him on Monday’s off-day in New York, making sure he wasn’t going to get ejected watching a softball game in Central Park.

“Do I feel like the world is against us?’’ Gibbons said. “I can’t say that. There’s no doubt we’ve got some emotional guys with big personalities. We’ve got guys who have been very good players, but they’ve also been known to chap some opponents the wrong way. A few guys aren’t received well outside our team, but when you’re on your team, you love them.

“I think we’ve kind of embodied the whole Toronto mantra,’’ ace Marcus Stroman said, “that it’s Toronto against the world in all sports. We just have a lot of personalities and guys who aren’t scared to let their emotions show onto the field. That’s us. We identify with that. It’s who we are.

“We’re not scared. We’re not worried. We know what we’re capable of. We’re just going to keep being ourselves. Hopefully the tide will turn shortly for us.”

Like it, or hate it, the Jays aren’t changing.

(USA Today)

Stipe Miocic To Defend Belt At Home in UFC 203


Stipe Miocic ended a 52 year championship drought for the city of Cleveland when he won the UFC heavyweight title, and now he'll put the belt on the line in his hometown as he faces Alistair Overeem at UFC 203.

Miocic made the announcement during the Cavaliers game on Wednesday while also confirming that the event would take place on Sept. 10 at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

Miocic will look to make the first defense of his newly-won heavyweight title after knocking out Fabricio Werdum in the first round of their fight at UFC 198 in Brazil.

As soon as he returned home to Ohio, Miocic was celebrated by everybody in town, including a hero's welcome from teams like the Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians.

Now the hometown favorite will bring the UFC to the Land with a heavyweight title fight headlining the card.

Overeem will get his first crack at the belt since joining the promotion as he looks to steal the spotlight away from native son Miocic.

The Dutch Overeem is coming off four consecutive fight wins, including victories over former heavyweight champions Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski.

Miocic vs. Overeem is the first fight confirmed for UFC 203 in Cleveland.

(Fox Sports)


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Canucks and Panthers Make Trade

 

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning announced today that the club has acquired defenceman Erik Gudbranson and Florida’s 2016 fifth round pick (NYI) in exchange for Jared McCann and the Canucks 2016 second and fourth round picks.

Gudbranson, 24, spent the 2015.16 season with the Florida Panthers, collecting nine points (2-7-9) and 49 penalty minutes in 64 games. He also appeared in six playoff games. The Ottawa, Ontario native ranked third on the Panthers in hits (150), fourth in blocked shots (73) and fourth in average ice time per game (20:06). The 2010 3rd overall NHL draft pick ranked second on the Panthers and led Florida defencemen in average ice time in the 2016 playoffs (26:54) in addition to ranking second on the team in blocked shots (8).

The 6’5”, 216-pound defenceman has collected 43 points (11-32-43) in 309 NHL regular season games over the span of five seasons with the Panthers.

On the international stage, Gudbranson earned a silver medal as a member of Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships. He also won gold at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in 2009.

(Vancouver Canucks)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Something To "Mitch" About---The Tuesday Edition


--A tremendous, and oh so relaxing Victoria Day long weekend is over. It was one of those weekends where there was nothing pressing so it was one of those weekends to simply just kick back. Summer is here, and next week Riders camp begins so it would appear we have survived the off-season and are ready for what 2016 brings.

--There are a lot of things that happened over the long weekend, so let's recap and to steal a line from the Friday column, these come in no particular order.


WORLD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP -- Canada is still atop the hockey world after a 2-0 win over Finland in the final. There were many who were wringing their fingers after Finland schooled the Canadians to end the round-robin, and there were some believing a repeat performance was going to happen in the final. NOPE! Connor McDavid picked a great time to score his first of the tournament, Cam Talbot made some big saves, White City's Ryan Murray had his best game of the event as did many others and Canada came away with the prize. How about Putin showing up for the closing ceremonies! That was as big a surprise as Seth Rollins' return at WWE Extreme Rules.

PATRICK LAINE-- Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press took to Twitter with this picture of Patrick Laine after the Finns had been beaten by Canada saying "When it hits you that you are finally going to Winnipeg." OUCH!!!

Unless the Leafs do the unthinkable and take the young Finn ahead of Auston Matthews, Winnipeg is getting what some think is the best player available in the 2016 draft. He certainly will give Jets fans another "Finnish Flash" to cheer for. Add him to the likes of Hellebuyck, Trouba, Ehlers, Schiefele and 1st round pick Kyle Conner and you have to be excited for what the future holds in the Manitoba capital. 

MEMORIAL CUP -- The tournament isn't over, but one would be hard pressed to think the London Knights won't be carrying the Cup around the ENMAX Centrium Sunday afternoon. They are steamrolling the competition including Monday's 9-1 pasting of the Brandon Wheat Kings in what was a highly enjoyable contest for this blogger. If you are a Leafs fan, you have to love what you are seeing from Mitch Marner.  Would the Leafs send him to the Marlies for a year or would they put Marner, Matthews and William Nylander on the big team. I am guessing the time-line for Marner would be the same as it was for Nylander this year.

VERNON ADAMS -- A lot of people in the CFL were scratching their head wondering how Alouettes GM Jim Popp could send a first round pick next year to BC for former Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams when he hadn't signed a deal. This just in---Popp knew exactly what he was doing. What I don't know is what Popp is going to do with the stable of quarterbacks he has. Going into camp, Popp has Adams, Kevin Glenn, former Clemson standout Tajh Boyd, Rakeem Cato and Jonathan Crompton. You can't keep all of them, Some Rider fans are wondering if Chris Jones and crew could do something to pry Cato away and bring him to Riderville. Cato might be a more prototypical quarterback than Brett Smith, but Smith did show signs in what was a brutal 2015. Time will tell. As for Adams, if he can adapt to the CFL game, the Alouettes may have gotten a dandy.

NBA PLAYOFFS -- Are the Oklahoma City Thunder on the verge of what would be perhaps the biggest upset in NBA history?  I didn't see much of their Game 3 blowout win over Golden State, but when I saw the score going into the 2nd half, I asked WTF? The Warriors are getting everything they can handle and then some from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Game 3 was highlighted by a "kick" to the junk of Thunder center Steven Adams from Golden State's Draymond Green. An act that surprisingly did not get Green kicked out of the game. On Saturday, Cleveland's Dahntay Jones came into the game in the last seconds and was promptly suspended a game for delivering a low blow to Toronto's Bismack Biyombo, Green's act was worse than Jones'--although admittedly Jones had nothing to lose with his act of cowardice. The NBA mysteriously is not fining Green and after seeing the performance of the refs in Games 3 and 4 of the Raptors-Cleveland series, it makes me wonder if the league has requested a Warriors-Cavs final again. Methinks the NBA would not be happy if the Thunder or Raptors spoiled the party and can you imagine what ratings in the U-S would be for an Oak City/Toronto final?

NHL PLAYOFFS -- I think we are seeing seven game series in both  The East and West finals have been full of twists and turns. San Jose is no gimme at home vs the Blues and without Stamkos and Bishop, the Penguins are still the better team than Tampa.

WWE EXTREME RULES -- With the WWE Network finally available on Access Communications, it enabled me to sit back Sunday night and watch the repeat showing of the "Extreme Rules" pay per view. OMG! That might have been the best PPV I have seen from the WWE. WWE fans, what match was better---the main event and what followed (the return of Seth Rollins) or the fatal 4 way match. I didn't think you could get any better than the fatal 4 way, but the A-J Styles-Roman Reigns match was tremendous theatre.

JOSH DONALDSON -- Safe to say the Blue Jays 3rd baseman had an interesting weekend at Target Field in Minneapolis. The reigning American League MVP was tossed out of Saturday's game in the first inning in what was an extreme bonehead and knee-jerk reaction by the home plate umpire who thought Donaldson had said something to him after a routine groundout when he hadn't. That is another story for another time. Fast forward to Sunday and Donaldson belts one to center field for a homer and as he gets to home plate says something to the Twins dugout in response to what happened Saturday.  It resulted in Donaldson getting buzzed twice by Minnesota pitcher Phil Hughes with no warning, no retribution, no nothing. ???? After what happened against Texas and what happened last year against Kansas City, teams know what buttons to push against the Jays, but the umpires need to step in. Unlike Jose Bautista in Arlington, Donaldson did not take matters into his own hands, but he brought up some very valid points after the Sunday win.

“Major League Baseball has to do something about this,” Donaldson said. “They talk about trying to protect players. They put in a sliding rule at second so you can’t slide past the base. They make a rule to protect catchers on slides at home. “It says in the rules you can’t throw at hitters. Yet when someone throws a pitch at a batter … nothing. My manager comes out to ask a question and gets thrown out. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It gets to the point where two balls are thrown at me.”

I have no problems with pitchers throwing inside, but umpires have seemingly lost their read on the temperature of a situation. The home plate ump had to have seen the exchange after the homerun and has to realize this could escalate. When it escalates---nothing! That's wrong!  The difference between this weekend and last is that Bautista wanted to exact some measure of payback for getting drilled in the ribs thus throwing gas on an already volatile game.  Baseball needs to wake up and baseball also needs to start taking a closer look at their umpires to see what is happening because some (like home plate ump Toby Basner on Saturday) apparently don't see what is going on. Missing a ball or a strike is one thing, but Basner's demeanour Saturday was a joke.

SASKATCHEWAN RUSH - If Saskatchewan didn't know anything about lacrosse going into this NLL season, they do now. The Rush are looking to win back-to-back titles with that 2nd title coming calling Saskatoon home. 15-thousand were jammed into Sask-Tel Centre for their win over Calgary Saturday and I would think they will have that if not more for the league final against Buffalo.  The Rush have been good for Saskatoon, and good for Saskatchewan, but they still aren't what that other pro team in this province is and oh yeah, they start things up on Sunday.  Talk about perfect timing.

That's all I got.  Have a great week!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Canada Wins Gold at World Hockey Championship

(Photo Edmonton Oilers/Instagram)

Two members of the Edmonton Oilers came through in the gold medal game of the World Hockey Championship and as a result, Canada are world champions. 

Connor McDavid's goal at 11:24 of the first period--his first of the tournament, was all Canada needed as they beat previously undefeated Finland 2-0 to win the title for the second straight year in Russia. 

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene added an empty-netter with less than a second to play in the 3rd to ice it. 

Oilers goalie Cam Talbot made 16 saves to record the shutout---his 4th at the Worlds. 

Canada is the first repeat gold medallist at the world championship since Russia won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009. Canada's last back-to-back wins came in 2003 and 2004.

Canadian captain Corey Perry became the 27th player to join the esteemed Triple Gold Club, adding a world championship gold medal to his two Olympic golds from 2010 and 2014 and his 2007 Stanley Cup. Perry also won gold at the 2005 world junior championship.