Thursday, December 28, 2017

Scruffy's Top 10 of 2017

From the Atlanta Falcons leading the Super Bowl 28-3 after three quarters and losing, to Regina showing itself as Canada's sports capital, to the Saskatchewan Roughriders coming very close to being in the 105th Grey Cup, 2017 was another tremendous year for sports.  With this being the season for top 10 lists, here are my top moments for 2017. I repeat MY top moments with some perhaps revolving around teams I support.   Here we go


Image result for vince young saskatchewan roughriders 

When the news came down that the Saskatchewan Roughriders were looking at giving former NFL quarterback Vince Young an opportunity, many scoffed and said it would never happen.  If it weren't for a hamstring injury suffered late in training camp, who knows how the Rider season would have turned out!

In March, the former University of Texas standout stood inside Mosaic Stadium holding up a Riders jersey with his agent Leigh Steinberg sitting alongside.  The Riders became the talk of the football universe as Young would attempt a comeback in the CFL. They were talking about it on ESPN, FS1, the NFL Network, NFL Radio etc. etc. etc 

Young came to Saskatoon for training camp and despite a rough showing at the team's scrimmage in Saskatoon where he did not look ready, it appeared as if he would get the start for the Riders in their pre-season game vs Winnipeg when he went down with a hamstring injury. He never saw the field again.    One can only wonder how he would have fared against the Bombers that night, and if he would have been the Week 1 starter had he not gotten hurt.


One statement in a Leader-Post article was all it took for the relationship between Darian Durant and the Saskatchewan Roughriders to officially crumble. 

Chris Jones told Rob Vanstone that he thought Durant was "moderately successful". 

That was enough for the career of Durant in Rider green to end. Knowing he would go to free agency and hoping to get something for him, Jones orchestrated a trade to Montreal. A trade that was the topic of heated debate for days and weeks in Riderville. In the end, Jones came out looking like the winner as Durant struggled in Montreal. 

 His first-ever visit to Mosaic Stadium came late in the season with the Alouettes gifting him the start so that he had a chance to play against his old team in their new digs. He didn't play in the second half due to an injury. 


 Image result for zack kassian rogers place

When the ping-pong balls fell in favour of the Edmonton Oilers giving them the right to take Connor McDavid, all in the NHL knew the decade of disaster the hockey team had been in was about to end.  McDavid would lead them back to a level of prominence.  Did they think it would happen so quickly?

 In the Oilers first year at their brilliant new home, the team challenged for first place in the Pacific battling San Jose and Anaheim.  While Edmonton surprised many by beating the Sharks in Round 1, they went to Game 7 before being ousted by the Ducks. 

 It had some believing the Oilers would be ready to take that next step behind the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl, Talbot and Lucic to take the next step.  The first quarter and a bit of this NHL season has seen the team take a step backwards.  Chances of being in and/or winning the Cup this year as many had predicted seem to be false.  For this Oilers fan, it is good seeing them in a position where they are actually playoff-worthy. 


Image result for toronto argonauts east final

Year 2 of the Chris Jones era in Saskatchewan did not start well.  The team was 2-4 after a loss in BC where using the word "horrible" would be kind.  After that game something clicked as the green-and-white were a different team as evidenced by a 33 point beating over the same Lions team that had destroyed them one week earlier.  It propelled the Riders to better things and started the Lions swirl into descent.

The Riders had a chance to be in the playoffs going through the West, but a loss to Edmonton in the last week meant they would be the cross-over team.  Earlier in the season, Saskatchewan had gone to Ottawa and gotten a win followed by another win days later at BMO Field against the Argos. It was the same scenario in the playoffs. 

A 31-20 win over Ottawa in the East final put the Riders into a position where they could go to the Grey Cup. Could it happen?  With the Riders down late in the 4th quarter, Christion Jones returned a punt for a touchdown and Rider Nation was thinking they were headed back to Ottawa for the 105th Grey Cup.

Ricky Ray had other plans though as he marched the Argos downfield including a key 3rd and 5 completion to James Wilder with Cody Fajardo plunging in from the 1 in the dying seconds for a 25-21 win. 

The second half run by the Riders and the fact they came oh-so-close to being in the Grey Cup for the first time since that magical night at Taylor Field in 2013 has many believing the Chris Jones plan is working quite well. 


 Image result for randy ambrosie

The CFL has had many not-so-good moments over the years.  The Jeffrey Orridge era was punctuated by many of those in his short time. How about that new logo?  The league got it right shortly after the season started when they announced former offensive lineman Randy Ambrosie was the new bossman. 
It didn't take long for Ambrosie to roll up his sleeves and get down to work.  He fixed the flow of the game by changing the challenge system, he rolled out a highly successful "Strength is Diversity" program much earlier than anticipated and he is listening to the concerns fans have about the league.  Concerns that he says he may or may not act on moving forward.   

The hiring of Ambrosie was something the CFL desperately needed as it struggles for relevance on the Canadian sports scene.  He has a long ways to go, but first impressions mean a lot and for Ambrosie, he has started the league on a long path back.  So far, so good!


As the Riders enjoyed their new home, just a couple of Josh Bartel punts away, their new home was slowly getting torn down.  While you could drive past the place while going down Saskatchewan Drive, you didn't really realize what was happening until you went past the old place to see how the tear-down was going and it left many awestruck when they saw what Taylor Field had been reduced to.  It led to many turning out one last time on the afternoon of October 27th to see the west-side grandstand come down.  It took a lot longer to come down than we were told it was, but when the sound came and the structure toppled over, many realized the home of so many football memories they had been a part of was gone! 


Former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was the guest-speaker at this year's Regina Red Sox sportsman's dinner. Guessing that the other 90 or so people they asked were unable to do so, I was asked to do a Q and A with him in front of the packed hall at the Turvey Centre.  You couldn't meet a nicer guy than the man who was the manager of the Blue Jays two World Series teams. We could have talked baseball for hours.  The stories he told behind the scenes and to the crowd were fantastic.  When it was over, he even leaned over and gave me some advice on where to visit when going to Wrigley Field and to enjoy what he thinks is baseball's best venue. 


While we had seen the Rams break the ribbon on Regina's new 278 million dollar stadium in 2016, Rider Nation could not wait for the first regular season game at its shiny new home. On July 1, it happened. The record book will show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the first ever CFL game at new Mosaic Stadium, but the memories of Canada's Team playing at a brand new facility started and will continue on for years.


When the Pats lost to the Red Deer Rebels in Round 2 of the 2015-16 WHL playoffs in Game 7, everyone knew the Pats would be back. Were they ever!  In the history of the Pats, they never had a regular-season like they had in 2016-17.  A 52 win season gave them the Scotty Munro Trophy and gave Regina hockey fans a reason to cheer for this tea that they hadn't had since the 80's.  The names of Adam Brooks, Sam Steel, Connor Hobbs, Austin Wagner and Dawson Leedahl were being mentioned in the same breath as Riders. The Pats were the talk of the town.  The Pats hadn't been in the WHL final since 1984 and after a first round sweep of Calgary, a 2nd round battle that went seven against a pesky Swift Current squad and an Eastern Conference championship against Lethbridge, the Pats found themselves battling the Seattle Thunderbirds for all the marbles. While the Pats had won 52, Seattle came in as no pushover with Islanders 1st round pick Matt Barzal, the Ochapowace First Nations Ethan Bear who was the best blueliner in the league, and a 16 year old goalie named Carl Stankowski who was becoming the story of the playoffs for doing what he was. 

As we did the Sportscage prior to Game 1, it was something else to see the energy in the building grow. As someone who had been in the building in 1984 for the final, it was great to see the Brandt Centre buzzing with anticipation for the championship series. 

Fast forward to Game 6 and those walking into the rink were hoping for a Game 7 as Seattle led the series 3-2.  With six minutes to play in Game 6, the Pats had a 3-1 lead and it looked like a one-game winner take all showdown would occur, but goals by Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar tied it. It set the stage for Alexander True to score the game-winner in overtime to end a storybook season and a season that Pats fans while disappointed at the end had enjoyed like perhaps no other in their rich and storied history.


I have been a Chicago Cubs fan since the early 80's.  While I have watched many a game on WGN from the corner of Addison and Clark and watched many a baseball fly out on to Waveland Avenue or Sheffield Avenue on TV,  I had never stepped into the baseball cathedral known as "Wrigley Field". That all changed on the afternoon of Sunday, May 21. 

 On that afternoon, I felt like a kid again (as my good friend --and somehow he still is after the trip Craig Slater would attest to) as I made the walk toward the park.  Yes, it may have been three hours before first pitch, but it was an opportunity I wasn't going let slide by. From getting my picture at the Harry Caray statue to walking around the ballpark to having a beer at 11 AM to being in the bleachers to seeing Kris Bryant hit 2 HR's and Jake Arrieta pitch six strong innings in a 13-6 win over Milwaukee, it was everything I thought it would be and more. The same could be said about the deep-dish pizzas from Gino's East and Giordanos that were consumed during the trip.

  Three more games against the Giants followed. One was just about rained out, one was a cold night, and all were thoroughly enjoyed.  Jon Lester pitched a complete game, Kyle Schwarber knocked one on to Sheffield, Anthony Rizzo clubbed some bombs and Harry Caray sang the 7th inning stretch.  It was five days that won't be forgotten anytime soon. 

Who knows what 2018 will bring, but with Regina hosting the Memorial Cup, the Riders being in the Grey Cup discussion and things like the Brier and the USports Womens Basketball Championship happening in our fair city, I'm sure there will be many things that happen over the next 12 months that will qualify for this list.  


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