Regina Thunder Vs. Winnipeg Rifles

Regina ThunderJust like the Saskatchewan Roughriders did earlier this season, the Regina Thunder kick off their Prairie Football Conference schedule with two straight games at home. Tonight at 7 p.m., the Thunder will take to the turf at Mosaic Stadium to play the Winnipeg Rifles. And following that tilt, the Thunder will host the Edmonton Wildcats at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday Aug. 23 at 1 p.m.

Unlike the Riders, though, I don’t think the Thunder will find themselves sitting at 0W-2L at the conclusion of the home stand. In fact, if I was a betting man, they’ll probably be at 2W-0L.

The Riders (and their fans) had high hopes heading into 2015 too, of course, but all that more or less unravelled when Darian Durant went down with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury just before the end of the first half in in the home opener against Winnipeg.

The Thunder lost a QB to injury last year too. That was Jaeden Marwick, and he’s back with the team again this year. In a training camp profile that appeared in the Leader-Post in late July, Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay said he was very satisfied with the quality of the team’s recruits this year, and credited the solid minor league and high school football programs in Regina for producing a lot of quality players.

That talent, and depth, will likely spell bad news for most Thunder opponents this year. As always, of course, the Saskatoon Hilltops will prove a stiff test. And year-to-year, there’s usually another PFC team or two that qualifies as a contender. But come playoff time, the Thunder should be in a position to host one of the two semi-finals.

You can find out more about the team on the Regina Thunder website. 

Baseball Canada 21U Boys Championship

In June, 30 Canadian-born players were taken in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. That’s up from 17 in 2014. At the major league level, meanwhile, 20 players with Canadian roots currently suit up for the 30 teams, and a whole pile more are in the minor league system.

Those numbers pale in comparison with traditional baseball hotbeds such as the United States, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Still, Canada does have a decent presence on the diamonds — and we’re the two-time gold medal champs in baseball at the Pan-Am Games, with the latest triumph coming against the U.S. in a wacky extra inning game in Toronto on July 19.

From Aug. 13-17, some possible future stars of the game will be on display in Regina when the city hosts Baseball Canada’s 21 and under Boys Championship. All the action will be taking place at Optimist Baseball Park which is located on Dewdney Ave. West.

For more on the tournament visit the Baseball Canada website.

Pile O’ Bones Derby Club

Roller DerbyThe 2015 Roller Derby season is winding down in Regina. The last bout of the year will happen at the Callie Curling Club on the Labour Day weekend (Sept. 5, to be exact). Before that happens, though, there’s a bout on Saturday, Aug. 8. The bout is titled Regina vs. Rocanville, so it would seem that a team will be coming to the city from the town of Rocanville — which is located near the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border, and is apparently home to the largest oil can in the world.

As with the other bouts held during the season, there’s a junior bout at 4:30 p.m., and the headline bout goes at 7:30 p.m. The Callie is located at 2225 Sandra Schmirler Way near the airport, and tickets are $12 advance and $15 door, with children 10 and under admitted free. For more information, visit the Pile ‘O Bones Derby Club website.

Weekly Reckoning: Spectacular Fleeting Things Edition

weekly-reckoningEverybody! I was on my way home from Saskatoon this afternoon and I saw – I swear to God – a small bird landing on a hawk in flight, riding the hawk like a living conveyor belt for 15 or 20 feet, then flying off again. Why did it do that? The convenience of it all? The thrill? Was the sparrow or similar small bird feeling a little tired and looking for an extremely brief rest? Maybe the hawk had a stray seed or bug on its back? Or was it a Nietzschean demonstration of bird world power relations? Who cares? The clearest manifestation of Grace has been vouchsafed to me by chance, and it’s telling me that the lord of the cosmos is probably a bird of some sort. Probably a secretary bird or a piping plover or something.


2. OBAMA’S RESERVES OF GIVE-A-SHIT HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED During a speech at the University of Nairobi, Obama made a birther joke. I’m enjoying Obama’s take on lame duck presidency.

3. A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR THE SPIELBERG FANS Behold the ultimate commentary for Raiders of the Lost Ark, chock-a-block with insight and trivia. Remember when you were 30 years younger and sitting in the theatre, wondering about production design decisions? Give yourself an extra kaddam and listen in. Then take back one kaddam for the Bird God.

4. CARS ARE COMPUTERS WITH WHEELS Fiat Chrysler has issued a recall for 1.4 million cars after a security vulnerability was discovered.

5. YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF AND THE BIRD GOD TO READ THIS PIECE ON TA-NEHISI COATES It’s a long read and it’s a few weeks old already, which is five years in Internet terms. But are you doing anything with your life right now that would be as meaningful as the act of reading a piece on Coates, who is doing better and deeper thinking than any of us on issues of race and structural privilege? No, unless you’re fighting a fire in an orphanage right now, in which case the Bird God grants you license to get in there and save those kids.


Riders Vs. Tiger Cats

Game action from June 29, 2014 when the Riders prevailed over Hamilton 31-10
Game action from June 29, 2014 when the Riders prevailed over Hamilton 31-10

Last year, the Riders opened the season at home against Hamilton. They won that game, but then lost their next two games to fall to 1W-2L. Fans were getting grumpy, but then the Riders had a bye week which seemed to rejuvenate them, as they proceeded to reel off seven straight wins to move to 8W-2L before Darian Durant suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the Banjo Bowl and they more or less collapsed.

This year, the Riders are off to a similarly slow start, and could likely benefit from a bye week to regroup. The team’s first bye this year, though, doesn’t come until week eight (which covers Aug. 13-15).

Before then, the Riders play a home game against Hamilton later today, then go on the road for games against Edmonton on July 31 and Toronto Aug. 8. Unless the team finds a way to turn things around, they could be 0W-7L at that point and you’d pretty well be looking at starting a rebuild for 2016.

A win today would do wonders for the team’s confidence and help soften the criticism head coach Corey Chamblin the rest of the Green & White have weathered from some of the more hot-headed citizens of Rider Nation in recent weeks. It’s not an insurmountable task, either. To begin with, the Riders haven’t played since the team’s 27-24 loss at home to B.C. on July 17 so they have had a mini-break. As well, with the Pan-Am Games on in southern Ontario, the Tiger Cats, like the Argonauts, are on an extended road trip to open the season. Hamilton doesn’t play their first home game until Aug. 3, and currently sit at 1W-2L with a blowout win over Winnipeg sandwiched between narrow losses to Calgary and Montreal.

All four Rider losses have been relatively narrow as well. A play here, and a play there, and the result might have been different. But it’s a truism of sports that good teams, even when they don’t play well, generally find a way to win, while poor teams, even when they play well, often find a way to lose.

Right now, the Riders obviously aren’t a good team. But I wouldn’t automatically say they’re as bad as an 0W-4L record would seem indicate. But until they notch their first W the pressure is only going to build, and when you consider that their regular season and playoff record since Durant’s Banjo Bowl injury last year is an abysmal 2W-11L, the frustration of Rider fans isn’t unjustified.

Game time at Mosaic Stadium today is 5 p.m. You can find more on the Riderville website.

Riders Vs. Lions

Game action from July 12 2014, when the Lions prevailed over the Riders 26-13.
Game action from July 12 2014, when the Lions prevailed over the Riders 26-13.

It’s only the fourth game of the season, but the rematch tonight against B.C. pretty much qualifies as a must-win for the Riders. The team is off to a nightmare 0W-3L start, and with four of their first five games at home that means they’ll be on the road a fair bit after next Sunday’s home game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

Despite last Friday’s 35-32 OT victory against the Riders in Vancouver, the Lions aren’t generally regarded as one of the top teams in the league. If the Green & White lose both ends of the home-and-home with B.C. they’ll have dug a pretty deep hole for themselves.

In fairness to the Riders, they haven’t played horribly this year. In all five losses, including two in the preseason, they held leads well into the second half before wheels of various types (turnovers, failed third down gambles, special teams gaffes, shoddy defence, penalties) fell off and they ended up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

A win tonight and the Riders can start to build on some of the positives they’ve displayed in earlier games. Another loss, though, and the disgruntlement level in Rider Nation is bound to rise. So far, head coach Corey Chamblin has taken most of the heat, with some fans arguing that his self-assumed role as pseudo defensive coordinator (along with official DC Greg Quick) has caused him to lose sight of his broader obligations as head coach and that the team has suffered as a result.

Whether that criticism is fair or not, it does seem that sometimes, both this year and last, the Rider braintrust (which includes more than Chamblin, of course) could be accused of outsmarting themselves with some of their moves both on and off the football field. And when you consider that since Darian Durant’s injury in last season’s Banjo Bowl the Riders regular season and playoff record stands at 2W-11L the angst/frustration is not unjustified.

Game time at Mosaic Stadium is 8 p.m. For more information, visit the Riderville website.

Riders Vs Argonauts

When the Riders hosted the Argos last July the final score was 37-9 for the home team.
When the Riders hosted the Argos last July the final score was 37-9 for the home team.

Both the Riders and the CFL are off to a rough start in 2015. In Week One, the Riders, Edmonton and Montreal all lost their starting QBs to injury. The Alouettes also lost their back-up QB. Toronto’s starter, Ricky Ray, was already injured, then on Thursday Winnipeg lost their starting QB Drew Willy after he took a shot to head.

In Kevin Glenn, the Riders have an adequate back-up. But it’s likely the team will be be looking to run the ball more than had originally been planned under new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapedelaine (whose offence Darian Durant had previously described as basketball on grass).

Last Saturday in the loss to Winnipeg, Rider RBs Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam racked up over 200 yards on the ground, so there is some hope there. Receiver Weston Dressler is supposed to play in this afternoon’s game against the Argos as well, so he should provide an offensive spark. On defence, the Riders were sloppy with a capital “S”, and Winnipeg took advantage of poor tackling to put up tons of yards and points in their 30-26 victory. All-star safety Tyron Brackenridge is supposed to play today, although having sat out training camp and the preseason it’s questionable how effective he will be.

The Argonauts are coming off an impressive “home” win against Edmonton in Fort McMurray. Because of the Pan Am games, the Double Blue won’t play their first true home game in Toronto until Aug. 8 (against the Riders, as it happens). But replacement QB Trevor Harris looked good in the team’s 26-11 victory over the Eskimos — although defensively, Toronto was helped when Edmonton QB Mike Reilly had to leave the game with a leg injury that will sideline him for 10-12 weeks.

On special teams, the Riders made a splash this week when they signed 45-year-old Paul McCallum to take over place-kicking duties from Chris Milo. If you crunch the numbers, McCallum does have a better success rate, although for the last 10 years he’s had the benefit of playing half the season in climate-controlled conditions at B.C. Place whereas Milo has faced the exact opposite situation at Mosaic Stadium where wind, rain and cold often wreak havoc with the kicking game. The Riders also re-signed QB Tino Sunseri to put a third quarterback on the roster now that Durant is gone for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Prior to Calgary losing in Montreal Friday night (against a rookie QB, no less) I had the Stampeders and the Hamilton Tiger Cats as early favourites to meet in a Grey Cup rematch in Winnipeg in late November. Hamilton still looks solid, and Calgary still has to be favoured in the West. But other teams, such as the Riders and Edmonton, could challenge depending on how they cope with the loss of their starting QBs.

Kick-off for today’s game at Mosaic Stadium is 1:30 p.m. You can find out more on the Riderville website.

Riders Vs Blue Bombers

Game action from Labour Day 2014 where the Riders prevailed 35-30.
Game action from Labour Day 2014 where the Riders prevailed 35-30.

Here’s a link to the Rider Fan Forum that ran in our June 25 issue. The column was timed to appear in advance of the Riders 2015 CFL regular season home opener that goes tonight at Mosaic Stadium at 6 p.m. against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

If you check out the column you’ll see that our intrepid panelists Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico, along with our highly touted rookie out of Saskatoon John’s Chick, are reasonably optimistic about the Riders’ chances in 2015.

One of the keys to the team’s success, they observed, would be the play of the offensive line. In the off-season, the Riders severed ties with centre Dominic Picard (who subsequently signed with Winnipeg) and lost tackle Ben Heenan when he signed with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Those are two big holes to fill. The Riders also traded one of their inspirational leaders, defensive lineman Ricky Foley, to Toronto for middle linebacker Shea Emry.

Having missed most of training camp and the pre-season, defensive back/linebacker Tyron Brackenridge won’t play. Receiver Weston Dressler did suit up against Calgary on June 19, but missed some practice time this week and won’t play either.

Further to the Rider Fan Forum, one thing our panelists were unanimous about was their criticism of the off-season rule changes the CFL made to boost offence by outlawing contact between defenders and receivers five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and restricting the ability of the lineman on punt coverage to move downfield until the ball is actually kicked.

The panelists foresaw that leading to a pile more penalties, further slowing down the game and creating lots of opportunities for game officials to impact on the outcome through bad calls. That was arguably true in the pre-season (in the Rider game against Edmonton in Fort McMurray the teams combined for 55 penalties!), so we’ll see how things play out in the regular season.

As with last year, the Green & White and Blue & Gold will meet three times this season. After tonight’s game, they’ll meet in the Labour Day Classic on Sept. 6 and then the following Sunday in Winnipeg in the Banjo Bowl. Prior to the LDC we’ll have the mid-season installment of Rider Fan Forum in our Sept. 3 issue.

This Week At City Hall: Curlers Get Tax Exemption; Aviators, Not So Much; End Of Sordid District Brewing Saga


Last night was my first time back at city council since August of 2014. And it ended up being a FIVE HOUR LONG meeting. I didn’t get home until nearly 11pm.

I swear Fougere planned it this way just to get me back for escaping to the beach for a year.

Despite my rusty twittering skills, I did manage to live tweet throughout the meeting. To catch up anyone who couldn’t be there or couldn’t watch from home, I’ve compiled everything I typed — along with a selection of the twitter chatter from others — into one honking huge storify. Ta da! Check out this happy dude…

If for some reason you don’t like clicking through the gallery above, you can jump to the long form page here.

I usually live tweet any city meeting I go to through @PDCityHall. More general nonsense comes out of @PaulDechene.

Riders Vs Calgary Stampeders

Game action from Oct. 3 when the Stamps best the Riders 31-24
Game action from Oct. 3 when the Stamps beat the Riders 31-24

This pre-season game goes tonight at Mosaic Stadium at 7:30 p.m. It features the last two Grey Cup champions. The Riders, of course, won on home turf against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 2013 while Calgary claimed its title with a victory over the same Tabbies last November in Vancouver.

The Stampeders had a solid 2014 campaign and were full marks for their Grey Cup run. Looming in the background, though, at least for Rider fans, is a big “What if” as in “What if Rider QB Darian Durant hadn’t suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the Banjo Bowl?”

When he was shelved for the season the Riders had an 8W-2L record and were one game back of the 9W-1L Stamps for first place in the CFL West. True, the Riders hadn’t played especially well up till then, especially on offense. But just prior to Durant’s  injury Weston Dressler had returned to the team, so who knows how the Green & White would have fared in the last half of the season — which included their only two games against the Stamps in 2014, along with a trio of tilts against the Edmonton Eskimos before their West semi-final match-up where the Green & Gold capitalized on five Kerry Joseph interceptions to bounce the Riders from the playoffs with an 18-10 win at Commonwealth Stadium.

Injuries are part of the game, of course. And there’s no guarantee that even with a healthy Durant at the controls the Riders would have been able to beat a formidable Calgary team. But the games the teams played against each other definitely would’ve highlights of what turned out to be a pretty lacklustre CFL season.

Tonight, both the Riders and Stamps are playing their last pre-season games. Last Friday, Calgary defeated the Lions 20-6 at McMahon Stadium. The Riders, meanwhile, gave up a late TD and lost 31-24 to Edmonton in Fort McMurrary.

Like last season, the Riders and Stamps only meet twice in 2015. On Aug. 22, the teams will clash at Mosaic Stadium. Then on Halloween afternoon they’ll meet at McMahon.

Following tonight’s game head coach Corey Chamblin and the Rider staff will make their final roster moves in preparation for the team’s home-opener which goes June 27 at 6 p.m. against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In the June 25 Prairie Dog we’ll have our first edition of Rider Fan Forum. Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy are all back for another year, and they’ll be joined by John’s Chick — a long-time Rider football fan who lives in Saskatoon.

For more on tonight’s game, visit the Riderville website.

Barnstorming Baseball On The Prairies

The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame’s current exhibition is Chalk, Wheat & Diamonds: Saskatchewan ‘Ball. It’s on until Sept. 11, and it celebrates the sports of baseball, fastball and softball.

On Thursday June 18 the SSHF, in conjunction with Regina Public Library, is hosting an illustrated talk by Phil Dixon called Barnstorming Baseball on the Prairies. Dixon is a baseball historian, and a founding member of  the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which is located in Kansas City.

Prior to 1947, African-American baseball players were denied the opportunity to play major league baseball. Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier that year when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. For two years before that, following his discharge from the U.S. Army at the end of WWII, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League.

Virtually from the time the Civil War ended in 1865, African-Americans had played baseball either on stand-alone teams that used to barnstorm across the United States and Canada to play exhibition games or in organized leagues such as the NBL. As you can learn by clicking on the above link, Dixon’s talk will address barnstorming tours that the Monarchs conducted in Saskatchewan and the rest of Western Canada in the 1930s and ’40s.

In addition to Robinson, Satchel Paige and Ernie Banks (who later played for the Chicago Cubs from 1953-71) were other notables who played for the Monarchs. Dixon’s talk is on Thursday at RPL Film Theatre at 3 p.m.

Queen City Catch Up: Greg Fingas On The Elections And, Believe It Or Not, We Even Talk Football (Podcast)

For episode six of Queen City Catch Up, I met lawyer, blogger and Leader Post columist, Greg Fingas, at Fresh Café on Hamilton Street. We talked about the state of the NDP in Canada, we made guesses about how the federal and provincial elections are going to turn out and we even spoke briefly about the Riders.

What? No, I haven’t acquired an interest in football. (Euugh.) But footballing things happened while I was away. Right? I figured I should at least ask about them so that this podcast will achieve some degree of comprehensiveness.

Anyway, you can follow Greg Fingas’ political writing on his blog, Accidental Deliberations.

Music for the podcast comes from Malta’s Lost Voices, a compilation of recordings from the early 1930s. You can get your own copy at

In the next episode of Queen City Catch Up, I’ll be speaking with ward one city councillor, Barbara Young. It will go up on Wednesday.

Red Sox Vs. Weyburn Beavers

Red SoxThe Regina Red Sox open the 2015 Western Major Baseball League season with a game Friday night at Currie Field against their East Division rivals from Weyburn.

Judging by the Sox’s website the WBML has undergone a bit of a realignment in 2015. In previous seasons, the league was divided into three divisions: East, Central and West. This year, though, there’s only two divisions: East and West. Joining the Red Sox and Beavers in the East are the Melville Millionaires, Moose Jaw Miller Express and Yorkton Cardinals. The West, meanwhile, consists of the Edmonton Prospects, Lethbridge Bulls, Okotoks Dawgs, Medicine Hat Mavericks and the Swift Current you-know-whats.

Last season, Medicine Hat took the league title with a 3-1 series victory over Swift Current in the final. That was after the you-know-whats had swept the Red Sox 3-0 in one semi-final while Medicine Hat dispatched Okotoks in the other semi-final.

WMBL teams rely heavily on U.S. College players to make up their rosters, so there’s typically a fair bit of turnover from season to season. Most of those players are American, but on the Sox training camp roster six were listed as having Saskatchewan roots, while two others were from Alberta and B.C., so there is plenty of Canadian content.

Tomorrow’s home opener for the Red Sox goes at Currie Field at 7 p.m. Season tickets are available through the above-linked website, and individual game tickets are Adults $10, Youth 6-14 $5, with children under 5 admitted free.

CFL Draft

CFLWe’re just weeks away from CFL teams heading to training camp for the start of the 2015 season. Before that happens, though, the CFL draft is being held today. It’s a bit of a cramped timeline, but the league always waits until the NFL hold its draft so teams have a chance to see which American and Canadian college players who qualify for National status get picked so they don’t waste a high draft pick on a player who intends to give the NFL a shot.

Barring any last minute trades, the Riders are scheduled to pick sixth in the first round. The Green & White don’t have a second round pick, and after that the team picks 26th (third round), 35th (fourth round), 42nd (fifth round), 50 (sixth round) and 59th (seventh round).

The talent available this year is supposed to be pretty good, so teams will be looking to secure some top prospects. Here’s a link to the final draft rankings from the CFL scouting bureau.

As far as said prospects go, University of Regina Ram receiver Addison Richards is ranked #12. He was your pick for best Best Cougar Athlete in Best of Regina 2014, and with Canadian receivers Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg getting on in years, Richards, who is 6’5″ 210 pounds, might draw interest from the Riders — him being a hometown boy and all.

But awhile back there were rumours floating around that the Riders were keen to draft an offensive lineman. With previous first-round pick Ben Heenan having signed with the Indianapolis Colts, and former centre Dominic Picard released, the team may well be looking to improve its depth at what is typically a key position for National players.

The Riders have already held a mini-camp in Florida, where all eyes were on QB Darian Durant, who missed the last half of the 2014 season with a badly injured elbow on his throwing arm. He passed that test with flying colours, so his rehab after surgery seems to have gone well.

Following training camp and two exhibition games (including one against the Edmonton Eskimos in Fort McMurray on June 13) the Riders open the regular season at home against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on June 27.

In the June 25 Prairie Dog Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico will offer their thoughts on what ended up being a fairly busy off-season for the Riders, and how they think the Riders will fare in 2015. They’ll be joined by a fourth panelist, Hillary Lewinsky, a long-time football fan who will offer her perspective on the team from her home in Saskatoon.

Regina Riot Vs. Manitoba Fearless

Regina RiotHockey and basketball still have another month to run, and baseball is just hitting its stride, at the pro ranks anyway, and that can mean only one thing — football season will soon be upon us.

First out of the gate is Regina’s entry in the Prairie Conference of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. On Sunday May 10 they’ll be playing their home opener of the 2015 season against the Manitoba Fearless. The game goes at Mosaic Stadium at noon and tickets are $10, with children 12 and under admitted free.

You can find out more about the Regina Riot by visiting the team’s website. The Riot play an abbreviated schedule of four regular season games with the possibility of playoffs after that.

In addition to Sunday’s game, the Riot will host their provincial rival the Saskatoon Valkyries on Sunday May 17 at Mosaic Stadium at 7 p.m. Then they’ll be on the road for games against the Valkyries in Saskatoon on Saturday May 30 (SMF Field at 7 p.m.) and the Nomads Wolkpack in Winnipeg on Sunday June 7.

CFL Free Agency

Rider(EdmontonPlayoff)At the free agent deadline last year, the CFL Players Association and league were embroiled in acrimonious negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. That made for a lot of labour uncertainty, with players and teams reluctant to commit to long-term deals before a salary cap was in place. The agreement that was eventually reached also did away with the option year on CFL contracts so deals that previously had been a minimum of two years could now be one year.

As a result, there’s plenty of CFL players eligible to declare free agency as of 11 a.m. this morning. At the end of the 2014 season, the Riders alone had 29 free agents, but the league total exceeded 200, so lots of teams are in the same boat.

It’s already been an eventful off-season in Riderville, what with coach Corey Chamblin jettisoning offensive coordinator George Cortez and long-time defensive coordinator Richie Hall. In a post-season interview, Chamblin indicated that he’d run the defense in the Riders 18-10 playoff loss in Edmonton (game photo above) where the D more than held its own. When former Montreal linebacker coach Greg Quick was signed as the new DC in early January Chamblin indicated that, at the start of the season anyway, he would handle the defensive signals. So that puts a fair bit of responsibility on new OC Jacques Chapedelaine.

In the playoff game the Green & White were done in, as they were for most of the season, by shoddy special teams play and an anemic offense, with major uncertainty at running back all year, and huge problems at QB after Darian Durant went down in the Banjo Bowl.

In the last few months, GM Brendan Taman has whittled down the Riders’ free agent total. D-linemen Tearrius George, D-back Terrell Maze, linebacker Weldon Brown, receiver Kory Williams, all-star safety Tyron Brackenridge and receiver Weston Dressler have all re-signed. D-lineman Ricky Foley re-signed, but then was traded to Toronto for middle linebacker Shea Emery, which should help the Riders fill a big hole from last year on defence.  Finally, centre Dominc Picard was released and signed with Winnipeg; and tackle Ben Heenan was also released to pursue an NFL opportunity with the Indianapolis Colts.

One big question mark among the remaining free agents is QB Tino Sunseri. In only his second year with the team, he was forced into a starter role when Durant got injured. While he showed flashes of good play, he mostly struggled, and was ultimately replaced (in a panic move, Earl Camembert said in our November pre-playoff Rider Fan Forum) by 41-year old retired QB Kerry Joseph. Overall, Sunseri’s performance was disappointing. But critics have said that Cortez’s extremely conservative play-calling didn’t do him any favours either.

You can find out more on the Rider and CFL free agents here.

My Favourite Superbowl Preview

I’ve been enjoying Spike Friedman’s silly-yet-insightful coverage of the Seahawks in The Stranger this season (he calls it “The Insufferable Journey to Rewinnining the Super Bowl”). His preview of today’s game is especially fine:

Spoiler alert: I’m picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. I’m about to tell you why, and it’s going to take, like, 2,000 words. (I hope you read them, even though I’m sure the game itself will reveal me to be an idiot anyway.) But before we get to why I’m picking the Seahawks, let me just say, this wasn’t an easy pick.

It wasn’t easy to pick the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots on Sunday.


Really, really, it wasn’t. I’m scared.

Now, as we stand at the end of The Insufferable Journey to Rewinnining the Super Bowl, picking one more Seahawks win is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Part of being insufferable is being humble and honest. And I am nothing if not supremely honest. And honestly? The Patriots are scary. Also, this is a little more footbally than other posts have been, but it’s the Super Bowl and I’ve been watching game tape, and I think we’re all ready for this.

Once the game gets going you can follow Friedman here. His live-Slog of the last game was a hoot. I’m excited to see how what magical things he writes today.

And of course, feel free to toss your football -related opinions into the comments below. How about Weston Dressler?

So That’s Why They’re Called The Weyburn Red Wings

There may be some straws in the wind – hearing a neighbor’s been laid off, hearing about the dysfunctional Target Canada coming apart like the Hale Bopp comet into Jupiter – but the news that the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Weyburn Red Wings are close to insolvency should set off alarm bells in the provincial Department of Finance, and not just amongst hockey fans.

As people from southern Saskatchewan are wont to tell us – at least until recently – the Weyburn-Estevan area, the Canadian area of the now infamous Williston Basin – became almost as large an economic generator as the Athabasca Tar Sands thanks to fracking and high oil prices. But those high oil prices are no more.

Weyburn’s also known for being an area where the business community apparently thinks that if you’re not working in the oil fields or directly supporting the oil field industry, you can go hang. The city fathers and the Weyburn District Chamber of Commerce launched a grand national freakout nine years ago, when some of the employees at the city’s Walmart planned to unionize the staff. And the district voted heavily for a SaskParty candidate whose party, amongst other things, would rewrite labour rules so it would be harder for employees to unionize.

More recently, the Chamber of Commerce strongly endorsed the Temporary Foreign Workers program, which allows businesses to bring in workers from Third World countries to work in jobs, even though local people may need jobs. It’s understandable, in a cynical fashion, why the Chamber thinks that way. If the labour market isn’t diluted, then the laws of supply and demand mean that they will have no alternative but to increase wages, or go out of business if they have to pay market rates for labour. I mean, you can’t have workers making too much money and having more disposable income, can you? Look at what happened to Seattle when it passed a hike in its minimum wage … okay, bad example.

But now, let’s see the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce try to convince these TFWs that the Red Wings survival is important. And let’s see the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce try to convince those people who got laid off or who couldn’t get a job because the local business thought they could save a buck and hired TFWs instead of local people, that they should care about the Red Wings’ fate. And let’s see the Chamber, who endorsed anti-unionization so workers have a harder time bargaining collectively for, amongst other things, better wages, tell those same people that they should spend their hard-earned money, which doesn’t go too far in a boom town, for a hockey team when, if they have cable, they can watch all they hockey they want at home.

Now, the likelihood that the Weyburn Red Wings don’t play next season is up there with the threat in bygone years that the Saskatchewan Roughriders would fold if they didn’t sell enough tickets. The threat is real insofar as it’s made to the public; appealing to its sense of community spirit, forgetting that the other ways of illustrating community spirit – like making sure everyone has an adequate income and shelter, that everybody can feel at home – should be ignored because it might inconvenience the business community.

The Wings will probably be bailed out by local businesses buying tickets for the remainder of the current season and season tickets for the next year. The businesses will then sell tickets at a discount (think of Safeways selling Pats tickets in the Hunter years) or give them away to their business associates and/or employees. This is what the Roughriders did in the 1997, ’98, and ’99 seasons to inflate attendance figures. The Riders’ problem with that strategy, however, was two-fold. It was only the truly dedicated, the desperate, and the ones with no connections in the business community who paid for tickets, whether seasons’ or walk-ups, and once businesses learned that they couldn’t give away Rider tickets, they started wondering why they were spending promotional money on a product nobody wanted. By the end of the 1999 season, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were in worse shape than in late 1996, when Fred Wagman threatened to pull the plug on the team because of its financial state. They were just as much in the hole as they were three years previous, they had a public that wasn’t willing to buy tickets they could get for free, and they had a business community who now knew the public wasn’t always willing to sell what the Riders were trying to get them to buy.

As the news reports state, the Wings are about $180,000 to $200,000 in the hole with, if it is in keeping with the rest of the SJHL, a budget of about $900,000 to $1 million. In the oilfields’ go-go days, the collection of drilling companies, service companies, and others associated with the industry could have raised that amount from their petty cash reserves. The fact that they can’t do that now, and the Weyburn Red Wings now are going cap in hand to a public that, until now, the business and political community have largely ignored, is not just ironic justice, it’s a major sign that the New Saskatchewan that people such as Brad Wall and John Gormley have envisioned is pretty much an illusion.

World Junior Hockey Championship

2015_WJHC_logoAs I write this blog post on Sunday afternoon, Russia is up 3-0 on Sweden midway through the third period of the first WJHC semi-final in Toronto, and Canada is approximately one hour away from taking the ice against upstart Slovakia in the other semi-final.

Barring upsets of gargantuan proportions, then, it looks like Canada and Russia will be battling for gold in the WJHC title game which goes tonight from Toronto with puck drop at 7 p.m. Regina time on TSN. It also seems that Sweden and Slovakia are destined to meet in the bronze medal game which goes at 3 p.m. Regina time.

If Russia and Canada do end up meeting, it will be their first gold medal match-up since the 2011 tournament in Buffalo when Canada gassed a 3-0 lead, giving up five goals to the Russians in the third period to fall 5-3. That was a traumatic loss for the juniors, who prior to then had looked pretty much invincible in the tournament, reeling off five straight championships from 2005-09 before having their streak snapped with a 6-5 OT loss to the United States in Saskatoon in 2010.

Since the loss to Russia, in fact, which relegated Canada to silver, the Canadian juniors have only picked up one medal in the tournament (bronze in 2012). Playing in front of home town crowds, first in Montreal, and now Toronto for the playoff round, the team has looked pretty solid — outscoring their opposition 21-4 in the qualifying round, and squashing Denmark 8-0 in the quarter final to run their record to 5W-0L.

Russia, meanwhile, had a so-so qualifying round — finishing third in its pool with a 1W-1OT/W-2L record, before beating the U.S. in the quarter-final 3-2 and then upending Sweden in the semi-final (it looks like, anyway).

On paper, this is a game Canada should win (again, assuming they beat Slovakia in the semi-final). Offensively and defensively the team has enjoyed pretty much a flawless tournament under coach Benoit Groulx while Russia has struggled at times. But the game isn’t played on paper, it’s played on ice. So I guess we’ll see later tonight who prevails.

U.S. College Football

College trophy-threequarterIf watching U.S. college football bowl games is part of your annual New Year’s Day ritual there will be an extra wrinkle tomorrow. After decades of controversy over end-of-season rankings, bowl invites, and the ultimate decision of who ends up with bragging rights as national champ, the NCAA has instituted a four-team playoff. The two semi-finals go tomorrow, with the winners meeting on Jan. 12 for all the marbles — or, at least, the new trophy that the NCAA has put up for grabs (that’s it pictured at left).

Make no mistake, though, there’s still plenty of room for controversy. When you have a set up like NCAA Division I football that can’t be helped. To begin with, there’s 128 teams in 11 conferences. Some conferences, like the ACC and SEC, are typically stronger than others, so those teams generally face tough competition whereas teams in weaker conferences face more soup cans and can rack up impressive win-loss records without necessarily being that good.

Instead of relying strictly on records, the NCAA instituted a complex formula to try to account for the quality of opposition each contender faced. It even factored in what sport writers called “style points”. If you faced a low-ranked team and blew them away, good for you. If you had an off day though, and played down to the level of the opposition, you lost points — even if you ended up winning.

So, after all the calculations were done, here’s the match-ups. Oh yeah, one more thing. Each year, the playoff games will rotate among the big bowl sites. Tomorrow at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, #2  ranked Oregon will meet #3 Florida State (kick-off 4 p.m. Regina time). Then in the Sugar Bowl from New Orleans, #1 ranked Alabama will meet [and likely dismantle] #4 Ohio State (kick-off 7:30 p.m. Regina time).

As I noted, the winners of those two games will meet Jan. 12 in Arlington, Tx at AT&T Cowboy Stadium for the national championship.