Toronto Raptors

Ujiri_headshot_225For years the NBA has scheduled marquee match-ups on Christmas Day to showcase the sport to a holiday audience. This year, Oklahoma City Thunder are visiting the San Antonio Spurs in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference final. You’ve also got the Cleveland Caviliers in Miami to play the Heat. Record-wise, both teams are so-so. But the game marks the return of LeBron James to Miami so there’s plenty of intrigue.

Also on the schedule are the L.A. Lakers at Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards at New York Knicks. The Lakers and Knicks both stink this year. But they’re big market cities so what are you going to do?

If the NBA was really keen to showcase its top teams on Xmas Day, though, one squad that should be playing is the Toronto Raptors.

At roughly the 4/10th mark of the season the Raps own the best record in the East. Yes, that’s by far the weaker of the conferences. But their .759 winning percentage (22W-7L) is impressive nonetheless. And against the West so far, the Raps are 7W-2L.

Last season, the Raptors started slow, then made a blockbuster trade that turned things around. Led by guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen, they ended up fourth seed in the East, but lost out in the first round of the playoffs to the veteran Brooklyn Nets in a hotly contested seven game series.

Fans were disappointed, but also hopeful heading into 2014-15 that the Raptors were a team on the rise. Helping was Lowry’s off-season decision to resign with the Raps rather than leave as a free agent for a higher profile U.S. team as so many other top players had done over the years. And so far, the team has delivered on their promise. And they’ve done it (since late November, anyway) without DeRozan, who’s out indefinitely with a torn tendon in his left thigh/groin area — the adductor longus, I guess it’s called.

Even without one of their leaders, the Raptors have been steaming along. And GM Masai Ujiri (pictured) — a 34-year-old native of Nigeria, who was voted NBA Executive of the Year in 2013 — is being hailed as a genius. Although after Christmas, the team heads out on a five-game road trip where they play three of the West’s top teams: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers. So we’ll see how that goes.

Pats Vs Lethbridge Hurricanes

IMG_2835Heading into the Christmas break the Pats are on a tear. Pending the outcome of last night’s game in Brandon against the Wheat Kings, they’ve racked up 11Ws in their last 13 games. That includes wins on the road against the Kelowna Rockets who currently boast the best record (26W-5L-3OT/L) in the WHL, and a sweep of a home-and-home with Brandon who own the second best record in the WHL.

The Pats’ inspired play of late has put them in the thick of the WHL East Conference playoff race with a 19W-11L-1OT/L record. With 39 points, they’ve got some ground to make up on the two division leaders Brandon (52 points) and Medicine Hat Tigers (48 points). But if the season ended today they would have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Of course, the season doesn’t end today. After tonight’s game against the last place Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Pats will have a 10-day holiday break before returning to action in Swift Current against the Broncos on Dec. 27.

Last week, the Leader-Post did an article speculating on whether the Pats would be active as a buyer or seller as the WHL trade deadline of Jan. 10 approached. The team has some veteran players (most notably, Morgan Klimchuk who was invited to the Team Canada World Junior training camp earlier this month) that could be used as assets in trades with teams like Kelowna and Medicine Hat who seem poised to take a run at the league title this year.

With the Pats’ strong play of late, though, they might not be too far away themselves. If that viewpoint carries the day with the team’s brain trust they might be looking to add some talent. But the team will likely be reluctant to mortgage too much of its future by giving away a top prospect like 16-year-old centre Sam Steel (pictured) for what still has to be considered a long-shot run at a WHL title in 2014-15.

Tonight’s game against Lethbridge goes at Brandt Centre at 7 p.m. For more information visit the Regina Pats website.

Riders Vs. Edmonton Eskimos

Riders vs Edmonton Oct. 19
Kerry Joseph calls the signals in an Oct. 19 game which Edmonton won 24-19

Having secured second place and home field advantage in the West semi-final the Eskimos have nothing at stake in this game which goes Saturday evening at Mosaic Stadium — unless they want to pull some extra strings to determine who they will meet in the playoffs.

Their ability to do that depends on what happens in tonight’s game between the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions in Vancouver. If the Lions win, they finish third in the West regardless of what happens tomorrow. If they lose, though, the Riders would claim third place with a victory.

If I was the Eskimos I’d probably rather face the Lions in the West semi-final. They’ve been inconsistent all season, and it’s hard to envision them putting together a solid playoff run. The Riders, though, are a potentially different story. When Darian Durant went down with an elbow injury in the Banjo Bowl, they were riding a seven-game winning streak and boasted an 8W-2L record.

The second half of the season was a different story, of course. But with Durant possibly set to return for the playoffs, plus the likelihood of the Riders getting some of their other injured starters back such as O-lineman Chris Best and Brendan LaBatte, the Riders at least have a shot at returning to mid-season form and posing a stiffer challenge for the Eskimos than the Lions.

If the Lions win tonight, the issue is academic, as they will finish third. If they lose, though, the Esks, with a win tomorrow, would relegate the Riders to the crossover and a date with Toronto, Hamilton or Montreal in the East semi-final. A B.C. loss coupled with a Rider win, though, and the Lions finish fourth and crossover to the East.

It’s hard to know how much gamesmanship will go on in the B.C. vs Calgary and Saskatchewan vs. Edmonton games. Finish third in the West and you’ll face two teams (Edmonton and then potentially Calgary in the West final) with a combined record after 17 games of 26W-8L. Finish fourth and crossover, and you’ll face two teams out of the Toronto/Hamilton/Montreal troika with a record of 17W-17L.

In the nearly 20 years that the crossover has been in effect, no western team has ever swept the East semi-final/final and represented the East in the Grey Cup. But unlike other seasons, I hesitate to say that the East has a legit Grey Cup contender — although certainly Montreal has played much better lately than they did at the start of the season. And travelling east for two games in a row is never easy.

Throw in the fact that Calgary is beat up, and that the Riders have enjoyed considerable playoff success at McMahon Stadium over the years, then that might be the preferred route for the Green & White. Although to reach the West final they’d have to defeat a tough Edmonton squad at Commonwealth Stadium.

Game time on Saturday is 6 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. And once the playoff pairings are set, check out Rider Fan Forum in our Nov. 13 issue where Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy will provide their picks on who will meet in the Grey Cup which goes Nov. 30 in Vancouver. For more information on tomorrow’s game visit the Riderville website.

Weekly Reckoning Of The Week of Reckoning Every Week Edition

weekly-reckoningHello! It’s time to reckon with things. Lucky for us, Pope Gregory XIII straightened out time for us with his handy calendar that lets us reckon on a weekly basis. Let’s get started. Which is really to say, let’s continue.

1. BREAKING: CBC DUMPS JIAN GHOMESHI What? CBC announced today that it is ‘ending its relationship’ with Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q. CBC won’t disclose the circumstances behind the decision, but Ghomeshi is planning to sue the Corpse for a nice $50 million, citing bad faith and breach of confidence. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes or who may be in the right, but I will say this much: CBC, you had one celebrity.

EDITED TO ADD: It’ll probably emerge that Ghomeshi has been doing some truly awful things, which will make my comments look insensitive and glib.

UPDATED: Ghomeshi posts an extremely detailed defence on Facebook.

2. WHO NAMES A RACCOON DENNIS ANYWAY Actually, I have the answer for that: Saskatoon resident Wendy Hook is the mysterious raccoon-namer and -keeper. Unfortunately, the labyrinth of Saskatoon bureaucracy has no provision for raccoons as pets. The Hooks have been pleading with the city, but it doesn’t appear likely that they’ll be able to keep Dennis around. Pity the Hooks and their pet Dennis, with his undoubtedly ridiculous little raccoon hands.

3. KULTUR MACHT SPASS Don Delillo, author of the po-mo classic White Noise, reviews eight seconds of white noise from Taylor Swift.

4. “THERE MAY BE TWO KINDS OF FEMALE ORGASM AFTER ALLThis is the sort of headline I will always click on.

5. WHO WILL PROP UP OUR BOOM-FUELLED JINGOISTIC MUNICIPAL FANTASIES NOW? The Roughriders keep losing games. Come on, Riders. We can’t go back to those pre-boom underdog days. Regina is a world-class something something. We can’t build a brand new stadium to house humiliation.

 

 

Riders Vs. Edmonton Eskimos

Edmonton vs Riders Sept 27As poorly as the Riders have played since Darian Durant went down (a 1W-4L record, while being outscored 92-12 in three road games) they still have a shot at second in the CFL West which would entitle them to host the West semi-final on Nov. 16.

To do that they have to win today, then beat Edmonton again when the two teams close out the season at Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 8. That would give them the season series against Edmonton, and enough points to finish second regardless of how the Riders and Esks do in their other remaining game (the Riders are in Calgary Oct. 24, while Edmonton hosts B.C. Nov. 1.)

Currently rehabbing his elbow injury, Durant is expected to come off the six-game injury list in time for the Calgary game. I wouldn’t expect him to play in that tilt (let’s face it, there’s only one game left to be played in Calgary this year that matters, and that’s the West final Nov. 23). But after that game, the Riders have a bye (much needed, as they haven’t had a break since mid-July) which would give the Rider QB an extra week to get ready for the season finale against Edmonton.

For that game to have any meaning in the race for second, though, the Riders have to win today. If Edmonton wins, they will pretty much sew up second and host the West-semi-final. That would be bad news for the Riders, as outside of the odd game (the 1989 West final, cough, the 1997 West final, cough) Commonwealth Stadium has been Death Valley for the Riders come playoff time.

Mind you, that’s assuming the Riders finish third. Right now, B.C.’s only two points behind the Green & White. Should the teams finished tied, the Lions hold the tie-breaker, and they do have a game in Winnipeg against the slumping Bombers on Oct. 25 that could pull them into a tie if the Riders don’t manage a win in their final three games.

If that were to happen, the Riders would finish fourth and crossover to play in the East semi-final against whoever finishes second between Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal. Then if they were to win that game, they’d play the first-place finisher in the East final with a Grey Cup berth at stake.

Since the crossover was instituted in 1997, no West team has swept the two games and represented the East in the Grey Cup so it’s obviously not easy to do. First off, you have to deal with the travel and early start times. As well, despite the generally weaker quality of play in the East, there’s usually at least one team each year that qualifies as a legit CFL power. This year, though, for a variety of reasons — injuries, stadium issues, young QB prospects still gaining experience — that’s not necessarily the case. So out of all the seasons the crossover’s been around, this might be the one year when a West victory is possible.

For the Riders, the preferred playoff route, I’m sure, would see them host (and win) the West semi-final, then travel to Calgary to play a beat-up Stampeder team in the West final. But crossing over to the East isn’t a bad second choice, and likely preferable to a semi-final date in Edmonton against the Esks.

Regardless of what scenario unfolds, the Riders obviously need a healthy Durant to have a shot. As to whether the team has a shot today, Kerry Joseph is apparently starting at QB. In past games, when Tino Sunseri has come off the bench he’s shown more than he has as a starter, so it might be a case where Joseph will do what he can to establish some rhythm on offence and then perhaps Sunseri will sub in against a tough Edmonton defence. In their previous meeting on Sept. 26 (a 24-0 Eskimo victory, game photo above), Edmonton rushed for over 300 yards. Hopefully, the Rider defence will perform better today, although without stronger play out of the offence it’s tough to win the field position and time of possession battle and the defence inevitably gets worn down as the game progresses.

Game time is 2 p.m. TSN has the broadcast, and you can find out more on the Riderville website.

Weston Dressler Was The Best He Could Come Up With?

I am probably the biggest Saskatchewan Roughrider fan in the prairie dog editorial universe, such as it is. And I think Weston Dressler is one of the best receivers to play for the Riders in a generation.
But I am quite sure that there are many other native-born Reginans who should have been recognized for their contributions to the city than a football player. Hell, there are a lot of other retired Roughriders – George Reed, Ed McQuarters – who should have been so honored before Dressler. That is, if Mayor Fougere spent any more time deciding on this honour than he apparently did on Regina’s transit system.
It’s sadly obvious that Mayor Don’t Care Fougere sees the City of Regina as a taxpayer-funded support system to property developers, construction companies, and realtors, and the Riders are the equivalent of ‘bread and circuses.’ This so-called honour shows less about Dressler’s off-field contributions to our city and more about Mayor Fougere’s disconnect from the life of Regina.

Riders Vs. Calgary Stampeders

Riders vs Stamps (west final)It seems hard to believe, but this is the first meeting in 2014 for these fierce rivals who haven’t played each other since the Riders spanked the Stamps 35-13 in the West final at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 17 (game photo above). Equally bizarre is the fact that this is Calgary’s first visit to Mosaic Stadium since July 5, 2013 — a span of 15 months!

Since season’s start, I’m sure, fans of both squads, and the CFL in general, have had this date (and an Oct. 24 rematch in Calgary) marked down on their calendars. With Calgary leading the West at 11W-2L, and the Riders tied for second with Edmonton at 9W-4L, this game, on paper anyway, still qualifies as a marquee match-up. Although whether it will play out that way is another matter.

Even with home field advantage, I doubt there’s very many Riders fans who would put money on their team emerging with a W tonight. Not after last Friday’s 24-0 debacle in Edmonton.

With Tino Sunseri at QB in place of injured starter and team leader Darian Durant, struggles on offence are to be expected. But defensively, the Riders gave up 300 yards rushing (192 to Esk RB John White, and 106 to QB Mike Reilly). Calgary didn’t exactly look like world-beaters last weekend either. Playing at home, they eked out a 14-7 win over the B.C. Lions in a game where they didn’t score a TD. But RB Jon Cornish had 156 yards on 20 carries as Calgary’s O-line manhandled a tough B.C. front seven, so if the Riders don’t improve their run defence it could be a long evening for the Green & White.

Of course, in football, a team’s defensive performance can be significantly impacted by how well the offence plays. If the O can sustain drives and put some points on the board, the defence gets ample opportunity to rest and regroup on the sidelines, and if the deficit gets big enough the opposition offence can be forced out of their game plan as they struggle to catch up. None of that happened in Edmonton, and the result was the Riders first shut-out loss since 1986.

As he did after the team’s 28-3 road loss in Hamilton on Sept. 14, Sunseri came in for a fair bit of criticism for not progressing through his reads fast enough and hesitating too much when making his throws. In fact, he was eventually pulled for back-up Seth Doege — a rookie who didn’t fare any better. But on Thursday, after comparing the performance of the two QBs in practice, coach Corey Chamblin named Doege as the starter for this game.

Doege is supposed to be a bit more mobile than Sunseri, who is more of a traditional pocket passer. So he may be able to buy some time by scrambling. But unless the Riders can find a way to revive their moribund running game, it will be a stiff challenge. Early in the season, they enjoyed tons of success with a three-man RB rotation of Will Ford, Anthony Allen and Jerome Messam. Lately, though, Ford has been a healthy scratch — perhaps due to ratio issues and the need to play International players at other positions. With receiver Taj Smith out with a broken clavicle, the passing game will probably suffer even more. So that makes it even more important that the running game get back on track.

Calgary has been dinged by injuries too. Cornish, along with QB Bo Levi Mitchell, receiver Marquay McDaniel and pass rusher Charleston Hughes, have all missed time with injuries. McDaniel and Hughes are still out. But even so, the Stamps should have enough to defeat the Riders and pretty much clinch first in the West.

Game time is 8 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. For more visit the Riderville website.

Riders Vs. Ottawa Redblacks

RidersvsRedblacksMan, Rider fans are fickle. Heading into the Hamilton game last Sunday hopes were high that Tino Sunseri, elevated from back-up to starter with the season-ending elbow injury to QB/team leader Darian Durant, would be able to manage the offence well enough to beat Hamilton.

That hope wasn’t entirely misguided. In two relief appearances this year, both on the road too, Sunseri has led the team to victory — overcoming a deficit against B.C. in August, and protecting a lead in the Banjo Bowl against Winnipeg. Against Hamilton, though, things did not go well. And the Riders fell 28-3.

Much gnashing of teeth ensued about Sunseri’s failure to live up to expectations. Yes, his stats were dismal. But the Riders were only down 13-3 until they gave up a punt return for a TD mid-way through the third quarter. And to recap. It was Sunseri’s first start, the game was on the road, against a team that is better than its now 4W-7L record would indicate. After being away from Hamilton for the last season and a third, the Ti-Cats are finally playing actual home games in their new stadium. That’s got to be a big morale boost. And Hamilton was the East representative in the Grey Cup last year.

On the Rider side, Will Ford (pictured in the team’s 38-14 win over the Redblacks in Ottawa Aug. 2), who is one-third of the three-headed monster the Riders typically deploy at running back, didn’t dress. Slotback Chris Getzlaf is battling an injury that’s kept him out of the line-up for stretches. Guard Chris Best is out too. And when he was hurt for most of the second half last season the Riders struggled on offence.

All I’m saying is that Rider Nation needs to put the loss in perspective. This game versus Ottawa, though, is a different matter. It’s at home, against a team that arguably isn’t better than its 1W-9L record would indicate — which I don’t mean as an insult to the Redblacks, it’s just the reality of being a CFL expansion club. And the fact is, the Riders need this game to reach 9W-3L. That’s because in the final six games they play the 8W-4L Eskimos three times (twice at home, once in Edmonton) and have a home-and-home with the 10W-1L Calgary Stampeders. Sandwiched in with the Battle Against Alberta is a Thanksgiving weekend tilt in Montreal against the improving Alouettes.

If the Riders win today, they’ll be two points up on Edmonton (who lost in Hamilton yesterday) and four points up on the Lions (who lost at home to the Argonauts on Friday). With three games upcoming against Edmonton, and B.C. holding the tie-breaker because they outpointed the Riders in the two games they played this year, that cushion will come in handy in the race for second and third in the CFL West and give them a big leg up over those two teams and 6W-6L Winnipeg for a likely crossover spot in the East semi-final.

For Sunseri, the pressure is definitely on for him to upgrade his performance. He doesn’t have to compete at the Calgary/Edmonton level yet, but he’s got to do better. And so do the rest of the Riders — especially the special teams, which have now surrendered kick returns for TDs in four out of the last five games.

Game time is 2 p.m. TSN has the broadcast from Mosaic Stadium, and you can find out more at the Riderville website.

Durant Done For The Season

Rider LogoThe Saskatchewan Roughriders announced this morning that QB Darian Durant suffered a torn tendon in the elbow of his throwing arm in the game against Winnipeg on Sunday. He’s been placed on the six-game injury list, and will undergo surgery. That means he is out for the rest of the season.

Back-up Tino Sunseri will start for the Riders against the Tiger Cats in Hamilton on Sunday. Rookie Seth Doege will back Sunseri up, and the team will likely be looking to add another QB with CFL experience to guard against any further depletion at the QB position.

Rams vs UBC Thunderbirds

Regina RamsLast season, the University of Regina Rams finished a disappointing fifth in Canada West with a 2W-6L record. Only the Alberta Golden Bears, who were winless, finished below them. It’s not that the Rams were projected to be an elite team, but in 2012 they finished second with a 6W-2L record, so more was likely expected.

In 2012, of course, Marc Mueller was the QB. He completed his CIS eligibility after that season, and the Rams turned to Cayman Shutter who has family roots in Saskatchewan, but grew up in Hawaii, where he starred at the high school level and even spent time at the University of Hawaii who play at the NCAA Division I level.

Working with a veteran receiving corps Shutter threw for an average of 346 yards per game in 2013. That’s an impressive total, but his completion rate was only 57 per cent. He also threw more interceptions than TD passes by a 13 to 11 margin. Heading into his final season with the Rams, Shutter will need to be a bit more consistent. Although, in fairness, the team was hit hard by injuries last year.

As for this season, the receiving corps remains strong, and the linebackers and defensive backs are solid too. There’s a bit of rebuild underway on the offensive and defensive line, however, and running back is also a question mark. Fifth year RB Dillon Dawson is penciled in as the starter, but the Rams are anxious to see how recruit Atlee Simon from Thom Collegiate does. If they could find better balance on offence, it would help them improve on last year’s performance.

In mid-August, long-time head coach Frank McCrystal, who has been involved with the Rams as a player, assistant coach and head coach since the early 1970s, announced he would be stepping down at the end of the season. Will that spur the team on? It might. Also working in the Rams favour is a relatively weak schedule with only two games against perennial powerhouses the University of Calgary Dinos (in Calgary on Oct. 4) and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies (at Mosaic Stadium on Sept. 27).

To fill out their eight game schedule, the Rams play home and homes against the Golden Bears, the University of Manitoba Bisons and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. It’s not that the latter two teams are soup cans, but they typically aren’t as strong as the Dinos and Huskies. So only playing them once each qualifies as a break for the Rams.

Anyway, the Rams open the 2014 Canada West season with a game tonight at Mosaic Stadium against the UBC Thunderbirds. Then they’ll be on the road against the Bisons (Sept. 12) and Golden Bears (Sept. 20) before returning home to face the Huskies. Game time is 7 p.m., and tickets are adults $20, youth under 18 $7.50, pre-school $2, while U of R students with ID are free.

Riders Vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

LabourDayClassicIn our Sept. 4 issue you’ll have an opportunity to learn what our esteemed pundits Cal Corduroy, Earl Camembert and Ron Mexico think of the CFL and Rider seasons to date.

Today’s game marks the halfway point for Green & White. And for my part, the first half (for the league especially) has been a humongous stinker. Outside of a few intradivision match-ups it was all East vs. West. With the tally of wins and losses currently standing at 23-3 for the West, massive shit-kicking is the only way to describe the result.

Sometimes the wins were convincing. Other times, like with Edmonton’s 10-8 “thrashing” of the Redblacks in Ottawa on Aug. 15 and the 16-11 “pummeling” the Riders administered to the Alouettes at Mosaic Stadium on Aug. 16, they’ve been hard fought. But they’ve been victories nonetheless. And the lack of head-to-head games in the West has made it difficult to determine how all the top teams match up against each other.

After their gut-check win against the Lions in Vancouver 20-16 on Aug. 24, the Riders are 6W-2L. Yet they sit third in the West behind the Stampeders and Eskimos who are both 7W-1L. The Riders are done with the Leos for the year. And after the annual home-and-home with Winnipeg they’ll be done with them too. Then the Riders have games in Hamilton and at home against Ottawa to reach the two-thirds point of the season. After that, they play five of their last six games against the Eskimos (three games) and Calgary (two). That should result in some pretty good football. But October’s a long time to wait.

As for this tilt, it should be interesting. Unlike the past few years when Winnipeg was uh… how should I say… less that competitive, the Bombers have played some okay football so far in 2014. Although, again, most of their wins have come against the East, and three or so have been of the last-minute variety — so perhaps a bit lucky, but Ws nonetheless.

The Riders, meanwhile, face a bit of uncertainty at QB. Darian Durant may miss the game with a bum finger on his throwing hand. That injury forced him to miss the second half of the B.C. tilt, but Tino Sunseri filled in admirably. And despite some mega (and concerning) breakdowns on special teams with huge returns against the Riders prevailed.

If Sunseri starts, he could be vulnerable to the unusual blitz schemes that Bomber defensive coordinator Gary Etcheverry employs. Fortunately for the Riders it may not come to that. While Etch’s unbalanced defensive sets do cause havoc for pass defense blocking schemes, they have proven vulnerable in the past (both in Winnipeg, and when Etch was with the Riders from 2008-10) to a pounding running game — which the Riders just happen to possess in spades.

Throw in a rabid Labour Day crowd pumped over the Riders five game winning streak, and I foresee a Rider victory. Although the special teams need to pick it up a ton because their performance so far, outside of a few big returns on offense, has been pretty shaky.

Game time is 2 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. Find out more at Riderville.

Regina Dragon Boat Festival

Later today the 23rd annual Regina Dragon Boat Festival gets underway in Wascana Centre. There’s some sprint action on the lake tonight starting at 6 p.m., then there’s races all day tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an awards ceremony to follow.

Last time I checked the Regina Dragon Boat Festival website, all the details about the entertainment and other activities beyond the racing had yet to be ironed out. But I’m sure by now all that’s been taken care of by the dedicated volunteers who make the festival happen each year. So props to them, and if you’d like to become involved yourself you can find out how by visiting the website.

Ridergirl

RidergirlWith the Winnipeg Blue Bombers enjoying a bit of a resurgence so far this season, the annual Labour Day Classic which goes at Mosaic Stadium on Aug. 31 promises to be more competitive than it has for the past few years (witness 48-25, 52-0 and 27-7 blowouts by the Riders in 2013, 2012 and 2011 respectively).

Before that happens, though, Rider fans will have a chance to get their game face on by attending this fringe play written and performed by Saskatchewan-born, Ottawa-based Colleen Sutton (photo above). Sutton’s performed the play a few times before in Regina, and it looks at the province’s obsession with the Riders from a female perspective while also exploring the idea of football as a metaphor for life.

Ridergirl will enjoy a three-day run at the Artesian from Aug. 28-30. Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m. each night, and tickets are $25 for those in Rider gear and $30 otherwise.

Thunder Vs. Edmonton Wildcats

Regina ThunderLike the Riders did with their home win against the Hamilton Tiger Cats on June 29, the Thunder got their 2014 championship defence off to a great start with a 19-16 overtime victory against their arch rivals the Saskatoon Hilltops on Aug. 17.

Stats-wise, the game was as close as the score indicated — albeit with a big difference between the two teams. On offence, the Hilltops and Thunder gained 369 and 407 yards respectively. But whereas the Toppers had 254 yards rushing the Thunder only had 44. But they more than made up for it through the air, with QB Jaeden Marwick going 29-42 for 363 yards and two TDs while Saskatoon QB Jared Andreychuk was 6-20 for 115 yards.

Today at 1 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium the Thunder play their second game of the 2014 Prairie Football Conference season. Their opposition isn’t likely to be as formidable as last week, although the Wildcats are coming off a 36-16 road victory against the Colts in Calgary on Aug. 16. On the face of it, that’s impressive. Although the Colts were winless in 2013 at 0W-8L so they’re by no means an elite PFC team.

After today’s game the Thunder get a bye, then they journey to Saskatoon on Sept. 6 for what’s sure to be a much hyped rematch against the Hilltops.

SaskTel Summer Invasion

Features wakeboarding, skateboarding, freestyle motocross, energy drink drinking, and other activities in Wascana Park. Action kicks off at noon today and Saturday, and culminates both nights with concerts that get going at 6 p.m.

The concert line-up had yet to be finalized the last time I checked the Summer Invasion website, but tonight the headliner is Swollen Members with Grandtheft and Def 3 and Factor also on the bill. Saturday, the headliner is Hedley with the Gaff, Sound Society, Halfway to Hollywood and Prop Planes also playing. Tickets are $49 each night, or $69 for a weekend pass.

To get everyone stoked here’s the video for the Halfway to Hollywood tune “Green Lights”:

Regina Thunder vs. Saskatoon Hilltops

Regina ThunderToday at Mosaic Stadium at 1 p.m. the Regina Thunder begin defence of their 2013 Canadian Junior Football League title with a game against their arch rivals the Saskatoon Hilltops.

Last season, you’ll perhaps recall, the Thunder thwarted the Toppers in their quest for a fourth straight CJFC crown when they defeated them on their home turf in the Prairie Football Conference final 21-16 on Oct. 27. Then on Nov. 9 the Thunder captured their first CJFC championship with a 55-26 thrashing of the Vancouver Island Raiders at Mosaic Stadium.

Against Saskatoon, Thunder QB Asher Hastings had a huge game, completing 25 of 37 passes for 316 yards and one TD. In the off-season, though, Hastings elected to switch to university football and play with the Hamilton-based McMaster Marauders. That leaves the Thunder with a massive hole to fill on offence, and as of a few days ago head coach Scott MacAulay still hadn’t named a starter to replace Hastings.

Spencer Mack and Jaeden Marwick are the two candidates for the job. Both might end up being capable QBs, but the odds of either being able to replicate the success Hastings enjoyed last season are probably pretty long. And it doesn’t help that the team’s first test in 2014 comes against the perennially tough Hilltops, who will doubtlessly be looking to exact revenge for last year’s modest upset in the PFC final.

Still, the Thunder were by no means a one-player team last year. And while they have also lost several other key contributors on offence at the receiver and running back positions, they have decent depth, an experienced coaching staff, and a championship run under their belts that could serve as a springboard for future gridiron success.

Following this game, the Thunder have a second home date against the Edmonton Wildcats on Sunday, Aug. 24 (Mosaic Stadium, 1 p.m.) Then they get a bye before playing their first road game of 2014 — a rematch against the Hilltops in Saskatoon on Sept. 6.

For more information visit the Regina Thunder website.

Riders Vs. Montreal Alouettes

RidersVsMontrealThe Riders take the field at Mosaic Stadium at 5 p.m. today to face the Montreal Alouettes. Prior to their last home game against the Toronto Argonauts on July 26, they were coming off a bye week that, despite being early in the season, seemed to come at a good time as up until then the Green & White had been struggling to regain the form on offence, defence and special teams that propelled them to a Grey Cup title in 2013.

Since the bye, the Riders have reeled off three straight victories: 37-9 over Toronto; 38-14 over the Redblacks in Ottawa on Aug. 2; and 23-17 over the Bombers in Winnipeg on Aug. 7. The victories give the Riders a 4W-2L record, and help them keep pace with the four other teams in the hyper-competitive CFL West where only two points separate first from last.

Most of the points earned by western teams have come at the expense of eastern opponents, and that’s a trend that should continue today against the 1W-5L Alouettes. On defense, the Riders have been pretty dominant during their winning streak. They lead the league in QB sacks with 26, and in the last three games have forced 13 turnovers — including an interception and fumble recovery that were returned for TDs against Winnipeg, providing the margin of victory in the hard fought contest.

Without the veteran presence of retired QB Anthony Calvillo, Montreal has struggled on offense all season. With rookie QB Troy Smith on the shelf with an injury, former Winnipeg QB Alex Brink will start. The Als have also revamped their offensive coaching staff, bringing in a new receivers coach and hiring former CFL/NFL pivot Jeff Garcia as QB coach, while former Rider QB Ryan Dinwiddie remains offensive coordinator. That will likely result in a few wrinkles being added to the Als offence, but that won’t necessarily translate into success against the Rider D.

On offence, the Riders are still a work in progress, especially when it comes to the passing game. But while the Riders sit 8th in the league in average passing yards per game at 203.7, they are first in average rushing yards at 135.7 per game. Montreal, meanwhile, sits second last in the league when it comes to defending the run so that should be an area the Riders will look to exploit.

After today’s game, the Riders have a stretch of three games against West division opponents starting with the B.C Lions in Vancouver on Aug. 24, followed up by the annual Labour Day home-and-home series against Winnipeg. Leaving two points on the field against the Als today would be a definite step backward for the Green and White. But assuming the Riders don’t self-destruct on offence and special teams with turnovers, penalties and big plays against them it’s hard to see that happening.

Game time at Mosaic Stadium is 5 p.m. As usual, TSN has the broadcast, and more info can be found on the Riderville website.

Riders Vs. Toronto Argonauts

14 days photo July 24Had the Riders got off to a good start in 2014 the bye they had last week likely would have been regarded by the team and fans as coming too early in the season. But since the Riders were slow out of the gate, and were obviously struggling to find replacements for key off-season departures at running back, receiver, linebacker and defensive line, the break was welcome in Riderville.

We’ll find out later tonight when the Riders take the field at Mosaic Stadium against the Argos if the coaching staff was able to find the missing pieces to the team chemistry puzzle that the Green & White will need if they’re going to compete in what looks like a pretty tough West Division in 2014.

On July 5, you’ll probably recall, the Argos pounded the Riders in Toronto 48-15. The photo above is from that game, and while Rider D-lineman John Chick had Ricky Ray well in hand on this play, the Argo QB lit up the Rider D the rest of the game for 407 yards passing and three TDs.

With his pin-point passing and quick release, Ray’s done that to a lot of teams over his career. But the Riders in particular have been susceptible to that type of nickel-and-dime, ball control offence over the last few seasons. If defensive coordinator Richie Hall and his charges don’t have an answer for Ray tonight it will be a long evening for the Rider faithful.

I say that because I don’t really see the Rider offence lighting it up against the Toronto D tonight. Inside receiver Chris Getzlaf is still out with an injury, and centre Dominic Picard is on the shelf as well. Utility lineman Dan Clark will start in his spot instead.

The biggest uncertainty is at running back, though, where the Riders will employ their third different starter in four games. Ex-Winnipeg Blue Bomber Will Ford gets the nod tonight, and he’ll be backed up by game 1 and 2 starter Anthony Allen, with Jerome Messam playing his second game at fullback.

In addition to veteran wideouts Rob Bagg and Taj Smith, the Riders will deploy three newcomers at inside receiver: Brett Swain, Dan DePalma and Chaz Schilens. If that trio struggles to connect with QB Darian Durant points will be at a premium for the Rider offence as they were in Toronto and in the team’s 26-13 home loss to B.C. on July 12.

Game time is 8 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. For more information visit the Riderville website.

North American Indigenous Games

The first North American Indigenous Games were held in Edmonton in 1990. Since then, there’s been six other games held at various locations in North American. July 20-27, Regina is hosting the competition.

You can read more on the NAIG here. In a nutshell, what it involves is Regina will be hosting athletes and teams from 26 regions of North America representing different indigenous communities. Competition was originally going to be in 16 sports, but boxing got dropped because of a lack of registrations in the various weight categories. Swimming was also dropped due to a lack of certified swim officials to certify the event.

Sports that are being staged include some with ties to traditional indigenous culture such as archery, canoeing, kayaking and lacrosse, along with other sports like golf, basketball, volleyball and baseball that have historical roots outside of the indigenous community.

In addition to the athletic competitions there’s a cultural component to the 2014 NAIG as well that will showcase traditional and contemporary indigenous artists. Musician Ramses Calderon, performance artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle, theatre artist Earl Kinistino, visual artist Jason Baerg and sculptor Lyndon Tootoosis are some of the artists participating. In the lead up to the games there’s been a lance run through the province that recalls the torch run that precedes the Summer and Winter Olympics. And the games themselves will kick-off with an opening ceremony at Mosaic Stadium on July 20 at 2 p.m. that will include entertainment by George Leach, Crystal Shawanda and Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company.

There’s also a cultural village at First Nations University that will feature live music throughout the week from a range of performers including Don Amero, the Dead South Leela Gilday, Amanda Rheume, Eekwol and more. The closing ceremonies will also be held there on Saturday July 26 starting at 7 p.m. A Tribe Called Red are one of the acts scheduled to perform that night.

To close, here’s a video for Crystal Shawanda’s 2013 song “Not Without A Fight”:

Riders Vs. B.C. Lions

West Semi-FinalBecause of an unbalanced schedule in the CFL West the Riders and Lions only meet twice during the 2014 regular season. Following this game, which goes tonight at Mosaic Stadium, the Riders pay a return visit to Vancouver on Aug. 24. Then that’s it until a potential playoff match-up — assuming both teams make it, that is.

Heading into the season, most pigskin pundits, including our intrepid trio of Ron Mexico, Cal Corduroy and Earl Camembert, felt both the Riders and Leos were a lock to reach the post-season. It’s only week three, so it’s not like teams are starting to separate into contenders and pretenders just yet, but with an 0W-2L record B.C. has underwhelmed. Edmonton and Winnipeg, meanwhile, have played better than expected, and sit near the top of the West standings.

Of course, it’s still extremely early. But without QB Travis Lulay B.C. has laboured on offence. Lion GM Wally Buono brought in CFL veteran Kevin Glenn as a stop-gap. But so far, he’s performed abysmally. Lulay’s on the six-game injury list at present. Assuming he heals in time, he’d be eligible to play in the Aug. 24 rematch, but at this point that’s far from certain.

Lulay suffered his shoulder injury in a game last September against the Alouettes, and outside of a miracle appearance in last November’s west semi-final (game photo above) where he struggled to throw the ball with any authority, he has been a spectator. Rumours have even circulated that the injury is career-threatening. Whether that’s true or not, he faces a long road to recovery, and if Glenn can’t get in sync with the rest of the offence it will be a long season for the Leos.

As for the Riders, they looked impressive in a week one win against Hamilton. But in their first road game of 2014 in Toronto July 5, the team struggled in all facets of the game and lost 48-15. With all the changes that were made in the off-season, some bumps in the road were to be expected, and that was definitely a big one. After the game, coach Corey Chamblin stated that the team had been lacklustre in practice and had paid the price. Management delivered another message a few days later when 2013 CFL West all-star DB Dwight Anderson was traded to the Argos for a conditional draft pick.

With injuries at the receiver position, and uncertainty at RB where Anthony Allen has shown promise — but has also suffered from fumblitis — the Rider offence will have their hands full with a tough Lion defence. To win, the Green & White will have to get their mojo back on defence and shut down the B.C. offence.

After this game, the Riders have a bye, then get a chance to avenge their loss to the Boatmen with a July 26 home date against Toronto at Mosaic Stadium. Kick off tonight is 7:30 p.m., and the game is being broadcast on TSN. For more info visit the Riderville website.