Let’s Put Some ‘Nice’ Back Into the CFL

Just like its big brother to the south, the Canadian Football League is doing everything humanly possible to make a nine-team house league into the No Fun League.

Under commissioner Mark Cohon, the CFL has become a big corporate/TV entity driven by its TSN ratings and its new corporate luxury suites – in its new stadiums – as well as its ability to create things like horrible-looking ‘third’ jerseys in order to find that sucker who’s born every minute. It’s a league that’s virtually forgotten its past in an effort to create more revenue right now and keep its players under the thumb of anonymity.

 Let’s Put Some ‘Nice’ Back Into the CFL

Mike Clemons and Chad Owens.

That’s why the CFL needs a guy like Pinball Clemons, the vice-chair of the Toronto Argos, to replace Cohon as commissioner. It needs a guy with a smile on his face who doesn’t look like Roger Goodell’s first cousin. It needs a guy who was a player – a good one – and a guy who cares deeply about the league. It needs a guy who is and always was accessible, a guy who operates by the Golden Rule and a guy who will put the ‘nice’ back into a league that has lost something with its new stadiums and its ice-cold corporate image.

Here’s an example: The complaint I hear most from my friends and colleagues is that teams like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (especially the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) have decided to turn what was once the nicest, coolest, friendliest, most accessible league in professional sports into NFL North. Access to players is made as difficult as humanly possible and as a result we, as fans, don’t know the players as well as we used to. Like, not even close to as well as we used to.

Another example: Darrin Bauming was interviewing a reporter from Regina the other day. The reporter said, just in passing, “I was interviewing a couple of players in the airport…” and Bauming piped in with, “Isn’t that great. We aren’t allowed to interview players at the airport.” It was just a quick aside, but it said a lot about the Bombers and most of the other teams in the CFL. Keeping players away from the media – and the public, for that matter – is now the job of most CFL communications department.

Another example: Local TV stations used to record practices from start to finish. Here is what they see on practice schedules today (taken from a random Bombers practice schedule notice):

Saturday, June Whatever, 2014

Practice: 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Cameras can record practice from 10:20 a.m. – 10:40 a.m.  Still photography of practice can begin at 10:10 a.m.

That’s a 20 minute window to shoot practice so fans can see what their local team is about. That’s hardly worth the effort.

Now, make no mistake, most fans don’t give a crap about the media’s problems – perceived or otherwise – but putting roadblocks in the way of accessibility is an indication that things are changing: And not necessarily for the better. The CFL used to be fun. Players were your neighbors. They were available for interviews all the time. They’d help you wash our car or even move. The local GM and head coach would hold sessions in their offices and not just with the media. Local business people would sit around Earl Lunsford’s office. Brendan Taman would invite anybody in. Paul Robson’s door was wide open. It was a community-owned football team and it operated accordingly.

Mike Clemons action 724x1024 Let’s Put Some ‘Nice’ Back Into the CFL

Mike Clemons, back in the day.

But with the construction of Investors Group Field came a new era. It’s a big corporate entity run by a board that is more secretive now than it ever was in its 85-year history. Granted, the players are still underpaid, but now they’re being handled by the club’s media department as if they were making Winnipeg Jets money.

The CFL is going through some interesting growing pains. It’s still a league based in some relatively small Canadian communities – Hamilton, Winnipeg and Regina – but TSN, new stadiums and the corporate head office have made the league bigger than its britches – even if the flagship club in Toronto barely draws 18,000 people to its games.

Perhaps what the league needs is a less corporate image and a little more “How ya doin’? I’m Michael Clemons.” Maybe the league needs to get back to its roots, just a bit, and make people feel like it’s their league again. Yeah, it’s getting big and TSN and new stadiums and that corporate feel in Toronto has made it big.

But now that the CEO has decided to leave, it might do the league some good to have, as its face, a friendly accessible guy who came up through the ranks and can flash his smile and talk to the masses again.



CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked-in-the-Open Alouettes

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will wear their new experimental Reebok uniforms on Friday night when the Montreal Alouettes roll into Investors Group Field. Considering how great those jerseys could have looked – with a little gold in them – they are actually incredibly dull.

As one wag suggested via Twitter, “Why would they want camouflage jerseys when Drew Willy is already having trouble finding his receivers?”

Drew Willy and Jason Vega. See the excitement in their faces CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

Drew Willy and Jason Vega. See the excitement in their faces

That’s cute. However, in the picture above, Willy himself is looking rather bored. He’s kind of saying, “OK, these are fine, let’s practice.” When practice becomes more fun than a new uniform, you have to figure that at best, the new “signature uniforms,” are actually quite ordinary. Unlike Saskatchewan’s crazy greens that just jumped out of the TV monitor, the Bombers are patio-upholstery blue with some camo design on the shoulders and in the helmet. There is no “old gold,” the key to the 60s, 70s and 80s Bombers uniforms, but there is a big white W on the front. Ooooo, that’s exciting.

Bombers fans can only hope it stands for “win.” Hey look, some people might really like the new uniforms and the Bombers will only wear them once, but I’ll keep my regular blue and gold  Reebok Premier Home Bombers jersey purchased from River City Sports ($109.99 USD), thank you very much.

Anyway, this Friday the W should stand for “win.” The Bombers take on the sad-sack Montreal Alouettes, a marginal team to be sure, but in fairness, a team with a strong 1-6 record in the East. That’s right 1-6 puts the Als right in the thick of the East Division playoff hunt.

Meanwhile, last week the ever-positive, glass-half-full Coach decided the East was going to start winning games. He was horribly wrong and is embarrassed. Straight up, The Coach finished 2-3 while Dr. Football was a sensational 5-0. Listen to Dr. Football if you know what’s good for you.

As always, The Doc writes our well-reasoned and therefore winning decisions while The Coach binges on ice cream and blames the referees.

Let’s take a close, semi-intelligent look at Week 8 in the Canadian Football League:

10127459 1024x522 CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

The Riders new uniforms worked against Montreal last week.

Montreal (1-6) at Winnipeg (5-3) Line – Winnipeg by 7

The list of ex-Winnipeg Blue Bombers that come back to haunt them is huge; Odell Willis, Will Ford, Adarius Bowman, Brendon Labatte, are just a few I can think off the top of my head. Don’t bet on adding Alex Brink to the list. Montreal is horrible. The Coach says: Did anyone really believe that the retirement of Anthony Calvillo would result in this mess?

Dr. Football: Take the Bombers to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Bombers to win and cover.

argos lions CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

My wife liked the Argos new uniforms but they clashed with B.C.’s gunmetal black.

Toronto (3-5) at Edmonton (6-1) Line – Edmonton by 8

Toronto played two games last week in perhaps the goofiest week of scheduling is CFL history…even a kindergarten student could figure out 9 teams, 8 teams play each week, and one has a bye. Good grief. Argos looked good in one, and looked terrible in the next. Edmonton struggled a bit with Ottawa, but expect Chris Jones and his coaching staff to make the correct adjustments. Ricky Ray isn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms, he’ll be running for his life in this one. The Coach says: If any other team in the East could win, Toronto’s reign as a first-place club would be in jeopardy. But hey, that ain’t gonna happen this week. The Argos will lose by two touchdowns and still dominate the East.

Dr. Football: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

 CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

Nice.

Calgary (6-1) at Ottawa (1-6) Line – Calgary by 9

Calgary is in the midst of a two game road trip, which is tough, but Ottawa, despite the great fan support, is a pretty dismal team. Calgary has only allowed a league low 114 points, while Ottawa has only scored 119. Yikes. Won’t be close. The Coach says: Big game for Ottawa. At 1-6, the playoffs beckon.

Dr. Football: Take Calgary to win and cover.

The Coach: Take Calgary to win and cover

10128919 CFL Week 9: Camouflaged Bombers Should Find a Way Against the Naked in the Open Alouettes

Kevin Glenn

Saskatchewan (5-2) at B.C. (5-3) Line – B.C. by 2 ½

Definitely the CFL Game of the Week as both teams have been on a recent roll, after both teams started slowly. The Lions offense got into high gear last week in Toronto while the Roughriders stuggled to score against Montreal at home last week. John Chick could be the difference in this one, he’s been known to rattle QBs and we’ve all seen Kevin Glenn get rattled and play poorly after that. The Roughriders defense kept them in last week’s game, and they will do it again this week. Riders regroup. The Coach says: B.C. looked a lot better last week than I expected and I have this hunch, they’ll keep it going at home.

Dr. Football: Take the Roughriders in an upset.

The Coach: Take the Lions to win and cover.



The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

Pre-season NFL football is generally, that period of time when hyper-active children are lulled to sleep. It’s meaningless, it’s boring and the only people benefiting (or not) from the exercise are the league’s various coaching staffs.

Monday night was no exception. Although the game between the Washingtons and the Cleveland Browns ended with Washington on top 24-23, after Cleveland missed a two-point conversion to win it. The rest of the affair was dull and penalty filled.

1407977426000 USP NFL Preseason Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lio The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

Johnny Pigskin

Except perhaps for that moment when Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel flipped the bird to the taunting Washington defensive line.

As an aside, I used to understand the way the officials called the National Football League, but now I’m completely lost. Jimmy Graham gets two penalties for spiking the ball over the crossbar (yes, he did it twice), but if you openly taunt an opposing quarterback, it’s fine? Not only does the No Fun League have trouble with its suspension policy (Ray Rice gets two games for beating up a woman while Orlando Scandrick gets four games for pissing Ecstasy into a jar because the tall foreheads who run the league think it’s a “performance enhancing drug.” Huh?), but its officials aren’t even sure what its rules are.

But back to Manziel. I love how people get their shirts in a knot over things that happen on a football field – or basketball court or hockey rink, or whatever. The people who tend to get really, really apoplectic about bad words and inappropriate sign-language are the ones who never played. In fact, they’re the ones who never played any sport at any level.

Monday night, Manziel heard something from the Washington bench or a Washington player – Brian Orakpo taunted Manziel all night and nobody said ‘Boo,” nor should they – and he responded by flipping his middle finger. When that sweet actor Chris Pratt did the same thing in the hit movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, the media thought it was incredibly funny. When Johnny Pigskin does it, we suddenly have a scandal. Puh-leeze.

It’s OK to say what you like to Manziel because, after all, the media has made him the bad boy of the NFL. Calling him names or ripping his family, that’s fine. But when he quickly flashes the finger in return, well, that’s not right. Can’t do that. Not even Manziel’s idiot coach Mike Pettine – by the way, another guy who won’t last two years in Cleveland – could understand why his 21-year-old quarterback would act in such a capricious manner.

“It does not sit well,” Pettine told the Associated Press. “Its disappointing, because what we talk about is being poised and being focused. … That’s a big part of all football players, especially the quarterback.”

Adam+Hayward+Johnny+Manziel+Cleveland+Browns+iSqmXj1CpLol The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

Johnny on the run.

What a buffoon. Manziel was focused. He was focused on everything. But a quick flip wasn’t Pettine’s real problem. I’ll give the coach enough credit to suggest that he said what he felt he needed to say to the boneheaded press. Now, let’s get on to the real problem which is: Manziel is struggling but he’s been better than Brian Hoyer and maybe the team’s best quarterback is the undrafted free-agent from South Carolina, Connor Shaw.

While Hoyer went two-for-six for 16 yards and said, “It probably couldn’t have been any worse,” and Manziel went seven-for-16 for 65 yards and a touchdown, Shaw went eight-for-nine for 123 yards and a Hail Mary.

Now, granted, it was against Washington’s rookies, has beens, never weres and third-stringers, but wasn’t that what Teddy Bridgewater faced on Saturday night? Granted, Shaw’s TD pass could have gone either way and he failed to complete the two-point conversion, but he was hardly the worst quarterback on the field.

In case you didn’t know, Shaw had the best record as a quarterback in Soith Carolina history and was the MVP of the 2014 Capital One Bowl. He had the fastest 40-yard-dash time of any QB at the combine. Yes, even faster than Manziel.

Oh, yeah, and former Browns QB Daniel (Colt) McCoy threw a TD pass for Washington on Monday and Robert Griffin III didn’t, so should McCoy start ahead of RG3? People, it was the second freaking pre-season game. Lighten up.

There were only two things that I took out of the Monday Night game: (1) As marginal as Manziel was, he was better than Hoyer and (2) Johnny Manziel was the ONLY reason I would watch a Monday night pre-season game between Cleveland and Washington: Especially a Cleveland-Washington pre-season game with 21 penalties and five turnovers.

the 16 most outrageous things johnny football did this offseason 1024x768 The Manziel Scandal: Does Big Corporate Media Know Anything About Football Players?

And we worry about fingers?

As for the Manziel finger, who cares? I mean, really? It’s 2014 kids. That stuff happens on TV for goodness sake. A guy beats the beejeezus out of his wife and gets a measly two-game suspension and yet the media’s talking about fines and/or suspensions when a kid flips the bird? I’m sorry, but big corporate media is messed up.

Have you guys ever been on a sideline?



You Don’t Have to Pay Extra for the Jets This Year

Now that TSN will have five networks, but no NHL national rights, it looks like the Winnipeg Jets will come streaming into your living without an extra cost this season.

According to a release from Scott Brown, the Jets Senior Director of Corporate Communications, on Monday, the Jets and TSN will telecast 65 regional Winnipeg Jets games this season on the new TSN3.

JD4 9361 You Dont Have to Pay Extra for the Jets This Year

Andrew Ladd will come into your home for free this season (Photo by Jeff Miller)

“Jets fans who already subscribe to TSN will automatically receive TSN3 as part of their existing television package,” said Brown, in the release. “With games being moved to TSN3, the previously offered subscription to TSN Jets is no longer required. Winnipeg Jets games will now be more widely available across the broadcast region of TSN3, which includes all of the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, along with parts of Northwestern Ontario including Kenora, Dryden, and Thunder Bay.”

TSN3 is part of a new collection of five TSN feeds announced on May 6, 2014, by the national cable broadcaster. All five channels will debut on Monday, Aug. 25. The NHL’s Canadian television and telecommunications license now belongs to Rogers Sportsnet. TSN owns the regional TV rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.

“The TSN broadcast package for this upcoming Jets’ season includes five pre-season games and 60 regular season games live on TSN3,” stated Brown. “The remaining 22 regular season games will be broadcast on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Sportsnet, and City TV. The remaining two pre-season games can be seen on TSN GO.”

According to the Jets release on Monday, Winnipeg’s first broadcast on TSN3 will take place live from MTS Centre on Sept. 22, when the Jets play host to the Minnesota Wild in their opening pre-season game. The Jets will also open the 2014-15 regular season on the road in Arizona on Oct. 9, and make their home debut the following week against Nashville on Oct. 17. Both games will be featured on the new TSN3.

As fans have grown familiar with over three Jets seasons, all games on TSN3 will feature the Voice of the Jets, Dennis Beyak. Analyst duties will be shared by Shane Hnidy and Brian Engblom. TSN3 will also feature 30-minute pre- and post-game shows every game, hosted by the TSN team.

Winnipeg Jets say thanks to the fans Photo by Shawn Coates You Dont Have to Pay Extra for the Jets This Year

Jets say thanks to the fans (Photo by James Carey Lauder). This year the fans with TSN on their televisions should say thanks back.

PLEASE NOTE: Game time for the Jets’ home game on November 23rd versus St. Louis has been changed to 3:30 p.m. CST Also, an earlier schedule released by the team on June 22nd indicated the game on January 8,, 2015 at Arizona was scheduled to be played at 9:00 p.m. CST. The correct game time is 8:00 p.m. CST, as listed on the broadcast schedule. – Winnipeg Jets



As Bombers Prep For Gift, the East Continues to Drown

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea has provided the official team media with all the right answers:

“As we look at that and inspect it more closely, we’ve got to shore up our tackling, but the pursuit and energy level was there,” O’Shea told the Winnipeg Sun when asked about his defense. “None of the guys were very pleased with their game, nor are the coaches but I don’t think it’s anything but an anomaly, I really don’t. I’m not worried about it. If I was, we’d be talking about making changes and stuff like that, but that’s not the case.”

JD4 52561 As Bombers Prep For Gift, the East Continues to Drown

Seems the Bombers have stopped doing this for some reason.

“We didn’t tackle as well as we needed to on defence,” O’Shea on his weekly radio show on CJOB (According to Ed Tait of the Free Press, the team is not available to the rest of the media after a game). “It’s more focus than anything. Watching the tape you still see the defensive players really rallying to the ball, they’re sprinting to the ball on every play, it’s just the initial contact wasn’t as solid as we needed.

“We rely on speed and movement of the defence,” O’Shea told the Winnipeg Free Press. “I really think whereas the (media) might say they run an unsound defensive system, it’s not that at all. As we break down film, we see where players maybe make a mistake. We see that the general concept of soundness and covering gaps is pretty good … This last game we just missed some tackles.”

First, it’s unlikely “the media” said anything about the Bombers “… run an unsound defensive system.” You can pretty much guarantee that the media doesn’t know anything about any system, let alone the defensive system.

Second, so the Bombers get pasted 38-21 and the reason for a 17-point blowout is bad tackling? Sure, that’s believable.

Fortunately, the Bombers get a team at home this week that even its beat writer, Herb Zurkowsky calls, “the free space on the CFL bingo card.” The Montreal Alouettes are a tremendously bad football team and if the Bombers execute just a little bit, they should be 6-3 heading into Regina for the Labour Day Classic.

JM Bombers Redblacks Willy29 950 As Bombers Prep For Gift, the East Continues to Drown

According to O’Shea, the offence is not a problem.

After all, the East is getting worse, not better.

This past week, Week 8, the East played the West five times. Toronto’s big win over Winnipeg on Tuesday was the East’s only victory. Edmonton beat Ottawa, 10-8; Calgary ripped Hamilton 30-20; Saskatchewan slipped past Montreal 16-11; and B.C. smacked Toronto 33-17 in front of a handful of people on Sunday night.

I know, I know, I beat this dead horse every week, but isn’t time someone in the CFL got a tad alarmed. Toronto leads the Division with a 3-5 record and then Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal are all tied at 1-6. No team has scored more points than it’s allowed.

Now, I understand Hamilton’s issue. First they lost QB Zach Collaros (five weeks ago to a cheap helmet-on-helmet hit that should have been some kind of penalty, but wasn’t in a season when there are, seemingly, flags on every single play) then on Saturday, they lost No. 2 QB Dan LeFevour who was just starting to get it. The game was competitive when LeFevour went down. He was 21-for-30 for 282 yards and two TDs. Then, when poor Jeremiah Masoli had to go in, the Ti-Cats were toast.

Sunday night, the Argos played like a team that had only five days rest (Sound familiar, Bomber fans?). It doesn’t help when you play in front of a crowd that TSN’s cameras avoided at all costs. In fact, when the poor director did have to show the crowd, it was pretty embarrassing. Still, five days after Toronto whipped the Bombers, they lost by 16 points to a team the Bombers beat.

jm14 0808 alouettes 23 217414602 As Bombers Prep For Gift, the East Continues to Drown

Tom Higgins: Why is this man smiling?

There is a legitimate reason to believe that a team with a record well below .500 will win the East. The Bombers had better take advantage of the three games they have remaining against those losers.



Matt Cassel is Still Vikings No. 1. At Least, For Now

The way Teddy Bridgewater finished Saturday night’s pre-season game almost made us forget how Matt Cassel started it.

With 1:11 remaining, Bridgewater drove the Vikings 83 yards in seven plays and capped it off with a three-yard fade to the corner to Rodney Smith to give the Vikings a 30-28 victory. Bridgewater completed six of seven passes for 77 yards on the drive. The crowd (those that were still there after the announcement of 51,763) at TCF Bank Stadium went nuts and the rookie quarterback out of Louisville was a hero.

At least he was a hero until the cold, all-knowing light of dawn.

Cassel Kyle Rudolph and Matt Kalil celebrate Rudoplhs 51 yard TD catch 1024x615 Matt Cassel is Still Vikings No. 1. At Least, For Now

Cassel, Kyle Rudolph and Matt Kalil celebrate Rudolph’s 51-yard TD catch.

What Bridgewater proved on Saturday night is that he and the Vikings second- and third-teamers were better than the Cardinals second- and third-teamers.

Heck, Bridgewater was downright terrific. He finished 16-for-20 for 177 yards and two touchdowns. He also found Allen Reisner for a major and Jarius Wright for a two-point conversion.

Bridgewater was tremendous under pressure, comfortable in the pocket and his passes were pinpoint. He was really, really good.

But he was a rookie playing against other rookies. The 32nd overall pick in the draft was the best of the second- and third-teamers, no question about it. He certainly looks like the future of the Minnesota Vikings and that’s a good thing.

But at the start of the game, the guy who faced Arizona’s first-teamers did nothing to lose his job. In fact, 6-foot-5, 230-pound Matt Cassel was sensational. He went 12-for-16 for 153 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 125.3. He also rushed for 30 yards and three carries.

After two weeks of pre-season practice football, the veteran has not given way to the rookie and the Vikings are 2-0 as a result.

“Matt’s doing great and he’s has taken charge of the football team. But I still want them to compete,” Zimmer said during his post-game news conference. “They’re all getting a lot of reps, but I think Matt has a great command of the offense. He’s getting better with it all the time. He’s making the correct throws and he’s taking care of the football. Both of them did that today I was impressed with both quarterbacks.”

Bridgewater 3 Matt Cassel is Still Vikings No. 1. At Least, For Now

Teddy Bridgewater

But Matt Cassel did nothing to lose his job and that might have something to do with the presence of Bridgewater. After all, Cassel is almost 33, he’s been in the NFL for nine seasons and has been a regular starter, well, periodically, at best. He’s an 80.5 lifetime passer and is 32-36-0 as a career starter. He’s OK. He’s the 1,829th best quarterback since 1950 (honest, somebody figured that out) He’s a journeyman and a solid backup, but his record (3-3 as a starter with the Vikings) makes clear that it’s unlikely he’ll take a team to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

Still, he gets the reps with the first team so in Coach Zimmer’s mind, he’ll be the starter on Sept. 7 when the Vikes open against St. Louis.

And he’s done nothing to fall behind the Next One, because the Next One is pushing him. There is nothing Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner would love more than to see Bridgewater get as comfortable as Andrew Luck with the first team and become the Vikings quarterback of the future today. And make no mistake, after Saturday night’s effort, he’s making a clear suggestion that maybe that should happen.

But what Bridgewater has done is push Cassel to have two pretty solid games to start the pre-season and give the coaches no indication that he wants to relinquish his starting role.

Teddy Bridgewater is exciting and will one day be the Vikings No. 1 quarterback. But after two weeks of practice football games, Matt Cassel has demonstrated that he’s still No. 1 and unless something strange and miraculous happens before Sept. 7, Cassel will start the season under centre.

Bridgewater 2 Matt Cassel is Still Vikings No. 1. At Least, For Now

The Next One?



Leipsic to be Part of 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase

Winnipeg’s Brendan Leipsic knows that at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, he’s a little undersized for today’s NHL. Still, the team that drafted him, the Nashville Predators, think enough of him to consider including him in their promotional plans for 2014-15.

On Saturday, Aug. 23, Leipsic will be one of the 33 NHL prospects and rookies who will gather at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (site of the former Maple Leaf Gardens) for the 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase.

Leipsic 16 1024x682 Leipsic to be Part of 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase

Brendan Leipsic, Portland Winterhawks

Now in its sixth year, this event gives Upper Deck – the official trading card partner of the NHLPA and the NHL – with an exclusive opportunity to photograph many of the game’s top young prospects and rookies in their official NHL team uniforms, in shots that will be used for upcoming trading card and memorabilia launches.

The group includes some of the hottest up-and-coming players in hockey: Aaron Ekblad (Panthers), Sam Reinhart (Sabres), Sam Bennett (Flames), Laurent Brossoit (Oilers), Andre Burakovsky (Capitals), Anthony Camara (Bruins), Nick Cousins (Flyers), Jacob de la Rose (Canadiens), Max Domi (Coyotes), Haydn Fleury (Hurricanes), Derek Forbort (Kings), John Gaudreau (Flames), Joey Hishon (Avalanche), Charles Hudon (Canadiens), Alexander Khokhlachev (Bruins), Evgeny Kuznetsov (Capitals), Curtis Lazar (Senators), Anthony Mantha (Red Wings), Brock McGinn (Hurricanes), Greg McKegg (Maple Leafs), Mirco Mueller (Sharks), Vladislav Namestnikov (Lightning), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brett Ritchie (Stars), Kerby Rychel (Blue Jackets), Hunter Shinkaruk (Canucks), Colton Sissons (Predators), Ryan Sproul (Red Wings), Teuvo Teravainen (Blackhawks), Chris Tierney (Sharks), Andrei Vasilevskii (Lightning), Alexander Wennberg (Blue Jackets) and Leipsic (Predators).

To be included in this group means that the team which drafted you, thinks enough of you to allow you to be part of an exclusive group of young stars who are expected to play in the NHL this season or next.

There are no young Winnipeg Jets included in the NHLPA’s list.

Leipsic was selected by the Predators in the third round (89th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent the last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Last season, as a 20-year-old, Leipsic had 39 goals and 52 assists plus 111 penalty minutes in 60 games (he had a rather lengthy seven-game suspension in the middle of the season for a ferocious hit on another Winnipegger, Keegan Kolesar) as he played on a line with Jets draft pick, Nic Petan.

In fact, Leipsic shared the 2012-13 WHL scoring title with Petan, when they each put up 120 points.

“We’re both small, shifty players and we used our skill and speed to our advantage,” Leipsic told Game On Magazine. “We fed off each other and always kind of knew where each other was on the ice. We really enjoyed playing with each other and that helped.”

Leipsic 62 682x1024 Leipsic to be Part of 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase

Brendan Leipsic (Photo courtesy Portland Winterhawks)

Leipsic now has to make the next step to the Natiobnal Hockey League. He’s not big, but he’s a solid playmaking centre with speed and he’s completely fearless. That hit on Kolesar back in December was just one example of his ability to take on bigger players and come out ahead.

One scout said of Leipsic, “He’s small, but pretty energetic and he’ll hit anything and everything. He can really make life miserable for opponents. He’s offensively skilled and a good finisher. He’s solid on the power play. He needs to learn to play on the edge without going over the line. In the right circumstance, he could project to being a Top 6 forward.”

On a team like Nashville that is all defense with little offence, that circumstance could present itself in September.



Argos Drill Bombers, Extract Revenge

The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers faced the Toronto Argonauts, it was at Investors Group Field in the 2014 CFL season opener. That night, the Bombers pasted a very bad Argo outfit 45-21.

The shoe was on the other foot on Tuesday night.

Playing on a short week, the Bombers went into Rogers Centre and took it on the chin. Toronto whipped Winnipeg 38-21 as the Argos improved to 3-4 and now have a lock on first place in the East.

The Bombers, meanwhile, lost their second straight game and are now 5-3. On the upside they don’t play for another 10 days and on that night they face the worst team in the league, the sad-sack Montreal Alouettes. On the downside, they play Saskatchewan back-to-back after they get the Als at home.

JM BombersArgos June26 Willy41 950 Argos Drill Bombers, Extract Revenge

Drew Willy sacked five times (Photo by Jeff Miller)

For Toronto, runningback Curtis Steele scored two touchdowns to lead the way, but once again the story of the game was penalties and line play. There were 31 penalties in the game, slowing a difficult game to watch down to a walk. The Bombers also got whipped in the trenches again and while the O-line has been trouble all year, the D-line took a dusting for the first time this season.

With an embarrassingly sparse crowd of only 18,106 (annouunced) looking on, the Argos fell behind 7-0 and 14-7 before scoring two late TDs to finish the first half and take a 21-14 lead into the break.

First, Argos receiver Maurice Mann scored on a 15-yard pass from Ricky Ray and then, with 43 seconds left, Ray hit fullback Zander Robinson to give the Argos a seven-point halftime advantage.

Nic Grigsby, who didn’t get the rock often enough on Tuesday, scored on an eight-yard run early in the third quarter to tie the game for Winnipeg, but that was it. The Argos ran off the next 17 points – all in the fourth quarter — and Winnipeg had lost for the second time in five days. Shockingly, 5-1 became 5-3 in a hurry.

Drew Willy finished the night 23-for-31 for 193 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and that should have been good enough to secure a win, but for the second straight game, Willy was sacked five times as the Bombers offensive line looked lost again.

This time, however, the defensive line took a beating, as well. Ray went 26-for-33 for 297 yards and four touchdowns while Steele rushed for 92 yards on 10 carries. In total, Toronto had 471 total yards and put up 38 points. The Bombers couldn’t shut down the league’s best offence and while Winnipeg might have looked tremendous against Saskatchewan last Thursday, they looked tired and beaten against Toronto on Tuesday.

Ricky Ray3 1024x683 Argos Drill Bombers, Extract Revenge

Ricky Ray: The guy can fling it.

Perhaps Bomber fans can chalk this one up to the short week. After all, the teams were tied at 21-21 after three quarters and Winnipeg obviously had nothing left in the tank in the fourth. And what the heck, they get a practice at home next weekend against Montreal.

Two straight losses certainly aren’t reason to back up the truck and go searching for new players. However, the key to the season might be how this team responds to back-to-back games against the Roughriders.

Tuesday’s loss, a loss that few people outside the TV audience even saw, was the product of too much, too quickly. However, let’s hope our short week assessment is correct. If it’s not, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea might have to re-introduce himself to the drawing board.

 



CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

By The Coach and Dr. Football

When you have a league with nine teams, you’ll got one week in which teams must play two games in a span of five days or less. This is that week. And the two teams asked to fall on the league’s sword are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts.

The Bombers lost last Thursday night at home in the first game of Week 7, 23-17, to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Now they find themselves in Toronto on a Tuesday night playing the first game of Week 8. Toronto will eventually wrap up Week 8 on Sunday evening at 6:30 CDT, facing the B.C. Lions at Rogers Centre.

Ricky Ray3 1024x683 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

Ricky Ray: The Argos are going to need a lot from him.

It’s not easy for either one of these teams but Tuesday night’s game is probably easier for the Argos. Toronto is coming off a bye week and hasn’t played since Aug. 1. Granted, the Argos are banged up (as we reported last week, slotback Anthony Coombs is now out for the season and has joined Chad Owens on the DL), but on the up-side, their quarterback isn’t. Toronto leads the CFL in total offense and passing yards and will be ready to take on a Bombers team that drilled them 45-21 in Week 1.

One suspects this will be a better football game than the one at Investors Group Field on June 26, but there is still no reason to believe that Winnipeg, at 4-0 against the East, can’t beat an Eastern team once again. So what if it’s on short rest and on the road? (a) The Bombers are 3-0 on the road this season and (b) they are chomping at the bit to get a W after that heartbreaking turnover-infested loss last Thursday.

This week, the boys are excited. They both went 3-1 last week (their only loss was the Bombers setback at home) and are all set to go 5-0 this week. The CFL is starting to clearly show its haves and have nots and our fearless prognosticators have taken notice.

As always Dr. Football writes our brilliant rationalizations while The Coach scarfs down cheap IKEA hot dogs and yells ‘Yay Football!’ in Swedish.

JD4 5256 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

The Bombers are going to need a lot of this.

Winnipeg (5-2) vs. Toronto (2-4) Line – Even

Toronto has been on vacation all month after drubbing Montreal on August 1st, while the Bombers have had only one practice since playing last Thursday. The Bombers lost in an error filled heartbreaker against the Riders, and I can’t imagine they will be emotionally or physically ready to take on the well-rested Argos. Tough spot for the Bombers. The Coach says: 4-0 against the east and 3-0 on the road. The Bombers should have this in hand.

Dr. Football: Take the Argos to win.

The Coach: Take the Bombers to win.

reilly mike 130621 620 thumb 620xauto 307862 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

Mike Reilly

Edmonton (5-1) vs. Ottawa (1-5) Line – Eskimos by 6

After a not too bad of a start, the RedBlacks have digressed in a terribly way since almost beating Winnipeg in their inaugural game. The Eskimos looked shaky at times against Montreal, but were able to get the win on the road. Edmonton’s top-ranked defense against Ottawa’s bottom-ranked offence? No contest. The Coach says: And another Ottawa franchise gets another step closer to folding. When is the CFL going to learn that when you move into Ottawa, no matter how much the other owners whine, you have let Ottawa select enough good veteran players be a contender quickly? Of course, the RedBlacks won’t fold, the TSN money will keep them afloat.

Dr. Football: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Eskimos to win and cover.

10077274 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

Dan LeFevour

Calgary (5-1) vs. Hamilton (1-5) Line – Stampeders by 4

Hamilton has been in almost every game until the end that they have lost. Many are saying that this is a “trap” game for Calgary; meaning that the two games they are playing out East in the next too weeks they’ll take lightly. I’m betting they’re wrong. Dan Lefevour is looking better each week, but Calgary will kick off the road trip in big style with a huge win over homeless Cats. The Coach says: This will be closer than we think. The last time the two teams met, Calgary won 10-7 at McMahon Stadium.

Dr. Football Take the Stampeders to win and cover.

The Coach: Take Hamilton in a huge upset.

durant darian640 640 e1374465001415 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

Darian Durant: He needs to be better.

Montreal (1-5) vs. Saskatchewan (4-2) Line – Riders by 13 ½

The Als looked a bit better at times in defeat at the hands of the Eskimos, but the fact remains that Troy Smith is still terrible completing only 44% of his pass against a tough defense. Saskatchewan’s defensive line was ferocious against Winnipeg, and their O-Line allowed them to gain 186 yards on the ground while Montreal’s D gave up 191 rushing yards to the Eskimos. Looks grim for Montreal. The Coach says: The line should be 21 ½.

Dr. Football: Take the Roughriders to win and cover.

The Coach: Take the Roughriders to win and cover.

 CFL Picks Week 8: Bombers on a Shortie, Argos Lie in Wait Looking for Revenge

Andrew Harris.. stop him, stop the Lions.

B.C. (4-3) vs. Toronto (2-4) Line – not set

We will see how focused and readjusted Toronto is after their Winnipeg game, and see if they can shake off they early season stink. B.C. is rolling now, and probably will stream roll their big brother team here. The Coach says: If the Argos beat Winnipeg, they might beat B.C. Heck, they might beat B.C. anyway.

Dr. Football: Take B.C.

The Coach: Take Toronto.



The Winners and Losers Among the Young and the Breathtaking

Teddy Bridgewater was OK. He wasn’t what one might call “the answer,” but he was OK.

In a televised practice on Friday night, Bridgewater came on for Minnesota Vikings starter Matt Cassel after the first two series and while the crowd at TCF Bank Stadium wanted Bridgewater to be the second coming of, oh, Fran Tarkenton, what they got was a nervous Teddy Bridgewater.

madden22s 1 web 689x1024 The Winners and Losers Among the Young and the Breathtaking

Teddy Bridgewater

The rookie went 6-for-13 for 49 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in a pedestrian affair with the Oakland Raiders that finished 10-6 in the Vikings’ favor.

It was obvious, the speed of the game was a little too much for Bridgewater in his debut. This ain’t Louisville, Toto. But on the up side, Matt Cassel is as good as he’s ever going to be. Bridgewater will get better and he’ll get better quickly. In fact, he’ll be better this coming week against Arizona.

For the Vikings, Bridgewater was a winner on Friday night even though fans and coaches would probably agree that Cassel was the better quarterback. It’s just that Cassel is never going to lead the Vikings to the Promised Land. Only an improved defense can do that.

The question head coach Mike Zimmer has to answer in his own mind is: Do we make Bridgewater a better quarterback by playing him regularly this season, a season in which we aren’t likely to win that many games or do we let him watch and learn and start him next season? Ancillary question: Do we live with his mistakes and perhaps unsatisfactory results to get him accustomed to the NFL game right now or do we wait and teach?

Zimmer has three more televised practice games to get his answer.

Meanwhile, three other draft day diamonds played on the weekend. In Minnesota, the Oakland Raiders brought high second round draft pick Derek Carr to town and he looked like a rookie, a good rookie, but a rookie nonetheless.

BIkvH.AuSt .8 The Winners and Losers Among the Young and the Breathtaking

Derek Carr

Carr relieved Matt Schaub after three series and completed 10 of 16 passes for 74 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Carr’s passer rating was 47.4, which sounds horrible until you compare it to Bridgewater’s 56.2. Bridgewater was selected by the Vikings four picks before Carr and they looked like rookies.

“It was everything I thought it would be,” Carr told reporters after the game. “It was a lot of fun. And there weren’t any nerves. The nerves stopped a long time ago.”

Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, rookie Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, was pretty solid in his debut, a 16-10 win over Tampa. Bortles, from just down the highway at UCF, went seven-for-11 for 117 yards in relief of Chad Henne and Jags fans left the stadium convinced he was the answer.

Of course, Chad Henne is not the answer, so the likelihood of Bortles being Jacksonville’s opening day starter increased by leaps on Friday night. Granted, Jags brass have guaranteed that Henne will start on opening day, but if Bortles continues to play the way he did on Friday, there is no way the jaguars can go with Henne who was four-for-seven for 30 yards and Friday.

That big stadium in Jacksonville is way too empty to go with Henne for another season. Of course, maybe owner Shahid Khan just wants to piss all his money away and then force the NFL to allow him to move to L.A. Playing Henne all season would help him do just that.

Finally, on national TV on Saturday night, Brian Hoyer went six-for-14 for 92 yards, no TDs and no INTs while Johnny Manziel went seven-for-11 for 63 yards, no TDs and no INTs as Cleveland lost 13-12 to Detroit. It would have been a horrible game if Manziel hadn’t been part of the show and frankly, I thought he was terrific, the only entertaining thing about that game.

Yeah, he went seven-for-11, but he had two passes dropped and he carried six times for 27 yards. He reminded me of an old time quarterback who wasn’t afraid to run the ball when the pocket collapsed – and in Cleveland, the pocket is going to collapse a lot.

Brian Hoyer might be No. 1 in Cleveland, but Johnny Manziel proved he could beat second stringers in the NFL. Now, he needs to be given the chance to see what playing with the first team is like.

Maybe that goes for all four of them.

054a7496eb2db278062e844d7d853745 crop north The Winners and Losers Among the Young and the Breathtaking

Johnny Manziel