Friday, 13 January 2017

Durant trade ends era for Roughriders

The Roughriders traded Darian Durant to Montreal.
    Darian Durant couldn’t play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders forever, but his departure is something most fans in Rider Nation are still digesting.
    Early Friday morning, news spread quickly that the Roughriders traded Durant’s CFL rights to the Montreal Alouettes in exchange for a fourth round selection (32nd overall) in this year’s CFL Draft and a conditional selection in next year’s draft. Montreal has until Feb. 14 to sign Durant, or the veteran franchise quarterback can become a free agent.
    Durant, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 214 pounds, had been with the Roughriders for 11 seasons and became the club’s unquestioned starter in 2009. He was part of the Roughriders 2007 Grey Cup championship team as a backup to Kerry Joseph and powered the Roughriders to a Grey Cup championship at home as a starter in 2013. The Florence, South Carolina, product also started for the Roughriders in heartbreaking Grey Cup losses in 2009 and 2010.
    Injuries also kept Durant off the field for significant time in 2014 and 2015.
    Way back on July 12, 2008, Durant made his first start with the Roughriders and threw them to a thrilling 33-28 road victory over the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton. From 2009 to 2014, he was part of a core group of players that powered the “green and white” to success year after year including Weston Dressler, John Chick, Chris Getzlaf, Rob Bagg, Mike McCullough and Neal Hughes.
    Out of that group, only Bagg remains. Last season, Durant and Bagg were the two lengthy veteran mainstays.
Darian Durant runs in a winning overtime TD for the Roughriders.
    Other key figures that passed through the Roughriders during Durant’s era included Gene Makowsky, Ben Heenan, Ty Brackenridge, Andy Fantuz, Tristan Jackson, Eddie Davis, Lance Frazier and Ricky Foley. At the moment, the Roughriders don’t have a face for the franchise. Arguably, veteran offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Chris Best are the team’s two most recognizable players.
    Outside of the past two seasons, most of Durant’s time with the Roughriders is linked with winning. It seems like only yesterday that Durant hooked up with Getzlaf on a long touchdown toss with less than two minutes to play to beat the Stampeders in Calgary 24-23, but that game was actually played on Aug. 1, 2009.
    Later that season, Durant watched from the sidelines when the Roughriders fell 28-27 to the Alouettes due to the infamous too many men call at the end of the game. That penalty gave a second chance for the Als to kick a winning field goal after the first attempt was missed. Had the miss stood, the Roughriders would have won that contest.
    The 34-year-old leaves the Roughriders sitting second in team history for career pass attempts (3,584), completions (2,226), yards (28,507) and touchdown passes (152).
    Durant’s legacy is more than just numbers. Being the starting quarterback of the Roughriders might be the hardest job in the CFL due to intense fan scrutiny, and Durant exceled at it. He became a fan favourite despite still having a few vocal detractors.
    In social settings, he always put his teammates in front of himself ensuring they were having a good time. During Durant’s years with the team, I had a few buds that played with the Roughriders over the years, and I got to see that part up close. That is a big sign of a good leader.
Darian Durant fires a pass downfield for the Roughriders.
    At the moment, the Roughriders don’t seem to have a successor in place for Durant. Saskatchewan head coach and general manager Chris Jones needs to find the team’s next franchise quarterback.
    Set to begin play at new Mosaic Stadium, the Roughriders need to surpass their 5-13 record from 2016, or the heat Jones feels now will really get out of control. If you are going to make a move to unload a player of Durant’s status and quality, you better have a guy waiting in the wings to do the job.
    When the NFL’s Green Bay Packers parted way with Brett Favre in 2008, Aaron Rodgers was ready to become the Packers starting quarterback. The Roughriders are not in that type of situation.
    With the way Jones has handed roster moves during his first season with the team, he doesn’t inspire confidence like a Wally Buono, John Hufnagel or the late Cal Murphy.
    It appears more rough times still await the Roughriders.

Wickenheiser calls it a career

A story on Hayley Wickenheiser from the 2013 Medicine Hat News.
    It was a low-key retirement announcement that was classic Hayley Wickenheiser.
    On Friday, the Canadian hockey icon announced over Twitter she was leaving the game. The Tweet included a photo of her relaxing on a bench by an outdoor rink.
    The 38-year-old wrote, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang em up!! Thank you! #grateful #graduationday #canada.”
    You would expect someone of Wickenheiser’s stature to announce her retirement at a huge news conference at the headquarters of Hockey Canada in Calgary. With that said, that isn’t her style. When news of Durant’s trade broke, you almost think Wickenheiser went into action to make her retirement announcement now in order to try and avoid being the centre of attention.
    The Shaunavon, Sask., product first made Canada’s senior national women’s hockey team at age 15 in 1994, and was part four Olympic gold medal winning squads and one Olympic silver medal winning team.
    I remember catching up with her for a story in the Medicine Hat News in October of 2013, when Canada’s women’s team was preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It was conceivable that Wickenheiser might play in the 2018 Winter Olympics, but it was highly realistic 2014 could be her last run. Canada’s national team system was being filled with numerous talented young players.
    At that time, Wickenheiser said she hadn’t made any decisions on her future but admitted to having little nostalgic moments.
    I asked her what it was like to be idolized by girls across Canada, and I received a unique response. Wickenheiser said she was glad female athletes in Canada have a lot of role models to look up to in sport.
    “When I grew up, I didn’t have female role models really in sport,” said Wickenheiser at the time. “Now there is myself and all the girls that I play with and players like Christine Sinclair in soccer.
    “You’ve got a lot of different female athletes that are high profile now in Canada, and that is really good for young girls that are coming up in sports.”
    Words aren’t enough to describe the impact Wickenheiser has had on the sporting scene in Canada. Here is hoping the next step of her life is as successful and rewarding as her playing days, and she gets into the Hockey Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

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