Thursday, 1 June 2017

Familiarity adds to fun of cheering on Roughriders

Fans need to adjust to flood of new faces at training camp

Roughriders receiver Mitchell Picton catches a pass off the jugs machine.
    Looking out at the Saskatchewan Roughriders practising at Griffiths Stadium, you end up asking yourself, “Who are these guys?”
    For myself personally, I know offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, and it drops off to no one else after that. I do admit I have had one long talk with long snapper Jorgen Hus, who is a graduate of the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League and the University of Regina Rams from the U Sports ranks.
    I have said “hello” to Rob Bagg on a couple of occasions thanks to the fact he has been with the team since 2008. I remember former franchise quarterback Darian Durant telling me that if I wanted to see someone that was really good at interacting with the fans I should just watch Bagg.
    The veteran signal caller, who is now a member of the Montreal Alouettes, hit that bang on as usual.
OL Brendon Labatte (#57), see here in 2015, is a well-known Riders player.
    Entering the fourth season since the Roughriders won the Grey Cup in 2013, only three players are held over from that squad including LaBatte, Bagg and offensive lineman Dan Clark. With Chris Jones taking over before the start of the 2016 campaign as general manager and head coach, it has been well documented on how players have gone in and out through seemingly a revolving door.
    Traditionally, one of the best perks that comes from cheering on the Roughriders is the fans get to know the players on some sort of personal level for a time. That comes from the fact Regina is in between being a midsize city and a large city with a current population of just over 236,000.
    The population of the province of Saskatchewan has usually hovered around 1-million and sits at just over 1.15-million in the current day.
Roughriders QB Bryan Bennett, right, calls a play during a drill.
    By those figures alone, you can tell it is hard to go anywhere in the province without meeting people, and it is hard to stay anonymous, if you play for the Roughriders. When I was a first-year university student in “the Queen City” at the University of Regina, I often met Roughriders players working part-time in retail.
    The level for knowing players in the CFL changed a lot for myself after being involved with the Regina Rams especially for four seasons spanning from 1997 to 2001. As players from those Rams teams spread out through the CFL, I began to cheer a lot for the individuals I knew. Eventually, a number of Rams grads ended up on the Roughriders rosters for about four to five years.
    That development made cheering for the Roughriders that much more personal. Looking back, I often told a few people the one season I would have loved to have worked in the Roughriders communications department was in 2009. 
Former NFL QB Vince Young (#8) avoids the rush during a drill.
    It would have been a joy even knowing how that season would end with a heartbreaking Grey Cup loss in Calgary to the Montreal Alouettes thanks to that infamous too many men penalty call on the game’s second last play.
    There were six Rams graduates on that Roughriders team in Jason Clermont, Neal Hughes, Chris Getzlaf, Tamon George, Nick Hutchins and Joel Lipinski. Through them, I ended up meeting and getting to know a number of other players on the club’s roster that year. A number of great memories were made.
    That Roughriders team also overcame any adversity they faced that season to finish first in the West Division. It was a great season outside of how the final two plays went in that year’s Grey Cup game, which resulted in the deciding points in a 28-27 loss.
The now retired Nate Coehoorn was a fun CFL player to pull for.
    As the years went on, I began to pull for individuals I met on other CFL teams that didn’t have any links to the Rams. The most notable include recently retired Edmonton Eskimos receiver Nathan Coehoorn, Calgary Stampeders offensive lineman Dan Federkeil and Hamilton Tiger-Cats long snapper Aaron Crawford.
    I met those three during the 10 years I worked for the Medicine Hat News in Medicine Hat, Alta.
    One of the best parts of the CFL is most of the individuals in the league are down to earth, because they won’t be able to retire off the money they make in that circuit. They all have to move on to other careers after their football playing days wrap up.
    For me, I liked remaining around the CFL on a fan level, because I enjoyed getting to immediately visit my friends after games.
    In recent years, a lot of the players in the CFL that I know have retired. It has changed my interest in that circuit.
    That is just one of the realities that happens in sports over time.
The Roughriders huddle up after a training camp session.
    As far as the Roughriders go, I believe there is potential in the current group to bond with the fans.
    When I have walked around the U of Saskatchewan campus during training camp to go workout, work on a project or visit, all the players I run into always seem to say hello in a well-mannered way.
    It is really noticeable.
    I take that intangible as a good sign. While it might be hard to identify the Roughriders players at the moment, they might just become household names like a lot of the team’s former greats of the past. 
    That type of link is what makes cheering for the Roughriders and the CFL great.

Estephan would be a good addition for an NHL team

Giorgio Estephan brings the puck up ice for the Hurricanes.
    The NHL dream has hit a bump in the road for Lethbridge Hurricanes star centre Giorgio Estephan.
    The Edmonton, Alta., product, who has been a career member of the Hurricanes, was selected in the sixth round and 152nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Sabres elected not to sign Estephan by Thursday’s deadline to ink drafted players from 2015.
    Thanks to that development, Estephan, who is still eligible to play an overage season in the WHL, will be allowed to enter the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, which will be held June 23 and 24 in Chicago, Illinois.
    In one of those head-scratching developments that can happen in the professional ranks, the Sabres likely came to the conclusion Estephan, who stands 6-feet and weighs 191 pounds, wouldn’t fit into their future plans.
    Since being drafted by the Sabres in 2015, Estephan has done enough to earn an NHL contract. He has continued to progress and has grown into one of the WHL’s elite centres.
Giorgio Estephan speeds into the offensive zone for the Hurricanes.
    This past season, he recorded 35 goals, 54 assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department in 68 regular season games. His goal and assist totals were career highs.
    Estephan took his game to another level in the 2017 WHL playoffs piling up 11 goals, 13 assists and a plus-five rating in 18 games. He played a key role in helping the Hurricanes advance to the Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 2008.
    The Hurricanes fell 4-2 in this year’s best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series to the Regina Pats.
    Estephan and heart and soul overage linemate Tyler Wong proved they could be ironmen playing seemly every second shift in their seven-game second round series win over the Medicine Hat Tigers, when injuries nearly crippled the Hurricanes post-season run.
Giorgio Estephan cuts to the net for the Hurricanes.
    Anyone that saw Estephan and Wong, who was the Hurricanes captain, play over that stretch would think an NHL team would want to sign them.
    On the intangible side, you had to love how Estephan reacted to playing on the road in the playoffs in Medicine Hat. He laughed off some creative heckles from Tigers supporters and made sure to give high fives to Hurricanes fans in attendance, when he left the ice. He took all those aspects of the game in stride.
    If Estephan doesn’t get drafted or signed, he would really give the Hurricanes a boost going into next season as an overager. In that scenario, you can expect him to play well enough to be deserving of another NHL shot.

Pats create season ticket waitlist

Pats season tickets are in high demand from their faithful.
    The Regina Pats are still feeling a surge in popularity thanks to their incredible 2016-17 campaign.
    On Thursday, the Pats opened up season ticket sales to everyone for the 2017-18 campaign, when they will play host to the 100th Memorial Cup. The surge in demand was so high that the club decided to create an online waiting list to add some order when it comes meeting the demand.
    On Friday at 9 a.m. Regina time, fans can sign up on the waitlist through the team’s website The Pats will contact those on the list on a first come, first serve basis. The team said everyone on the waitlist will be contacted prior to July 31.
    In 2016-17, the Pats set a franchise record for regular season victories finishing first overall in the WHL with a 52-12-7-1 mark.
The Pats and their fans celebrate an Austin Wagner (#27) goal.
    They were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League top 10 rankings that were released on March 22. The Pats held top spot in the CHL’s top 10 rankings for much of the campaign.
    In the playoffs, the Pats advanced to the WHL Championship series for the first time since 1984 and they fell 4-2 in that best-of-seven series to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
    Between the regular season and playoffs, the Pats sold out a record 26 home dates at the Brandt Centre.
    Next season, the Pats should return enough parts to create the potential for another dream campaign.

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