Monday, 25 November 2019

Where does football in Canada go from here?

CFL needs to work with U Sports and CJFL

Andrew Harris (#33) is a Bombers Grey Cup hero.
    During the month of November, it seems like all the warm and fuzzy feelings come out for Canada’s brand of three-down football.
    In the CFL, the celebrations are well underway in Winnipeg, Man. The city’s storied Blue Bombers ended a 29-year title drought downing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in the Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., on Sunday.
    The festival atmosphere of Grey Cup week renews interest in the Canadian game for a short period of time. A total of 35,439 spectators attended the Grey Cup in Calgary at McMahon Stadium.
    On Saturday, the University of Calgary Dinos ended a national title drought of their own that dated back 24 years. They downed the University of Montreal Carabins 27-13 to win the Vanier Cup as U Sports national champions in Quebec City, Quebec.
    A total of 8,376 spectators turned out at Telus Stadium on the campus of the Universite Laval and the host Rouge et Or weren’t in that title game.
    On Nov. 16, the Saskatoon Hilltops won a sixth straight CJFL title downing the host Langley Rams 11-6 in the Canadian Bowl. The Rams showed they built a team that could slug it out with the venerable Hilltops, but the legendary Saskatoon side found a way to pull out a tight defensive slugfest.
Cody Fajardo (#7) fires a pass downfield.
    While the championship weekends help the various Canadian football leagues end off on a high note, those leagues are not immune to the challenges all sports face in Canada. The biggest one of those challenges is holding interest.
    Sports blogger Patti Dawn Swansson has tracked CFL attendances all season and noted attendance only increased in Calgary and Montreal on the nine-team circuit.
    By her numbers, the Saskatchewan Roughriders attracted the most fans on the campaign but still saw an overall attendance decrease of 12,005 from the 2018 campaign.
    The Roughriders had just one sellout in the 2019 campaign and that was for the Labour Day Classic as a packed house of 33,356 spectators jammed into Mosaic Stadium to see the host side down the Bombers 19-17 on Sept. 1.
    When these two sides met in the same venue for the CFL’s West final on Nov. 17, a sellout was reported by some outlets, but the contest was just short of a sellout. A total of 33,300 spectators turned out to see The Bombers down the Roughriders 20-13.
Roughriders safety Mike Edem (#15) bears down on a hit.
    In football at all levels of Canada for about the past four years, it is known that when the weather turns slightly bad the people tend to stay away. Slightly bad means sunny conditions and a temperature of 10 C.
    The province of Saskatchewan is viewed as the place where football is king. The reputation no long translates into guaranteed ticket buyers.
    When the University of Saskatchewan Huskies downed the visiting University of Alberta Golden Bears 28-23 in a Canada West semifinal game on Nov. 2, the attendance at Griffiths Stadium was 1,191 spectators. There was a time when playoff home dates at U of S meant a minimum crowd of 4,000.
    When the Hilltops hosted the Prairie Football Conference final on Oct. 27, a total of 491 spectators turned out at Saskatoon Minor Football Field to see their 30-14 victory over the Edmonton Huskies. There was a time when PFC final contests meant the stands at SMF Field were packed and people were sitting the grass or snow covered hills that circled the facility.
The CFL and football in Canada is challenged with bringing out fans.
    At the CFL level, the big elephant in the room are lofty ticket prices. There are too many tickets in CFL stadiums that cost around $100, and that includes most seats in the lower sections between the 20 yard lines.
    Once you start charging $70 per ticket for a CFL game that becomes a barrier for people going to games. They start looking for other avenues to use their disposable income, and hence interest in the game itself goes down.
    That lack of interest inevitably filters down to the U Sports and CJFL levels.
    In the markets of Toronto, Ont., and Vancouver, B.C., specifically, there is a view you aren’t playing real tackle football unless you are playing the four down, 11-versus-11 game played in the United States.
Adam Machart is one of the stars in U Sports football.
    The other elephant in the room is the specter of the concussion injury, which does filter families into signing their children up for other sporting options. That still happens even with moves being made in tackle football to make the game safer.
    As Canada becomes more culturally diverse, sports like soccer, basketball and lacrosse start drawing bigger appeal. Soccer and basketball have big worldwide cultural appeal.
    There are even spots in Saskatoon where you can see cricket being played.
    Last Thursday, The Canadian Press ran a story from Donna Spencer where CFL commission Randy Ambrosie said he wants to pair the Grey Cup up with the Vanier Cup as early as next season. That was done in 2007 and 2012 in Toronto and 2011 in Vancouver.
    Justin Dunk of 3DownNation wrote last Thursday he expects the next Vanier Cup to be played at Griffiths Stadium on the U of S campus, if the pairing occurs.
    So far, there hasn’t been any talk from Huskie Athletics about bringing next year’s Vanier Cup to Saskatoon, and if that does happen, it opens up the can of worms and pressure of making the Huskies football team good enough to get to that event as a host team.
    Still, U Sports doesn’t have a television contract. Due to TSN being the rights holder for CFL broadcasts, TSN would be smart and go into its old back of tricks from the late 1980s and early 1990s in getting U Sports back on TV.
Ben Abrook (#32) is one of the top players in the CJFL.
    When TSN was in its formative years, U Sports was one of the networks staples. On the football front, you could go back to televising a national game of the week before showing the semifinal bowls and Vanier Cup title game.
    If both CFL and U Sports were broadcast by the same network, that allows opportunities for the TSN crew to track the U Sports prospects coming up the ranks before they join the CFL.
    TSN should potentially look at picking up CJFL games too in order to track prospects on that circuit. The CJFL has had a strong role of keeping players that don’t go to university in the sports.
    The CFL would benefit from working closer with the CJFL, which is often ignored, to grow the overall game.
    To show how the profile of the CJFL isn’t where it needs to be. The Canadian Press wire service covered the U Sports semifinal bowls and Vanier Cup, but hasn’t had any interest for a lengthy period of time in covering the CJFL title game.
    While football in Canada has lots of challenges, its spot in the country would be strengthened if the CFL, U Sports and CJFL found a way to be able to all work together. That is also easier said than done.

Reaction to Cherry story has been gross

A Don Cherry video.
    My gut tells me Don Cherry’s departure from Hockey Night in Canada will be a non-story by Dec. 2.
    It has quieted down, but it still has some legs. The coverage of the fallout has been gross, and I don’t think the story was good for anyone on any level.
    Heck, I didn’t even want to say anything on this subject, but I thought enough time had passed to add in my views.
    When you think about it, Cherry’s falling out on Saturday’s national hockey broadcast, which is run by Rogers and Sportnet, does not directly affect how each individual in Canada conducts their day-to-day lives.
    Of course, Cherry appeared on his final Coach’s Corner with sidekick Ron MacLean on Nov. 9. The 85-year-old Cherry went on a rant where he wanted to see people in Canada wear poppies leading up to and on Remembrance Day as a show of respect for the military personnel who fought and died for the freedoms people in Canada enjoy.
    His rant included the words “you people,” which automatically makes way too many think of incoming immigrants in these overly sensitive times where Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
    When I saw the video from Coach’s Corner, I rightly or wrongly didn’t have a problem with it. I did think Cherry might face troubles for saying the words “you people.” Of course, he was dumped on Nov. 11, which happened to be Remembrance Day.
    Had Cherry said “everybody” instead of “you people” in his rant, he would have been back on Coach’s Corner on Nov. 16. People in the general public that spent way too much time following the fallout would have whole piles of free time back.
    He said he should have said “everybody” in place of “you people” and wanted to explain that on air to make things right on what would have been the Nov. 16 edition of Coach’s Corner.
    My late father was from Cherry’s generation, and that is usually as close to an apology as you get from people that grew up in that generation. I have a hard time remembering a moment my late father apologized for anything he did wrong.
    I myself was good with the course of action Cherry wanted to take.
    Still, Cherry said what he said and the right and left wings of society jumped on the story putting their spin on it. A least everything was just a war of words on that front.
An item from Don Cherry’s height as a pitch man in the 1990s.
    Now the Cherry story includes multiple themes like racism, left wing versus right wing political thinking, respect for veterans, stereotypes of hockey being just a white male sport and double standards.
    Of course, issues of hockey having the stereotype of being a while male sport and double standards hit the forefront when Jess Allen from CTV’s “The Social” made a rant on the Nov. 12 edition of that talk show.
    Allen said hockey players were white boys who were bullies and had affluent parents who poured money into their playing careers. She got to walk away from her rant with what I considered was a weak apology and no further repercussions, but that is accepted double standard of the way the North American world works.
    On the left wing, Cherry is painted as a racist bigot who should be given the death penalty, and those that don’t think along those lines are absolutely wrong and should be treated as sub-humans. On the right wing, Cherry is a martyred hero that stands beside military veterans, and those that don’t think along those lines are absolutely wrong and should be treated as sub-humans.
    I have seen a few pieces from veteran sports reporters, who have careers that span decades, take runs at Cherry. Cherry did say a lot of things that got him in hot water over the years, so there are lots of opportunities to revisit old hurts.
    Those veteran sports reporters came off sounding like they had an ax to grind more over the fact Cherry made millions on his media career and there was a tinge of jealousy due to the fact he had the forum to say what he said.
    As far as money matters go, the Toronto Star on May 29, 2011 ran a story where Cherry said he gave much of his money to charity, but he didn’t want to discuss that aspect of himself seeing that as an actual uncomfortable bit of self-promotion.
Another Don Cherry video.
    After his Hockey Night in Canada ouster, I saw Cherry do interviews with Fox News and The Rebel media outlets, where he steered away from leading questions. Both wanted to make Cherry an example of the left wing out to destroy a good guy.
    For myself, I believe the current world in North America is a bit too sensitive and Cherry made an error in speaking. While he often said in interviews over the years he expected to say something that would go too far, the fallout of his departure became more than it should have been.
    He is doing a podcast now. I can’t see him ever being on a mainstream media broadcast again due to the fact he is 85-years-old. His age is a bigger draw back than what he says.
    I haven’t watched Coach’s Corner as avidly like I did 10 years ago. I rarely saw the segment over the past decade.
    When I did watch, Cherry looked old. He would ramble off into nowhere.
    I have friends who have encountered Cherry in recent years, and they say he is old. When he was on the road, he would often miss sponsor events in order to go to his hotel room to rest.
    I agree with the notion Cherry was allowed to keep going on for too long, and that happened due to ratings.
    When all is said and done, you get this sad mess that has occurred over the past two weeks and it seems the moves everyone makes are all different shades of wrong.

Eliminating Beardy’s Blackhawks an unforced error

    Shock waves were sent through Saskatchewan’s minor hockey world, when the Saskatchewan Hockey Association announced its realignment for the boys’ midget AAA and AA levels.
    On Nov. 12, the SHA announced the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, which is located 80 kilometres north of Saskatoon, will no longer have midget AAA and AA boys’ teams starting next season.
    It was also announced the Notre Dame Argos midget AAA club and the midget AA club in Unity would be no more as well.
    On the midget AAA side, new teams will be established in Warman and Estevan.
    With those decisions, the Beardy’s Blackhawks midget teams will be no more. The Blackhawks midget AAA program has been in existence for 25 years, and it was the only midget AAA program that is First Nations run.
    Over the last three years, the SHA has been review bantam and midget hockey at the female level along with the male and female AA and AAA leagues. Male midget AAA leagues were given until Oct. 1 to reapply to continue to play in their respective league.
    The SHA said the criteria for keeping or acquiring a AAA team revolved around local coaching resources, billeting options for players, a billeting co-ordinator, an educational consultant, a written working agreement with a local high school for players to attend and a midget AA team to provide a source for affiliate players.
    The 12 teams that will be part of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League next season graded as being better than Beardy’s on that criteria.
    The decision seemed to be a curious one, because the Blackhawks programs have never done anything to warrant their elimination. Actually, their elimination is something that doesn’t need to happen at all.
    For myself at the midget AAA level, I believe general manager Mel Parenteau and head coach Dale Grayston have run an outstanding program for decades. The Blackhawks have always been that one program where players from a First Nations background play together with those of a non-First Nations background in harmony.
    The Blackhawks have traditionally had strong showings on the ice and produced a number of high quality players and outstanding young men. Two of the best known from that group are former NHL forwards Linden Vey and Dwight King.
    When you head out to Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation for games, you’re greeted by a warm and welcoming community that is proud of its culture. Players that play for the Blackhawks see that culture in a whole new light and it is a distinctly positive and uplifting light.
    In a current climate in North America where racial tension run high, what the Blackhawks program offers is something that can’t be lost.
    Long before work went into reconciliation, the Blackhawks were one example of how humanity can be a better version of itself.
    I am also aware that reversing a decision is highly unlikely. As long as general manager Kelly McClintock has been involved with the SHA and that spans over two decades, it seems like the mind has been made up once a decision has been made and things go full steam ahead with that decision.
    CBC has gone to town doing great work on this story.
    Craig McCallum talked about how playing one season with Beardy’s in the 2006-07 campaign was a life-changing experience. Following that campaign, he went on to be a standout forward with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and Prince Albert Raiders and U Sports’ University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team.
    The story on McCallum can be found by clicking right here.
    McClintock was interviewed by CBC, and he got into specifics about the decision. That piece can be found by clicking right here.

Messier named to Canada’s female under-18 team

Ashley Messier in action with the Stars last season.
    Ashley Messier, who is an alumna of the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team, will play for Canada’s under-18 women’s team.
    Messier was one of 23 players named to the Canadian team’s roster on Monday. The Canadian team will play in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s under-18 women’s world championship, which will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 in the new year in Bratislava in Slovakia.
    Messier now plays for the Selects Hockey Academy in Rochester, New York, for her Grade 12 year. She has officially signed with the Cornell University Big Red women’s hockey team and will join the powerhouse NCAA program at the start of next season.
    From 2016 to 2019, Messier played three seasons with the Stars piling up 11 goals and 58 assists for 69 points in 84 regular season games as an offensive defender.
    She helped the Stars reach the championship game of the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament in April of 2018. The Stars fell 2-1 to the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash, but Messier was named the top defender of the tournament.
    Last season with the Stars, Messier, who is from Wilcox, Sask., recorded five goals and 27 assist to help the Stars post their best regular season record ever at 27-1 to top the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League standings.
    The Stars again advanced to Esso Cup and finished fourth.
    Messier was named the Colleen Sostorics top defender of the SFMAAAHL last season and a first team SFMAAAHL all-star. She was a second SFMAAAHL all-star in 2017-18.
    Messier, who stands 5-foot-3, helped Team Saskatchewan advance to the final of the National Women’s under-18 Champion held last Saturday in Winkler, Man. Team Saskatchewan fell in the title game to Team Ontario Red 3-1.
    The silver medal win was Saskatchewan’s best finish at the event that contains provincial under-18 women’s hockey teams from across the country. The 17-year-old Messier was named the most valuable player of the tournament.
    Annie-Liese King, who is a defender for the Notre Dame Hounds female midget AAA team, was the only other Saskatchewan product named to Canada’s under-18 women’s team. King is from Regina.

Huskies appear to have great catch in Kendall

Sara Kendall (#4) will play for the Huskies next season.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team has to be pumped Sara Kendall will be coming aboard next season.
    Kendall is playing out her 17-year-old and final midget AAA campaign with the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats. The Pontiex, Sask., product currently leads the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League in scoring with nine goals and 12 assists compiled over the Wildcats first 10 games.
    In 65 career regular season games in the SFMAAAHL, Kendall has piled up 37 goals and 32 assists for 69 points.
    She had a beauty game on Sunday helping the Wildcats rebound from their first loss of the season.
    On Saturday, the Wildcats fell 2-1 to the host Saskatoon Stars at Merlis Belsher Place and Kendall was held without a point in that contest.
    Those two teams met again on Sunday at Merlis. Kendall scored her squad’s first two goals and set up the Wildcats third tally that was netted by Brooklyn Rublee.
    The Wildcats claimed a 4-1 victory after Baylee Kirwan scored into an empty net.
    Defender Emily Holmes fired home her fourth goal of the campaign to provide the lone reply for the Stars.
    Amaya Giraudier turned away 24 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Wildcats (9-1). Arden Kliewer turned away 35-of-38 shots to take the setback in goal for the Stars (5-7-2).
    Both teams return to regular season action on Dec. 14. The Wildcats will host the Weyburn Richardson Pioneer Gold Wings at 7:45 p.m. at the Fairview Arena in Swift Current and the Stars host the Prince Albert Northern Bears at 2:15 p.m. at Merlis.
    If Kendall can keep her scoring touch up in the U Sports ranks, she will be a huge addition for the Huskies.

Smith becomes colour commentator for hometown Broncos

    The Chloe Smith is a hockey hero in Swift Current, so it is only nature she should resurface in the game with her hometown WHL team.
    On the ice, Smith starred as a centre with the Swift Current Diamond Energy Wildcats female midget AAA team from 2013 to 2017 and was the club’s captain in her final campaign with that team. She played the past two seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team before electing to return home to Swift Current.
    On Friday, Smith made her debut as the colour commentator for the audio broadcasts for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos dropped a 6-0 decision at home to the Regina Pats at the Innovation Credit Union i-Plex.
    She will work as the colour commentator for most Broncos home game broadcasts moving forward along with new Broncos play-by-play voice Craig Beauchemin, who is the team’s broadcast and community relations manager.
Chloe Smith in action with the Wildcats in 2017.
    The Broncos moved to producing their own audio broadcasts of games with online streaming through their website this season. Previously, the audio call of Broncos games was heard on the Eagle 94.1 radio station in Swift Current.
    During her time with the Wildcats, Smith appeared in 110 career regular season games piling up 42 goals and 62 assists for 104 points. She is the 19th all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
    Smith played a key role in helping the Wildcats reach the SFMAAAHL title series in 2016. The Wildcats fell in the best-of-five series to the Saskatoon Stars 3-1.
    During her rookie campaign with the Huskies in 2017-18, Smith forever cemented her spot in the team’s history. On Feb. 24, 2018, she scored the winning goal that broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Huskies a 2-1 victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds in Game 2 of Canada West semifinal series.
    Smith’s second period goal in that contest allowed the Huskies to sweep the best-of-three series 2-0. That was the final game the Huskies women’s team ever play at the Rutherford Rink, and Smith holds the distinction of being the last member of the Huskies women’s team to score a goal in that facility and score the last women’s playoff series winner in that building.
    Smith appeared in 26 regular season games in 2017-18 collecting three goals and three assists. She skated in 26 regular season game last season collecting three goals and five assists.
    In Swift Current, Mike Bissonette has built a reputation for producing creative signs to show off and support the Broncos during game days. He took a couple of cracks at signs for Smith below with her move to the Broncos broadcasts.

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