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Calgary Stampeders host surging Blue Bombers in CFL West Division showdown

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CALGARY — When you win a lot, says Bo Levi Mitchell, there are those who will find reasons why you shouldn’t.

The Calgary Stampeders quarterback is aware CFL fans outside of Calgary would celebrate a Stampeder-free Grey Cup game after Calgary’s three trips to the championship game in the last four years.

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“We hear the tone of voice used when speaking about us in games, ‘Finally, Calgary lost a couple games at the end of the season. Finally, they’re not the team everybody thinks they are,'” Mitchell said Saturday.

“We’ll show you.”

Calgary (13-5) is the host of the West Division final Sunday for the fifth time in six years.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers stand in the way of a record third consecutive trip to a Grey Cup game for Calgary.

The Stampeders lost to underdogs Toronto and Ottawa in the 2017 and 2016 Grey Cups, respectively.

Winnipeg (10-8) is coming off a 23-18 upset of the host Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division semifinal.

“They just went into Sask, which everyone knows is a tough place to play, and won,” Calgary linebacker Jamar Wall said. “Now they’re coming in here to another tough place. It’s one of those things that kind of builds them up.

“At the same time, we have been in these stages before. We’ve gotten a first-round bye several years. We know how to take it, how to prepare for it and we needed the time off. That extra weeks really helps.”

Prior to a division-clinching win over the B.C. Lions in their regular season-finale, the Stampeders had lost three in a row, including a 29-21 decision against Winnipeg on Oct. 26.

“People have been telling us for the last month that we’re not the team we used to be,” Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson said.

“I think a lot of people had us middle of the road. I think they thought the Stamps were going to be down this year.

“Even as an organization we knew we had to build something. We won a lot of close football games. We worked very hard in the off-season and we believe in what we are as a team and an organization. And we put a lot of wins on the board.

“We also know you’re always judged by the post-season.”

Because the Blue Bombers spent long stretches of their history in the East Division, Calgary and Winnipeg will play a divisional playoff game for the first time since 1982.

Calgary beat Winnipeg in the 2001 and 1992 Grey Cups.

Winnipeg’s last Grey Cup appearance was in 2011, when the Blue Bombers fell 34-23 to the Lions.

The last team to come out of third place in a division and win the Grey Cup — which requires two road wins and usually another neutral-site victory — was the Edmonton Eskimos in 2005.

“When you look at the overall picture of it, it can seems like this big thing, but really it was this week, ‘we gotta go into Regina and beat Saskatchewan. That games is over with. Now we have to win one game on the road,'” Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols said. “That’s my mindset.

“As crazy as it kind of sounds, this game doesn’t feel different to me than any other game I’ve played in. I thought it would.”

The Bombers have won six of their last seven games. Nichols has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception in that span.

“We’ve felt like we’ve been playing playoff games for two months now,” Nichols said.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Calgary Stampeders.

Sunday, McMahon Stadium

KEY MATCHUP: Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris, the CFL’s rushing leader (1,390 yards) versus Calgary middle linebacker Alex Singleton, the league leader in tackles (123).

AMBLES STAYS IN: Dickenson opted to stick with rookie receiver Markeith Ambles for Sunday’s game. The more experienced DaVaris Daniels was back practising after missing six games with a broken collarbone.

EARLY LEAD INDICATOR: Calgary and Winnipeg are a combined 35-6 over 2017 and 2018 when leading after the first quarter, and 9-13 when not.

THE HITMAN COMETH: Bret (The Hitman) Hart addressed the Stampeders on Saturday morning. The Stampeders invited the former professional wrestler to speak after Ric (Nature Boy) Flair supported the Ticats in the East Division semifinal.

“What he represents is what we want to represent,” Dickenson said. “We want to be tied into this community and want people to rally around the Calgary Stampeders and believe we’re an important part of this city. Bret Hart is all of that.”

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Pospisil, Shapovalov engineer Canada historic win over U.S. at Davis Cup

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Canada is heading to the quarter-finals at the inaugural Davis Cup Finals after sweeping a pair of singles matches against the United States on Tuesday.

Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., clinched the victory in the best-of-three tie, beating Taylor Fritz 7-6 (6), 6-3.

Shapovalov, ranked a career-high 15th in the world, finished off No. 32 Fritz with an ace.

Earlier, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil recorded his second major upset in as many days when the world No. 150 beat No. 36 Reilly Opelka 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7).

Later, Americans Sam Querrey and Jack Sock took the doubles match against Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime in a walkover.

Canada (2-0) has now clinched Group F after winning all four of its singles matches against the Americans and Italy.

Seven of the nine sets in singles matches went to tiebreaks, with Canada winning six of them.

It was Canada’s first win against the U.S., in 16 Davis Cup ties. Canada had a match record of 3-70 against the Americans entering Tuesday.

Vasek Pospisil celebrates his upset victory over Reilly Opelka of the U.S. on Tuesday at the Davis Cup Finals in Spain. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old Pospisil, from Vancouver, beat world No. 12 Fabio Fognini on Monday en route to Canada’s 2-1 win over Italy. Pospisil was a late replacement for Felix Auger-Aliassime (recovering from an ankle injury) against Italy.

The six-foot-11 Opelka, known for his big serve, fought off one match point against Pospisil in the second set to tie it at 6-6. But Pospisil rebounded to end it in two sets.

Pospisil, who reached a career-high No. 25 in the rankings in 2014, tumbled down the list after missing the first half of 2019 following back surgery.

But he has shown signs of progress in recent months, upsetting then-No. 9 Karen Khachanov at the U.S. Open before advancing to the round of 16 at the Shanghai Masters.

Playing a level down in Challengers earlier this fall, Pospisil captured two tournament titles in the U.S.

WATCH | Canada upsets Italy at Davis Cup: 

Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil notched a pair of upsets to lead Canada to a win over Italy on the opening day of the inaugural Davis Cup Finals. 1:52

Pospisil is now 19-18 in Davis Cup play.

Shapovalov, 20, also has been on a roll. He captured his first career ATP Tour title at the Stockholm Open last month before reaching the final of the Paris Masters.

The winners of each of the six groups and the next two best teams advance to the quarterfinals. Canada will face either Belgium or Australia in the next round.

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Don Cherry comes back with a new show

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They may have knocked Don Cherry to the ice with a hit he didn’t see coming.

Now watch him get back up.

You people out there who want the 85-year-old Cherry back, here’s the news you have been hoping for.  You people who wanted him to fade away are out of luck as the former NHL coach of the year is going to be able to exercise his free speech, after all.

Don Cherry’s Grapevine is back once again. This time as a podcast.

Coach’s Corner may be “no more” as his one-time Hockey Night in Canada sidekick Ron MacLean announced on Saturday. Cherry was fired by Rogers and Sportsnet for his “you people” who “come here” comment that was misunderstood and later spun as discriminatory.

Cherry wanted his opportunity to properly explain it. Now he is going to get that chance.

You read it right: Don Cherry and his no-holds-barred views are coming back on the air.

The Toronto Sun has learned you won’t have to wait long for the first installment of the new Grapevine. It will drop Tuesday morning and be available on Spotify and other streaming services every Monday during the hockey season.

And yes, the very first one will address Cherry’s firing from Sportsnet.

“But that’s not all we talked about,” Cherry told me Monday. “We are talking hockey, of course. It’s going to be terrific. In this one I am talking about The Rocket (Maurice Richard), one of the all-time greats.”

One thing for sure about the new show is MacLean will not be in his foxhole.

So who will be?

You may have noticed the word “we” in Don’s comments and since so many scrutinize every word he says and what he means by it, I asked.

Turns out Grapes has a new co-host. And perhaps hosts.

“My son, Tim, is going to do it with me and my grandson Del,” said Grapes. 

At least he knows they won’t turn on him when the waters get rough as MacLean did.

“They did great,” Don said of Tim and Del. ”I think people are really going to enjoy this one and the ones we do down the road.”

Tim Cherry tells me the plan is to tape and post it every Monday.

“That way we cover off what happened on the weekend in hockey,” said Tim. “It’s going to be fun.”

For Don’s fans, who are already missing him and unlikely to tune into whatever Sportsnet comes up with to replace the 38-year-old segment, this will give them the opportunity to hear what he has to say. For Don himself, it will connect him with the hockey fans and players he loves while getting back on horse quickly.

It will be in audio broadcast to start with but Tim says it could grow into a TV-style show with cameras and sponsors.

If The Grapevine title sounds familiar it’s because Don’s television show, which Tim produced, was on the air from 1982-93 — filmed in Hamilton.

The new project will feature Don talking about the NHL and hockey and whatever he wants without any censorship.

If he wants to talk about poppies, he can do it without being fired. If he wants to talk about the troops or cops or firefighters or honour the fallen, no one can tell him to keep his nose out of it.

Mostly the plan is to talk hockey. And he won’t have just seven minutes to get it all out.

“The first podcast is about half an hour,” said Tim.

But if they ever find themselves in a position to need more time, or less, the beauty of podcasts is there are no constricting rules.

It also keeps Grapes in game shape while he considers other potential TV offers and opportunities.

Mostly it’s just the perfect outlet for Don Cherry to do what he does best: Be Don Cherry.

Yes Coach’s Corner is over: The new Grapevine has just been planted. Just call this the coach’s comeback! 

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Injuries sideline Habs Drouin, Byron indefinitely

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Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Drouin underwent wrist surgery on Monday, and Byron is scheduled to undergo knee surgery on Tuesday.

“We’ll a better idea of a timeline after the surgery,” coach Claude Julien said after the Canadiens practised in preparation for Tuesday’s road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens recalled Charles Hudon from Laval. He played Saturday against New Jersey and was sent back to the minors after the game.

Julien said Carey Price will start in goal, and he will wait to decide on a goaltender for Wednesday’s home game against the Ottawa Senators.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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