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Bombers collapse out east again

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Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 38-37 in front of 19,070 fans at Percival Molson Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

Like a cheap folding chair

The Bombers suffered their second epic collapse of the 2019 regular season on Saturday, coughing up a 37-17 fourth-quarter lead to the Alouettes.

Winnipeg lost in Toronto last month after reaching a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The club didn’t trail in that game until Tyler Crapigna kicked a game-winning convert with 10 seconds left, securing a 28-27 victory for Toronto.

One epic collapse is enough, but two? That’s not championship football. Winnipeg’s chances of reaching the Grey Cup are greatly diminished if they need to travel to Calgary for the West Final. Hosting that game is key — even with a Week 21 bye.

If the Bombers are forced to play in the West Semi-Final — at home or on the road — it will be due to two collapses out east.

Winnipeg is 6-1 against the West Division — they’ve taken care of business against divisional opponents. But a 3-3 record against the East Division is disappointing and could prove costly come the post-season.

Spitting fire

Some of the intrigue ahead of Saturday’s match-up was due to the comments made by members of the Alouettes and Bombers on Friday.

Vernon Adams Jr. started the drama by saying that William Stanback was the best running back in the CFL. John Bowman later poured fuel on the fire when he called Andrew Harris a “cheater,” saying, “if it was up to me he would get suspended longer.”

Harris responded to Bowman’s comments, calling them, “ignorant as hell.”

I enjoy it when players talk trash in the media. It creates story lines, intrigue, and drama — all things we love here at 3DownNation. I also want to recognize that John Bowman is a hall of fame-calibre player who’s enjoyed an outstanding 14-year career.

With that said, I thought it was bizarre that a CFLPA player representative would call out a fellow professional like that. Bowman served on the CBA bargaining committee for the players, working to make inroads with the league on behalf of his colleagues.

Harris tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, which will always draw criticism. I’m just not sure why a player with such strong ties to the players’ union would choose to levy that criticism publicly.

For the record, Harris out-gained Stanback by 183 yards from scrimmage in Saturday’s game.

Feed me!

Speaking of Harris, the Bombers handed the ball off to their franchise player just five times in the second half. That makes little sense given Winnipeg’s need to kill the clock and the fresh nature of Harris’ legs.

The running back didn’t produce outstanding numbers in the second half with just 17 rushing yards, but that’s no reason to stop using him. There’s also the matter of Winnipeg neglecting its other ball carriers.

Nic Demski carried the ball just once in the second half, while Streveler rushed twice for nine yards. Johnny Augustine didn’t record a touch, which seems like a glaring oversight considering he averaged 6.2 yards per carry while Harris served his two-game suspension.

Winnipeg’s offence is a possession-oriented unit that attacks opposing defences with physicality along the ground. If there’s any team that should be able to kill the clock late, it’s the Bombers.

Jones-ing for success

As someone who grew up in Winnipeg during his tenure as the team’s starting quarterback, it’s been fun to watch Khari Jones make the most of his head coaching opportunity in Montreal.

Jones has 10 years of CFL coaching experience and has served as the offensive coordinator with three teams: Hamilton, 2011; B.C., 2014-2017; and Montreal, 2018.

I’m not convinced that Jones was ever an elite coordinator — though some believe he was micro-managed by Wally Buono during his stint in Vancouver — but he’s clearly cut out to be a head coach.

The Alouettes are unrecognizable under Jones. The team plays hard and with tremendous energy and excitement. The brand of football is similar to that of Winnipeg’s during Jones’ tenure as quarterback, which was must-watch entertainment.

It should also be noted that Jones is working with a coaching staff that was assembled by Mike Sherman. He didn’t have the opportunity to bring in his own assistants, which is often a deal-breaker for coaches taking over a new team.

It may only be September, but the CFL may as well conduct the voting for Coach of the Year now. Jones is the runaway winner.

Take a pass

Vernon Adams Jr. was spectacular against Winnipeg, finishing the game 27-of-43 passing for 488 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He also carried the ball six times for 38 yards and one score.

His emergence is probably too late to garner serious M.O.P. consideration, but Adams Jr. is the most exciting player to watch in the CFL right now. He buys time with his legs, makes mistakes, throws the ball with authority, and is never afraid to go downfield. It’s outstanding entertainment.

Richie Hall will face criticism in Bomberland this week for the play of his defence in the second half. Holding William Stanback to two yards on five carries is impressive, but not when your opponent throws for almost 500 yards.

F for effort

Andrew Harris’ biggest play of the game was a 74-yard reception from Darvin Adams — yes, Darvin Adams — midway through the second quarter.

Harris showed impressive determination on the play, but Tommie Campbell’s lack of effort is what really struck me. I can’t remember seeing a more apathetic display of tackling in all my years of watching professional football.

Campbell is a good player — he probably brings Harris down if he really tries. This was a clear lack of effort from a veteran player who should know better.

Long-awaited debut

Veteran offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld made his season debut on Saturday afternoon, replacing Geoff Gray at right guard.

Neufeld was diagnosed with an undisclosed injury in training camp that the Bombers called “day-to-day.” The 30-year-old was placed on the one-game injured list to start the year, but ended up missing over three months.

Neufeld looked comfortable in his return to Winnipeg’s offensive line, bringing a physical presence in the run game. The Bombers’ offensive line is getting healthy at the right time with Geoff Gray and Cody Speller serving as depth players along the interior.

Major oversight

Ben Major, usually an umpire, got the chance to serve as the head official for Saturday’s game. It’s always nice to see officials get the chance to work their way up to the top job — fresh blood is always good — and Major has a good reputation in the league.

Vernon Adams Jr. was flagged for this exchange with Adam Bighill, but wasn’t ejected. That seems wrong. Expect Adams Jr. to be fined this week by the CFL’s head office.

Med-locked out

It would be unfair to blame Winnipeg’s loss on Justin Medlock, but the veteran chose an inopportune time to miss his first convert of the season.

Medlock hadn’t missed a convert in almost two years, successfully booting well over 100 consecutive extra points over that span.

The 35-year-old also missed a 53-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter when it bounced off the upright, which was just his second miss since mid-July.

#ThanksJoeMack

Joe Mack ran the Blue Bombers into the ground during his stint as the team’s general manager from 2010 to 2013. He rarely participated in free agency, never signed a young quarterback worth developing, and failed miserably in the CFL draft.

The worst moment of Mack’s tenure as GM was the day he chose to insinuate that the death of defensive line coach Richard Harris was the reason his team was struggling.

“We’ve had a fairly rough year for the psyche of the team,” Mack told the Winnipeg media. “It started with the death of coach Richard Harris. As I reflect back … it had a much bigger effect on the psyche of the team than I even realized.”

Mack gave that quote three days after his team lost the Labour Day Classic in Regina by a score of 52-0. He had fired Paul LaPolice just one week earlier and the reality was his squad — which lacked talent at every position — didn’t want to play for a new coach.

The 65-year-old was relieved of his duties 11 months later with his team at 1-5.

Mack was hired by Kavis Reed in January of 2017 to serve as an assistant general manager in Montreal. The pair were in Winnipeg together in 2010 when Reed served as the Bombers’ defensive coordinator.

The one area in which Mack excelled as Winnipeg’s general manager was the scouting and recruitment of young American talent. He uncovered a number of good young imports with the Bombers, including: Chris Garrett, who was excellent until he suffered a torn Achilles in 2012; Clarence Denmark, a CFL all-star in 2014; Chris Matthews, the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2012; Bryant Turner, a two-time East Division all-star; Jason Vega, who later played for the Dallas Cowboys; Alex Hall, who averaged almost a sack per game in 2012 and 2013; Johnny Sears, a versatile defensive back; Alex Suber, who started 65 games at halfback; and Demond Washington, a solid cover man who excelled in the return game.

Mack has done the same in Montreal, helping facilitate the signing of a number of talented young Americans. These players include: William Stanback, one of the league’s top running backs; Quan Bray, a play-making deep threat; Jake Wieneke, a big-bodied possession slotback; and Greg Reid, a physical cover man.

Five to go

The Blue Bombers (9-4) host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10-3) next week in what is arguably the toughest home game of Winnipeg’s schedule. The Bombers have a perfect 6-0 record at home this season and a seventh win would secure the club’s best home record since IG Field opened in 2013.

Jeremiah Masoli suffered a torn ACL the last time Winnipeg and Hamilton played, a 23-15 victory for the Ticats on July 26. Dane Evans has played well since taking over as the club’s starting quarterback, possibly making Masoli expendable for the Ticats beyond 2019.

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Kipchoge shoes spark backlash

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Early Saturday morning, Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run under two hours for the marathon. The run accomplished something that many believed to be years away from happening, but this accomplishment has been met with criticism from some experts and spectators in the running community.

There are some who believe that Kipchoge’s attempt was too calculated, too contrived and too much about the shoes. Ross Tucker and Steve Magness are two running experts who have expressed that they believe this accomplishment is about leaps in technology as opposed to leaps in raw marathoning ability. Even Yannis Pitsiladis, who was one of the main scientists behind the initial sub-two push, said to The Times that he couldn’t get behind Saturday’s run, calling it “meaningless.”

Pitsiladis said, “I think it’s all about the shoe now. My life has been dedicated to the sports integrity, but this is the complete opposite. My advisors tell me not to be negative when I talk about this, but it’s not about being negative, it’s about being accurate.”

Magness pointed out in a series of tweets that a jump like this has to be attributed to technology. “That’s not taking away from Kipchoge, but the marathon has taken a quantum leap in the last couple of years thanks to changes in shoe technology. The same athletes who were running roughly 2:04 to 2:05 three to four years ago are now running significantly faster. We saw it with Kipchoge. We just saw it with Bekele. More will follow. Should the shoes be banned? Most likely.”

The IAAF has banned shoes before. The organization’s shoe rules are as follows: “Athletes may compete barefoot or with footwear on one or both feet. The purpose of shoes for competition is to give protection and stability to the feet and a firm grip on the ground. Such shoes, however, must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage.”

They continue, “Athletes may not use any appliance, either inside or outside the shoe, which will have the effect of increasing the thickness of the sole above the permitted maximum, or which can give the wearer any advantage which he would not obtain from the type of shoe described in the previous paragraphs.”

Kipchoge wore a speciality shoe for the marathon on Saturday. This shoe isn’t available to the public, and it wasn’t even given to his 41 pacers. Kipchoge’s shoe was more built-up than previous Vaporflys. The midsole was still cushioned with a carbon-fibre plate and Nike’s ZoomX foam, but there was also a new compartment in the front of the shoe.

Kipchoge shoes spark

Runner’s World reported on an interesting discussion of the shoe on the Believe in the Run site, published last week, who found a 2018 patent application by Nike for something that looks a lot like what Kipchoge wore on Saturday. While cautioning that we can’t be certain this is what he wore, it’s worth taking a closer look at the technology in the patent-application shoe (which Nike calls the alphaFLY), since it goes far beyond either the Vaporfly 4% or the NEXT% (which was worn by the 41 pacers during the run). Not only is the foam midsole more built-up–it contains as many as three layers of carbon-fibre plates, and there are also two stacked chambers in the forefoot which may be filled with air, fluid or foam (or some combination thereof). The site refers to this arrangement as a “club sandwich” of cushioning, and compares the effect to that of a diving board.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much the shoe is giving to the runner, but based on the volume of criticism, the Nike shoe could face serious scrutiny in the near future.

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Maple Leafs send Rasmus Sandin to the Marlies, recall Kevin Gravel

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Kyle Dubas never takes a day off. Even Thanksgiving. While you are busy prepping your dinner, he made a swap of defenceman with the Marlies. Rasmus Sandin has been sent down to the AHL while they have called up Kevin Gravel.

Kevin Gravel is a 27 year-old, 6’4 left shooting defenceman. He was drafted in 2010 and has appeared in 106 NHL games over that time for both the Kings and Oilers. He has played in three games for the Marlies so far this season.

Rasmus Sandin is the top prospect for the team right now. He’s been used in limited minutes so far this season by Mike Babcock.

Sandin is waiver exempt and could be recalled at any time. Kevin Gravel cleared waivers and will now remain waiver exempt for nine NHL games played or 29 days on the NHL roster.

The move creates more LTIR room — there should be just under $400,000 when the assignments are final — but was not necessary to allow the eventual recall to active duty of Travis Dermott. It is worth noting, that at $700,000 in AAV, Gravel is the lowest-cost defender after Justin Holl.

Sandin has now accrued six NHL games played. More than three more, and this season will “burn a year” of his ELC and it will not slide. If he stays in the AHL, his contract will expire in 2023 instead of 2022. If the assignment to the AHL is permanent, or is meant to last at least until the NHL trade deadline, we should expect to see Sandin loaned in December to the Swedish national team for the World Junior Championship.

Sandin had a highly successful season with the Marlies in 2018-19, earning 28 points in 44 games, most of that time as only an 18 year-old.

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The Marlies’ next game is Wednesday. The Leafs play the Wild at home tomorrow.

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Flames losing to Vegas Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS — If you make at least two trips each year to Sin City, you’ve gotta win eventually.

Right?

That’s certainly what the Calgary Flames are hoping.

After Saturday’s 6-2 thumping from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Flames are now winless in five all-time visits to T-Mobile Arena, home to a skilled and speedy team that always seems to get a boost from a boisterous and boozy crowd.

There are other NHL squads that have never picked up two points on The Strip, but not with so many cracks at it.

The Flames are the only Pacific Division posse that has never left Vegas a winner.

They have scored a grand total of six goals in this raucous rink. They have allowed 21.

This could be their new Anaheim.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” seethed Flames head coach Bill Peters after Saturday’s shellacking. “Until we start to play hard, and play hard for 60 minutes, it’s going to be up in the air all night long or you’re going to get blown out. We’ve got to develop a little bit of a work ethic here.

“We’re disappointed the way we’ve played. We haven’t played hard enough. We’re well aware we haven’t played hard enough and we haven’t played hard enough on a consistent basis.”

The Golden Knights’ fifth goal Saturday really summed up this evening.

A pair of Flames forwards, Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski, crashed into each other in the defensive zone and both tumbled to the ice.

Amidst that chaos, Rasmus Andersson’s breakout pass missed the target.

Moments later, fourth-line thumper Ryan Reaves squeaked a shot through the five-hole on what should have been a routine stop for David Rittich.

This 24-save showing was Rittich’s worst performance of the fall. He had company.

“If you make mistakes against a team like that, they’re going to punish you. And that’s what they did,” Andersson said, taking the blame for Reaves’ goal. “We have moments where we’re really good, but we haven’t really found our game for 60 minutes yet.”

Tomas Nosek, Mark Stone, William Carrier, Paul Stastny and Cody Glass also rippled twine for the Golden Knights, while Andersson and Johnny Gaudreau were the only guys who could solve Marc-Andre Fleury at the other end.

The Flames insisted that a solid start would be key to snapping out of their Sin City skid, but the hosts managed to crank the volume just 3:24 in, with a crease-crashing Nosek cleaning up the leftovers as Rittich searched for the puck after a save on Carrier’s initial effort.

Andersson evened it up early in the middle stanza, jumping into the attack and ripping a short-side shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on a two-on-one rush.

Only 33 seconds later, Gaudreau tried to thread a pass to linemate Elias Lindholm, but a back-checking William Karlsson instead deflected the puck into the back of his net.

That lead lasted barely two minutes before Stone — his older brother, Michael, patrols the blue-line for the Flames — swatted home his own rebound for the equalizer.

It was all Golden Knights from then on.

The locals pulled ahead on Carrier’s top-shelf backhander, then started to pull away when Stastny found the five-hole for a marker that could cost Rittich a few winks of sleep.

Reaves’ third-period strike, which completed a hat-trick for the Golden Knights’ fourth line, wasn’t any better. The late goal by Glass glanced off Calgary’s captain Mark Giordano.

“I think we started playing the right way for a couple of minutes, and we got rewarded for it, and then we went kind of back to cheating for offence,” said Flames off-season addition Milan Lucic. “And once we started turning the puck over and not covering up, we gave up some odd-man rushes and it ends up in the back of our net. You know, it’s one of those games early on that you can learn a lot from, and that’s what we need to do with a quick turnaround.”

Backup netminder Cam Talbot will be between the pipes as the Flames cap this three-game roadie with Sunday’s clash against the Sharks in San Jose (8 p.m. MT, Sportsnet One/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).

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