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O'Leary: 5 Takeaways from the commissioner's town hall – CFL.ca

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In the opening minutes of his town hall with season ticket holders, commissioner Randy Ambrosie confirmed what many have had in the back of their minds over the last two months.

The CFL’s 18-game schedule will not be played in 2020. With provincial governments across the country saying that large public gatherings can’t be held through to at least Sept. 1, the CFL is now looking at the possibilities of an abbreviated season for its teams with a September start date.

“We’ve announced three things today,” Ambrosie told CFL.ca’s Brodie Lawson over the course of a 30-minute town hall held on this site.

“The strategy for our season, the cancellation of our Touchdown Atlantic game…and a change to our 2020 Grey Cup strategy.

“I think we’ve learned three things trying to run a pro sports league during a pandemic. The first is that certainty is really hard to come by. There are lots of scenarios to consider but in the end, public safety and the safety of our players is the most important consideration. All of that has gone into the announcements that we’ve made today.”

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Commissioner Randy Ambrosie addressed the complications that COVID-19 has posed for the CFL and its hopes of having a 2020 season (Photo: CFL.ca)

Given the restrictions on large public gatherings that are in place through provinces across the country and the ongoing closure of the Canadian/U.S. border, the 2020 season won’t be able to start until September at earliest.

The Touchdown Atlantic game, scheduled for July 25 in Halifax, N.S., has been cancelled.

The third item, the shift away from Regina hosting the 2020 Grey Cup and taking on the game and its festivities in 2022, may hit fans in the heartland of Canadian Football the hardest of all. If the league is able to have a season this year, the Grey Cup host in 2020 would be determined by a win-and-host model. The Grey Cup participant with the best regular-season record would be the host team for the game.

With possible schedule adjustments ahead, there is a chance that the Grey Cup game could take place in December. The 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton is still scheduled to take place as planned.

The commissioner covered a lot of ground in the town hall. Here are some of the main takeaways.

1. GIVING RIDERVILLE A PROPER GREY CUP FESTIVAL

Ambrosie said that despite there still being a chance that we could get a season in 2020, the Grey Cup festival wouldn’t be the same this year. The league wanted to give fans the full Grey Cup experience that they’ve come to know.

“The Grey Cup is more than a football game. If all we were doing was planning to play a game in Regina in November we may have been able to wait (on moving Regina to 2022),” Ambrosie said.

“But the Grey Cup as you all know is so much more than that. The festival and the atmosphere is such a part of what has made the CFL such a legendary event. What we know today, it is virtually impossible to host an event the way that CFL fans and Canadians have become accustomed to.

“Working with (Riders president and CEO) Craig Reynolds and the board of the Riders, it was very clear we weren’t going to have a traditional Grey Cup this year, regardless of where we might want to play it. So the idea was it was better to shift the RIders to 2022 where they can show us that remarkable Saskatchewan and prairie hospitality that we’re so looking forward to.

“We really believe that the win-and-host model was better for this year, given these very unique circumstances. We’re looking forward to coming back to Regina, back to Saskatchewan in 2022.”

The Argos and Alouettes gave fans a classic at the Touchdown Atlantic game last summer in Moncton, N.B. (Ron Ward/CFL.ca)

2. MISSING A CHANCE TO BE IN NOVA SCOTIA

Ambrosie was very excited about bringing the Touchdown Atlantic game to Halifax this summer. The event was sold out and would have given Haligonians a taste of what having the CFL in their city would be like.

The commissioner also lamented the chance to spend some time with football fans from Nova Scotia, a province that’s been riddled with tragedy recently.

“One of the great disappointments in all of the news is that we’re not going to be able to go to Halfiax this year, to Atlantic Canada and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the people that make up that great region of Canada,” he said.

“Of course, (it would have been) an even more significant visit to Halifax this year because of the tragedy that they underwent. We wanted to be there, we wanted to show them CFL support for that great part of this country but unfortunately with the COVID virus we had to make that decision.

“I think the most important thing is to tell Atlantic Canadians that they have been and they are a part of the CFL family. It is our intention to come back once this crisis passes and continue to embrace Atlantic Canada as a critical part of the CFL’s future.”

While the pandemic has been all-consuming in the news cycle and in Canadians day-to-day lives, Ambrosie said that he’d still love to one day see Halifax become the 10th team in the CFL. “Ideas come and go. Dreams don’t die,” he said, adding that the league will continue to work at securing a franchise there in the future.

3. FEDERAL FUNDING REQUEST 

After meeting with a House of Commons standing committee on finance earlier this month, Ambrosie said that those conversations are ongoing, with one having taken place on Friday afternoon last week. Federal government funding is one of a number of avenues that the league is exploring.

“Our strategy was always going to look at a number of different ways to see ourselves through this crisis,” he said.

“One of those conversations was with the federal government. We’ve been talking to the provincial governments because we have so many great friends among the provinces and of course there are things we’re working on on our own.

“I have the pleasure of working with a remarkable group of governors and a remarkable group of presidents. There is no quit in any of those people and we’re looking at all possible ways to make sure we survive this crisis and that we come back bigger, stronger and better than ever in 2021 and beyond.

“Right now it’s survive the crisis. That’s our strategy and then set ourselves up to thrive into the future.”

4. MESSAGE FOR SEASON TICKET HOLDERS

A season ticket holder in Calgary wrote in a question for Ambrosie about what options he might have this year. He and his wife are in their 60s and he has health issues. He said that if the season started and COVID-19 still posed a risk, he would not be attending any games this year. Asking what could become of his four season tickets, he wanted to know if he’d have the option of a full refund and have the option to keep his seats, or if his payment would go toward the 2021 season.

“What I’m asking all of our CFL season seat holder fans to do in the days ahead is reach out to your teams. They all have a strategy that they’re going to be holding with their season ticket holders,” Ambrosie said.

“What we want to do is make sure we’re sensitive to the situations you’re all going through. Everyone’s dealing with this pandemic differently and the circumstances are unique to everyone’s family and we want to be sensitive to that.

“I think the teams are prepared to have a conversation with you about how we manage this, what we do with your season seats, what we do with your season seat money. Do you want a refund, do you want to leave it in place, do you want to lave it in place for a future season? Are there other options? The teams are going to be ready to talk to all of you in the days ahead.

“All I can say is that the most important thing to us is the health and safety of our fans because it is what has driven this league for decades and decades. I know our board of governors and our presidents and our teams would want me to say that nothing is more important to us that the CFL fans get through this safely and in good health.”

The league has looked into the idea of hub cities hosting teams and games, while fans have kicked around the idea of an all-Canadian CFL season

5. HUB CITIES, AN ALL-CANADIAN CFL AND OTHER POSSIBILITIES 

Ambrosie also addressed some of the creative ideas that have been kicked around both internally at the league office and from fans that are holding out hope to see some type of football played this year.

Hub cities — where teams are brought to one stadium and multiple games are carried out without fans watching to play a season — have come up in numerous scenarios for North American sports teams. While the CFL has spoken much of it being a gate-driven league, it has looked at this as a possible option as well.

“It is one of the scenarios that we have been investigating,” Ambrosie said.

“We’ve got a committee looking at this very scenario. It is complicated and it is not an easy decision. It won’t be an easy decision to make. It’s complicated by all the moving parts and of course central to that are the health issues that relate to our players and our coaches and football operations, to our medical staff and all the people that would interact with our players.

“The notion is you would bring everybody essentially into isolation and try to keep them isolated as they play the games. There is a lot of complexity to that. For the time, I’m happy to report that is a scenario that we are investigating and the work on that will continue in the days ahead.

“At some point we’re going to have to make a final decision on what’s best. We’ll be guided primarily by health issues but there will of course be financial considerations that we’ll have to account for as well. We’ve got a group of remarkably committed presidents and governors who are helping go through this process and we’ll come out the other end with what we think is best for the CFL, best for our players, best for our fans and ultimately best for the future of our great game.”

With the Canadian/U.S. border remaining closed now through June 21, one fan asked Ambrosie about the possibility of the CFL taking all of its Canadian players and forming a reduced number of teams and having its own season. It’s worth noting that there are a handful of American players that live in Canada during the off-season and could in theory jump into this theoretical situation.

“What we are doing with everything that relates to our players is we’re talking to our Players’ Association,” he said.

“I had a chance to spend time (Tuesday) night with Bryan Ramsay from the P.A. talking about the various scenarios that we are considering. Anything that relates to how we might go forward depending on what happens with borders and health care edicts, all of those things are going to have be decided and worked on with our players, side by side with them and we’ll figure it out.

“It’s an interesting question and I couldn’t possibly answer it without sitting down with the Players’ Association as we go forward and we know more about what might happen with the border and other health care issues.”

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Bandwagon or 'mental anguish': Calgarians say they'll root for Edmonton in NHL playoffs – CBC.ca

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The Battle of Alberta ended with the Calgary Flames getting knocked out of the series on Thursday — making Edmonton the sole Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The Edmonton Oilers emerged victorious in the NHL’s first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years. It was a tough loss for Calgarians who were rooting for their home team, but some say they’ll get over the rivalry and root for the Oilers in the fight for the Stanley Cup.

For Flames fan Austin Hill, it comes down to Canadians cheering for their own teams. 

Flames fan Austin Hill says he’ll cheer for the Edmonton Oilers now. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“Definitely have to get behind the Oilers,” he said. “When your local team gets eliminated, you have to put your support behind the next Canadian team. It’s the right thing to do.”

It’s bittersweet, though, as the Red Mile on 17th Avenue — the centre for a lot of cheering from bars and restaurants — was quiet Friday morning. 

“I really wanted to feel the energy of Calgary, be down here, 17th, feel the Red Mile,” Hill said. 

“I would love to see the Oilers and [Connor] McDavid do a playoff run. That would be amazing. That would be a great time for the Oilers and Alberta as well.” 

Diehard fans like Brian Baker, who watched the game at the Saddledome, had to take the day off to recover from the loss. 

Brian Baker watched Thursday’s game at the Saddledome. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“It was a great game until overtime, and then I didn’t like the ending at all. I had to take today off to recover from the mental anguish of seeing the Oilers go on,” he said. 

“They [the Flames] had a good season. Nothing to complain about there. It would have been nice to see them go further.… I would like to see a Canadian team continue on.” 

Some might call it jumping on the bandwagon, but others call it being a part of a community. 

Australian Thomas Stefoulis, who previously lived in Calgary for a few years, says he thinks Albertans can get past their rivalry, albeit begrudgingly. 

“It just leads to feeling that sort of a sense of community, which I think is very valuable. So even if people want to be bandwagon fans, that’s totally fine. Get involved for the day, get involved in the game. It’s just important for keeping community alive,” he said. 

Kate James-Loth is new to Calgary but already knows where her loyalties lie. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

Other Calgarians won’t be rooting for the Oilers, or anyone else, for that matter. 

“I feel like because it’s kind of done in the city with the Flames being out, I will probably stop watching,” said Kate James-Loth, who is new to the city but got swept up in the playoff excitement and tuned in to the games. 

“I have to be loyal now that I live in Calgary.” 

With an early end to the series, in Game 5, it’s still unclear who the Oilers will face next, the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues.

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Jays Win a Close One – Bluebird Banter

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Blue Jays 4 Angels 3

My first Apple TV+ game and there was good and bad. I liked the cleanness of the video. I liked the field noise.

I hated the commentary. They didn’t seem to know anything about the Blue Jays. Talked about Kirk’s speed (speed doesn’t slump), talking about Star Wars way, way too much. The sideline woman talked too much, for my liking.

And they missed action on the field. The Jays’ first run scored while they were showing some set-piece. And they talked to people dressed in Star Wars gear while the game was going on, instead of showing the play.

The game?

A heck of a good game.

Alek Manoah was good, maybe as great as he’s been all season, but good. He gave up a couple of solo homers (Jared Walsh and Tyler Wade taking him deep). And he was hurt by some poor defense. Raimel Tapai had a single get through him, giving the runner an extra base and setting up the Angels’ first run.

Manoah went 6, allowed 7 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 0 walks and 9 strikeouts.

He was also helped out by a nice play by Bo Bichette. In the fifth inning, with Mike Trout on third, Walsh ground one at Bo. Bo threw home and Trout was just barely out. Called safe on the field, the replay showed that he was out by the slimmest possible margin. I was surprised that they overturned the call on such a close play.


Offensively? Well, we did enough. Barely enough, but enough.

We had 11 hits, 3 extra-base hits (all doubles). We scored:

  • 1 in the second: Bo started off the inning with a ground-rule double in the right-field corner. Teoscar Hernandez beat out an infield single. And Bo scored on Alejandro Kirks’ double-play ball. Not that we got to see it or anything.
  • 1 in the fifth: This time Kirk started it off with a double. Tapia singled him to third. And Lourdes doubled home Kirk (doubling home Kirk from third is about as good a description of Kirk’s speed as you will ever get). Something of a miracle happened that inning. We had two hits with RISP. That’s where the fun ended. With runners on second and third. Cavan (not Kevin as the announcer called him) lined out (bad luck for Cavan, he hit it good), George Springer popped out and Santiago Espinal struck out.
  • 1 in the seventh: Danny Jansen (pinch-hitting), had a one-out single. Bradley Zimmer pinch-ran (a good move as it turned out). Gurriel lined a single to left, Zimmer to second. Matt Chapman (also pinch-hitting) got an infield single to the second baseman and Zimmer came all the way home from second. He has amazing speed. Unfortunately, Springer struck out and Espinal hit a soft fly out.
  • 1 in the ninth: Kirk had an infield single (prompting the commentator to tell us that speed never slumps). Zimmer put down a nice sac bunt (but with all that speed at first, it didn’t have to be that good). And Gurriel singled to right, a ball that bounced past right-fielder Juan Lagares and Kirk scored. Again that would be all we’d get. Chapman struck out and Springer ground out.

Lourdes had 3 hits (can we hope he is out of his slump?). Kirk had 2 hits. Everyone else had 1 hit except for the 3 guys at the top of the order. Springer, Espinal (he did make a very nice play at third base), and Guerrero went 0 for 11, with 3 strikeouts, and 2 walks.


Our bullpen did a great job.

  • Yimi Garcia had a clean inning.
  • Trevor Richards’ clean inning featured 2 strikeouts. He gets his second win.
  • Jordan Romano picked up his 15th save. He struck out the side in the ninth, getting pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani for the last out of the game. I thought it was nice that Angels fans chanted MVP for Romano during the at-bat.

Jays of the Day: Gurriel (.573 WPA), Chapman (.172), Romano (.187), Chapman (.172), and Richards (.102). Tapia came close (.090) but that error cost him a JoD.

Suckage: The top of the order, Springer (-.259), Espinal (-.251) and Vlad (-.159). Manoah had the number too (-.119) but I don’t think that’s fair.

Tomorrow night the Jays go for their fourth win in a row. Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.47) vs. Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.05). It is a 10:00 Eastern start.

Of note, Lourdes was miked up, but about all we got was him huffing his way into a double. I was hoping for more.

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Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.

The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.

A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:

By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.

The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.

Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.

How did the Oilers do it?

McDavid-Draisaitl

I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.

The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.

Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH

In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.

In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.

With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?

Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.

McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.

Good coaching

I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.

I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.

An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump

Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.

The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.

When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.

In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.

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