"This is more than a great day. It is a decisive moment in Ryerson's history, a true game-changer for our students and the return of Maple Leaf Gardens to Toronto."

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy
The only question is how big this news is, honestly. Ryerson will be going from playing in a nondescript gym and an off-off-campus hockey arena to playing in the arena once described as Canada's most famous place of worship. It is worth noting the hockey rink will be on the second level, so the Rams won't actually skate on the same ice surface the Leafs did from 1931-99.

More details from the announcement:
This new, multi-functional athletic and recreational centre will supplement Ryerson University’s current 20-year-old, athletic facility that has not kept up with the growth of the university. The new centre at Maple Leaf Gardens will add nearly 150,000 square feet of sports and recreation space on the upper floors of the building. It will be accessible by both Ryerson's students and the local community. Plans for the facility will include:
  • An NHL-sized skating rink;
  • A four-lane, 200-metre running track;
  • Basketball and volleyball courts with telescoping bleachers with more than 1,200 seats
  • Studios, a fitness centre, and a high performance gym
  • Academic space and more.
There are a ton of details to be worked out:
"Starting tomorrow, Mr. Weston said, contractors will begin excavating a parking garage under the existing floor of the Gardens. The current rink surface, along with restaurant and player areas around it, become a 70,000 square-foot supermarket ...

" 'It’ll be a difficult and complex problem,' he said. 'That’s why we have to get the backhoes in here this afternoon.'

"Contractors will build a ceiling above the ice surface, bisecting the Gardens horizontally -- which becomes the floor of the new home of the Ryerson Rams hockey team: an NHL-sized skating rink. The 150,000 square foot Ryerson facility will also boast a four-lane, 200-metre running track, basketball and volleyball courts and a gym."
There is bound to be a lot of speculation (there already has been) and people are going to scream "corporate welfare" (they would prefer a historic building was left to rot?). Five thousand seats is also optimal for events such as a CIS basketball championship, or a Canada Basketball event.

Ryerson is a relatively young university and this is a great leap in its development. Meantime, it could be a golden opportunity to push CIS a little more into the sporting consciousness of the influential GTA media, where a lot of the movers and shakers are Rye grads.

Hockey in store for Gardens as Ryerson strikes deal; After $60-million renovation, university will share revered building with Loblaw, putting ice pad on top, grocery store on bottom (Elizabeth Church, Globe & Mail)
New Maple Leaf Gardens to house Ryerson and Loblaws (Sun Media)
Ottawa puts up to $20M into the Gardens (Kathleen Harris, Sun Media)
Maple Leaf Gardens to be remade into Ryerson athletics centre, Loblaws store (Julianna Cummins, National Post)
  • It is a little far afield, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders' 13th man has to be the biggest twist ending in Grey Cup history.

    What else is there, in terms of a game where defeat was turned into victory and the fallout is going to linger? Nineteen ninety-six comes to mind, where the Edmonton Eskimos got robbed by a quick whistle on a Doug Flutie fumble late in the game, or '71 when the Toronto Argonauts' Leon McQuay laid it on the ground in the final two minutes. The two games in the 1970s where Tony Gabriel (with Hamilton in '72 and Ottawa in '76) burned the 'Riders in the final minute also come to mind.

    One irony: All the talk about the CFL's import ratio and the need for Canadian talent and an American placekicker decides the game. Damon Duval even thanked "the man upstairs," but he could have just been talking about his father-in-law, Als president Larry Smith.

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets is revelling in a team triumphant, for a change.

  • Dan McCullough, a tight end on the '92 Queen's team, says he now realizes what his parents went through during that run. It's all about family. (Belleville Intelligencer)

  • There were no "rah-rah" speeches in the Golden Gaels locker room at halftime of the Vanier Cup, relates D-lineman John Festeryga. (Windsor Star)

  • Queen's coach Pat Sheahan paid tribute to the late Gaels coach and booster Hal "Moose" McCarney following the Vanier Cup: "He's the one who wanted me to come here ... I hope he's a happy guy right now. He's a big part of everything I did over the last 10 years here." (Kingston Whig-Standard)

  • Special teamers Matt Ritchie and John Widgett are two of the Soo's favourite sons today. Along with Thunder Bay's Frank Pankiewich, it was a pretty good season for the Gaels' northern Ontario continent, (Sault Star)

  • Queen's principal Daniel Woolf was also in attendance (as a student) for the 1978 team's win. Woolf and Always OUA's Chris Lund were quoted in the same article about the Golden Gaels' fan support. You'll have to read it to find out which of them was wearing an army helmet painted yellow. (The Queen's Journal)

  • "Dinos fall to Queen's of the ball" is an all-time groaner of a headline, but that's how it rolls at Sun Media.

    Not even Dante could conceive of an inferno for cheesy-headline-loving copy editors, and that's coming from someone who's been on both ends. (Calgary Sun)
  • St. Thomas forward Jason Cassidy's latest column is the culture of CIS hockey: "There’s nowhere to go and no one to impress but the guy sitting across from you." (The Hockey News)

  • The headline, "Foul costs Mac loss to Ravens" might be laying on a little thick. Carleton beat McMaster 83-74 on Saturday after late fourth-quarter technicals on the Marauders' Ryan Christie and coach Joe Raso following the centre's fifth foul helped Carleton take a six-point lead out to ten.

    The rub is McMaster's shooting turned cold for a stretch earlier in the quarter, plus as Dave Smart noted, Carleton had players cooling their heels with foul trouble. There are two sides, and a lot of people will tell you officiating in men's basketball has not kept pace with the calibre of play. (Hamilton Spectator)
The best way to frame this is to wonder what Canadian Interuniversity Sport will do about TSN's handling of the Vanier Cup. Do they say, mistakes happen (which they do with a live broadcast) or say, we can do better?

Two sports media critics, The Globe & Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin and the Toronto Star's Chris Zelkovich, both called TSN out. First Dowbiggin, who noted it wasn't just a transmission problem:
"The first two TDs in the Queen’s-Calgary game were missed completely by a transmission box failure. Service was restored and then lost twice as (studio hosts) Rod Smith, Darren Dutchyshen did the Ralph Kramden 'humina-humina' back at the Grey Cup anchor desk in Calgary. The same transmission problem Saturday also put Radio Canada's French broadcast of the Vanier off the air, too.

"When service was restored, the quality of TSN’s cast was less than their standard. Cameras followed the wrong runner, switching problems left the wrong camera on screen and there was the usual bevy of 'Oh, my' from an effusive Rod Black.

"... with all its best people at the Grey Cup, the talent might have been a little thin on the ground for the Vanier."
(Personally, Dowbiggin took a cheap shot at Dutchyshen and Smith. The on-air people had nothing to do with the problems and were just doing their jobs. One, it is on the highers-up and two, who the hell is Ralph Kramden?)

And Zelkovich noted this has been happening a lot lately:
"On Saturday, disaster struck again as TSN viewers missed chunks of the Vanier Cup. The channel called it a 'last-minute technical malfunction with transmission equipment at the stadium.'

" 'It was a supplier issue beyond our control,' said TSN spokesman Greg McIsaac. Hmm, TSN is victimized two weeks in a row by events beyond their control."
Well, at least the network has nothing major coming up between now and late February ... oh right. Thank you, Robert Carnell of Salt Water Music (which airs every Friday at 6 p.m. on CFRC 101.9 in Kingston, way to drop that in there):
"If you are 'Canada’s Sports Leader' then stop making excuses. They had too much coverage on the weekend for their resources it came back to bite them. Queen's-Calgary suffered as I heard the halftime show was spent on the Grey Cup. How about talking about the game at hand?

"Let’s hope these problems don’t come up at the Olympics. If they can’t handle Queen’s-Calgary properly I’m not hopeful for all the sports they have to help cover.

"The Score had much better coverage this season when they were handling CIS Football. They are 3rd place among the sport stations and games on The Score didn’t have all those technical issues."
Personally, there was reason for optimism when TSN signed on for the football and basketball championships. The basketball nationals (March 11-13 for the women, March 19-21 for the men) are a couple weeks after the Olympics, when a lot of the on-air people, producers and techs at TSN who do work very hard are going to have a lot of time owing. What kind of production values can CIS diehards expect then?
Making a joke about "looking out for No. 1" would be so, so obvious.

The Globe & Mail's Robert MacLeod and Jake Edmiston of The Queen's Journal caught one detail from the Vanier Cup that might not have made it into a lot of game stories. From MacLeod's piece:
"... in the fourth quarter of a taut Vanier Cup national championship game against the Calgary Dinos ... Matt O'Donnell, Queen's massive offensive tackle, lumbered over with some disheartening news.

" 'He says he has to go to the bathroom,' Sheahan cackled with delight after all was said and done on Saturday afternoon, one of his big paws cradling a bottle of beer.

" 'Can you imagine?' Sheahan continued. 'This game had everything, that's all I can tell ya.'

" ... As the locker rooms (at Stade PEPS) are some distance from the playing field, O'Donnell's only choice was to try to use one of the portable restroom units set up for the fans located behind the main grandstand. At that time the lineup was about eight deep in front of each unit and O'Donnell – even though he weighs 310 pounds – was loath to butt in.

" 'Out loud I said, "Can anyone help me out right now? I really have to go to the washroom," ' O'Donnell recalled rather sheepishly. 'This one very nice man let me in.'

"Once inside the stall, O'Donnell said several fans – he's assuming they were Calgary supporters – started shaking the unit from side to side as he was trying to go. Family members chased the pranksters away and he returned to the playing field to participate in yet another Queen's grand finale."
Historic comeback caps Vanier Cup win (Jake Edmiston, The Queen's Journal)
Queen's comeback at Cup; Veteran coach, quarterback put together greatest second-half comeback in Vanier Cup history (Robert MacLeod, The Globe & Mail)
Université Laval made people forget no one wanted to host the Vanier Cup.

It was a scene to share with the knee-jerk CIS knockers who have said Canadians will never create the U.S. college sports atmosphere for themselves. We'll never put 80,000 people in a stadium every Saturday (just like almost every country in the world other than the U.S.), but pound for pound, the 18,628 who were at Stade PEPS were loud, into it and they did in a Canadian way. Emotions might have run high (guilty as charged), but there was little sign of tension or people getting carried away with their support of their teams. It was an equal mix of loud and proud while being laid-back. It reflected who we are, the passion of the Quebec City fans mixing in with the Queen's kids with their politically-incorrect signs and a capella chorus of "Jim-my All-in!"

A lot of credit is due to Laval. Gilles Lépine and the organizing committee went all-out to make everyone feel like this was the place to be for anyone who holds CIS football near and dear. It was an Oktoberfest run by the Swiss. At 7 a.m., people were out tailgating; by 7 p.m., there was no trace of all the merriment, not a single stray beer can lying on the ground. Talk about breaking one Canadian stereotype — that we don't know how to cut loose — while confirming another.

A work colleague who makes regular pilgrimages to U.S. college football haunts noted, "That's how it should be everywhere in Canada."

That too-much-geography, not-enough-history comes into play with our collegiate sports culture. We don't call rivalry games long called the Civil War (until now). On a small scale, though, it captured what is good and right about university football, down to the last detail. Hearing the quarterback of the western team, Calgary's Erik Glavic, and the coach of the Ontario team, Queen's Pat Sheahan, do media interviews in French (and sounded more elegant than I do in English) brought to mind that Canadians get along pretty well, for all the complaining we sometime do.

(As a footnote, Sheahan had the sensitivity to point out to reporters his three children were each born in Québec, and his son Devan, who caught a touchdown pass, came into the world in 1987, when his dad was offensive coordinator of McGill's Vanier Cup team.)

Point being, Laval threw one hell of a party because it was better than having another dreary, muted proceeding. They won't make a killing off the game(although it will help with getting the infrastructure for the long awaited Super PEPS), but the goodwill should be paid forward. My SSN Canada colleague John Bower has been to almost 10 Vaniers and he said this was the best by far.

One could only hope that a few observers from other schools in Ontario, Québec and the West took notes. After this, there is no way the Vanier Cup can go back to a city where it is going to be forgotten and neglected like it was toward the end of its run in Toronto, once the novelty of playing at Rogers Centre (né SkyDome) wore off. Other schools must follow the lead of Laval (keeping in mind McMaster and Saskatchewan got it started) and say, we can do this.

The only downside? Stade PEPS cannot be bottled and taken all over the country in coming seasons. There is no way you could justify holding it at PEPS every season — there are 26 head coaches who would never go for that — but hopefully we'll see one of those other 26 schools try to replicate that atmosphere.

The 18,628 was the most for an outdoor Vanier Cup since 1984 and second-highest since '80.

Coupe Vanier: le coeur à la fête (Marie-Josée Nantel, Le Soleil)
Brannagan savait que les Gaels pouvaient rebondir (Jean-François Tardif, Le Soleil)
Les Gaels champions! (Jean-François Tardif, Le Soleil)
Inconsolable, Glavic prend le blâme (Olivier Bossé, Le Soleil)
Coupe Vanier: pour l'amour du football (Mikaël Lalancette, Le Soleil)
Regina @ Saskatchewan
The Saskatchewan Huskies continued their strong finish to the first half of the season with a series sweep of the cellar dwelling Regina Cougars. Friday night saw Steven Gillen notch a goal and two assists to lead the way for the Huskies offensively, in a 5-1 Saskatchewan win. The Huskies made good on 2 of 3 power play opportunities, and Jeff Harvey secured the win in goal. Saturday night saw Harvey get the start again in goal for Saskatchewan, and rookie Andrew Bailey scored a pair of goals in a 3-1 Saskatchewan win. With the pair of victories, the Huskies moved their record to 9-6-1, and finish the first half of the regular season winning six of their last seven. Regina on the other hand, heads into the break with a disappointing 4-10-0 record, and will sit in seventh place heading into the new year.

Saskatchewan heads to Thunder Bay next weekend for a pair of non-conference games against the Lakehead Thunderwolves in what should be an interesting showdown between at least one team that is bound for nationals, and another that was among the favourites at the start of the season to come out of the Canada West and earn a berth to the big dance. The Cougars will play a non-conference game next weekend against ACAC opponent Briercrest College next weekend in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan.

UBC @ Calgary
The Thunderbirds and Dinos met this weekend for the first of back-to-back series against one another to wrap up the first half of the season with the Dinos getting the best of the T-Birds with a series sweep. Friday night the Dinos got a pair of power play goals, and scored four-straight goals to open the game, which proved to be too much for UBC as Calgary secured a 4-1 win. Dustin Butler earned first star honours with a 22 save performance on 23 shots to earn his seventh win of the season. Saturday night Brock Nixon was the story as he picked up his seventh and eigth goals of the season to lead the Dinos to their eigth win of the season, and earn the sweep. The weekend was a good bounce back weekend for Calgary after being swept last weekend in Edmonton by the Golden Bears.

UBC and Calgary will officially wrap up the first half of the Canada West season next weekend in Vancouver as they will be the lone Canada West series of the weekend.

#2 Alberta @ Lethbridge
The Golden Bears and Pronghorns met for the second series in three weeks, with the end result being the same as two weeks ago when the Bears swept the Pronghorns. The power play was solid Friday night for the Bears going 2 for 5. Dale Mahovsky scored two of the Bears four second period goals, while Real Cyr made 34 saves to secure the 6-2 win. Saturday night was a tight affair, as the Bears needed OT to defeat the Pronghorns. Lethbridge took a two goal lead into the third, but let that lead slip away as the Bears eventually tied the score at 3-3 with less than four minutes to play on the power play when Ian McDonald scored his ninth of the season. In OT the Bears would get the game winner from Jesse Gimblett on a two man advantage after Jason Roberts and Adam Chorneyko took penalties.

The Bears will head into the break with a nine point lead on second-place Manitoba, while Lethbridge will enter the break at best seven points behind fourth-place Calgary who plays two more games before the break. Alberta will welcome McGill December 28th and 29th in their next action.

Iowa State @ #6 Manitoba
The Manitoba Bisons skated away with two easy victories over the Iowa State club team this weekend in a pair of exhibition games. The Bisons skated to an 8-3 win Friday and 10-2 victory Saturday.

Manitoba heads to Thunder Bay December 29th and 30th for a pair of non-conference games against Lakehead. Like the Huskies, the Bisons will head to Lakehead hoping the trip is the first of two visits to Thunder Bay in the 2009-10 season.
Some post-game reaction from Queen's coaches and players. If the camera quality is a little shaky, it was the energy drinks.

Defensive coordinator Pat Tracey (you might have to move your ear a little closer to the speaker; the wind was wreaking havoc with the audio):

Defensive end Shomari Williams:

Defensive end Osie Ukwuoma (this 2006 post probably gives context to the "McMaster game" the interviewer mentions):

Receiver Scott Valberg (one of the three grads of Kingston-area high schools who scored Queen's touchdowns on Saturday):

Mike Boone, co-captain of the previous Queen's Vanier Cup team in 1992:

This week showed the depth in men's basketball. The Nos. 1, 3, and 4, 5 and 6 teams each lost; Carleton and Calgary were each beaten by a team which lost its other game by a decisive margin.

No. 3 McMaster and No. 5 Dalhousie have to wear the hair shirt after losing twice.

There were some other tense cross-over games in the OUA Friday, between Josh Gibson-Bascombe and Ottawa outlasting McMaster and Windsor winning a one-pointer on Toronto's floor. Saturday was more sedate.
  1. Carleton Ravens (503 points, 41 first-place votes) — Beat No. 3 McMaster 83-74 on Saturday on the strength of Kevin McCleery's 30 points and 16 from Tyson Hinz (who shot 4-of-5 from the field in the loss at Lakehead).

    As far as the Lakehead game goes, Carleton had a paltry-by-its-standard 25 rebounds, which means Yoosrie Salhia was probably huge). Three Ravens, Mike Kenny, Cole Hobin and Kyle Smendziuk, battled through foul trouble and a 25-point night from Elliot Thompson was not enough.

    It is best the frame this more in terms of how far Lakehead, led by Greg Carter and Yoosrie Salhia, has come since a one-win OUA campaign a few years ago. Carleton is still awfully good and you shouldn't get out the shovels for them, especially with that close a margin and that far a trip (remember, Toronto also lost at Lakehead earlier). Nevertheless, talk about a thriller.

  2. UBC Thunderbirds (463, one first-place vote) — Easy wins at Manitoba (93-75) and Winnipeg (89-54). Kyle Watson hit nine shots in a row vs. the Bisons. They probably get some time at No. 1.

  3. McMaster Marauders (400) — Losing twice at home means a fall from the Top 5. McMaster probably played better losing by nine to Carleton than losing by two on a last-second OT shot to Ottawa. It was a close game until Ryan Christie got a tech right after his fifth foul, giving Carleton's Mike Kenny four free throws. Keenan Jeppeson again carried Mac offensively, while Cam Michaud had a good weekend (17 points, eight rebounds vs. Carleton and some big shots vs. Ottawa).

    A truth is not a lot went right early for the Marauders in their 65-63 home overtime loss to Ottawa. They emptied their tanks in the third and fourth quarters trying to come back.

    The Gee-Gees' talisman, Josh Gibson-Bascombe, hit a runner with 4.5 seconds left in OT for the win for Ottawa, which scored eight of the last 10 points (including a Nemanja Baletic three that cut the margin to 61-60) in the extra session. Ottawa, which had an 18-point, six-assist night from JGB (Warren Ward had 14 points and five dimes) also led most of regulation, but Jeppeson (33 points, 10 rebounds, five steals) brought the Marauders back.

  4. Calgary Dinos (379) — Lost 86-82 at No. 10 Simon Fraser on Saturday to finish .500 for the week. They did not have the irreplaceable Ross Bekkering (but the Clan were missing Matt Kuzminski) for the second game due to injury. That hurt, especially in rebounding.

    Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson (18 points, five steals) was paramount in the 10-point road win (87-77) over Trinity Western.
  5. Dalhousie Tigers (314) — Lost to the AUS top two teams, St. FX (85-72) and Cape Breton (84-62). Simon Farine (27 points) had to shoot a lot in the X game and the Tigers were minus-11 in rebounding margin. It was rough for the Tigers.
  6. U of T Varsity Blues (296) — The canned response to their 84-68 win over Western (30 points from Nick Snow on 11-of-18 shooting) is that you never want to catch a Mike Katz team the game after it loses at home. U of T shot an effective 56%. Friday, U of T lost 61-60 at home to Windsor, which forced the Blues into 17 turnovers and just 32% effective shooting.
  7. St. Francis Xavier X-Men (230) — Likely looking forward to being Top 5 after a second straight win over Dalhousie (85-72). Christian Upshaw averaged 26.5 points, nine assists for the weekend, while the former Algonquin College star Charlie Spurr had 24 points vs. Dal, all on three-pointers. He should never take a two again.

    X beat Acadia 89-72 on Friday.
  8. Cape Breton Capers (208) — Should move up after a big week (113-75 over Acadia on Saturday). Jimmy Dorsey had 18 points in an 84-62 win over No. 5 Dalhousie on Friday.
  9. Windsor Lancers (174) — Just a good, solid weekend with wins at Ryerson (76-68) and Toronto (61-60). Josh Collins had the unseen handle in the 61-60 win at Toronto, dishing out a game-high six assists in 24 minutes against a veteran Varsity Blues backcourt.
  10. Simon Fraser Clan (87) — Beat Calgary 86-82 without Matt Kuzminski; Kevin Shaw (20 points), Eric Burrell (14 and 14) and Kevin Pribilsky (15 points in 19 minutes off the bench) stepped up big-time. Lost 87-73 in OT to Lethbridge on Friday night.
Among the also receiving votes teams:
  • Lakehead (85) — Mike Aylward has already covered off the GGODs' gigantic win over Carleton. But a 37-point loss to Ottawa the next night?
  • Saskatchewan (63) — Had a 40-point swing in their second game at Alberta, losing 71-70 on a buzzer-beater after a 98-59 romp.
  • Trinity Western (30) — Beat Lethbridge (80-68) after losing to Calgary.
  • Ottawa (5) — They don't have much of a voting base to build on, but beating the No. 3 team in its own gym and taking out the team who beat the No. 1 team should strike a good chord. Warren Ward had 27 points in the 93-56 rout of Lakehead.

Remember, check the @CUBDL Twitter for updated scores plus cishoops.ca will hook you up better than Rajon Rondo.
Now that the Vanier Cup is over, and congrats to Queen's and their fans, let's get to back to Canada's true sport - hockey!

The conference leading UNB Varsity Reds faced stiff competition on the weekend, as both of their provincial rivals worked hard and got good goaltending to make their games close, but the Varsity Reds still stretched their winning streak to 13 games. On Friday in Moncton, captain Kyle Bailey led the offence with two goals, but UNB needed a third period goal from Hunter Tremblay, the CIS's leading point man, to secure the 7-5 win. UNB outshot UdeM 40-27. Back home in Fredericton on Saturday night, the V-Reds fired 44 shots at STU's rookie goalie Charles Lavigne, who kept his team in the game all night, and UNB got an overtime goal by Bailey for the 3-2 win. One concern for UNB was their sputtering power play, which went 1-for-10 on the weekend despite having a success rate of over 28% up until those games. As for STU, they are the only team to earn two points from UNB this season in the AUS.

Keeping pace with UNB was Acadia, running their winning streak to nine games and putting a secure hold on second place. In a close game Friday night Axeman Chris Bruton had a hat trick, including the overtime winner on a power play, as they defeated Saint Mary's 4-3. On Saturday, Acadia had a back and forth game with StFX who managed to tie the game three times, but Axeman Phillipe Bertrand scored the last goal for the 4-3 win. It was a tough weekend for X, who dropped a 6-4 loss to Dalhousie in Halifax on Friday night,

In the Battle of Halifax on Saturday night, Saint Mary's had their hands full with the resurgent Dal Tigers, with rookie goalie Bobby Nadeau making 32 saves. The Huskies were down by two goals early in the third period, but they managed to tie it up and SMU's Justin Muden got the overtime winner just 14 seconds into the extra period to make it 6-5.

Friday night in Fredericton, St. Thomas scored two power plays goals in the last two minutes of the game to defeat UPEI 7-6 and end a five game losing streak. The “Wild West” line of former WHLers Tyler Dietrich, Mike Reich and Kenton Dulle accounted for five of the Tommies' goals. Despite being outshot 33-24 the Panthers bounced back in Moncton Saturday night, winning 3-1. Both UPEI and UdeM were 0-for-7 on the power play in the game.

UNB remains in first place in the AUS with the maximum 26 points thus far, and a game in hand on Acadia who sit in second place with 22 points in the standings. SMU is in third place with 18 points, and they have a game in hand on StFX who are just a point back. UPEI is in fifth place and STU is in sixth. Dal is now just one point back of a playoff spot. Moncton continues to struggle to find wins, and are alone in last place.

Looking ahead: The last week of the first half see StFX at SMU on Wednesday in the battle for third place. On Friday UPEI is at UNB, and finally Sunday SMU is at UNB to play a game rescheduled from back on Halloween night when the Huskies were dealing with the H1N1 virus within the team.
Christmas came four weeks early. No Queen's football team has ever sealed the deal like these guys.

A team should not keep winning close ones week after week, but the Queen's Golden Gaels did it this fall. On Saturday, quarterback Dan Brannagan, the darting Marty Gordon, D-line dynamos Shomari Williams and Osie Ukwuoma and of course, Jim-my All-in! finished the job in the same fantastic manner they did all season. They ran off 26 consecutive points in the second half, including two fourth-quarter touchdown drives going against a stiff wind, to beat the Calgary Dinos 33-31 for the Vanier Cup.

It was friggin' storybook, all in front of 18,360 fans at Université Laval who, even if they begrudged Queen's knocking out their beloveds the week before, had to admit the Big Yellow Guys could play. The reaction just kept unfurling from the time Queen's went ahead for good to just after the final gun, when anyone standing on the field suddenly heard this roar and massive thudding of feet as several hundred students and the band stormed the field.

It's been true for most of the past 20 years: the Golden Gaels are the magnet and I am steel. Following them explains me like cheering for the TCU Horned Frogs explains Dan Jenkins.

Queen's football is a part of sport whose story is often untold or only treated superficially in Canada. People seldom fully understand how driven most CIS athletes are. They think the only driven athletes are in the pros. University athletes in Canada care as much and work as hard as the most gifted and talented sportspeople. They also embody that quality of only being tough in the face of a tough job. This is true of many teams, but I found the Gaels first.

It's hard to imagine a tougher job than the one Pat Sheahan's charges ended up facing. All Brannagan and the boys had to do was, in the space of three Saturdays, take out three teams whose quarterback was a finalist for the Hec Crighton Trophy. Two weeks ago, they beat Michael Faulds and the Western Mustangs by four points in the Yates Cup. Next they upset Laval and Benoit Groulx by three in the semifinal and then, finally, beat Calgary and Erik Glavic by two on Saturday. (Four-three-two-No. 1.)

It seems so straightforward ... now. It was come-in-off-the-ledge by times, especially Saturday. Queen's, every coach and player, might have never betrayed a moment of self-doubt when they were winning all those close games (six wins this season by four points or less). When you're a spectator, stuck with going on the stats and probabilities, you start to worry. Besides, there were the demons of the past two seasons, when the Gaels were ill-fated to become the OUA's most successful also-rans. Both seasons they put up solid regular seasons and lost at home in the first playoff game. They (OK, me) could point to their .627 overall winning percentage since 2001 knowing full well the inevitable retort, what about championships? Queen's had not raised a conference championship trophy since 1992, also the last year they won the Vanier Cup.

Thanks to the previous two weeks, that void was long gone by Saturday. Still, Calgary shot out to a 25-7 lead by virtue of playing the entire second quarter in Queen's zone. It seemed like a good chance that the magic had worn off. The crowd, 18,360 strong despite the notable absence of the hometown Rouge et Or, seemed to have adopted Calgary, and the breaks were going against Queen's (an 87-yard kickoff return by Jim-my All-in was brought back by a penalty, for instance). For pity's sake, Brannagan's best play in that second frame might have come when he dragged down Calgary's 320-pound bullhunkus Linden Gaydosh as he rumbled downfield with the ball after intercepting a tipped pass. No team had ever come back to win in a Vanier Cup after trailing by more than 15 points through 30 minutes.

Well, there had to be a first time. Brannagan arced a 60-yard touchdown pass to Devan Sheahan just 1:08 into the third quarter to put Queen's back in business, and for the most part it all flowed like water across smooth rocks.

It didn't come all at once; Calgary is too big and fast for that, even if it had a harder time keeping its composure than Frank The Tank in Old School. The Dinos, God love 'em, started to make tiny mistakes. Their kick returner slipped down fielding a kickoff to pin his team deep inside its own 15-yard line. They fumbled deep in their own territory (but Queen's could only get a field goal.) Calgary burned its last timeout barely five minutes into the second half. Two scoring opportunities went sliding down the river in the third, first a blocked 17-yard field goal try and then an end-zone interception by Glavic, who tried to challenge the wind and Queen's safety Matt Vickers and lost on each count.

Pat Sheahan, throughout the stretch drive, has left nothing to chance. Against Western in October, he called a timeout with 90 seconds left and coach Greg Marshall's Mustangs trying to use up as much time as possible before scoring the winning points. Western's Nathan Riva went over for a go-ahead TD on the next play and Brannagan had time to author an 84-yard victory drive for a 27-26 win, hitting Blaise Morrison for the decider with 13 seconds left. In the Western and Laval playoff games, they were able to get in range for Dan Village to kick field goals on the last play of the first half, which loomed large in those tight games.

This is probably too much attention to give to a minor coaching move. Regardless, when Sheahan used a timeout so Calgary would have to punt into the wind at the end of the third quarter (instead of getting to punt with it at their kicker's back to start the fourth), then it became clear Queen's would find a way to win.

Sure enough, they used the short field for a quick, 51-yard drive, with Brannagan getting away from the hot hot heat of Calgary's Geoff Paiement to throw a 17-yard TD to fifth-year senior Scott Valberg, one of the Kingston-born Gaels who is just old enough to remember the 1992 Vanier Cup game. Now up 26-25, Ukwuoma sacked Glavic after Calgary had driven to midfield and Brannagan went right back to work: Five plays and 74 yards later, Marty Gordon slashed off right tackle Derek Morris' flank (a grad of one Kingston-area high school, La Salle, running behind one from another, Napanee) and a great seal from left guard Vince De Civita for a 15-yard TD and an eight-point lead with eight minutes left. Then you could start to sense it.

Remarkably, after completing just 11-of-26 passes despite having the wind in two of the first three quarters, Brannagan ended up 6-of-7 going against it in the fourth (including two long gainers to Blaise Morrison and Chris Ioannides which set up Gordon's TD, plus Valberg's sideline catch with two minutes to play which helped ice the game). That stat really serves to indicate how these Gaels bucked the odds. No wonder Pat Sheahan felt so sure about all those third-down calls.

There was more. There is always more. Calgary did get a touchdown and missed a game-tying two-point convert attempt and Queen's defence came up with a fumble recovery with 3:01 remaining before it ran out the clock. Even as the clock wound to less than two minutes with Calgary unable to stop it and Gordon grinding out a vital first down, there was still an is-this-happening vibe, until the final gun.

So, yeah, it was worth catching a 2:30 a.m. bus from Ottawa and getting to Ste-Foy, Que., on a nominal amount of sleep to liveblog at cisblog.ca, with help from Red Bull, Andrew, Rob, Mike and Greg and many, many others. Like a friend said on MSN, "you're not gonna ever forget that you went and the effort you made to get there."

More like never forget the Gaels' effort. They weren't perfect, yet the moment was. That is about a good a gift as you can get as a sports fan.

(Photo by Greg Black, Queen's University)

The final seconds vs. Laval:

And the Oil Thigh following the game-winning touchdown vs. Western.

Queen's wins the 2009 Vanier Cup (Salt Water Music)
TSN has issued a statement apologizing for the broadcast transmission problems which marred the early stages of Saturday's Vanier Cup.

Garth Woolsey wrote in the Toronto Star:
"TSN's coverage of the Vanier Cup Saturday was a mess, including transmission problems, technical glitches and missed plays by the announcers and cameramen."
Granted, in our capacity we only hear from the hardcore fans, but for the most part, it didn't sound like Canada's Sports Leader got many rave reviews for its treatment of the national university football final. Apparently, there were no pregame features or halftime analysis.

Some dot-orgers questioned if play-by-play man Rod Black was even at Stade PEPS. He was, for the record.
The final analysis was not pretty for the hurtin' Albertans.

Calgary contrived to lose when it had a 350-yard passer (Erik Glavic), a receiver who was uncoverable (Anthony Parker, whose nine receptions for 187 yards was a game high) and the game's leading rusher (Matt Walter, who had 19 rushes for a game-high 108).

Who knows the root cause. The Calgary Herald is calling it an "implosion" and a "vanishing act," which is the media's prerogative when a team loses after being up 18 points at the half (no team had ever come from behind from more than 12 down at the half).

It's not clear what happened. Calgary had some grievous errors, and not all necessarily in the first half:
  • Settling for field goals: Calgary started second-quarter drives at the Queen's 51, 31 and 48 and got nine points.
  • Clock management: Calgary burned both its timeouts before the three-minute mark of the third quarter, which came back to haunt them late in the game when Queen's ran off the final 3:01. (on the live blog, Andrew Bucholtz wondered if Blake Nill had gone to the Andy Reid School of Game Management.)

    There was the odd ending to the first half, where Parker caught a pass around the Queen's 40 and sprinted to the sideline instead of just going to a knee to stop the clock (which ironically, Queen's tight end Chris Ioannides did to set up a game-winning field goal vs. Guelph in September). Time had run out by the time Parker stepped into touch, costing Calgary a chance at a makeable field goal.
  • Blown red-zone opportunities: Calgary actually did well going into the wind in the third quarter, but a blocked 17-yard field goal try and a Glavic pass that hung in the air and was intercepted by Queen's Matt Vickers left them empty-handed.

    Queen's Ben D'Andrea was given credit for the block. D'Andrea (No. 26) also was in on the hit that caused Richard Snyder's decisive fumble, although on the stat sheet it said Alex Daprato (No. 28).
  • Drive-killing sacks: The strip sack in the third quarter hurt Calgary ... but what might have hurt more was the 14-yard sack Glavic took on the drive after Queen's had gone ahead 26-25. Calgary had to punt and after a good return by Jim-my All-in!, Queen's went 74 yards for the winning Marty Gordon TD.
The hell of it for the Dinos is all that and it was a still a two-point game. They will be back.

Dinos lament Vanier vanishing act; Calgary loses grip on football title after second-half implosion (Rito Mingo, Calgary Herald)
  • Always OUA was very prescient before the game.

  • Hec Crighton Trophy-winning QB Erik Glavic is wearing it for Calgary after two interceptions and a lost fumble.
    "I take a lot of the blame for this loss. I don't really know. I don't think it was – I just have to play better and I didn't."
    (The Gauntlet)

  • Calgary coach Blake Nill's team had a great season, although it will take a while for that dawn on them.
    "It’s a real kick in the butt. We had control of the game and we knew going into the third quarter, it was going to be difficult. We just made mistakes in the third quarter and they ended up costing us the game."
    (Calgary Herald)

  • The Frank Tindall Trophy was decided prior to the Uteck Bowl, so it's kind of beside the point to say it's for the best Nill did not win. It's more of a bullet-dodge. (Halifax Chronicle-Herald)

  • Calgary defensive back Matt Grohn, linebacker Chase Moore, D-lineman Andrew Obrecht, linebacker Chase Moore and backup QB Deke Junior finished their eligibility. Moore had an inspired game for Calgary in the Vanier. (Calgary Herald)

  • The premiers' bet on the game: Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has to send a case of Spolumbo's sausages to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. McGuinty's ante was some Prince Edward County wine (Eastern Ontario, appropriately).

  • Kind of a Debbie Downer headline: "Western settles for all-Canadians." (London Free Press)
Queen's QB Dan Brannagan and coach Pat Sheahan with SSN's John Bower:

John Bower has tailgaters and post-game reaction:

Our man in the middle of nowhere had a fun Friday night at the Thunderdome...

The biggest men’s basketball home game in Lakehead University history did not disappoint as the undefeated Thunderwolves scored a thrilling 76-73 comeback win over the No. 1 Carleton Ravens at the Thunderdome Friday night in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The win puts Lakehead’s record at 7-0 and keeps them in first place in the OUA West; two games ahead of No. 3 McMaster, Western, and Windsor; all with 5-2 records. The loss puts Carleton’s record at 6-1; atop the OUA East one game ahead of Ottawa who scored a big win of their own Friday night in Hamilton over McMaster.

Note: I have posted a post-game coach interviews video HERE

Before I give my thoughts on tonight's Lakehead v. Carleton game; I am going to tell you where I'm coming from. I was the Sports Information Director at Lakehead for eight years and I consider Lakehead Head Coach Scott Morrison a good friend. The men’s hoops squad is the only Wolves team that remains near and dear to my heart as I watched Coach Morrison and the programme through some very lean years. So, I am very happy that the team is heading in a positive direction.

However, I am a proud alumnus of Carleton University and a great fan of the team and a great admirer of Head Coach Dave Smart. So, at tonight’s game I had my Lakehead Thunderwolves Fall jacket on (one of the very few benefits I ever received as SID); but I also had my very old Carleton Panda game t-shirt on; closest to my heart. (Now there’s a reference to the wildest event in Canadian sports history; think Grey Cup meets Mardi Gras meets Woodstock meets Gladiator; and that kind of sums up the Panda game; there was nothing like it in the whole world of sports and still isn’t).

During Friday's game; I applauded great plays by both teams; which drew strange looks from some Lakehead fans around me; me with my Wolves jacket on; they weren’t quite sure why I was clapping for a beautiful 3-point shot by a Ravens player.

So, for me, tonight’s game was win-win; whatever the result. I guess you could say I am biased for both teams. I was hoping for a close exciting game; and that’s what I and the many many fans jammed into the Thunderdome got.

I am not going to write a game story; as that can be obtained by Thunder Bay Media online, the Lakehead or Carleton websites, or by the great game stories written by Joe Scanlan (my old Journalism prof); who covers the Ravens and travels with the team.

My Thoughts on The Game:

- The men’s game was set up by the earlier and exciting women’s game which saw Carleton win in OT; the Lakehead women’s third loss in OT; they have a 3-3 record.

- More fans poured in for the men’s game until all seats were full and the large upper level mezzanine around the Thunderdome was also completely packed; two or three deep in some places.

- The old fan traditions are back at Lakehead with Hecklers row in full force, “boring” being chanted by the crowd when the other team’s players are introduced, and the traditional tearing of the Lakehead student newspaper and throwing the resulting confetti in the air when the Wolves get their first basket. The fans were great all night long; even when the Wolves were struggling in the first half.

- The Thunderwolves again came from behind; which they have done in six of their seven wins. So far this season; their pattern is to start slow and fall behind; and then they slowly seem to adjust to the other team in the second and third quarter and then make a charge.

- Along those lines; Carleton was up by 10 at the half and seemed in control but the game began to change in the third before the exciting final quarter.

- Lakehead does seem to have quite a bit of depth and there really doesn’t seem to be much drop-off between their top 10 players. Lakehead again got scoring from lots of players.

- Carleton played some pretty ferocious defense; fouls hurt them in the second half and especially late in the game. Lakehead’s defense really picked up in the second half.

- Both teams were sloppy at times; with the Wolves committing 21 turnovers and Carleton 18. Carleton had 14 steals to Lakehead’s 5. The Ravens capitalized with 33 points off turnovers to Lakehead’s 18.

- The Raven’s Willy Manigat was very quick Friday night; picking the Wolves pockets 6 times. Lakehead’s Greg Carter may be faster (6 points, 7 assists, a block, and a steal) and is developing into a great all-around guard.

- Lakehead freshman Ryan Thomson was cool as a cucumber and his play, along with Joe Jones from Baltimore led the Lakehead comeback. If Thomson continues playing like this; OUA Rookie of the Year is a possibility. Jones is a real find; a fierce two-way competitor who is rapidly becoming a team leader for the Wolves.

- Carleton’s Elliot Thompson was fantastic with 8 boards and a game-high 25 points and he has a beautiful three point stroke (3-5 from beyond the arc).

- Lakehead’s Yoosrie Salhia was also fantastic; helping lead the Wolves comeback charge with 18 points and 8 boards. I think he is one of the best players in the CIS; let alone the OUA; a 6’ 5” post/forward who can dominate a game when he gets his back to the basket and vacuuming up the rebounds. Salhia; not a great free throw shooter (5-8 on the night), also coolly hit his first of two foul shots to give Lakehead the final three-point lead at the end of the game; forcing Carleton to try and hit a trey in the final seconds to put the game into OT.

- The Ravens Tyson Hinz can also really shoot the ball; (11 points on 4-5 shooting) I think he should shoot more.

- Lakehead sophomore post Brendan King is adjusting to the CIS and he is going to be a very good player; 11 points and a block on the night. Wolves Freshman Matt Nagy (Bentonville, Arkansas) also showed some flashes.

- Carleton’s Kevin McCleery is a very good player. I enjoyed watching his hard-nosed style of play.

- I had the pleasure of standing in the mezzanine and watching the game with former OUA referee Wally Peterson. It was fascinating getting his insight into how the game was called as the game was in progress.

- It was also fascinating watching Coach Smart coach a game live. Also interesting to see how Lakehead Coach Morrison has progressed in his coaching style; still fiery; but maybe only 11 on the amp scale (Spinal Tap reference) compared to his previous 20. At age 32, he is already in his seventh season as a head coach.

- Carleton continues their tough road trip with a vist to Hamilton Saturday night as they take on the McMaster Marauders. That should be a great game as both teams will be in bad moods.

- Saturday night at the Thunderdome presents another marquee matchup as Lakehead will put their undefeated record on the line against a very strong Ottawa Gee Gees squad; fresh off their big road win over Mac.

- Basketball is back in Thunder Bay!

Mike Aylward
Thursday's Western-Laurier showdown highlights this week's OUA slate. The upshot of Acadia being ahead of Saint Mary's is they square off Friday, so that will render all of our chin-wagging academic!
  1. UNB Varsity Reds (170, all 17 first-place votes) (21-0, 13-0-0 AUS) — Tighter than expected results on road vs. St. Thomas (3-2 OT win) and Moncton (7-5).

  2. Alberta Golden Bears (153, all 17 second-place votes) (17-3, 14-1-1 CW) — Swept Lethbridge (6-2 and 4-3 in OT). The Golden Bears have McGill in Dec. 28-29.

  3. Western Mustangs (132) (15-3, 13-2-0 OUA-W) — Won 5-3 at Western on Saturday. Forward Keaton Turkiewicz scored the decider in Thursday's 5-4 win over No. 9 Laurier.

  4. UQTR Patriotes (92) (15-4, 13-2-0 OUA-E) — Blanked RMC 5-0 on Saturday; beat Toronto 4-3 in overtime on Friday.

  5. McGill Redmen (82) (14-4-1, 10-2-0 OUA-E) — Saturday's 4-3 road loss to the pesky Toronto Varsity Blues (Joe Rand got the winner with 8:26 left) means McGill is even in the loss column with UQTR. Won 7-2 at Nipissing on Friday.

    Strange occurrences can take place when teams are winding down toward the exam break, but no, that does not explain away the Redmen beating Ottawa 15-4 on Tuesday (Francis Verreault-Paul had seven points, including a first-period natural hat trick).

  6. Manitoba Bisons (76) (16-6, 9-3-2 CW) — Swept Iowa State 8-3 and 1o-2 in a friendly series.

  7. Acadia Axemen (72) (13-7, 11-3-0 AUS) — Matching 4-3 wins over St. FX and Saint Mary's.

  8. Saint Mary's Huskies (62) (11-8, 7-3-3 AUS) — Split two OT games, beating Dalhousie (6-5) and losing to Acadia (4-3).

  9. Laurier Golden Hawks (37) (13-7, 10-4-1 OUA-W) — Split a pair of one-goal decisions, beating Brock (3-2) after that 5-4 home loss to Western.

  10. Lakehead Thunderwolves (30) (13-5, 11-3-2 OUA-W) — Won 3-1 and 5-3 at Guelph.
Also receiving votes: St. Francis Xavier X-Men (26), Waterloo Warriors (2), Saskatchewan Huskies (1). The X-Men (the No. 10-A team) lost 6-4 to Dalhousie on Saturday.
SSN Canada reports on Saint Mary's Steve Sumarah receiving the Frank Tindall Trophy as coach of the year:

Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Andy Fantuz, the 2005 Hec Crighton winner at Western, raised a good point about how the next generation of Canadian football talent is taking up the sport at a much earlier age, thanks to the growth of amateur football. Via Rider Rumblings:
"I didn’t have an opportunity to play football until ninth grade, myself. My little brother has been playing since the fourth grade or something. It’s far more like the American culture in football. They start as soon as they can run. When we’re learning how to play soccer, they’re learning how to play football and hitting each other. They get a lot more experience that way and it shows. The talent at the CIS level is getting and better each year, and it’s going to keep getting closer to the NCAA level, which in turn will help Canadian football in general. Hopefully having all these Canadians succeed in the CFL will help Football Canada in its younger stages and help it grow."
High school players look so much more polished than 10, 15 years ago. Alex Skinner, who quarterbacked the Ottawa St. Peter Knights to the OFSAA National Capital Bowl title earlier this week, ripped off one broken-play touchdown run earlier this week that you would not have seen from some CIS quarterbacks. (Actually, on that run Skinner looked like a mini-Brad Sinopoli; coincidentally St. Peter beat Peterborough Crestwood, the Ottawa QB's old school.)
There are two Vanier Cup radio broadcasts: AM1060 will stream a broadcast going back to Calgary (which is also available over the air on student station CJSW).

CFRC 101.9 will carry it in Kingston and over the web.
  • So, not too many people turned out for a Vanier Cup parade in Quebec City. You would think there was no home team playing.

  • Saint Mary's Steve Sumarah is coach of the year. (The Canadian Press)

  • Lou Deslauriers is out as Simon Fraser's defensive coordinator; please start the rumour he's headed to UBC. (That's meant to be tongue-in-cheek!) (Little Man on Campus)

  • Football is life, or something like that. (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix)

  • Remember, kids, Rob Bagg was once an undrafted free agent and now he's starting in a Grey Cup. (Saskatoon Star-Phoenix)

  • Calgary backup QB Deke Junior expects a "neutral crowd" at the Vanier Cup. (Regina Leader-Post)

  • Shomari Williams' idols include Warren Buffett. Hey, my sister is based in Omaha! (Kingston Whig-Standard)

  • Queen's defensive end Osie Ukwuoma credits his time at the Calgary Stampeders training camp for making him a better player. (Canwest News Service)

  • Sticking with the Golden Gaels, wideout Scott Valberg has come a long way in his career. (Le Soleil)

  • A London Free Press reporter is cheering for the Queen's what's-their-names in the Vanier Cup (she wasn't sure if they are Gaels or Golden Gaels; it's still the latter). (30 Below)
  • No. 10 Simon Fraser has been finding success with the Princeton offence (if you have to ask ...) (Canwest News Service, Little Man on Campus)

  • The best backcourt in the country? Toronto's Rob Paris and Nick Magalas, in Jim Thomas' considered opinion. (TheHoop-la)

  • The AUS will be down to one unbeaten team after tonight's Acadia-St. FX tilt. Terrence Taylor's knee is still giving him problems. (Halifax Chronicle-Herald)
  • Centre Matt Caria is the latest in a line of Sault Ste. Marie boys to suit up for the Lakehead Thunderwolves. Caria, as noted earlier, would make his CIS debut Dec. 29. (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal)

  • Friend of the site Bill Hunt has a ton of St. Thomas and UNB tidbits today. CHSR-FM in Fredericton is going to air STU women's games over the rest of the season, making the Tommies one of the few teams to get consistent radio coverage. Also, Charles Lavigne is back from injury for the STU men. (Fredericton Daily Gleaner)

  • Calgary and Alberta resume their women's hockey series tonight. (Edmonton Sun)
Words such as "courage" and "fearless" are used rather loosely in sports. It applies when you read about what Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Mike McCullough and his spouse, Laura, have dealt across the past year:
"Two years ago the Roughriders were on the verge of winning the 2007 Grey Cup and McCullough's wife, Laura, was about to give birth to their second son, Joe. Cole, their first-born, was two years older and battling the effects of seizures and a type of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne's, that was expected to make him wheelchair-bound before his early teens.

"Cole was three when he died in February at the family's Regina home."
McCullough acknowledges this is something from which you never fully recover.
"No parent should outlive a child. It's different if you lose a parent or someone older. Even if it's unexpected, it's still the natural order. This isn't the natural order of things and it's not the way the script is supposed to be written. You try to deal with it, but till the day I die, I'm sure it's not going to heal."
Grey Cup festivities 'tainted' for Rider (Darrell Davis, globesports.com)
(Right, there's another championship football game this weekend.)

Vanier Cup

  • Queen's is using their fans' inability to score Vanier Cup tickets as motivation, as all-Canadian left tackle Matt O'Donnell told TSN.ca:
    "We knew they were selling tickets to all their fans already .. Nothing against (Laval), but we don't appreciate being overlooked like that. As much as people thought that we were the underdog in that game, we thought we came in very confident and knew we were going to win."
  • Calgary right guard Reed Alexander says Laval fans "are all rooting for us." (Medicine Hat News)

  • Does anyone else feel this columnist was a wee bit personal in criticizing Calgary coach Blake Nill for last weekend?
    "What Blake Nill saw wasn’t his son acting like a jerk. He saw a young version of himself kicking an opponent when he was down; he saw his own in-your-face, raging bull of a temper busting free from years of uneasy containment.

    "He saw all his parenting efforts, or failure of them. Blake Nill looked at the face of his kid and saw the man in the mirror. He might have also seen his son’s pro dreams dissolve before his eyes."
    What's the line, life is absurd and no one really understands anybody. Knowing that will cause anyone to pull punches, and it will not factor into who wins CIS coach of the year. (Metro Calgary)
Grey Cup
  • Montreal Alouettes guard Scott Flory (U of S Huskies) repeated as the CFL's top lineman. No one has forgotten that he almost signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders many moons ago. (CFL Buzz)

  • 'Riders slotback Jason Clermont (Regina Rams) has become the elder statesmen of Saskatchewan's receiving group, which will make some of us feel old. (Sporting Madness)

  • Winning the CFL's Top Canadian honour might give B.C. Lions rush end Ricky Foley (York) some leverage on the free-agent market. (Vancouver Sun)

  • Montreal Alouettes' Shea Emry (UBC) is 60 minutes from raising the Grey Cup as a CIS-trained middle linebacker. (CBC Sports)

  • Former McMaster star Jesse Lumsden and partner Pierre Lueders won a two-man bobsled race at a European Cup meet. Lumsden in the Olympics? (CTV Olympics)
Calgary QB Erik Glavic, fulfilling Rob's forecast, became the first CIS player to win the Hec Crighton Trophy at two schools.

The Dinos were the lone team to win two individual honours. The honours were as follows:
  • Presidents' Trophy (standup defensive player): Concordia LB Cory Greenwood
  • J.P. Metras Award (down lineman): Windsor C Matt Morencie
  • Peter Gorman Trophy (rookie of the year): Calgary DT Linden Gaydosh
  • Russ Jackson Award (academics, athletics and citizenship): Manitoba LB Thomas Hall
No doubt people have heartfelt opinions about the case for the other nominees, but please be happy for the players who won and their peeps.

The Frank Tindall Trophy (coach of the year) and Gino Fracas Award (top volunteer assistant coach) will be handed out Friday morning. Calgary's Blake Nill is up for the Tindall; he could join Tuffy Knight (Laurier and Waterloo) as the only coach to win with two teams.

Glavic's historic Hec Crighton win (Globe & Mail)
Another Hec of a year; Dinos' Glavic wins second Hec Crighton Trophy (Calgary Herald)
Some notes on the all-Canadian selections, which are below the jump (second-team selections in parentheses):
  • Laval had the most first-team selections (5), followed by Queen's (4), Calgary (3), Montréal (2) and St. Francis Xavier (2).

  • Two national award finalists, Saskatchewan fifth-year linebacker Taylor Wallace (who was up for the Presidents') and Saint Mary's rush end DeVon Hicks (a Metras nominee), were left off.

  • The western Huskies, who went 8-2 overall, had just one second-team pick, cornerback Grant Shaw. Similarly, Saint Mary's (8-2 overall) had no first-team picks.

  • It is nice to see the country's two most versatile players, Saskatchewan cornerback-kicker Shaw and Queen's cornerback-kick returner Jimmy Allin, each earn recognition. It would be even better if CIS had an award to recognize players who contribute so extensively in two of the game's three phases.

  • Bishop's is the only playoff team which did not have a player honoured.

Quarterback — Erik Glavic, Calgary (Michael Faulds, Western)
Running backs — Pascal Fils, Sherbrooke and Matt Walter, Calgary (Nathan Riva, Western and Nick FitzGibbon, Guelph)
Wideouts — Nathan Coehoorn, Calgary and Akeem Foster, St. Francis Xavier (Cyril Adjeitey, Ottawa and Julian Feoli-Gudiño, Laval)
Inside receivers — Gary Ross, Mount Allison, and Scott Valberg, Queen's (Anthony Parker, Calgary and Cory Watson, Concordia)
Centre — Matt Morencie, Windsor (Derek Weber, Saint Mary’s)
Guards — Pascal Baillargeon, Laval and Justin Glover, McMaster (Terriss Paliwoda, Alberta and Matt Norman, Western)
Tackles — David Bouchard, Laval and Matt O'Donnell, Queen's (Kirby Fabien, Calgary and Kristian Matte, Concordia)
Tackles — Jean-Philippe Gilbert, Laval and Gregory Alexandre, Montréal (Sébastien Tétreault, Ottawa and Eddie Steele, Manitoba)
Ends — Mathieu Brossard, Montréal and Osie Ukwuoma, Queen’s (Craig Gerbrandt, Alberta and David Skillen, St. Francis Xavier)
Linebackers — Cory Greenwood, Concordia; John Surla, Western and Henoc Muamba, St. Francis Xavier (Andrea Bonaventura, Calgary; Tom Lynch, St. Francis Xavier; Giancarlo Rapanaro, Laurier)
Safety — Anthony Deslauriers, Simon Fraser (Courtney Stephen, Laurier)
Defensive halfs — Maxime Bérubé, Laval and James Savoie, Guelph (Mike Miller, Acadia and Mark Holden, Saint Mary's)
Cornerbacks — Olivier Turcotte-Létourneau, Laval and Jimmy Allin, Queen's (Grant Shaw, Saskatchewan and Dylan Hollohan, St. FX)
Kicker — Perri Scarcelli, Regina (Justin Palardy, Saint Mary's)
Punter — Hugh O'Neill, Alberta (Christopher Milo, Laval)
Return specialist — Dillon Heap, Laurier (Gary Ross, Mount Allison)
Over the space of a couple hours, some of our bloggists made predictions on the Vanier Cup:
Andrew Bucholtz: Queen's 35-28
Jared Book: Calgary 34-27
John Bower, SSN Canada: Calgary 40-35
Evan Daum: Calgary 38-35
Greg Hughes: Queen's 31-20
David Kilfoil: Calgary 24-20
Justin McElroy: Calgary 38-32
Deux Fans from Allez Les Bleus: Queen's 24-20
Mark Masters: Queen's 30-24
Rob Pettapiece: Calgary 42-32
Mike Radoslav: Queen's 44-33
Neate Sager: Queen's 38-28
Queen's defensive coordinator Pat Tracey has no literal connection with Dick Tomey, at first glance.

Those coaches have everything to do with Saturday's Vanier Cup between Calgary and Queen's. The game pits an irresistible force vs. an immovable object. The Dinos' Erik Glavic-helmed offence, which had 426 rushing yards in the Uteck Bowl and 479 passing in the Hardy Cup seven days earlier, is facing a Queen's front seven led by future CFL D-linemen Osie Ukwuoma (right photo) and Shomari Williams.

The game will test a theory that's been in the hopper as the season has wound down. Always OUA summed it up earlier this week as, "Lines win championships." Canadian football's rules (three downs, unlimited motion, 65-yard-wide fields) pretty much guarantee a good passing team will get theirs eventually. The game thus boils down to having a defensive front which plays the run well and gets sacks, and an offensive line which provides five layers of protection for the quarterback.

It's not for nothing Dick Tomey, who announced his retirement from San Jose State, was in the news in the midst of Queen's went on its playoff run. Tracey's defence is basically living by the same bedrock attributed to Tomey's Arizona Wildcats teams in the 1990s: "... no team of his will be beaten by the run. You can pass for 1,000 yards against him, but don't try anything off tackle." That sums up what Queen's has done to earn a date vs. the Dinos, who have the No. 1 rushing attack in CIS. Who knows whether that was a reason for taking Queen's to beat Laval by a field goal last week.

Queen's wideout Blaise Morrison told his hometown Halifax Chronicle-Herald, "The stats say (Calgary has) a great quarterback and a great running back, but I’ve got full confidence in our defence." Some would wonder how he can say that when Queen's has given up 934 passing yards the past two weeks. The fact is they do have a good defence, but they turn all those passing yards into empty calories.

Queen's has a good reputation for producing offensive players (such as Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver Rob Bagg). Teams with marquee skill position players are often seen as soft, and the past two post-seasons disabused no one of viewing the Gaels that way. Part of those teams' downfall was that although they were solid statistically vs. the run and pass, they couldn't get off the field against teams who played ball control, such as Ottawa in 2008 and Western in 2007.

The smart take from the strong, and Queen's has changed its approach. They still stuff the run but the results suggest they are more high-risk, high-reward with pass coverage. That might not be their intention when they drop nine players into coverage, but it has worked out that way. The Gaels were just 12th in the 27-team CIS in passing yards allowed. However, in keeping with one of our notes in the season preview, they almost doubled their interception totals, picking off 12 in regular season after making just seven in 2008.

In the Mitchell Bowl last week, Laval's Hec Crighton finalist quarterback Benoit Groulx put up numbers in the second half, which made for some nervous moments. However, the Rouge et Or, who were sixth in rushing in the regular season, netted only 51 along the ground. They called 25 consecutive pass plays (not counting a two-point conversion play) in the fourth quarter.

Western's Michael Faulds averaged 446.5 passing yards in his team's two losses to the Golden Gaels. However, Western averaged only 125.5 rushing, a far cry from the 208 they averaged across their other nine games. The Yates Cup turned somewhat on the Mustangs being unable to convert in short-yardage situations. They settled for three short field goals and also failed on a third-and-1 from midfield (granted, if Faulds' knee had allowed him to chance a QB sneak, maybe it is a different story).

In the season opener against Guelph (for Rob Massey's sake, insert obligatory reminder Queen's only won because of Jimmy Allin's three return TDs and pretend that for one day, special teams was not one-third of the game), the Gryphons' Justin Dunk passed for 433 yards. The Gaels limited the Gryphons to 22 rushes for 92 yards, a paltry 4.2 average, and won the game.

Whether Queen's can pull off something similar vs. Calgary remains to be seen. Erik Glavic (left photo) poses a unique challenge. Scramble EG is so big (6-foot-6) and quick. He can deliver a pass to a receiver while wearing a pass rusher like a feather boa. The Dinos boast a good running back, Matt Walter, and as Williams noted on Wednesday, they use a lot of motion in the running game, with jet sweep-style runs to talents such as Anthony Parker and Nathan Coehoorn.

Nevertheless, it is good coaching to have got this far. Coaching is tailoring your approach to your talent. It's a good system for Queen's. The Golden Gaels defence, with Ukwuoma and Williams wreaking havoc, puts a lot of teams in daunting second-and-long situations. They put their defensive backs on an island, but the secondary (three fifth-year defenders) is veteran enough to adopt the short memory of a hockey goalie. They can get beat and come back with a big pass breakup moments later.

Even if the other team drives for a quick score, it puts Queen's offence back on the field. They typically start in reasonable field position since Allin will either get a good return or the other team will play keep-away with a short kick. Their offensive line of left tackle Matt O'Donnell (who'll apparently be named all-Canadian), left guard Vince De Civita, centre Dan Bederman, right guard Jon Koidis and right tackle Derek Morris almost never allows the defence to get a hand on Dan Brannagan, who constantly makes observers marvel with how he's seemingly able to stand flat-footed in the pocket before passing. They also provide for some semblance of a running game.

All of this comes back what Always OUA noted:
"... against very successful running teams Queen's can run base packages and slow down the opposition's run game. This is exactly what McMaster coach Stefan Ptaszek alluded to when he discussed what set Queen's apart from the rest of the OUA in stopping the Marauders formidable rushing duo of Joey Nemet and Jordan Kozina - meaning they were the only team which did not need to design run blitzes to slow the two down. It means that every time Queen's had those four rush the passer this past Saturday the pocket collapsed on Laval pivot Benoit Groulx, it means that every down they can stop anything the opposition throws at them in terms of running the ball, or in terms of pass protection. This translates to the following: Lines Win Championships."
It very well could be a different story vs. the Dinos. Everyone is expecting a shootout, but the beauty of Canadian football is that even a 43-39, 39-38 or 33-30 game will have moments of dominant defence.

A lot of people are taking Calgary to win Saturday. Queen's has beaten the other two teams, Western and Laval, whose quarterbacks are up for the Hec. Calgary is No. 1 in rushing, but the Nos. 2-3 teams, McMaster and Ottawa, scored zero touchdowns in 12 quarters this season vs. the Golden Gaels (and Williams and linebacker Alex Daprato did not play in one of those games). Laurier, which had the fourth-ranked running game, couldn't run much on Queen's (4.5 per carry) when it beat the Golden Gaels in a nothing game at the end of the regular season. Laval, Guelph and Western were each in the top 10 in rushing. They were a combined 0-4 vs. the Gaels, although the total winning margin was only 11 points.

Queen's has been living on margins all season, but it has found a strategy to counter today's potent passing games. They also have one of their own with Brannagan, which is why they stand a decent chance of winning the national championship on Saturday.

Calgary might be the consensus choice, but there are no losers this late in the season.

(As an epilogue, Queen's success calling to mind Dick Tomey, who is unknown to anyone who's not a hard-core college football geek, is some serious six-degrees-of-separation). Tomey's Arizona teams often were pegged for big things but never quite got there, not unlike Queen's prior to this fall. The Wildcats are the only Pac-10 team which has never played in the Rose Bowl, but during Tomey's heyday they were once Sports Illustrated's preseason No. 1 pick.

That was in 1994, when Arizona's defence included Tedy Bruschi. You'll recall that a couple weeks ago the former New England linebacker, in his capacity for ESPN, ripped his former coach Bill Belichick for an ill-fated fourth-down call in a big game vs. Indianapolis Colts. In the small world of CIS football, Queen's coach Pat Sheahan was praised for successfully pulling a Belichick in the Mitchell Bowl. It even got his team a mention from ESPN. Now you know the rest of the story.)
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