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Alberta

CFL faces very difficult future

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5 minute read

This is an unpleasant reality: The Canadian Football League faces an extremely difficult future.

In truth, it may not have a future at all.

In the few days since commissioner Randy Ambrosie finally confirmed the obvious that the 2020 season had been only a figment of many imaginations, there has been a rush of both critics and devout supporters to explain at least partially the many reasons for the CFL’s arrival on the edge of final, fatal league disappearance.

Most of the observers are content to point out that large markets such as Toronto and Vancouver lost their way after National Football League franchises were established in nearby Buffalo (the Bills) and Seattle (the Seahawks),creating a painful reduction of several million dollars in gate revenue each year.

If only that were true . . . but it is not.

Much more damage has been done through simple — but very thorough — disrespect of the game by the owners and presidents and general managers positioned to grow Canadian football rather than to destroy it.

At one point, the Canadian brand of football was vastly different from the U.S.-based game although both admittedly grew from the foundation of British rugby.

In the 1950s, after decades of evolution, the biggest obvious disparity remained the difference in on-field lineups: 12 in Canada, 11 in the United States. The extra players provided more blocking and, often, more of a ground attack. Although imports had been approved, there were still more Canadians — many more — on every roster.

At that time, the Americans allowed unlimited blocking on every play; in Canada, no legal interference was allowed more than 10 yards downfield. Blocking on pass plays was a non-no in this country for many years.

This space, and many more, have wallowed in the old truth that Canada once paid U.S. imports more than the NFL did. Witness,for example, all-time Edmonton Eskimo great Jackie Parker; he and other imports signed here because the Canadian dollar had more value on the market than the American buck did.

Former Calgary Stampeders stars Earl Lunsford and Don Luzzi — all-star fullback and two-way tackle — entered the CFL a few years later for similar reasons. They played when the single point had strategic importance. Now, it is considered both unique and insignificant.

Veteran punt returners like 5-foot-8 Gene Wlasiuk of Saskatrchewan boasted wryly that they entered the league as six-footers but shrank when swarmed by tacklers. No blocking on punt returns, back then.

During this general time frame, U.S.- trained coaches and general managers became a majority. Jim Finks in Calgary, himself once a starter at quarterback in the NFL, heard claims that the CFL players were “too small”: to be real football players. He countered by pointing out the NFL had finally followed the CFL in using elusive runners and receivers; he was right. By and large, Canadians didn’t notice.

Hugh Campbell created a dynasty in Edmonton by making sure Canadian players had some ability, and then using them in every situation.

Through it all, import limits grew from a handful to today’s situation where rosters are clogged with more unknown U.S. college kids and pro failures than ever before. Alleged experts present the obnoxious theory that the CFL should openly become a farm system for NFL teams.

Misguided commissioner Ambrosie saluted his entry to the new job by proposing that the CFL should be loaded, as quickly as possible, with citizens from Greece, Germany, Scotland, or any other nation with strong, well-conditioned athletes who might be better than the kids graduating year after year from Canadian universities.

History shows that the CFL has spent so much time emulating the NFL and seeking “gimmicks” to boost profits that the road to any future was lost entirely. The most devastating example of contempt for their own product came when Herb Capozzi, a former B.C. Lions player, wrote a nationally-syndicated weekend column in which he insisted “Canadians Play Lousy Football.”

Later, he operated the Lions franchise and ultimately the entire league.

No further questions needed.

Alberta

Jacob Markstrom earns shutout as Flames blank Oilers 5-0 in Battle of Alberta

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CALGARY — Jacob Markstrom stopped all 17 shots he faced and the Calgary Flames put an end to their four-game losing skid with a commanding 5-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

Johnny Gaudreau and captain Mark Giordano each had a goal and an assist, while Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Brett Ritchie also scored for Calgary (17-21-3). Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund each tallied a pair of helpers.

The Flames improved to 3-5 against their provincial rivals this season.

Playing their fourth game in six nights, the Oilers (25-15-2) were blanked for only the third time this year. They dropped to third in the North Division — seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and one point behind the Winnipeg Jets.

Goalie Mike Smith stopped 27-of-32 shots in defeat, Edmonton’s second regulation loss in its last 11 outings.

A tentative first 20 minutes of play saw the teams withdraw to the dressing room with a 0-0 tie.

But the Calgary Flames exploded for four goals on 10 shots in the second period from four different shooters.

Monahan got the barrage going with his first since Mar. 13, snapping a 13-game goalless drought. Alone at the side of the net, he capitalized on a defensive mix-up from the Oilers and converted Andrew Mangiapane’s pass at 3:12.

Calgary gained in confidence as the period progressed. They kept the pressure on and it paid off at 10:43 when Gaudreau took a perfect pass across the crease from Noah Hanifin to beat Smith over the glove from a tight angle.

The Flames were again rewarded for good puck movement when Lindholm netted his 10th of the season, five-hole on Smith on the power play. The big-bodied Milan Lucic got the play started and later screened Smith in the crease.

The captain got in on the second period’s deluge of goals. Coming off the bench and storming into the offensive zone, Giordano called for a pass and fired from the right face-off dot, beating Smith between the pads.

Calgary limited Edmonton to very few high-danger chances. Connor McDavid ended the game with one shot.

The Oilers upped the pressure in the third period but could not solve Markstrom. Tyson Barrie came closest when he fired a puck off the post.

Ritchie padded the lead and made it 5-0 with 6:30 left in the game.

There was some confusion shortly after puck drop, possibly related to the Oilers’ lineup card, as Calgary coach Darryl Sutter chatted with officials from behind the bench.

The Flames are back in action in Toronto on Tuesday. The Oilers are off until Friday when they face the Canucks in Vancouver’s first game since their COVID-19 outbreak.

Notes: Edmonton held a ceremony to honour the late Colby Cave earlier Saturday. The 25-year-old Oilers forward died last April after doctors discovered a cyst in his brain. … Mangiapane and Bennett extended their point streaks to four games. … The Oilers placed 27-year-old centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (upper body) on the injured-reserve list earlier Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Edmonton Oilers place centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on injured list

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EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have placed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the injured-reserve list. 

The 27-year-old centre missed Edmonton’s game against the Ottawa Senators Thursday with an upper-body injury. 

Nugent-Hopkins is fifth on the team in scoring with 28 points (12 goals and 16 assists) in 40 games. 

Edmonton has recalled forwards Tyler Ennis and James Neal to the active roster. 

The Oilers (25-14-2) sit second in the North Division, five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Edmonton is set to face the Flames in Calgary on Saturday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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