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About "David Larkins"

David Larkins has been passionately covering university athletics in Canada over the past 15 years, most recently as a university beat reporter for the Brandon Sun and, prior to that, in southern Ontario where he worked in print, radio and television.

Canada West volleyball post-season arrives

- February 9th, 2014

While six teams went into the final weekend of Canada West men’s volleyball still with playoff hopes, the final two nights of action changed very little in the conference hierarchy.

The teams that went into the final weekend on the outside of the post-season picture stayed there, while those with the inside track booked their berths for the second season that starts on the West Coast Thursday night.

The Brandon Bobcats, with a win Friday night in Calgary, gave themselves some insurance and it turned out they needed it, grabbing the seventh and final playoff spot at 10-12, narrowly edging out Manitoba on a sets won/sets loss tiebreaker. Winnipeg, which lost twice at No. 1 Trinity Western, finished 9-13 and missed the playoffs after qualifying last year.

On the women’s side, all seven spots were spoken for heading into the weekend, but now we have a finished product, knowing who goes where when the playoffs open up Thursday in Brandon and Langley, B.C.

 

Here’s how the Canada West post-season shapes up  for 2014 (seeds in parentheses; all times Central):

WOMEN

UBC-O (7) at Brandon (2)

toridakin

Tori Dakin and the Brandon Bobcats will enter the post-season as the No. 2 seed in the Canada West, taking on the UBC-Okanagan Heat in a best-of-three series starting Thursday in Brandon. (Brian Donogh/Winnipeg Sun/QMI Agency)

Thursday: at Brandon, 7 p.m.
Friday: at Brandon, 7 p.m.
x-Saturday: at Brandon, 7 p.m.

Regina (6) at Trinity Western (3)

Thursday: at Langley, B.C., 10 p.m.
Friday: at Langley, B.C., 10 p.m.
x-Saturday: at Langley, B.C., 9 p.m.

Alberta (5) at Manitoba (4)

Friday: at Investors Group Athletic Centre, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: at Investors Group Athletic Centre, 6:30 p.m.
x-Sunday: at Investors Group Athletic Centre, 2:30 p.m.

MEN

Brandon (7) at UBC (2)

Thursday: at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
Friday: at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
x-Saturday: at Vancouver, 4 p.m.

Calgary (6) at Alberta (3)

Friday: at Edmonton, 5 p.m.
Saturday: at Edmonton, 3 p.m.
x-Sunday: at Edmonton, 3 p.m.

Saskatchewan (5) at Thompson Rivers (4)

Thursday: at Kamloops, B.C., 9 p.m.
Friday: at Kamloops, B.C., 9 p.m.
x- Saturday: at Kamloops, B.C., 9 p.m.

x – if necessary

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Transfer of power: CIS’ bold new move

- November 26th, 2013

The CIS officially announced a bylaw change Tuesday that had been quietly brewing for months.

In a move that alters the landscape of recruiting and athlete movement, the CIS — trying to position itself further as an attractive alternative for Canadians who lust for the NCAA — announced Canadian student-athletes will no longer have to sit out a year if they transfer from the NCAA back home. Previously an athlete would have to sit out 365 days from the date of their last competition in the NCAA before they became eligible back in Canada.

The move will be largely celebrated among CIS followers, who will no doubt see the merit in giving athletes more freedom and more incentive to play in Canada should the NCAA dream not be as glowing and rosy as they originally thought.cis-logo

And make no mistake, those are the kids this rule affects the most. The hockey or basketball prodigy who chooses to go to Michigan or Kansas on full rides isn’t likely to be coming back to Canada anytime soon. But the athlete who, merely upon hearing the letters ‘NCAA’, signs on to a scholarship opportunity down south and shortly after finds out that Western Missouri Tech isn’t all it was cracked up to be? Those are the ones who will benefit from getting a do-over on their decisions, choices that are made at a young age when a kid can be forgiven for perhaps not always selecting the best route.

That’s not to say that every Canada-to-NCAA decision is a wrongheaded one, of course. Far from it. But it happens time and time again: A Canadian heads south because of what the NCAA ideal means and finds out after — whether its team chemistry, university culture, coaching philosophy or academics — that the NCAA isn’t always head-and-shoulders above the opportunities in their homeland.

Basketball and women’s volleyball will be the sports where you will see the most movement. Canada is sending a slew of basketball players south, many before they even reach university age, and not all of those players are in the Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis, Natalie Achonwa echelon. Winnipeggers Cam Hornby and Isaac Ansah both went to the States (Ansah started at a prep school) before finishing their university playing days in the CIS.  

In women’s volleyball, there will likely be more players than any other sport taking advantage of the bylaw (simply because of how many players Canada churns out), but the impact is not as dramatic simply because of the timing of scheduling. The NCAA women’s season ends for many teams in November while the CIS season is only in its second month at that point, meaning a player could conceivably have wrapped an NCAA Division I season one year and still made an impact on a CIS team the following year. That type of overlay doesn’t exist in other sports.

Each Manitoba school, in the past five to seven years, has had at least one example of a player transferring out of Division I back home: Brandon had Ashley Creighton transfer after two years at Pitt; Winnipeg briefly welcomed Erika Buchanan after a season at Montana and, most recently, Taylor Pischke returned home to play for Manitoba after a season at Cal-Santa Barbara.

The question arises as to how much of a precedent is set with the move. While the CIS finally loosened its vice grip on penalizing athletes who want to go NCAA to CIS, it’s unlikely it will be pursuing wiping the transfer penalty off the board entirely any time soon. Athletes who want to spend one year at Saint Mary’s and then decide Thompson Rivers is a better fit (with a stop at Lakehead in between), will still be on the sidelines for a year. And that’s unlikely to change with coaches loath to see players up and leave to a potential rival or future opponent without so much as a slight barricade in their way.

Tuesday’s announcement gives more freedom to young athletes and more hope for Canadian coaches and programs that the athletes they may have unsuccessfully pursued once upon a time will one day turn tail and come back to Canada. What it does not address — and no one initiative ever will — are the sources of these decisions that lead athletes to leave Canada in the first place.

The talent drain to the States is real and it will never go away, but that doesn’t have to be a reason for lament. Canadian schools — and the CIS as a whole — have improved greatly over the past 15 years at dressing their operations up in a more professional manner and thereby increasing the attractiveness of choosing Canada. Financial promises and bright lights of the big time will always lure the finest athletes the NCAA’s way.

Canada can address a number of things philosophically in its institutions, but perception, too, goes a long way. The process of turning CIS sports into an event, rather than an extra-curricular activity will be an ongoing battle, but the more individual members and the CIS do to increase their presence, their identity and their name recognition, the more likely we’ll be closer to a time when Canadian student-athletes don’t stop somewhere else on their way home.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Hip hop and sports: A sitdown with hoops-loving rapper Shad

- November 23rd, 2013

This blog isn’t the spot for hip hop interviews, but there’s no reason it can’t be once and a while.
So that’s why today I bring you a sitdown interview with Canadian rapper Shad, who stopped in Winnipeg Friday night on his nearly-Canada-wide tour promoting his fourth studio album, Flying Colours.shad
Shad’s lyrics are no strangers to sports, with references to Rafael Araujo (When I’m writing I repeatedly edit and rework tracks/I’ll admit I’m like the Raptors, I got weak first drafts/So when I’m dropping a new flow/It’s probably not that solid at first post/You might call it Araujo), Hakeem Olajuwon (I’m Hakeem’s team focused/with my dream at the centre), the Chicago Bulls (Look, I ain’t the Mike Jordan of recordings/But even Michael got a grant like Horace), “the only landed Canuck, who can’t handle a puck” even dips into hockey (my name ain’t Lil Wayne Gretzky, but ya’ll know better than to check me in the game).
So when Shad gave me 20 minutes of his time to talk about his tour and new record, I wanted to also use the opportunity to talk a bit of sports with him, too. Here’s a couple of moments shared with one of hip hop’s brightest talents.

• • •

On one of Shad’s previous trips to Winnipeg, he took the stage wearing a black t-shirt that read “He’s heating up,” a reference to the classic video game NBA Jam. After that show in 2011, I had an opportunity to meet him briefly and, appreciating the shirt, had to ask him what his go-to team was when he picked up the old Nintendo controllers. Shad had an answer right away that night and, when told that story and asked again on Friday, he came through again, adding in some coachspeak analysis into what makes an NBA Jam champion.
Shad: I’m pretty sure I told you Hardaway/Mullin (referring to two-thirds of the Golden State Warriors Run TMC trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin). That was just a killer combo. I didn’t care much for the dunks in NBA Jam. Mully could spot up and then Tim Hardaway’s just, you know, quick. So I liked playing with those two.
That was a good small man/big man era because you had Kenny Anderson/Derek Coleman, was another good pair. Jordan was never in it, so you had to have Pippen/Horace Grant — slow and boring. Stockton, Malone.
Larkins: I always went with Porter and Drexler.
Shad: Yeah! See, that’s a great combo.
Larkins: So what was your strategy in NBA Jam?
Shad: I just liked shooting the threes, or just pushing it with Hardaway with a big finger-roll lay-up.

• • •

Larkins: Are you a Raptors guy? Do you have an NBA team?
Shad: I want to like the Raptors, I really do, but they’re a hard team to love.
Larkins: Top of the Atlantic (Division) right now.
Shad: It’s amazing. But that’s not a huge feat. Philly surprised people out of the gate, but they’re stumbling. It’s so funny being in the States the last couple days because of the intense sports analysis everywhere. I loved it.
Larkins: That’s obviously what you like?
Shad: It’s so funny. I liked it and then at a certain point it just got hilarious.

• • •

Larkins: You mention 30 for 30 docs, one of your lines (on Long Jawn: I’m into 30 for 30 docs and 30 Rock/Why, ’cause I’m 30 and I’m kind of a nerdy jock). Which ones of those…?
Shad: See, that’s a tough question. There’s so many and there’s so many that are really good. I watched all the basketball ones pretty much first. You know what one’s really good is the Bo Jackson one, but I always hesitate to say that’s the best one because that’s actually the most “sports” one. All the other ones have some connection to culture, that one is just: this is impressive athleticism, which I thought was actually kind of cool.
Two Escobars is good, the Allen Iverson one is really good, Benji I really liked. Fab Five didn’t have (Chris) Webber, so that hurt. But actually my favourite sports doc is probably the HBO Magic/Bird one.
Larkins: Well that’s close to when you’re growing up …
Shad: Well that was like the tail end. The end of their era was when I started watching. So one of the first basketball games I ever watched was the all-star game when Magic came back (1992). I think part of it is, it’s cool to learn all this stuff and there’s so much stuff in there I didn’t know about Bird and Magic. It’s just really well done, super poignant.

• • •

Larkins: Did you play basketball in high school?
Shad: I did, yeah.
Larkins: Were you good?
Shad: I was OK. I was better in, like, Grade 9 and 10. Didn’t grow.

Shad’s album Flying Colours is available in stores and online and is most certainly worth the purchase. He is one of Canada’s great musical acts of any genre.

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@LarkinsWSun

Where are they now? Manitoba hockey players in NCAA, CIS

- November 15th, 2013

When I worked at the Brandon Sun, one of the yearly features I would do is a Where Are They Now, in which I’d attempt to track down the name of every Westman hockey, volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball and football player putting in work at campuses around North America.

That meant scouring through obscure Division III and JUCO rosters to find someone down in Alabama. Or poring over CIS rosters to see if there was anyone local now calling Antigonish home. I like to think it was a well-received piece by those in the southwestern Manitoba community who still want to know what their local athletes are up to, even if they’re not doing it locally.

I’d like to think I’ve maintained at least the spirit of that original idea here as I’ve compiled a list of every Manitoban who is playing post-secondary men’s or women’s hockey outside the province. That means: CIS, NCAA Division I, NCAA Division III and junior college.

Before we get to the list, here’s a few facts about it:

  • In all, 140 players are on North American rosters
  • The largest group of that 140 are women playing Division I: there’s 35 of them.
  • If you want to suddenly pick a favourite school down south, Wisconsin-Superior is a good choice for locals, with nine women and three men.
  • There are 37 men playing down south (18 D1, 19 DIII) vs 31 who stayed in the CIS. Meanwhile, there are 18 women on CIS rosters with another 16 on DIII rosters.
  • The players who have to travel the furthest from home to their American school? Anchorage, Alaska; 4,417 km. Canadian? Fredericton, N.B.; 3,084 km.

Hopefully you can appreciate my only doing hockey players (at least for now), as the sheer volume of athletes would make finding everyone in other sports quite daunting. If you feel someone has been missed, please feel free to leave a comment or tweet at me @LarkinsWSun. For now, hopefully you enjoy perusing this, every Manitoba hockey player and their second home:

MEN
DIVISION I

ATLANTIC HOCKEY 
Canisius Golden Griffins (1)
Mathew Backhouse, So., D, Thompson

BIG TEN
Michigan State Spartans (1)
Lee Reimer, Sr., F, Landmark

ECAC
Rensselaer Engineers (1)
Jason Kasdorf, So., G, Winnipeg
Union Dutchmen (1)
Mat Bodie, Sr., D, East St. Paul

HOCKEY EAST
Providence Friars (2)
Shane Luke, Jr., F, Dauphin
Steven Shamanski, Sr., D, Carberry
Vermont Catamounts (1)
Yvan Pattyn, So., D, Ste. Anne

NCHC
Colorado College Tigers (1)
Peter Stoykewych, Jr., D, Winnipeg
Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (1)
Reed Peters, Fr., G, Morden
North Dakota (3)
Brendan O’Donnell, Jr., F, Winnipeg
Stephane Pattyn, Jr., F, Ste. Anne
Bryn Chyzyk, So., F, Virden
Western Michigan Broncos (1)

WCHA
Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves (2)
Matt Bailey, Sr., F, Oakbank
Hudson Friesen, Fr., F, East St. Paul
Bemidji State Beavers (1)
Brendan Harms, Fr., F, Steinbach
Bowling Green Falcons (1)
Scott Zacharias, Sr., G, Winnipeg
Northern Michigan Wildcats (1)
Stephan Vigier, Sr., F, Notre Dame de Lourdes


DIVISION III
ECAC MEN’S EAST
Castleton Spartans (2)
Tyler Gaudry, So., D, Stonewall
Derek Gingera, So., F, Winnipeg

ECAC NORTHEAST
Curry Colonels (1)
Jake Heisinger, Fr., F, Winnipeg

ECAC MEN’S WEST
Manhattanville Valiants (1)
Craig Simchuk, Sr., F, Winnipeg
Neumann Knights (1)
Jory Mullin, Fr., F, Cartwright

NCHA
Adrian Bulldogs (2)
Brett Pinkerton, Fr., F, Pilot Mound
Jeremy Olinyk, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Concordia Falcons (1)
Brandt Weldon, Fr., D, The Pas
Finlandia Lions (1)
Troy Chandler, Fr., G, Souris
St. Scholastica Saints (1)
Colin Phaeuf, Jr., F, Winnipeg

MIAC
Concordia Cobbers (3)
Dan Hrabowych, Sr., F, Winnipeg
Derek Whitehill, So., Winnipeg
Caleb Suderman, Sr., Winkler

SUNYAC
Geneseo Knights (1)
Garry Childerhose, Sr., F, Altona
Morrisville State Mustangs (1)
Joe Ftoma, Fr., D, Winnipeg

WIAC
Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets (3)
Michael Rey, Sr., F, Winnipeg
Jordan Neduzak, Fr., F, Morden
Dayn Belfour, Jr., G, Morden


Division III Independent
SUNY-Canton Kangaroos (1)
Saylor Preston, So., F, Winnipeg


NJCAA
Dakota College Lumberjacks (2)
Reed Loucks, So., F, Melita
Connor Drewry, So., D, Cartwright
Willison State College Tetons (1)
Tyler Wiwchar, So., D, Winnipeg


CIS
OUA
Guelph Gryphons (1)
Cale Jefferies, Jr., F, Glenboro
Lakehead Thunderwolves (2)
Keith Grondin, Jr., F, Winnipeg
Chris de la Lande, Jr., D, Winnipeg
McGill Redmen (1)
Neal Prokop, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Queen’s Golden Gaels (1)
Tyler Moore, Jr., F, Winnipeg
RMC Paladins (2)
Drew Luhowy, Fr., F, Rossburn
Alex Pym, Jr., D, Winnipeg
Ryerson Rams (1)
Lucas Froese, Fr., F, Grunthal
Toronto Varsity Blues (4)
Paul Van De Velde, Jr., F, Mariapolis
Lane Werbowski, So., D, Winnipeg
Dylan Heide, So., D, Winnipeg
Connor Cleverley, RS-F, F Winnipeg
Waterloo Warriors (1)
Paul Bonar, So., D, Brandon
Western Mustangs (1)
Adam Stoykewych, Jr., F, Winnipeg
York Lions (3)
Paul Sohor, So., D, East St. Paul
Jordan Davies, Jr., D, winnipeg
Evan Gravenor, Jr., F, Winnipeg

AUS
Acadia Axemen (1)
Joel Ridgeway, F, Grosse Isle
Dalhousie Tigers (2)
Brett Plouffe, Sr., D, Winnipeg
Brad McConnell, Jr., Brandon
PEI Panthers (1)
Mason Wilgosh, So., C, Winnipeg

CANADA WEST
Alberta Golden Bears (1)
Johnny Lazo, Sr., F, Winnipeg
Lethbridge Pronghorns (1)
Daniel Fainman, Fr., Winnipeg
UBC Thunderbirds (1)
Michael Wilgosh, Jr., F, Selkirk
Saskatchewan Huskies (1)
John Lawrence, Fr., F, Newdale
Regina Cougars (6)
Ryan Dech, So., D, Winnipeg
Mark Schneider, Jr., D, Brandon
Brock Appleyard, Jr., F, Lundar
Sanfred King, Jr., F, Brandon
Troy Hunter, Jr., F, Lenore
Ward Szucki, So., F, Neepawa


WOMEN
DIVISION I

COLLEGE HOCKEY AMERICA
Mercyhurst Lakers (2)
Shelby Bram, Jr., F, Ste. Anne
Christine Bestland, Sr., F, Brunkild
Robert Morris Colonials (2)
Rikki Meilleur, Fr., F, St. Adolphe
Brandi Pollock, Sr., D, Virden
Syracuse Orange (2)
Danielle Leslie, So., D, Winnipeg
Larissa Martyniuk, Fr., D, Winnipeg

ECAC
Cornell Big Red (1)
Taylor Woods, So., F, Morden
Union Dutchwomen (3)
Eastyn Yuen, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Jessica Kaminsky, So., F, La Salle
Rebecca Babiak, So., F, Winnipeg

HOCKEY EAST
Boston Terriers (1)
Alexis Woloschuk, So., D, Winnipeg
Connecticut Huskies (1)
Jessica Stott, Fr., D, Niverville
Maine Black Bears (4)
Jess Vallotton, Fr., D, Glenboro
Brooklyn Langlois, So., D, Steinbach
Karissa Kirkup, Fr., F, Virden
Jennifer More, Jr., F, Deloraine
Providence Friars (1)
Cassidy Carels, Fr., F, Bruxelles
Bemidji State Beavers (6)
Madison Hutchinson, Fr., D, Manitou
Emily McKnight, Sr., F, Roland
Tess Dusik, Sr., F, Oak Bluff
Kayleigh Chapman, Jr., D, Virden
Brittni Mowat, Fr., G, Glenboro
Kristine Grenier, Jr., F, St. Leon

WCHA
Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (2)
Ashleigh Brykaliuk, Fr., F, Brandon
Brigette Lacquette, Jr., D, Mallard
Minnesota State Mavericks (3)
Kelsie Scott, Sr., F, Souris
Elisabeth Hewett, Jr., D, Oak Bluff
Melissa Klippenstein, Sr., F, Neubergthal
North Dakota (4)
Tori Williams, Jr., D, The Pas
Halli Krzyzaniak, Fr., D, Neepawa
Meghan Dufault, So., F, Winnipeg
Annie Chipman, Fr., G, Winnipeg
Ohio State Buckeyes (1)
Hayley Studler, Fr., F, Grosse Isle
St. Cloud State Huskies (2)
Skye Kelly, So., D, Brandon
Kelsey Saelens, Fr., F, Winnipeg


DIVISION III
ECAC WOMEN’S EAST
Castleton Spartans (1)
Allison Howard, Sr., F, Brandon

ECAC WOMEN’S WEST
Oswego Lakers (1)
Bailee Goodon, So., F, Brandon

MIAC
Augsberg Auggies (1)
Karissa Haney, Fr., F, Killarney

NCHA
Finlandia Lions (1)
Siera Hache, Sr., F, Winnipeg
St. Scholastica Saints (3)
Michelle Rebeck, Sr., D, St. Andrews
Cara McMannis, Sr., F, Holland
Sheridan Friesen, Jr., G, Winnipeg

WIAC
Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets (9)
Sheryl Kaskiw, Sr., D, Souris
Karen Larson, So., F, Blumenort
Kiara De Kezel, Jr., F, Deloraine
Teal Crosson, Sr., F, Alexander
Lynne Larson, So., F, Blumenort
Shanley Peters, Sr., G, Gnadenthal
Amanda Coey, Fr., F, Brandon
Pamela McLeod, Fr., D, Gillam
Kim Kobar, Fr., G, The Pas


CIS
OUA
Toronto Varsity Blues (1)
Autumn Garnham, Fr., Portage la Prairie
York Lions (1)
Lindsay Brook, Sr., D, Ste. Rose

AUS
Dalhousie Tigers (1)
Megan Ross, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Saint Mary’s Huskies (2)
Haylee Tretiak, So., F, Teulon
Selby Jessiman, Fr., F, Brandon
St. Thomas Tommies (1)
Caley Steinert, Jr., D, Emerson
PEI Panthers (1)
Teagan Pringle, Fr., F, Glenboro

CANADA WEST
Alberta Pandas (1)
Tess Houston, Jr., F, Winnipeg
Lethbridge Pronghorns (2)
Jenna-Marie Durnin, 5-Sr., Wawanesa
Aislinn Kooistra, Fr., F, Swan River
UBC Thunderbirds (2)
Tatiana Rafter, Sr., F, Winnipeg
Cailey Hay, Jr., D, Oakbank
Saskatchewan Huskies (4)
Ali Van Alstyne, Fr., D, Winnipeg
Alexee Klassen, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Cassandra Jorgenson, Fr., F, Winnipeg
Kira Bannatyne, Fr., D, Winnipeg
Regina Cougars (2)
Michela Esposito, Fr., D, Winnipeg
Natasha Kostenko, Fr. (RS), F, Fannystelle

(* Of note, the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association is incredibly hit and miss with schools having rosters. So, yes, there are a number of Manitobans playing, for instance, in the ACAC, but for purposes of not leaving anyone out because their school doesn’t have a roster up or is incomplete, I’ve left the CCAA out entirely.)

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@LarkinsWSun

Roster shuffle gives Bisons new wrinkle

- August 25th, 2013

When Nic Demski, Anthony Coombs and Kienan LaFrance all arrived at the University of Manitoba as freshmen two years ago, head coach Brian Dobie didn’t even attempt to contain his excitement or how anxious he was to see — and have others see — what the incoming trio of tailbacks would be capable of.

Demski has been an all-Canadian twice, albeit not as a running back. Coombs has also been all-Canada twice, and those were as a running back. LaFrance, when listed in the group, is often the third one mentioned, despite having rushed for 636 yards — a 6.2 yards per carry average — and six touchdowns in two seasons.

There is only one ball to go around and, as followers of the Canadian game know, having three capable tailbacks is a nice problem to have, but it still is in fact a problem. Dobie and his coaching staff have had to figure out ways to keep each of those players on the field and still make use of them adequately.

They may have a solution.

What started last season as a roster tweak is now a permanent reality for the Bisons. Demski has moved to slotback, a shift that allows Coombs to be the team’s primary back again, but also gives LaFrance a bigger opportunity to get his touches, too. It is truly an embarrassment of riches in that category for Manitoba and, if Demski works out as a pass-catcher, provides the Bisons with one of the most stacked offensive attacks in the nation.

Demski hasn’t been entirely banished from the backfield, though. The Bisons have implemented a Wildcat package — an actual one; not what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers run — that puts Demski in shotgun flanked by Coombs and LaFrance. They came into the CIS together, now they’re lining up together.

“I hope, personally, that we use it quite a bit,” Demski said at a recent training camp practice. “I think it’ll be beneficial to the team to get even more speed coming out of the backfield. It’ll be good just having a quarterback who can run with Coombs or Kienan in the backfield as well, so it’s kind of a double threat.”

In Manitoba’s 30-25 non-conference loss to Regina on Friday, Demski had two carries for 19 yards, but also went 2-for-2 flinging it, tallying 37 yards. The Wildcat is most effective when a defence is lead to believe the man running the operation isn’t in there just to run the ball or hand it off. And, in Demski, who played quarterback in Grade 10, the Bisons have a guy to do that.

“Throwing’s not a big issue, it’s just the timing really,” he said. “I’ve used my arm before, but the timing at this level and (knowing) when to throw it when (receivers) are coming off their breaks and knowing where to place the ball. It’s just a higher level of throwing. It’s complicated, but I’ll get there.”

Demski acknowledged there’s been a lot to wrap his mind around in getting accustomed to the new assignments put on him.

“It’s been pretty tough learning it, to be honest, just the reads and the read option,” he said. “It’s getting better and I’m getting better at it every day. Just the defensive ends and defensive tackles, where they’re going and where I need to be or where I need to put the ball. It’s just transitioning to a new position.”

And if anyone would think Demski might be a bit cheesed at moving out of the position he was recruited to play, think again. He’s beaming at the opportunity to be a playmaker and decision-maker at the same time.

“This whole time I’ve been having a smile on my face with this Wildcat,” he said. “So it’s exciting.”

And Demski sees the bigger picture, too.

“Having me, Kienan and Anthony on the field all at once, and our receiving corps is very good this year, so it’s just weapons all over the place,” Demski said. “Sky’s the limit for our offence, in my mind, and I believe in everyone else’s mind on offence, too.”

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Breaking Glad: Bisons leave camp with high hopes

- August 22nd, 2013

A sure sign that Manitoba Bisons training camp was starting to stretch into its final, taxing hours and wear on its participants was the short fuse from the coaching staff.

Not that football coaches are wont to speak in muted tones, but defensive line coach Lance Glover, impatient and frustrated with his players in an offence-defence drill on Thursday, unabashedly tore strips off the unit for its collective lethargic play with language straight off an Al Pacino script.

So, yeah, it’s about time these guys start messing with other teams.

The Bisons broke camp Thursday with spirits high, however, a non-conference game Friday in Regina against the Rams their lone dress rehearsal before the Canada West season begins Aug. 30 at Investors Group Field. Head coach Brian Dobie stressed that Friday’s tune-up isn’t just an extension of training camp — it’s time to get real.

“I know it’s called an exhibition game, but I made it really clear to our players that we’re going there to play a game,” Dobie said less than two hours before the Bisons got on buses and headed west.

Dobie acknowledged that many starting positions on the field were set prior to training camp with incumbents and veterans naturally sliding into those roles. But that, of course, does not mean the Bisons’ depth chart is written in ink.

“Where I think Friday night — the culmination of training camp — impacts is those spots that are wide open still, or certain spots where you’re a starter and I’m nipping at your heels, that game can make a difference.” Dobie said. “So, for X number of people it certainly has a huge impact and a huge difference-maker in terms of the coaching staff’s decision making and, of course, quarterback.”

Oh, quarterbacks? You mean the one position on the field that is guaranteed to get everyone’s attention?

Indeed there remains a battle for starter with returning senior Marc Paquette and senior newcomer Jordan Yantz still, according to Dobie, neck and neck.

“Now the bullets are really going to fly,” Dobie said. “It doesn’t have to be an end all, be all but it certainly is going to tell us a lot of where we are at quarterback.”

Still 1 and 1A?

“I’m going to say yes,” Dobie said, “and then leave (a decision) to post-game Friday.”

Dobie has had praise for Paquette, who could be forgiven if he felt like the forgotten one. Yantz brought a ton of junior football accolades with him to Winnipeg, but Paquette has hung in and made the decision difficult for the Bisons staff.

“I knew when Jordan was coming in — and any other year — you have to be in the weight room and you have to do all the right things during the off-season,” Paquette said. “Every year you just learn a little bit more, you know what you have to go through and what you like and what you don’t like, and the staff has made it really easy on me. And I think it spoke for itself on the field. Everything got a little easier, things become easier.”

Kick-off for Friday’s non-conference game is 7 p.m. CT. There will be no live stream of the game, however live stats can be followed at www.canadawest.tv while a radio broadcast will be carried on www.620.ckrm.com.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Bisons ticket giveaway

- August 22nd, 2013

A quick post here to offer up a pair of tickets to the Manitoba Bisons’ season opener at Investors Group Field next Friday, Aug. 30.

The first person who tweets at me on my Twitter account @LarkinsWSun and answers the following question (and can pick them up at the Sun office prior to next Friday), will get ‘em.

When the Bisons last won the Vanier Cup in 2007, who was named the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy winner and what specific statistical feat did he pull off that lead to his winning the award?

This will be the first in a series of ticket giveaways we’ll do leading up to the season opener.

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No guarantees: Yantz has chance to be Bisons No. 1

- August 19th, 2013

Jordan Yantz came to Winnipeg with impressive credentials and a potential vacancy awaiting him upon his arrival.

He had records and accolades to his credit and even the coach of his new team heaping unprecedented praise upon him before he’d even thrown a practice pass for the Manitoba Bisons. Yet head coach Brian Dobie, who told our Kirk Penton Yantz was “”the most storied recruit” in Dobie’s tenure, insists the battle to be the Bisons’ starting quarterback on Aug. 30 is still very much yet to be decided.

Yantz, who was the top offensive player in the BC junior league three seasons in a row and won two national championships with the Vancouver Island Raiders, owns the Canadian Junior Football League’s single-season passing record after throwing for 3,243 passing yards and 33 touchdowns last season en route to being named the CJFL’s offensive player of the year.

Transition in football is rarely a simple thing and Yantz’s move to Manitoba is hardly basic. On one hand, he’s joining a new team and having to learn all the new language that accompanies that. Yet he’s also having to prove that he can immediately leap from the junior ranks to the CIS and do so at the most spotlighted position on the field. And, by the way, he’d also have to unseat 6-foot-4 senior Marc Pacquette, himself a BCJFL grad, the incumbent who Dobie said is acquitting himself well in this one-on-one battle.

“I think they’re both having a great start and that is not a political statement. That’s a fact. They’re off to a great start and they’re competing. One of them is going to start against Alberta on Aug. 30 and they’re making it tough on us for sure,” said Dobie, playing the obligatory coy coach role with perfection. “He rose to the competition. He knew Jordan was coming in and he knew Jordan’s reputation, and instead of sitting back he accelerated forward.” 

Dobie has praised Yantz’s professionalism and the quarterback acknowledges his days have been full with ‘install’, processing and applying an offence that is brand new to him and far more burdensome intellectually than anything he’d taken on in junior. 

“Obviously learning a new offence and as quarterback you’ve gotta know everything and what’s going on at all times,” Yantz said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but that’s something I’m willing to challenge. … Each day it keeps on getting heavier and heavier and heavier, but that’s something as football players we sign up and we’ve gotta be prepared for.”

Dobie, however, said Yantz — who arrived in Winnipeg to take part in spring camp in May — has been ‘proactive’ in his approach to picking it all up.

“To me, he’s taken it upon himself to not sit back and asked to be spoon-fed,” Dobie said. “He’s been proactive in his approach. He’s come into camp ahead of the curve and really improved. He comes in with a big reputation and a big arm, that’s obvious.”

Whomever comes out of the battle as the top QB, they will be blessed with an offence that could be the envy of the Canada West. The Bisons are bulging at the seams with speed and playmaking ability, so much so that Dobie has the luxury of being able to move all-Canadian running back Nic Demski into the slotback position so as to get more touches in the backfield for tailbacks Anthony Coombs and Kienan LaFrance.

“They’re fast. I mean, working with players like Nic Demski and Anthony Coombs — those guys are fast,” Yantz said. “This offence is fast in its weapons and it’s my job to deliver the football. If I don’t get that done, I’m not doing my job. If I get the football in their hands and let them make the plays, that’s the main goal.”

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RAIMBAULT RECRUIT: The Winnipeg Wesmen men’s basketball team hasn’t released it officially, but recruiting expert Barry Hayes of HoopStars Canada tweeted Monday that former Ryerson Rams forward Jelane Pryce has committed to coach Mike Raimbault‘s Wesmen. The 6-foot-7 forward would enter his junior year at U of W, after averaging 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in nine games for the Rams in 2011-12.

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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Canada West all-stars: How I’d have done it

- March 1st, 2013

The Canada West has handed out all-stars in all sports now, most recently for men’s basketball, which has its final four starting tonight.

There will be gripes and disagreements on these things all the time and truthfully you could usually make an all-conference third team in most sports for the number of players who didn’t get included in the first two. The CIS and the Canada West don’t do that, however. 

But I do.

So here then is my thoughts on the men’s basketball all-stars and what I would have done. (Actual all-stars in graphic below).

allstars

I have little to no problem with these teams, just FYI. It’s really more about who isn’t listed, than who is. I’m not looking to take anyone of those lists, I don’t think — although I’m not crazy about Plumb being a first-teamer after averaging a little less than 16 points a game and not putting up any eye-popping numbers otherwise. Plumb is the MVP of UBC and that alone is likely why you see him in the list.

In fact: Take a look at Plumb’s numbers matched up against the second-best player on Lethbridge, Julian Spear Chief-Morris (click on images to enlarge):

plumb

chief

I’m not even suggesting Spear Chief-Morris is an all-star — just that the numbers of a non-all-star are comparable to those of a first-teamer.

But rather than nitpick, here’s five more players who could have and, in a couple of cases, absolutely should have been Canada West all-stars.

Thijin Moses, Calgary — In my mind, the most egregious oversight of them all. Moses’ snub could be a product of two things: Ogungbemi-Jackson making one squad and Calgary not being a playoff team. So when you see a team not good enough to make the post-season (even though the Dinos record would have had them in third place in the Pacific Division), some might say its not deserving of two all-stars. This, of course, is lunacy. Ogungbemi-Jackson deserves to be there because he’s probably the top point guard in Canada West. But Moses was a 6-foot-7 match-up nightmare for teams, averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting the three at 47%. And that’s not 47% on 25 shots or something suspect. That’s 47% on 123 shots. And if you’re really a stat geek — his true shooting percentage was 61.5, which incidentally is the same percentage Steve Nash currently has for the Lakers.

Steven Wesley, Winnipeg — This isn’t just because I proclaimed him to be a conference all-star about four games into the season. Wesley averaged 18.1 points and 8.2 rebounds, and shot over 60% from the field (TS% of 62.9). Wesley gave a Winnipeg team with zero advantages down low an active rebounder and hustle guy who won 50/50 balls and got himself easy baskets.

Kevon Parchment, Fraser Valley — Nearly 18 points a game to go along with eight rebounds per and a FT% near 85. And he’s 6-foot-3. Once again probably the product of Fraser Valley already having an all-star in Freeman, who was most certainly deserving.

Tonner Jackson, Trinity Western — The Spartans were a totally different team with Jackson in the lineup. A match-up challenge at 6-foot-7, Jackson averaged 16 points and seven rebounds, and shot the three at over 40%. And yes, I’m aware you can’t put a guy on an all-star team officially who played in only 13 conference games. Still.

Paul Gareau, Regina; Jonar Huertas, Manitoba — The Cougars weren’t very good. But they’d have been a lot worse without Gareau, who averaged more than 16 and 7 and shot nearly 65% from the field. The Bisons were pretty good and Huertas was a much-needed piece. I certainly didn’t like his shot selection on most nights, but he could fill it up. Without Huertas’ 16 points and 39% from three.

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And then there were two: Wesmen, Bobcats last ones standing

- February 26th, 2013

It took less than two weeks to eliminate almost everyone.

When Canada West playoffs began for men’s and women’s hockey and volleyball, and with the basketball conference season coming to an end at the same time, eight teams with Manitoba ties still held hopes — in some cases faint — of a championship at the end of the line.

Yet in 10 days, six of those teams are done and the two that remain are textbook pieces of evidence that timing matters. 

The Winnipeg Wesmen men’s basketball team and the Brandon Bobcats men’s volleyball team both got hot when it mattered, the Wesmen the microwave variety with a quick little heat-check to end the season that got them into the playoffs, into a hosting berth and, now, into the Canada West final four.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, are Xeroxing a page from their 2011 playbook, when they went a pedestrian 10-8 in the conference season but went on a late-season run that they extended into the post-season right to the national final, where they were beaten by Trinity Western. Whereas the problems for BU occurred in the first half of 2010-11, this time around their rough patch came in the second semester, at one point losing four in a row and five of six just two weeks before the post-season was to begin.

The Wesmen had a number of things go their way (as I blogged about here last week) but are now in a conference semifinal thanks to an absolutely scintillating performance Sunday afternoon at Duckworth Centre, where they eliminated the Trinity Western Spartans in Game 3 of the best-of-three quarter-final. They shot nearly 60% from three and played as selfless and cohesive a brand of basketball as they have all season long. By doing so, they’ve cooked up what is already the finest Wesmen season in nearly 20 years.

Nothing comes easy now, of course. The Wesmen must beat a very tough Victoria squad on a neutral floor for a berth in nationals; the Bobcats must navigate the eight-team nationals in Quebec City, albeit from the top perch. That No. 1 ranking, the first of its kind for the Brandon program, guarantees zilch, especially considering a semifinal duel with Alberta would loom on Day 2 if the Cats are able to win their quarter-final.

The Bobcats and Wesmen have successfully navigated to this point without much recognition from the rest of the country. Winnipeg only just this week appeared in the national poll — and in 12th at that — and Brandon hovered in the bottom half of the top 10 for most of the season. Maybe nobody expected much from either, and that’s likely just fine for both.

As the Bobcats proved in 2011, sometimes to be among the last ones standing, you gotta sneak up there.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun