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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.

Huskers go Riley route; hire former Blue Bombers coach

- December 4th, 2014

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Mike Riley is moving on to a new gig.

Riley, who coached the Bombers to two Grey Cup victories including the franchise’s most recent win in 1990, was named the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday, a move that caught almost everyone off-guard.

Riley has been a longtime, loyal coach at Oregon State where he turned a moribund program into a respectable contender in the Pac-12. Riley had two stints with the Beavers in Corvallis, Ore., the most recent starting in 2003 when he returned from a three-year run with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.

rileygrant

Former Blue Bombers coaches Mike Riley (left) and Bud Grant sit for a group photo in 2010 as the franchise honoured some of its greatest alumni at its 80th anniversary celebration. (Kirk Penton/Winnipeg Sun)

Riley has always been remembered fondly in Winnipeg and most recently visited in 2010 when he was among the Bomber greats recognized as the franchise celebrated its 80th anniversary.

Riley takes over a Nebraska program that won at least nine games in each of its seven years under fired coach Bo Pelini, who was dismissed on Sunday. In Lincoln, he will have more financial resources and better program infrastructure behind him than he experienced at Oregon State, which is dwarfed by in-state rival Oregon, a Nike-sponsored superpower.

Among many media that cover the NCAA, and the coaches employed in it, Riley was lauded for being a class act and one of the nicest coaches in the game. But Winnipeggers, of course, already knew that.

What follows is some of the effusive praise showered on Riley by those in the know south of the border:

 

Uteck two-step: Manitoba, Montreal seek big-dance berth

- November 21st, 2014

The Manitoba Bisons are one win away from a berth in the Vanier Cup, playing a semifinal Saturday as part of what has become an improbable playoff run.

The past two seasons have been filled with great expectations for the Bisons, with coach Brian Dobie’s recruiting classes starting in 2010 largely built with the hopes of these past couple of seasons in mind. The Bisons indeed believed big things were in the plans for 2014, but the path to get where they are today was far from smooth. Injuries and inconsistencies butt in on all they planned to accomplish and it should not be forgotten U of M’s path to Saturday Uteck Bowl contained more improbabilities than just the upset last weekend in Calgary. The Bisons needed a win in Calgary in Week 8, plus a Regina win over Alberta in Week 8 to help them avoid Calgary in the Canada West semifinal; a win at Saskatchewan in the semifinal and then the momentous victory last Saturday.

And yes much has been made about the who-are-these-guys final four of CIS football this year, with Manitoba joined by Montreal, the team that really shook things up with a stunning victory over Laval just hours before the Bisons’ win. Throw in undefeated Mount Allison, which was 0-8 just three seasons ago, and you’ve got three teams with varying chips on their shoulder joining perennial power McMaster as the last teams left chasing a national title.

So you’re well aware of what the Bisons bring to the table, let’s give you a briefing on the team they’ll be facing Saturday (11:30 a.m. CT, Sportsnet 360):

MONTREAL CARABINS
If you didn’t know there was another football team in Montreal outside of the Alouettes, you could be excused somewhat. Yet the Carabins have been doing fine work for years under the cover of the large shadow cast by their provincial rival Laval, the machine from Quebec City whose success has rendered Montreal nearly invisible. The Other U of M has gone 66-25 over the past 11 seasons, including an 8-0 record in 2004 that (of course) ended with a playoff loss to Laval.

So the Carabins, who hovered between No. 2 and 5 in the national rankings and come in having won nine in a row, bring a significant test for the Bisons, who will be considered an underdog once again.

STATS
Regular season offence points (33.9 ppg): 2nd RSEQ / 9th CIS
Regular season offence total yards (448.9 ypg): 3rd RSEQ / 15th CIS
Regular season offence passing (312.5 ypg): 2nd RSEQ / 6th CIS
Regular season offence rushing (136.4 ypg): 4th RSEQ / 19th CIS
Regular season defence points (12.5 ppg): 2nd RSEQ / 3rd CIS
Regular season defence total yards (301.6 ypg): 2nd RSEQ / 2nd CIS
Regular season defence passing (183.4 ypg): 1st RSEQ / 1st CIS
Regular season defence rushing (118.2 ypg): 3rd RSEQ / 6th CIS

PERSONNEL 
QB Gabriel Cousineau. The fourth-year senior pivot had a CIS-best 71.9% completion rate, and threw just three interceptions against 14 touchdowns. Unlikely to beat you with his legs.

LB Byron Archambault. A 6-foot, 240-lb. menace, Archambault is the RSEQ defensive MVP after finishing second in the nation in sacks with nine. He had a sack, six tackles and a forced fumble last weekend.

SB Mikhail Davidson. A RSEQ all-star, Davidson was a top-10 receiver in the CIS compiling 43 catches for 769 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns.

THE COACH
Danny Maciocia is in his fourth season at the helm of the Carabins, posting a 26-8 record overall, 4-3 in the post-season.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Around the Canada West: Weekend edition

- November 9th, 2014

The big story for Manitoba university sports fans this weekend was the Bisons’ come-from-behind win over the Saskatchewan Huskies in a Canada West football semifinal Friday night in Saskatoon.

As I wrote about earlier this week, the Bisons were thrown into an inconvenient road trip with no hotel rooms available Friday in Saskatoon, leaving them to stay in Prince Albert, an hour-plus drive away. But the Bisons overcame that — and a 19-point deficit, too — to knock off the Huskies and move on to the conference final for the second straight year.

A few tidbits on that game and what lays ahead:

• Not only was that was the first time the Bisons had won a playoff game at Saskatchewan, it was the first time the two teams had met in the playoffs in Saskatoon.
• Prior to the win, the Bisons were 1-3 in the post-season against Saskatchewan.
• It was the second straight year the teams met in a semifinal, with Manitoba winning last year in Winnipeg. And it will be the second straight year the Bisons will travel to Calgary for the conference final.

The Dinos eviscerated the Regina Rams 56-0 in the other semifinal on Saturday, scoring 33 points in the second quarter alone. The Dinos only on-field loss of the season came in the conference finale against the Bisons, who defeated Calgary for the first time since 2007. The Dinos finished 6-2 with their other loss coming via forfeiture for playing an ineligible player in a win over Alberta earlier in the year.

Kickoff in Calgary will be 3 p.m. Manitoba time on Saturday with Shaw providing TV coverage.

A few other notes from the weekend:

• The Bisons men’s volleyball team snapped the UBC T-Birds’ six-match win streak and improved to 6-4 on the season with a four-set win Saturday night. The playoff picture, albeit very early, has a strong Manitoba presence with all three local schools in the top seven.

• Meanwhile the Wesmen men’s volleyball team is among the hottest in the nation riding a six-match win streak to sit at 7-1 in third place in the conference. A big disclaimer though: The Wesmen piled up those six wins off the conference’s bottom-feeders Regina, UBCO and Grant MacEwan, who are a combined 1-26 thus far this season. The tough stuff starts next weekend as U of W takes two straight trips to the west coast, first at Thompson Rivers, then at UBC the following weekend.

• Brandon’s women’s volleyball team had its five-match winning streak snapped with a straight-sets loss to Thompson Rivers. Still, BU is 6-2 and in second place in the conference, not to mention No. 1 in Manitoba with the Wesmen (4-4) and Bisons (4-6) trailing behind.

• It’s unlikely anyone would have said U of W, especially after suffering two key injuries just before the season began, would have a better win percentage at any point this season than the defending-champion Bisons. Full marks to the Dubs for what they’ve done so far.

• I’m a member of the CIS men’s hockey ranking committee and I tweeted on the weekend that I was going to keep the Bisons in my top 10 ballot. But when it came down to filing it Sunday night, I just couldn’t do it. U of M has looked like a top-10 team this season, but two losses at Lethbridge a couple of weekends back cloud over even a spirited effort in two losses at home to No. 1 Alberta this weekend.

• On the women’s side, the Bisons haven’t cracked the top 10 yet this season, but they simply have to be in there on Tuesday when the latest poll is released. They are now 7-2-1, including a split at No. 3 Alberta on the weekend. No way they should be forgotten now.

• In women’s basketball, the Wesmen are a perfect 4-0 and could crack the national top 10 on Tuesday. U of W was ranked 12th last week. On the men’s side, the Bisons came back from a double-digit deficit to beat the Cougars in Regina, which is always a difficult place for visiting teams to win. Manitoba is now 3-1 while Winnipeg is 2-2 with a road trip to Saskatoon up this weekend. The Bisons are home to 0-4 Brandon.

• Outside the Canada West, the York Lions won the national men’s soccer title on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over OUA rival McMaster. Former Winnipegger Dylan Sacramento, who has played in the province’s provincial program, logged 63 minutes for York, which also has Winnipeg’s Jack Taylor on the roster, although he appeared in just one match this season. Sacramento is the brother of former Wesmen star Kenny Sacramento.

• On the women’s side, Laval blanked Trinity Western 5-0. The Western Mustangs, meanwhile, beat Montreal 2-0 in the fifth-place game. The Mustangs have sophomore Jenna White, a Winnipegger who scored a goal in WU’s 2-0 consolation semifinal win over Memorial on Friday.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

BU adding to burgeoning wall of fame

- October 16th, 2014

It’s Homecoming in Brandon this weekend and the university is adding to its growing wall of honour for athletes and builders as part of the festivities.

The Dick and Verda McDonald Sports Wall of Fame, itself just a year old, will grow with the enshrinement of eight athletes and three teams at Homecoming Weekend in the Wheat City.

  • Sandra Hamilton Athlete, Women’s Basketball (1990-93)
  • David Dominique Athlete, Men’s Basketball (1986-89)
  • Larry Rodenbush Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball (1968-74)
  • Bob Simmons Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball/Track and Field (1955-60)
  • Shannon Larkins Community Leader, Women’s Basketball (1987-92)
  • Jerry Hemmings Builder, Men’s Basketball (1974-2014)
  • Doug Steeves Builder, Football/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1967-95)
  • George Birger Builder, Men’s Basketball/Women’s Basketball/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1978-87)
  • Men’s Basketball CIAU National Championship teams (1987-89)

The wall of fame was granted its home in the new Healthy Living Centre and named in honour of a pair of Brandon boosters who are eminently worthy of having their names attached to such a high honour. Dick McDonald passed away last month and that was a shaking bit of news for anyone who’d ever had the pleasure of dealing with him. McDonald was one of the most loyal and committed supporters of BU athletics, a diehard basketball backer who regularly accompanied the teams to Halifax for what used to be regular national championship tournament appearances. His courtside seat was always occupied at the old BU Gym and he never turned down a chance to talk sports with the locals. He was a tremendously kind, unfailingly genuine man whose presence around games at BU will be sorely missed. This weekend will be much different without him there.   

Yes the last name of one of the inductees is the same as mine. My sister played for BU for five seasons starting in the late 80s after being recruited out of Kelvin in 1987. Her time there happened to coincide with the finest years of the Bobcats men’s basketball team, though on-court success for the BU women was few and far between. Still, she is part of the last Brandon women’s basketball team to be ranked in the national top 10 — when the Cats were No. 10 for a couple of weeks following an upset of powerful Manitoba that still stands as one of the best wins in program history.

Tangentially then, because of my sister’s history at the school, I’ve had loose connections to BU and Brandon for parts of three decades. I grew up as an impressionable young hoops fanatic kid watching those great BU men’s teams, while bragging that my sibling played university ball. I wore BU practice jerseys in my own school gym; rocked anything she’d hand me down with a Bobcat on it through the halls of River Heights Junior High and Kelvin; and was surely always linked to Brandon by my teammates who’d shake their head at my Brandon loyalties.

When I later cut my teeth as a full-time sports reporter there from 2003-2011, covering the Bobcats, it was always a bit surreal to me that I was covering the teams I was watching when I was 12 years old.

Brandon being a tight-knit community, and it’s sporting community even more so, you easily foster relationships with the people who have spent much of their lives building the foundations of sport in the community. Whether it’s BU or the Brandon Wheat Kings, there is a discernible lineage from one generation to the next and the names listed above represent that.

I can say great things about each of the people in that list that I encountered over the years. I never met Mr. Birger or Mr. Simmons, but everyone else in that list I have some personal recollection.

Sandra Hamilton was the best female basketball player I’ve ever watched in person. And I’ve watched a lot of basketball. She shied away from no one and, to this day, I wonder what on earth she was doing in Brandon, Manitoba. You could make a case for her being the top five pound-for-pound athletes to ever suit up at Brandon.

David Dominque was a special type of basketball player who, truthfully, had no business playing in Canada based on his skill level. A Division I talent, Dominique came to Brandon through some unbecoming circumstances, but boy could he play. A physical freak, as far as CIAU basketball was concerned. And watching those Brandon teams that won three national championships in a row was some of the most joy I’ve ever had watching the game I love the most. Watching them was what really, really hooked me on the game.

Larry Rodenbush was teaching at Vincent Massey High School by the time I got to Brandon. He raised a family there with kids who were each as likeable and kind as he is. He was one of the first contacts I had when I began reporting in Brandon and instantly became one of my favourites.

I’ve never met anyone who absorbs basketball like Jerry Hemmings. He has his detractors, but even they will acknowledge the longtime head coach who lead BU to four national championships was among the hardest workers and best Xs and Os coaches in Canada. Every chance he had to be around the game, he took it. And he’s a big reason why anyone had ever heard of Brandon University in the 80s and 90s.

Doug Steeves was just a beautiful human being. A gracious, giving and committed man who was the face of football in Brandon for decades — the patriarch of all three high school programs in the city, and the man who was on the sideline of every game he could be at until his final days.

Finally, my sister was to me the hardest working player on the floor at all times. I played every sport I could growing up, but it was basketball I clung to largely because of her. From the moments dribbling a ball in the basement with her cajoling me to work on my left hand, to back-lane one-on-ones to getting invites to practice with her high school team, I fell in love with the sport at an early age and now, as I look at one of her young daughters growing up with a twinkle in her eye for the sport, I can’t wait to see the passion grow in her the way it did in me.

There’s no doubt she”ll have the right teacher.

Congratulations to all the inductees. See you soon, Brandon.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Floor plans: Wesmen, Bisons hit the hardwood

- October 7th, 2014

If you’re going to take a 10-hour bus trip — there and back — in late autumn to Thunder Bay, Ont., you’d better hope it was worth it.

As far as Mike Raimbault‘s concerned, it is.

The head coach of the Winnipeg Wesmen finds merit in the non-conference trip east to the land where the Nor’westers used to roll. It’s not Cabo or South Florida, but it provides his men’s basketball team with a pretty good initiation to the season.

The Wesmen scored two wins on the road against the Lakehead Thunderwolves last weekend to open their non-conference season, which continues this weekend at the U of M’s four-team preseason tournament that starts Friday. The Thunderwolves, who became an OUA power under former coach Scott Morrison, now coaching in the NBA D-League, have provided a formidable opponent over the past number of years and the so-called Thunderdome, the team’s home facility, often gives visiting teams difficulties. For Raimbault, that’s just what he wanted his team to be introduced to.

“We really like to open our season out there because of the difficulty playing there. The crowds are usually pretty good and all over us, and it’s kind of a tough travel trip,” Raimbault said. “All of those things and then they’re also a pretty quality club, too.”

The Wesmen are a new-look group of sorts, although not drastically different. Raimbault said his team will continue to play the way it has the past few seasons, despite having lost mainstays like Benny Iko, Steven Wesley and point guard Andrew Cunningham over the past two seasons.

“I think because we relied so heavily on Steven Wesley and Andrew Cunningham (last year) that it seems quite a bit different, but that’s also exciting to see other guys come in and kind of put their stamp on things,” he said.

“… I don’t think our style has changed by any means. I think because the ball was in Andrew and Steven’s hands so much it will probably appear that we’re significantly different, but at the same time the things that we’re trying to do are really similar and we’ve got guys stepping in to do it their way.”

Raimbault singled out point guard Jordan Clennon, the fifth-year senior from Brampton, Ont., who backed up Cunningham last year but stepped up with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists — including 9-for-9 from the stripe — in a 90-89 win last Friday. Clennon, Mark McNee and second-year Wesmen Jelane Pryce will assume larger roles this season, while Winkler product Travis Krahn again provides a gunner in the back court.

The Bisons, meanwhile, are an intriguing group simply by the return of fifth-year senior Stephan Walton, perhaps the fastest dude in the Canada West and a player without whom the Bisons struggled mightily last season. The product of Valdosta, Ga., was sidelined all of last season with a knee injury that had some questioning if he’d ever be back with the Herd. Without Walton, the Bisons struggled to get their offence in order. With him, they can create havoc and less scoring pressure falls to players who simply weren’t quite ready for that type of responsibility last season.

Two players who seemingly benefited from that extra responsibility last season were Canada West freshman of the year Andre Arruda and junior guard A.J. Basi, both products of Winnipeg high school. Arruda averaged 13.8 points, lead the team in steals and shot 42% from three, while Basi posted a solid 9.5 points per game after appearing in only nine contests the season before. Add Walton to the mix and things should get easier for them.

THE SKED
Friday: Winnipeg vs Regina, 6 p.m., St. Paul’s School; Manitoba vs Algoma, 8 p.m., St. Paul’s
Saturday: Winnipeg vs Algoma, 6 p.m., IGAC; Manitoba vs Regina, 8 p.m., IGAC

The men aren’t the only ones in play this weekend. The BOB-FM Shootout goes at Duckworth Centre for three CIS women’s teams Friday through Sunday. The host Wesmen welcome Manitoba, Brandon and Lakehead with the schedule as follows:

Friday
12:30 p.m. – Winnipeg vs Lakehead
2:15 p.m. – Brandon vs Manitoba

Saturday
6:00 p.m. – Winnipeg vs Manitoba
7:45 p.m. – Lakehead vs Brandon

Sunday
10:00 a.m. – Manitoba vs Lakehead
11:45 a.m. – Winnipeg vs Brandon

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Bisons dreaming big

- September 5th, 2014

Manitoba at Saskatchewan, 8 p.m. CT, Griffiths Stadium
Broadcast: In Winnipeg on Shaw TV. Radio: ck750.com; Online: canadawest.tv
Last season: Bisons (5-3), Saskatchewan (5-3)
Results: Saskatchewan 36 at Manitoba 34, Sept. 7, 2013; Manitoba 33 at Saskatchewan 26, Oct. 18, 2013

The Manitoba Bisons kick off another season tonight in Saskatoon and do so as one of the favourites in the Canada West, a position they haven’t truly been in for years.

Indeed 2014 is a year of high expectations for the Bisons, who last year made the Canada West final before losing to the Calgary Dinos, who went on to lose in the Vanier Cup. When head coach Brian Dobie began putting together — and then boasting about — his recruiting classes of 2010 and 2011, he did so with wide eyes on 2013 and ’14 when the likes of Anthony Coombs, Evan Gill, Nic Demski and Kienan LaFrance would be rounding into veterans ready to carry the Herd to the top of the country.

yantz2

University of Manitoba Bisons QB Jordan Yantz throws a pass against the University of Regina Rams in CIS football action on Sat., Sept. 28, 2013 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Man. (KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun)

Coombs, of course, has moved on as a draft pick who stuck with the Toronto Argonauts this season. But plenty return as the Bisons enter Friday’s conference opener at Saskatchewan as the No. 2 team in the conference coaches’ poll behind Calgary, which returns a stunning 23 of 24 starters from a season ago. The Bisons are also dealing with the losses of kicker Nick Boyd, linebacker Thomas Miles and slotback Andrew Smith.

What Dobie didn’t know back a few years ago when he was compiling this trove of talent was he would be working with one of the best quarterbacks in Canada. Jordan Yantz enters his fifth season of eligibility and second year with the Bisons after living up to the hype last year as a star recruit out of the B.C. junior league. Yantz’s 25:6 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was the tops in Canada and will have an even larger weight on him this season with the Bisons expecting much from him and themselves. Yantz stayed in Winnipeg in the off-season and spent time in Blue Bombers training camp, similar to what he did in the past with the B.C. Lions camp. Yantz is not just a football player who happens to play quarterback, which can show up in the CIS at times. He’s a legitimate talent and his ups and downs will have arguably the biggest impact on what the Bisons end up making out of this season.

Quick facts: The Bisons come in as the No. 6-ranked team in the CIS while Saskatchewan is No. 10 … Four Canada West teams (Calgary 2, UBC 7) are ranked in the nation’s top 10 Week 1 poll … The Bisons No. 6 ranking is the highest they’ve been in a pre-season poll since 2008 when they appeared in Week 1 at No. 2. That ranking came after they won the Vanier Cup in 2007, but they finished 3-5 and out of the playoffs in ’08 … Saskatchewan has lost just one season-opening game since 2002 … Saskatchewan graduated 11 players from last year’s team … The last time the teams met, the Canada West semifinal, Huskies QB Drew Burko threw for 502 yards and four touchdowns in a losing cause. The yards were the sixth highest in CIS playoff history … A junior, Burko has thrown for 3,568 yards and 20 touchdowns in his previous two seasons combined.

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Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

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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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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