March 4, 2023

Rob Vanstone: Robservations in Rider Nation! 

Robservations …  

  • I am teeming (teaming?) with excitement while announcing that the long-standing, meandering, focus-free, odds-and-ends Robservations column has migrated to Riderville.com. Assorted devotees of the Regina Leader-Post had inquired as to what would become of my random ruminations now that I am in the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ employ. Director of Communications Arielle Zerr floated the idea of a Robservations resuscitation, whereupon I started whinnying, so here we are. Ready, set … 


  • Congratulations to newly retired sports scribe Murray McCormick on a newspaper career that lasted 43 years — the final 38 of which were spent at the L-P.  
  • Murray is one of only three people to have been the L-P’s lead football correspondent during a Roughriders championship season. That ultra-exclusive fraternity also includes Laurie Artiss (1966) and Darrell Davis (1989, 2007). 
  •  Darrell and Murray are the L-P’s all-time co-leaders in Roughriders Grey Cup appearances covered by a beat reporter (three). Darrell staffed the 1989, 1997 and 2007 Grey Cup games. Murray was on duty in 2009, 2010 and 2013, experiencing both emotional extremes along the way. He covered the home-field Grey Cup victory of 2013, four years after drawing the toughest assignment of all — locker-room duty after the Roughriders’ crushing loss to the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 29, 2009 in Calgary. 


  • Nobody applied a better perspective to that 28-27 loss in the “13th man” game than receiver Rob Bagg, who had this to say during a 2018 interview with yours truly: “If we would have been blown out in that game, everyone probably would have said, ‘It was a hell of a year.’ But because we were so close and because of the manner in which it ended, it seems like we lost more than we gained that season. In retrospect, it certainly wasn’t the case.” 
  • Think about it for a second or three. A 10-7-1 Saskatchewan team did not trail a 15-3-0 Montreal powerhouse while there was still time on the clock. The heavily favoured Alouettes were extended to the limit, even though they were quarterbacked by future Canadian Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Anthony Calvillo. His opposite number: Darian Durant, who was in his first full season as a CFL starter. On paper, back in the days when Robservations was available on paper, the 97th Grey Cup game was a mismatch. The Ken Miller-coached Roughriders had other ideas. 
  •  Durant’s arsenal had been depleted by the absence of slotback Weston Dressler, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against the visiting Toronto Argonauts on Oct. 10, 2009. Could the presence of Dressler have tipped a nailbiter of a game in Saskatchewan’s favour? One can only wonder. 
  • A year later, when the Roughriders again lost a heartbreaker to Montreal with a Grey Cup at stake, Bagg was sidelined with a knee injury. With Bagg and Dressler both in the lineup for a Grey Cup game, at long last, Saskatchewan defeated the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 on Nov. 24, 2013. 
  • Did I mention that I interviewed Tom Hanks that day? 


  • Bagg, by the way, will captain one of the teams in the inaugural Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic, to be held March 18 at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon. The other “C” will be sported by Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther. Proceeds will be used by KidSport to help children in Saskatchewan play football and hockey. For more information, visit https://www.riderville.com/winterclassic/. 
  • Belsher, a person and philanthropist of the highest repute, played for the victorious Luther Lions in the inaugural Luther Invitational Tournament. That high school basketball event was held on Jan. 31, 1953 in what was then a brand-new gymnasium at 1500 Royal St. The old gym, still highly functional, is now known as the Merlis Belsher Heritage Centre. Belsher himself was in the building on Feb. 11 to present some of the trophies following the 2023 tournament. 


  • Good omen for the Roughriders: They employ a slotback with the initials J.W. First, there was Joey Walters. Now, Jake Wieneke. (Stay tuned for a weekly Joey Walters reference.) 
  •  Also stay tuned for weekly, perhaps daily, and potentially hourly Jake Wieneke references. The football fans of Saskatchewan are going to love the energetic, effusive receiver, who exudes personality and, better yet, is well-acquainted with the end zone. He boasted a league-high 11 touchdown catches in 14 games with Montreal during the COVID-shortened 2021 season. A paragon of consistency, Wieneke caught 16 TD passes in three different seasons at South Dakota State University — where former Campbell Tartans star Kai Williams once played college basketball.
  • Derel Walker, whose signing was announced Thursday by the Green and White, amassed 1,589 receiving yards for Edmonton in 2016. Worth noting: Only twice in Roughriders history has a receiver compiled more yards in a season. Joey Walters (repeat) registered a franchise-record 1,715 yards in 1981 and followed up the next year with 1,692.


  • What a wondrous year for the Connors. Connor Bedard (Regina Pats) scored his 50th goal of the 2022-23 Western Hockey League season in his 40th game. Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) needed only 61 National Hockey League games to notch his 50th goal of 2022-23. 
  •  Oddly enough, the NHL’s 50-goal club does not include Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. His highest single-season totals were 49 and 47. In those days, remember, each team played 70 games, compared to 82 today. 
  • Jean Beliveau’s best goal totals, by the way, were 47 (in 70 games) and 45 (64 games). Let’s not forget Frank Mahovlich, whose goal-scoring crested with totals of 49 (76 games) and 48 (70 games). 
  • Even with the shorter schedules from bygone days taken into consideration, the NHL’s 50-goal club does not look quite right without the inclusion of Howe, Beliveau and Mahovlich. McDavid also falls into the category of hockey royalty, unlike fellow one-time 50-goal scorers Wayne Babych, Rick Kehoe, Chris Kreider, Jacques Richard, Vic Hadfield, Ray Sheppard, Mike Bullard, Jonathan Cheechoo, Jean Ogrodnick, Jimmy Carson, Jean Pronovost, Hakan Loob, Guy Chouinard, Craig Simpson, Brian Bellows, Bobby Carpenter, Al Secord and Adam Graves.  
  • Kudos to CTV Regina’s Brit Dort for a terrific story on Bedard, with input from two other Pats legends — Dale Derkatch and Mike Sillinger. And, yes, we can already call Bedard a legend, even though he is only 17. 
  •  Turning to football, which is ostensibly the reason we are here … 


  • Trivia question: Which five-time 50-goal scorer fathered a former Roughrider? 
  • Trivia answer: Bobby Hull. His son, Bart, made his sole appearance as a Roughrider on Sept. 30, 1994, in a 19-16 loss to the Sacramento Gold Miners at Taylor Field. Sacramento won despite not scoring a touchdown. Kicker Roman Anderson registered six field goals and a rouge. Hull, for his part, registered a special-teams tackle. He was deactivated the following week in favour of slotback Rick Walters and subsequently placed on the waived-injured list with a heel issue. 
  • The last Roughrider with at least one NHL goal to his credit? That would be Gerry James, a member of the Green and White in 1964. A remarkable two-sport athlete, James had 14 goals in 129 NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he played from 1954 to 1960. 
  • My new job title: Senior Journalist and Roughrider Historian. In the event that management ultimately has serious reservations about the Robservations, et cetera, the consequent headline would be a no-brainer: VANSTONE IS HISTORY. (Confidential, earnest memo to President-CEO Craig Reynolds: That is simply a Robservation, not a recommendation. Thank you.) 


  • Frank Mathers, who played for the Regina All-Services Roughriders in 1943, scored one NHL goal — for the 1948-49 Maple Leafs. A long-time player, coach, general manager and president with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, Mathers entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1992. 
  • Mathers’ goal was at the expense of Chicago Blackhawks netminder Sugar Jim Henry on Oct. 23, 1948. Henry was a member of the Regina Rangers in 1941 when they won Canada’s senior men’s hockey championship and were thereby presented with the Allan Cup. 
  • This oldster pines for the days when athletes had colourful, catchy nicknames (see: Sugar Jim Henry). Nowadays, he would be referred to as “Hens” or “Henny” or “Henner” or something. So says Vanner … Vanny … whatever.
  • The last Roughrider to score a goal for the Pats? Greg Fieger, who had six goals during the 1975-76 Western Canada Hockey League season. Fieger, a Roughrider from 1980 to 1984, is 65 but looks at least 25 years younger. Unsurprisingly, then, Fieger will be on the ice March 18 during the aforementioned Roughrider Foundation Winter Classic. 


  •  Nice people who deserve a plug: Lee Ann Brown, Murray McCormick, Ken Schofield, Madeline Schofield, Haylee Schofield, Madeleine Tell, Brett Lauther, Mitch Picton, Naaman Roosevelt, Rob Bagg, Trevor Harris, Kalie Harris, Derel Walker, Jake Wieneke, Eric Wieneke, Joey Walters (of course), Riley Boersma, Micah Teitz, Maddie Wilton-Clark, Bob Bruer, Sam Berg, Frank Flegel, Greg Fieger, Ivan Daku, Allan Maki, Russell Wangersky, Merlis Belsher, Rob Vanderhooft, John Lynch, Margie Lynch, John Lipp, Don Hewitt, Alan Ford, Sally Ford, Jaxon Ford, Josh White, Steve Daniel, Bev Novenski, Connor Bedard, Dale Derkatch, Mike Sillinger, John Paddock, Gord Pritchard, Dante De Caria, Nathan Kanter, Brit Dort, Brenden Purdy, Jamie Nye, Stefani Langenegger, Gloria Evans, Greg Morgan, Murray Mandryk and Tom Hanks. (Did I mention that I interviewed Tom Hanks? Oh …)