Best Canadians = Best Team


It’s still patently wrong that every Canadian Football League team dresses more Canadians than Americans for every game.

Each 44-man roster has 20 Americans (internationals) and three quarterbacks — every CFL quarterback last season was an American — and 21 Canadians (nationals). That ratio has been tilting towards the Americans for the past 50 years, when each team was allowed to dress 10 imports on its 27-man roster. With the 23-20 slant maybe it should be called the Quasi-Canadian Football League. But we digress.

Once you start loving, studying and enjoying the CFL, you start hearing the axiom: “The team with the best Canadians is the best team.”

Last year’s Grey Cup champions, the Calgary Stampeders, were led by tailback Jon Cornish and centre Brett Jones, multiple award winners and top-quality Canadians.

Having a good quarterback certainly helps, something learned well by the league’s great coaches like Hugh Campbell, Don Matthews, Wally Buono and Marc Trestman. But any coaches or general managers who underestimate the value of Canadians aren’t employed long in the CFL. That’s why the CFL draft has become so important.

Former Roughriders general manager Roy Shivers used to declare his team was looking for “special teamers and depth’’ while fearlessly trading away draft choices, yet he drafted such CFL stalwarts as Andy Fantuz, Chris Best, Mike McCullough, Luca Congi and Scott Schultz — all Grey Cup winners after Shivers departed. Best is the only one remaining in Green and White, by the way.

The Roughriders need badly to replenish their Canadian talent.

En route to winning the 2013 Grey Cup, the Saskatchewan Roughriders had a Canadian contingent that sometimes deployed 10 starters; the minimum is seven. But since hoisting the Cup they have lost defensive linemen Ricky Foley and Keith Shologan, linebackers Mike McCullough and Craig Butler, offensive linemen Dominic Picard and Ben Heenan, leaving them with only five proven national starters. Returnees Dan Clark and Cory Watman are vying for the starting centre’s spot, so that leaves the Riders scrambling to determine who will be Number 7.

Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman, who in earlier jobs used to fritter away early draft choices for second-rate veterans, has learned better.

In this year’s draft the Roughriders used their sixth overall choice on University of Manitoba receiver Nic Demski, a four-time all-Canadian and multi-sport athlete who used to play junior hockey before devoting himself to football. Could Demski become the seventh national starter, unseating one of three American receivers on the new-look offence designed by co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine?

Maybe, Taman said.

Head coach Corey Chamblin said the Roughriders have three options for starting a seventh national, but receiver doesn’t seem to be a likely choice. That’s disconcerting, limiting themselves to three options.

Still, the most likely candidate to join national starters Best, guard Brendon LaBatte, Watman or Clark at centre, receivers Chris Getzlaf and Rob Bagg and linebacker Shea Emry is free-agent signee Keenan MacDougall.

MacDougall, a Saskatoon product who could play defensive back or linebacker, was a third-round draft choice by the Stampeders in 2012. MacDougall was a backup in Calgary.

MacDougall could become a bona fide CFLer. If he does or doesn’t there will still be another draft in 2016.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.