Wally Buono likes what he sees, only he's not looking at his B.C. Lions. He's sizing up the Saskatchewan Roughriders: How they've played, who's played well for them and where they're positioned coming off the bye week.
According to the most successful coach in CFL history - the same guy whose team sits slumped at 1-6 - Saskatchewan has both a dominant force on defence (lineman Brent Hawkins) and the best player in the West on offence (quarterback Darian Durant).
You may not know it, but Buono was criticized by some last year for suggesting Durant should have been the West's most outstanding player over Calgary Stampeders running back Joffrey Reynolds. This year, "the guy has come into his own world," Buono said of the 'Riders' pivot. "He's got good leadership skills. He's smart, has a tremendous arm. He's the next big thing, if he keeps progressing."
As for Hawkins: "He's an impact player," Buono insisted. "He single-handedly manhandled us and destroyed Montreal."
The Western teams will be out to rough up one another this weekend (Calgary at B.C., Saskatchewan at Edmonton Eskimos) as they near the midway point in the schedule.
Will the 'Riders make good on Buono's praise? Will the moribund Eskimos win another game?
Here's a look at the four squads and what to watch for in the bashing ahead:
Calgary. If quarterback Henry Burris doesn't pop a hamstring, if Reynolds doesn't bust a shoulder, if middle linebacker Juwan Simpson doesn't roll an ankle, the Stampeders will finish first. They could use some minor upgrades, say, at defensive halfback, but overall this is a solid outfit - providing it stays healthy.
Saskatchewan. The defence was vandalized in a 20-point loss to Calgary last month. The 'Riders need more than just a destructive Hawkins levelling opponents. Offensively, Saskatchewan could get more out of receiver Perchae Rodriguez and running back/kick returner Dominique Dorsey. Saying that, this is still a slick attack unit.
B.C. It's all about the quarterbacking - the Lions get some and they can finish third. Casey Printers stayed in Vancouver last week for treatment on his right knee and to throw passes to receivers. That's a good sign, maybe this is, too: The team brought in a new linebacker, Chase Bullock. He'd better.
Edmonton. What can we say about the Eskimos that hasn't already been said about gingivitis? Bad drafts, poor trades - its all caught up to them and you can smell the funk. Reports are linebacker Maurice Lloyd is a locker-room irritant and needs to be removed. This may get worse before the air gets cleared.
Grass-eliminator. Last week, we brought you the great Canadian cheese rolling championship. This week, it's all about laying it down, trading paint and doing it NASCAR-like … on lawn mowers. The Southwestern Ontario Lawn Tractor Racing Association is midway through its 11th season and gearing up for stops in Norwich and Ingersoll. (Dare we say the Daytona and Talladega of the lawn mower circuit?)
SOLTRA started as bunch of guys looking for something to do with their lawn mowers, other than cut grass, and has grown into a bigger bunch of guys, women and kids who race 18 times a summer and raise money for charity.
Their president, Ian McClintock, pointed out SOLTRA has even worked indoors at both Copps Coliseum in Hamilton and the Rogers Centre. "It's for fun," said McClintock, who wants it known all cutting blades are removed during racing and that, yes, some mowers are modified while some come with cup holders.
Hockey Summit question. Still trying to figure out if hybrid icing is for real or the name of an East European speed skater. One more thing: The NHL Players' Association is being represented at the summit by its chief of business and acting executive director Mike Ouellet. The prevailing mood is that a new ED will be announced before teams report to training camp. No, that leader won't be Don Fehr, although Mike Liut, the former NHLPA vice-president turned Octagon Hockey agent, keeps having his name mentioned as a possibility.
The Ride for 17. All this week, members of the Yale University women's hockey team, including two players from Ontario, Samantha MacLean and Danielle Moncion, will be cycling from Toronto to New Haven, Conn. The goal is to raise money and awareness for No. 17, their teammate Mandi Schwartz, who is stricken with cancer for the third time.
Schwartz, from Wilcox, Sask., was scheduled to undergo a stem cell transplant this week in Seattle but that was postponed due to the change in her condition. The 22-year-old Schwartz has acute myeloid leukemia and must undergo more chemotherapy. Doctors will check in two weeks to see if its working.