Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rifles pumped about move to new stadium

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EVERYONE knows the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the University of Manitoba Bisons will have new homes at Investors Group Field, when it finally opens.

Add the Winnipeg Rifles to that list.

Though their 11th season as a Prairie Football Conference junior team has been a rough one, the 0-6 Rifles can look forward to joining the elite crowd that will play in the new stadium.

"The Bombers have assured us that we can play there and that was the deal even if it could have opened this year," said Todd Wilson, the Rifles' president. "They've been our landlord and continue to be one of our biggest supporters."

He said the two sides are working out "the last of the logistics" and discussions are continuing as to whether the Rifles will be able to have a team room inside the building.

"There's discussions on some of the different rooms inside, which ones are storage and if one could become a locker-room or if there's other facilities at the university," Wilson said. "We've agreed to work out the final logistics at the end of the season, now that the pressure of opening this year is off."

As the Rifles own their own clubhouse, a portable unit currently located at the north end of Canad Inns Stadium, Wilson said another possibility for the Rifles would be to relocate the clubhouse to a practice facility somewhere else in the city.

"We could then just move in (to the new stadium) for game day like other (PFC) teams like Calgary (Colts) and Regina (Thunder) do," Wilson said. "We're not homeless. We've had discussions for the past two years with the Bombers on how this looks in the transition."

He said the Rifles will benefit from having the close proximity to the Bombers.

"It's going to be a very professional atmosphere," he said. "We've been assured by the Bombers that they'll look after us."

Wilson said the team, which comprises players aged 17-22, is proud of the niche it has carved for itself in the community.

"With the growth of high school and amateur football, we help provide a place for those players to play four more years, if university isn't an option for them," Wilson said. "There's a number of Rifles' alumni players coaching in the high school program and it's elevated the level of coaching in those programs."

Dan Keith (Tec Voc), Jamie Peters (Steinbach) and Dan Washnuk (Miles Macdonell) are former Rifles who are now Winnipeg High School Football League head coaches.

The Rifles, who have been eliminated from post-season contention, will play their final home game of the 2012 season Sunday at noon at Canad Inns Stadium against the Regina Thunder (3-3). Winnipeg's season will be completed on Oct. 7 in Edmonton against the Huskies (0-6).

Despite the team's struggles in the win column, the Rifles have the league's leading receiver in Brett Carter with 529 yards while running back Martin Hovi is second in rushing with 442 yards.

The Rifles got their name in the Canadian Junior Football League history book after Sunday's 63-22 loss to the Calgary Colts at Canad Inns Stadium. The Colts scored 35 points in the fourth quarter, a CJFL record for most points scored by a single team in the fourth quarter of a game.

"We lost a number of very good starters from last year, we're starting from scratch (this season) and our youth showed," Wilson said. "We've gone through these cycles before."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPAshleyPrest

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2012 C2

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