Season over, but program strengthened

ADAM WAZNY

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

It was difficult to look for positives if you were a member of the Winnipeg Rifles following the 35-17 loss to the Edmonton Huskies.

Difficult, but not impossible.

As expected, most thoughts were with the nine graduating players of the program.

"It's been a long road," said receiver Simon Blaszczak after catching four balls for 102 yards in his final junior game. "It's the experience of a lifetime. It teaches you a lot about yourself and a lot about other people. I'm just glad to be a part of it.

"It's been a hell of a ride."

A feeling shared by defensive end Jeff Noga.

He's a fourth-year guy, too, and while it was tough yesterday to step back and think about how far the franchise has come, he will always look back fondly.

"I'm going to always remember my time playing here," he said.

Head coach Mike Watson had nothing but praise for his graduates.

"They're a quality group of guys -- a lot of those guys are fourth-year players," he said. "It's tough to see those guys go out in this fashion but they've made this program better. They can come back and sit in the stands and be proud of what the program is."

Start of something great?

That sounds like a good idea to Blaszczak.

"This is the start of a great franchise and hopefully it will be around for many years to come," he said, planning to attend the University of Manitoba next year. "When I'm an old man, hopefully I can enjoy some games from the stands."

Though Watson was thinking of his players after the loss, his future also appears to have some question marks.

The two time PFC coach of the year was non-committal when asked whether or not he'll be back nest season.

How the team looks next season will be a factor. Watson has endured a lot of losing in his time with the Rifles and if there is a mass exodus from the team's roster, he might not want to start from scratch again.

"I don't want to rebuild every year," said Watson, finishing up a one-year deal with the club. "It's not something that we want to think about right now but I know I don't want to rebuild from scratch. If we have to do that, then it's time for somebody else. We need to improve and if you come back and you can't get better, then I think there are a lot of good coaches our there that can do this.

"I haven't decided and I don't know ... maybe after this game the board wants to fire me, I have no idea."


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