Lions sign veteran Canadians WR Thelwell and LB McKinlay

The Canadian Press
10/25/2011 1:12:51 PM
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SURREY, B.C. -- When the telephone rang Ryan Thelwell thought it was a joke.

But the B.C. Lions were not kidding when they called to ask the 38-year-old wide receiver if he was interested in coming out of retirement for this weekend's CFL game against the Edmonton Eskimos.

With the Lions facing a string of injuries B.C. coach and general manager Wally Buono reached into the past to deal with some problems of the present.

"Once we chatted for a bit I was all over it," said Thelwell, who won a Grey Cup playing for the Lions in 2006 and again with the Calgary Stampeders in 2008.

"He (Buono) basically said he had a couple of guys nicked up and they wanted to bring somebody in they trusted and had an idea of the system. I just told him what ever he needs me to do. You don't get opportunities like this very often."

Along with Thelwell the Lions also signed linebacker Neil McKinlay as a special teams player Tuesday. Both are expected to dress in Saturday's battle for first place in the CFL West.

A swarm of injuries have fallen on the Lions like a plague of locust. B.C. has 14 players hobbled by some sort of ailment but the only two not expected to dress this weekend are running back Andrew Harris (rotator cuff) and wide receiver Akeem Foster (sprained medial collateral ligament).

Both are Canadians, so Buono had to be selective when he went looking for replacements.

"When it affects your non-imports it's a lot more difficult to deal with," said Buono.

"We're no different than any other league. At this time of year there are lots of injuries. You are looking for players that can fit into the system quickly. You go get an older guy that can give you comfort and be able to do the job."

A good sign for the Lions was the way quarterback Travis Lulay looked at practice. The big red head hurt his ankle in last Saturday's 42-10 whipping at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Lulay wasn't showing any ill affects Tuesday. He ran with ease and his passes were crisp.

"I was pleased with the way it felt today," he said. "At this point of the week I think it will only get better."

Lulay smiled and shook his head when asked about team's injury list.

"It's that time of the year I guess," he said. "It's Week 17 and for what ever reason they have come in bunches for us.

"We have guys in place. We know guys have to step up. That's just part of the game."

Harris has turned into a workhorse for the Lions, who saw their eight-game win streak snapped by the Tiger-Cats. The second-year player from Winnipeg has 1,094 combined yards this season, including 430 rushing yards on 89 carries.

"It's a day-by-day process right now," he said about his injury. "I have to be smart about it the next couple of days."

The Lions will replace Harris with veteran Jamal Robertson, who has dressed just once in the last eight games.

"Big games you want guys who have been there before," said Buono. "They understand the moment.

"Jamal understands the moment. He's had big games before. He's a very productive back."

The playoff race remains tight in the West with Edmonton currently first with a 10-6 record. The Lions and Stampeders are both 9-7.

The Lions must beat the Eskimos if they hope to finish first and get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

If the Lions win and Calgary loses their game Sunday against Montreal, B.C. and Edmonton clinch home playoff games.

If the Lions lose their final two games of the season they would finish third in the West.

Thelwell played six years with the Lions starting in 2001. The six-foot, 193-pounder signed with the Stampeders in 2007 and retired after last year.

In 159 career CFL games he has 441 receptions for 6,728 yards and 39 touchdowns.

McKinlay appeared in 105 games for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers between 2004 and 2009. The 30-year-old was a standout on special teams, collecting 92 tackles over six seasons.

Since his retirement Thelwell has worked for a company in the oil and gas industry in Calgary. He also served as a coach with the Calgary Colts junior football team.

Thelwell admitted his first practice wasn't always smooth.

"I'm not going to lie, it feels a little awkward," he said. "My timing was off on a couple of plays.

"I've always been quick to get into shape. I didn't let myself go. I've been chasing my three kids around. I'll be fine."

McKinlay, a Langley, B.C. native, had been working as a firefighter in North Vancouver when the Lions called.

"It's exciting," he said. "You never lose the itch."

The Lions received some good news on another front Tuesday.

Unionized workers at BC Place Stadium have reached a tentative agreement with BC Pavilion Corp., the Crown corporation that operates the building.

The tentative agreement means there will be no disruption of Saturday's game against the Eskimos.

Sam and Thelwell celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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