CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders hope to start their Canadian Football League season the way they finished the 2015 campaign — with a victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Seven months after their 20-16 Grey Cup win over Hamilton at Vancouver’s BC Place, the Stamps will host the Ticats in their home opener at McMahon Stadium on Friday night.
“I’m excited,” said veteran Stamps defensive back Keon Raymond. “I know they’ve been waiting a long time for this game and so have we. All the celebration is over. It’s time to get back to the meat and potatoes of this thing.”
Fellow linebacker Juwan Simpson agreed, the Stamps are ready to put last year behind them and concentrate on this season.
“Last year was over when I went home,” Simpson said. “I was able to focus and start on this year and I know a lot of other guys were. We can talk about last year when we’re done playing football and old and grey, but now we’ve got to talk about the present.”
Fresh off his Grey Cup MVP performance, Stamps quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said he can’t wait to play in front of fans in Calgary once again.
“I can’t really describe the feeling right now as far as just anxiousness of wanting to get on the field with my guys,” Mitchell said.
The Stamps and Ticats won both their pre-season games and Mitchell knows he and the Calgary offence will face a tough task against Hamilton’s defence to kick off the regular season.
“They’re a very physical defence all around,” Mitchell said. “Watching their pre-season games, every single play they made, they’d get hyped. They want to bring that aura, that confidence that they’re bigger than you. . .
“You’ve got to do things that slow them down. You’ve got to do things that take the punch to them, make sure you show them that you can hit me in the mouth as many times as you want, but we’re going to get back up and bite right back.”
While Mitchell came into his own as Calgary’s starter last season, Zach Collaros also made a name for himself as Hamilton’s new No. 1.
“He’s a good player,” Simpson said of Collaros. “He’s the starting quarterback there. He can scramble and makes a lot of plays with his feet. He’s surrounded by good talent. That’s pretty much it. I’m not going to pump those guys up or toot anybody’s horn. We know what they have and they know what we have.”
Hamilton coach Kent Austin is looking forward to seeing just how much more Collaros can progress this season.
“He’s going to get a lot better, I believe,” Austin said. “We’ll see, but he’s a very diligent guy. He cares a lot. He’s a football player and I think his best football’s still in front of him.”
Collaros would love nothing more than to help the Ticats erase the sting of losing in the Grey Cup final by guiding Hamilton to victory on Friday.
“Of course it would be a statement,” Collaros said. “It would be great to win the game. We’ll just go out there and execute our game plan and let the chips fall as they may. Guys are just anxious to get out there. The adrenalin’s going to be flowing.”
When asked about the task of facing the Stamps on the opening weekend of the CFL season, Austin said that was just the way the schedule worked out.
“Great football team, they’re the best football team in the league,” Austin said. “They’re the Grey Cup champions for a reason. Our guys know it’s a great challenge in front of us.”
Calgary coach and general manager John Hufnagel likes the fact his Stamps will face the defending East Division champions right off the bat.
“It’s nice that the CFL season is having a Grey Cup rematch and it’s going to be a heck of a football game,” Hufnagel said. “I believe it’s going to be a 60-minute football game like the most recent games we’ve had with Hamilton. They’ve all been decided late in the game and I don’t see this game being any different.”
Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press