One decade or so ago, there was a big westward migration in the Canadian Football League.
A previous and unpopular ownership group in Calgary made life uncomfortable for then-GM/coach Wally Buono.
So uncomfortable, he bolted town for Vancouver and took several assistant coaches and former players with him to the coast. One of those departures was current Lions head coach Mike Benevides.
This year, there is a different migration.
Veteran defensive coordinator Rich Stubler was brought over from the Lions, as were defensives backs Josh Bell and Lin-J Shell. The trio has reunited in Calgary, and Friday will be the first time the three ex-Lions will see their old squad.
“This is the world we live in, but at the same time it worked out so that’s all I can worry about,” said Shell of his off-season release.
Shell has been lining up with Calgary’s top secondary during training camp. Right beside him is Bell, who is playing safety. Shell is thrilled to have a familiar face beside him.
“The first thing they asked me was if I wanted to play with Josh again and it was a no-brainer,” smiled Shell.
“He’s a great teammate and he gives you everything he has on every play.”
The decision to come to Calgary was also made easier by the Stampeders’ off-season hiring of Stubler.
“Coach Stubes knows what I can do, and at the same time he knows I’m a great team guy,” noted Shell.
“So getting everybody to buy in and do things with the least amount of thinking is something I can contribute to the team.”
The Friday date at BC Place Stadium is the final tune-up for both teams before the regular season begins. It is expected that the Stampeders will give the bulk of their quarterbacking chores to incumbents Bo Levi Mitchell and Drew Tate.
Both felt they handled themselves well in the opener against Winnipeg.
“I think it went good. The older guys got in and I think we moved the ball well, we ran the ball well,” noted Mitchell who completed eight of 11 passes in the win over the Winnipeg Blue bombers.
For his part, Tate led the Stampeders to a strong opening drive on Calgary’s first possession; a drive he concluded with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
“As an offence we were pretty efficient. We were all on the same page and playing fast,” said Tate.
The offence will get another chance to play fast on Friday night. The return to Vancouver for the Lion trio will be largely a football trip, but Shell admits there will be time for reflection with his former teammates.
“I just want to go back and see my old teammates,” smiled Shell.
“I have a great respect for them; they have a great respect for me. A lot of guys didn’t want to see me go but that’s the business.”
The last migration between the teams worked out well for the Lions. Now we will have the first look at the eastward migration.
Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.