September 24, 2011

Community practice part of Stamps’ game plan

Allen Cameron
Calgary Herald

MONCTON — One last feed of lobster. One last autograph session. One last walk down the warm, rain-soaked streets of Moncton, hobnobbing with the enthusiastic, friendly crowds.

That was Saturday for the Calgary Stampeders as they split their day between Charlottetown for their walk-through practice and a youth football clinic at the University of P.E.I. before returning to Moncton for the evening.

Sunday, they return to business. It’s a different location, a different time zone, a different fan vibe — but in the end, it’s the same priority for the 7-4 Stampeders when they take on the 5-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Touchdown Atlantic Sunday at Moncton Stadium.

“You know what? Everybody is enjoying the moment but nobody has forgotten what we’re here for,” said Calgary quarterback Henry Burris, who like his teammates, is still reeling from a 32-18 shellacking at the hands of the visiting B.C. Lions last weekend in Calgary. “We’re still an embarrassed bunch right now. Coming out here, guys were shy to show their faces, coming off a disappointing loss.

“But we wouldn’t have won the Grey Cup in 2008 if we didn’t have disappointing losses, like Labour Day against Edmonton. That game made us a much better team. And hopefully last week’s game will do the same thing for us.

“The guys have enjoyed the lobster, we’ve enjoyed the festivities. But we’re ready to play football.”

The neutral-site game — officially Hamilton is the home team — will be a test of the Stamps’ ability to keep their focus, for this has been a week like none other the Stamps have gone through. A Grey Cup week isn’t hard to focus for; this week, though, the players have been on public display since they arrived on
Wednesday. Practices have been looser — certainly not the tightly controlled atmosphere they’re used to in Calgary, where even spectators are watched closely by team officials to make sure they’re not recording formations or plays that will show up on the Internet.

As for the day before the game? A two-hour bus ride to Charlottetown for a brief walk-through practice, followed by a session with some giddy youngsters and a lobster dinner in the cradle of confederation is not standard operation procedure for a Canadian Football League team.

“Our focus has been good for the environment we’ve been in,” said Stamps coach and general manager John Hufnagel. “It was a long day today but a long day by themselves. I would rather them be thinking about the game on the way home from P.E.I. rather than dancing in the streets of Moncton.”

And say this for the Stamps — you can’t argue with their approach to road games, regardless of their local this season. They’re perfect at 5-0, and a sixth straight would give them sole possession of top spot in the West Division. So why should Sunday’s game be any different?

“We have a focus going into a game. We come out and execute,” summed up slotback Nik Lewis. “When you are on the road, you have a focus about executing early because you don’t want to be falling behind early. That’s been a big key for us.

“You have to know what you came for. “I’m prepared and confident with the game plan we have. I’m ready to put on a show.”

Of the two teams playing Sunday, the Stamps have been, by far, the more visible in the community. Stamps House — the temporary name given to the downtown Old Triangle Pub — has been packed all week with fans, and Calgary players have gone out of their way to socialize with the locals.

That ends Sunday, though, as the football blinders go back on.

“I don’t think we ever took the blinders off,” protested defensive back Keon Raymond. “We’ve been celebrating Touchdown Atlantic and we’re grateful that we were picked to come out here this year. But we definitely have a big task at hand. First place is on the line.

“We’re hungry. We’re ready.”