Trip down memory lane

The Calgary Stampeders will embark on a 10-day trip through Montreal and Toronto. (Calgary Sun...

The Calgary Stampeders will embark on a 10-day trip through Montreal and Toronto. (Calgary Sun File/Stuart Dryden)

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

Compared with the most surprising extended road trip by a Tom Higgins-coached team, the Calgary Stampeders are much more prepared for their 10-day jaunt through the East Division.

The Stamps left last night for Montreal and tomorrow's matchup at Molson Stadium. The team won't return until Aug. 25, a night after playing the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre.

The organization didn't plan it this way. The game at Toronto was originally scheduled for Aug. 25 and the Stamps were to come home from Montreal.

But because of a turf-changing problem at Rogers Centre, the date was pushed back and the Stamps decided to spend the five-day break between games in Kingston, Ont., practising at Queen's University.

Back in 2003, when Higgins was coaching Edmonton, the Eskimos were stranded in Toronto during an eastern power failure. The Esks were forced to turn a regular trip into a six-night marathon for which they weren't prepared when their game was pushed from Thursday to Sunday.

Stampeders defensive lineman Randy Chevrier was with Edmonton that season and remembers the blackout with fondness, despite being without a change of clothes, practice gear or hot food.

"Things all came together after that blackout," Chevrier said about the only year he won a Grey Cup. "It was unforeseen so sometimes adversity breeds togetherness."

Although the Stamps only decided to stay in Kingston two weeks ago, they have been preparing to spend the time away from home.

Fullback Scott Deibert threw his poker chips into his suitcase yesterday, while linebacker Marc Mitchell was bringing along extra music and magazines.

The entire team will spend more time together this week than it has since training camp, which first-year Stamp Chevrier is excited about.

"Who knows what will happen?" Chevrier said. "We have to concentrate on our practice schedule, which will be the same, we just won't have to travel that far.

"It will kind of be like training camp all over again. I think it will be good for us. It was positive the last time I did that and it should be positive again."

The last time Calgary played two road games in one travel schedule was in 2001. Calgary lost to Hamilton and Toronto in back-to-back September games but offensive lineman Jay McNeil remembers the trip differently than one might think.

"We had struggled the first half of the season and it really brought us closer together," said McNeil, one of four players remaining from that Grey Cup championship season.

"We had that attitude that everybody was taking us for granted except for the guys in the locker-room. It was probably one of the turning points of the year for us."

McNeil is going to take this chance to spend more time with teammates who have joined the club this season.

"For me, after practice, I get out of here and go to work," he said. "This is a chance for me to hang out with the guys more and get away. We'll get to go out and have some fun."

When the Eskimos were stuck in Toronto two years ago, Higgins said the players became tighter after the blackout. Without the benefit of television or telephones, the players were forced to hang out, play cards and entertain themselves with conversation.

There's a black diamond on the Eskimos 2003 Grey Cup rings that signifies the blackout and those days in Toronto. Higgins hopes three nights in Kingston will have the same effect on his Stampeders.

"One of the biggest things I remember about the Grey Cup year was the blackout," Higgins said. "It could very easily be the Kingston trip this season. No matter what happens, whether we lose two, win two or split, it will still be a very memorable trip."


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