Road warriors

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

These extended CFL road trips can go in one of two directions.

Lose the first contest and brace yourself for a miserable week leading up to Game 2 with players, coaches and support staff all grumbling about wretched life away from home.

Suddenly the restaurant food is unpalatable, accommodations sub-par and everyone's pining for the family hound and a familiar bed.

The emotional pothole makes the road warriors decided underdogs in the second half of the two-game swing, with the team almost destined to fall off the tracks.

But win the opener, as the Calgary Stampeders did with Thursday night's 40-37 nail-biter in Montreal, and the rest of the journey can be like a holiday. Chirpy teammates begin lapping up life on the road, turning every negative situation into a bonding experience.

That's where Stamps head coach Tom Higgins and his players find themselves during a three-night stopover in Kingston, Ont., while preparing for Wednesday's game in Toronto against the Argos.

While honing its gameplan for the Boatmen on Queen's University's practice field, the squad is indulging in some essential team-building instead of bickering.

"There's absolutely no question," Higgins said.

"This type of road trip can definitely be one of those steps that can propel you and this is going to be a memorable trip regardless now."

The team boarded a Via Rail car in Montreal Friday for the journey, enjoying some royal treatment along the way.

"What was really interesting was half of the football team were first-time train passengers, so that was really a great experience," Higgins said.

"Via Rail did an unbelievable job. We had our own car, had a hot meal, including Montreal smoked meat before the main entree and we even had knives that weren't plastic. Any time on the road you get real cutlery you think, 'This is neat.'

"We thought about high-jacking the train."

While receiver Gerald Harris and defensive lineman Rahim Abdullah were matching wits over a chess board in one corner yesterday, players were planning to catch the Argos-Eskimos game last night on TV.

It's a stark contrast to the last time the Stampeders stayed in the East for a pair of contests, a dark cloud hanging overhead the whole time.

Wally Buono trooped the club to Ontario in 2001, losing in overtime in rain-soaked Hamilton where the team stayed for a soggy week before busing to Toronto for another crushing loss.

This week, the team has set up a makeshift locker-room at Queen's while equipment man George Hopkins, head therapist Pat Clayton and their staffs have worked to make it a home away from home.

"The athletes have put up with quite a bit to make this happen but we now have a locker-room and our meeting rooms, training table," Higgins said. "There's a scurry of activity after meetings. The experiences that are created as you go along the journey are part of the year and this is definitely going to be a very memorable part just because of all the things that they've done.

"It's as good as can be expected and it's about your expectations and how you treat it and the players are treating it exactly they way they need to in order to have a chance."

After upsetting the Alouettes in Montreal, the team's first win at Molson Stadium since 1999, success in Hogtown this week would be gravy.

"You can't, when you go in to talk to the team say, 'If we can win one of these two, we'll be in great shape,' because then you're setting yourselves up to fail," Higgins says. "Then, if you win the first one, the players say, 'Aw, the job's done, we don't have to worry about the next one.' Realistically, we felt we had a chance to sweep out here but you only have a chance if you win the first. If we pull it off in Toronto it's a coup for us in the month of August."


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