Red and White delight

WES GILBERTSON

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Ryan Thelwell's birth certificate says Jamaica.

Spend a couple minutes with the Calgary Stampeders receiver, though, and he'll count the ways he's just another snow-savvy Canuck.

"This is what I know," he said.

"I consider myself Canadian first, Jamaican second. I'm a big hockey fan, all the traditions, that's a big part of me. Canada Day is one of my favourite holidays."

Thelwell, who grew up in London, Ont., and his Stampeders teammates will celebrate Canada's birthday tonight when they host the Montreal Alouettes at McMahon Stadium (8 p.m., TSN).

The Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will kick off the regular-season slate in the first half of a Canada Day doubleheader, meaning the sun will be heading west not long after the Stamps and Alouettes hit the field for a game being billed as both a 2008 Grey Cup rematch and a possible preview of the next championship game.

It's a late start, but the CFL schedule-maker was earning rave reviews after yesterday's walk-through at McMahon Stadium.

"When the schedule first came out and we saw that we were one of the four teams that got to play on Canada Day, a lot of the guys got really excited," said defensive lineman Mike Labinjo.

"It's a great day to be Canadian -- it's a great day for family and friends -- and to be the last game of the night, it's going to be a special feeling."

"What a better way to celebrate Canada Day, right? Have some tailgating, hang out with some friends and watch some football," added kicker Sandro DeAngelis.

"I think it's going to be a great night. There should be some fireworks both on and off the field."

For a trio of Stampeders, including Thelwell, the Canada Day festivities will take on even more meaning. Like the 36-year-old pass-catcher, offensive guard Godfrey Ellis and defensive tackle Alain Kashama were born elsewhere, but have spent plenty of time in the Great White North and qualify as non-imports.

Ellis was born and raised in the Bahamas and hadn't taken a snap of competitive football until enrolling at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

He was an NFL enthusiast as a youngster, but there's been a spike in the number of three-down football fans on the tropical island since he was drafted by the Stampeders in 2005.

"A lot of people back home -- a lot of friends and family -- actually follow the CFL now and keep up with the games and they saw the Grey Cup," Ellis said.

Under CFL rules, 20 members of the Stampeders' 46-man roster qualify as non-imports. The remainder of players suiting up in Red & White fly the American flag, fueling some good-natured debate in the locker-room about which day this week has the most significance.

"We let the American guys know this is a big day for us," Thelwell said.

"Forget the Fourth of July, this is our day."

Dickenson honoured

Dave Dickenson won't have much time for halftime adjustments in his first regular-season game as a coach.

The former star quarterback turned Calgary Stampeders assistant coach will be honoured at the break with a special retirement ceremony tonight.

Dickenson retired this off-season after a 11-year career and then was hired as an offensive assistant with the Stamps, focusing on the running backs.

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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