MONCTON, N.B. - From touch down to Touchdown Atlantic, the Calgary Stampeders are getting the star treatment in the Maritimes.
Over the next three days, players will make appearances around town for autograph sessions, the team will meet fans at a downtown pub, and they will head to a different province for a football camp Saturday.
Somewhere in there, the Stamps will conduct two practices and hope to get ready for Sunday’s meeting with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (11 a.m., TSN) — a crucial battle for the CFL standings.
It kind of sounds like a Grey Cup week, as even the Stampeders cheer team will be present in Atlantic Canada.
“Hopefully, it’s a prelude for us,” said Stamps quarterback Henry Burris of the allusion to Grey Cup week. “We need to get used to the demand that’s put on us from the league and the fans.
“This is a chance for guys to get a feel for it. There is even a bigger show after this taking place in Vancouver (Nov. 27). This is one big thing to be part of, but just imagine if it’s THE show.
“I’m looking at this trip for a lot of things. Sure, we want to win the game, but mentally we need to get an edge on experiencing this feeling again — what it’s all about is the end of November.”
Getting the team set up in Moncton took some doing this week. Equipment manager George Hopkins shipped a majority of the team’s gear in two parts, one leaving Monday and the other Tuesday.
The team left Wednesday afternoon and had a stopover in Toronto before getting into New Brunswick after 11 p.m. local time.
Unlike the usual CFL road trip, when the team would charter into a city the day before the game (or at worst two nights before for long trips out east), they are going a few nights early and flying commercial.
This is the longest roady the Stamps have experienced since a two-game swing through Ontario in the early part of 2010.
“We’re going out there for a few days to hang out together,” said defensive back Keon Raymond. “Just to get that family bond and make everyone tighter … we’re heading into the back end of the season, and we’d definitely like to rely on each other. And I think this trip is a good way to do that.”
The Stamps won’t practice until Thursday afternoon to help adjust to the three-hour time difference from Calgary. They will have a morning session Friday and then will pack up and go to Charlottetown, P.E.I., for a kids camp Saturday.
The difference between this year and last is that the West Division representatives, the Edmonton Eskimos, had a game in Montreal before coming to the Maritimes.
Stampeders fullback Tim St. Pierre was on that team and what he remembers most is feeling the love from the community in Moncton.
Plus the Eskimos did manage to beat the Toronto Argonauts in the first Touchdown Atlantic tilt.
“We got beat up pretty bad in Montreal, and we flew out that night,” St. Pierre said. “We were pretty down, and we got there (to Moncton), and they had a band and a football team, and they were feeding us crab.
“It’s a unique experience. We enjoyed the festivities. It was like a mini-Grey Cup. We fed off the excitement. It may only be 20,000 people (attending the game), but they were loud and they were excited.”
If there is one thing the 2011 Stampeders are good at, it’s travelling. They are 5-0 on the road this season, although no other trip was like this one.
“I have confidence in my football team,” added head coach John Hufnagel. “We understand why we’re going out there, and that’s to win a football game.”