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KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:37 PM ET

The first thing that went through Stanford Samuels' head when he realized he was going to Winnipeg -- Winnipeg?!? -- to chase his football dream was, well, you know the routine.

"I didn't know what to expect," the Miami native and former Florida State University Seminole said recently. "Coming from where I'm from, I thought Winnipeg had Eskimos and igloos.

"Somebody had told me I was going somewhere near Iceland, so you can imagine what was in my mind.

Samuels, a rookie defensive back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was in the gifted program as a child, but everyone knows from watching Rick Mercer specials on CBC that Canadian geography isn't exactly covered extensively in American schools.

"They get into camp and half these guys don't know nothing," Bombers GM Brendan Taman said. "They're coming out of U.S. college and they don't know jack (squat) about Winnipeg or Canada or anything."

The Bombers try to straighten the learning curve by mailing a Winnipeg tourism guide to new players before camp starts, but, for the most part, they learn as they go.

"We try to give them a little bit of a heads up," Taman said.

Winnipeg Goldeyes GM Andrew Collier occasionally gets strange inquiries from American baseball players who come to the Manitoba capital.

"I've had questions like 'What kind of currency do you use?' and things like that," Collier said.

The weather is the biggest concern -- and biggest misconception -- for most of the athletes who hail from warm climes. And those athletes usually play football or baseball, or they ride horses.

Paul Leacock, an Assiniboia Downs jockey from Barbados, arrived in Winnipeg for the first time four years ago on what should have been a beautiful spring day.

However, just as luck would have it ...

"The first day off the plane was really nasty," Leacock recalled. "It was the coldest day (for that specific date) since some time in the 1800s.

"It was like jumping in a giant freezer for me."

That was just some bad luck on Leacock's part. The majority of pro athletes who ply their trade in Winnipeg don't have to deal with those late January nights when it's -43 C with a -58 wind chill.

The only ones here in Frozen River City at that time are the Manitoba Moose, who, as hockey players, are required by law to embrace frostbite. The Russian players probably even think it's warm.

There's another surprise that out-of-town athletes encounter when they arrive in the 'Peg, but this would have to fall under the category of good news.

'PEOPLE ARE A PLUS'

"The people are a plus," Samuels said. "Everyone here is so much more cordial, so much nicer than they are in Miami.

"In Miami you speak to people and they look at you like ... you know."

Leacock agrees.

"With most of the people you meet, you can see why they call it Friendly Manitoba," he said.

Samuels will eventually get that taste of Iceland, because he will be in Winnipeg until late October. He's already been sporting a spandex hood at practice to keep warm, and everyone keeps telling him he hasn't seen anything yet.

Just wait until that north breeze comes roaring through the wind tunnel known as Canad Inns Stadium on a day that's already cold.

"That's when you need to come back and interview me," he said, flashing one of the most uncomfortable smiles you've ever seen.

A lot of athletes come to Winnipeg knowing little to nothing about our fair city. What they do "know" often comes from mischievous friends who tell them a dogsled is mandatory equipment when they hit the Canadian border. However, those preconceptions melt away once they arrive. Winnipeg Sun reporter Kirk Penton takes a look at how athletes adjust to life in Winnipeg in a series called: Far From Home.


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