It's go time for Blue

Winnipeg Blue Bombers players like Barrin Simpson (left) and Mike Abou-Mechrek are loose despite...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers players like Barrin Simpson (left) and Mike Abou-Mechrek are loose despite going into a season full of question marks. (Winnipeg Sun File/Brian Donough)

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The long winter is finally over. It's time to find out if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are any good.

Bombers head coach Doug Berry, who replaced the fired Jim Daley in the off-season, will lead his new team against his old one, the Montreal Alouettes, when the CFL season kicks off tonight at Molson Stadium (6:30 p.m., TSN/CJOB).

"I'm excited, but I don't know that I'm any more excited than our players are," said Berry, standing yesterday on the Molson Stadium sidelines he patrolled for the last seven seasons. "We're anxious to demonstrate what we can do. I'm anxious to see them play."

The Bombers tonight are beginning a journey in which they will attempt to do two things: stop a two-year playoff drought and, at the same time, get to the Grey Cup that is being played on their own turf at Canad Inns Stadium in five months.

AHEAD OF LAST YEAR'S PACE

Bombers slotback Milt Stegall believes the club is already ahead of last year's pace, because the attitude going into the season is much improved.

"As far as the atmosphere goes, it just wasn't a positive, optimistic atmosphere around here (last year)," said Stegall. "I don't want to put it on anybody, but it started off last year when there was talk that it was a rebuilding year. That right there, that's basically saying 'It's OK for us to lose some games, because we're not looking for much out of you this year.' I don't have to say the person who said that. We won't talk about that.

"But our thing right now is we plan on winning right now. A lot of people are saying we got a tough schedule coming out of the gate, but that's going to determine what type of team we're going to be. And we plan on winning starting with (tonight's) game."

The Alouettes, as always, present a tough challenge right out of the gate, and even some of the Bombers didn't exactly step right up and say that they're going to stomp all over the perennial East Division contenders tonight.

"It'll be interesting," said offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek. "Even I don't know what we're going to see."

Berry even hinted that his squad, which features only 12 of 24 starters in the same positions they were in last season, might not be on the same page tonight. He said he would have liked three or four pre-season games instead of two, of which they lost both to the Alouettes.

If nothing else, though, the off-season additions of linebacker Barrin Simpson, defensive back Kelly Malveaux, receiver-returner Albert Johnson III, and O-linemen Obby Khan and Val St. Germain have Abou-Mechrek feeling positive.

"Every problem that we had on our team last year has been fixed and fixed with the strongest thing possible," he said.

An interesting sidenote to tonight's game is Berry coaching against the offence that he helped turn into a juggernaut as the co-offensive co-ordinator. Some believe Berry will be in Montreal's playbook tonight, while Calvillo doesn't think it will be an issue.

"He's been around me the last three years now, so he knows a lot of things about me," said Calvillo. "But, at the same time, this offence is just so dynamic. Even though you know what we're gonna call, you still have to defend it, and we have a lot of great talent."

Said Berry: "We'll find out exactly how well Montreal can handle the pressure that we want to bring, because we're going to bring it."

Berry's familiarity with tonight's foe, plus the fact that Montreal is missing seven starters due to injury, could be just enough to get the Bombers off on the right foot. If it doesn't happen, however, Abou-Mechrek isn't about to panic.

"We're on a learning curve," he said. "We're going to peak in mid-season, and our plan is to be there in Winnipeg at the end of it all."


Videos

Photos