Chemistry 101

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

A junior hockey coach long ago was asked if a closely matched playoff series, with neither team holding more than a razor's edge advantage in skills, could swing in his team's favour because of intangibles.

The prairie-tough bench boss, educated in the school of hard knocks but a little light on book learning, pondered the question before offering his views.

"I don't really know what intangibles is," he grinned sheepishly, "but we must have lots of it."

That's the thing about an asset you can't really track on the stats page. You know it's there but assigning a number to it or pinpointing the source is nearly impossible.

That brings us to the 2005 edition of the Calgary Stampeders, apparently loaded to the brim with something players and coaches like to call "chemistry."

While it can't be quantified, the men in Red and White are convinced it's as genuine as the bumps and bruises picked up over the past five months of CFL warfare. Along the way, they have built a 9-7 record while earning the club's first playoff berth since 2001.

Defensive lineman Sheldon Napastuk, who spent four seasons with Saskatchewan before arriving in Calgary as a free agent in 2003, is convinced this year's squad is loaded with the chemistry that turns defeat into victory, also rans into contenders.

"This started right from training camp and it's a hard thing to explain," said Napastuk, destined for just his second playoff appearance in seven CFL seasons. "It's easier to have fun when you're winning but when we were playing so poorly earlier in the season -- one week on, one week off -- we still kept it together. It's something I haven't seen for a few years and that plays a big part in our success. Everybody genuinely likes each other. How do you explain it? I don't know, it's just the right combination of guys.

"Teams that win say, 'Oh, we're such a tight team.' But it's easy to be tight when you're winning. When you go through challenges, that's your real test is."

One source of chemistry that has buoyed the team since training camp in May is the injection of new talent. First-year Stamps such as Rahim Abdullah, Randy Chevrier, Jeremaine Copeland and MarTay Jenkins, in addition to the return of Henry Burris, has raised the talent level. Each brought with him a winning attitude that seems to be paying dividends, said veteran offensive lineman Jeff Pilon.

"Out of camp this has been one of the greatest bunches of guys I've been around -- there's no tension in here whatsoever, everybody gets along so well," said Pilon, in his sixth year in Calgary.

He assigns much of the credit to head coach/senior v.p. of football operations Tom Higgins, GM Jim Barker and president Ted Hellard.

"It's hard to explain how you could get a bunch of guys from all over, some guys who don't even know the CFL, and how you can all blend together and be this close ... Everybody jokes, everybody plays around," said Pilon.

"It's just a bunch of hard-working guys pulling together who have a common goal and it comes from the top. Tom is so organized. You know what's going on, what you have to do and when to do it. You know what will happen if you don't do it. It's planned and it's professional and that trickles down into the locker-room. With this group of guys -- and this was the main goal for Jim and Tom and Ted -- was to bring character guys in. Guys who can fight through adversity and who aren't the 'I, me,' guys. Now, you can see it."


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