SPORTS

If division final is frosty, Calgary Stampeders are getting a preview

11/11/2014 06:42 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Their bonus week of preparation for the CFL's West Division final turned frigid, the Calgary Stampeders are treating the conditions as a weather dress rehearsal for the division championship.

The heat cannons roared on the sidelines at Tuesday's practice while wind pushed temperatures into the minus-teens.

With a week and a half still to go until the division final Nov. 23 and the cold temperatures expected to continue until Saturday, this part of their preparation could feel tedious for the Stampeders.

"It's just something you've got to prepare for," receiver Marquay McDaniel said. "We don't know how cold the Western final is going to be.

"It's probably going to be cold. It's good to get outside and practise in it and get a feel for the ball and how your footing is going to be."

Either the Edmonton Eskimos or Saskatchewan Roughriders will stand in the way of Calgary getting to the Grey Cup in Vancouver on Nov. 30. The victor emerging from Sunday's division semifinal in Edmonton will have won an icy playoff game to advance.

Calgary went 15-3 this year to match a franchise record for wins in a season. The Stampeders clinched first in the division with three games still to play in the regular season.

But prior to beating the B.C. Lions indoors in Friday's season finale, Calgary looked ordinary in its last home game at McMahon Stadium. In the driving snow, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers scored 15 of their points off turnovers in an 18-13 win in Week 19.

It was shades of last year's division final at McMahon. With temperatures also in the minus-teens, the host Stampeders turned the ball over seven times in a 35-13 loss to the Roughriders. It was a disappointing conclusion to a 14-4 season.

Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant said following the division championship: "We think the weather played a factor in their ball security."

So instead of piling on layers Tuesday, Calgary middle linebacker Juwan Simpson was dressed relatively light to simulate his game-day garb.

"Normally I'd have one, two hoodies, two pairs of sweats, but this year I'll take a different approach and try and get accustomed to it," Simpson said.

Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel intends to give his players a reprieve from the elements this week by keeping them off the field Thursday.

"I thought the guys really worked well out there in the cold weather," Hufnagel said. "We had a little music on to get their minds off the weather and they were running around well and practising hard."

McDaniel, linebacker Keon Raymond and defensive tackle Quinn Smith were all recognized Tuesday in the CFL's weekly awards for offensive, defensive and Canadian player respectively.

In his first game back since breaking his hand Sept. 13, McDaniel produced 165 yards on 12 catches Friday against the Lions.

"It was big getting in there just because I had been out so long," McDaniel said. "My main thing was trying to get the speed of the game, the reaction to plays, the defenders, stuff that you can't get in practice.

"I think it was big for me to get this game in and just felt good to get involved early."

Raymond contributed seven tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a special-teams tackle in the 33-16 victory. Smith sacked Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn three times in the fourth quarter for a combined loss of 15 yards for the Lions.

The most significant advantage of Calgary's bye week — Hufnagel prefers to call it "a work week" — for the West final is the return of reinforcements from injury.

Defensive lineman Demonte Bolden practised with the team Tuesday for the first time since breaking his leg Sept. 13 against Toronto. Defensive end and sack specialist Charleston Hughes, who injured his foot in that same game, is expected back on the field Friday.

Running back Jon Cornish and receiver Maurice Price are working their way through concussion protocols back to full participation in practice.

Cornish ran through individual drills Tuesday. The CFL's leading rusher a third straight season said he isn't experiencing concussion symptoms after bouncing his head off McMahon's turf Nov. 1 against Winnipeg.

Bolden couldn't play in last year's division final because he injured his knee in what was a meaningless final game of the regular season. He says he's in the gym daily and studying the playbook meticulously in hopes of getting back in the lineup for this playoff game.

"It means a lot to me," Bolden said. "I just want to be a part of something great."

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