ALBERTA

Toronto Argonauts prep for "home-opener" in Fort McMurray against Eskimos

06/26/2015 06:52 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 05:59 EDT
FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - Toronto Argonauts kicker Swayze Waters and long-snapper Jake Reinhart set their hotel-room alarm for 2 a.m. their first night in Fort McMurray, Alta.

At the appointed time, they pulled the curtain open, only to be disappointed by the absence of aurora borealis.

"We were going to try and get a look at the northern lights," Waters said Friday. "It's on my bucket list.

"We decided to give it a shot. It didn't work out for me though."

But the first trip to the 56th parallel for many Argos has been an eye-opener, literally, as a northern Alberta day in late June offers 17 hours of daylight.

"I was laying there last night about 10:30 and we had to close the blinds because it was light outside," rookie linebacker Brian Rolle said. "It's sort of weird."

The combination of scheduling issues at Rogers Centre and the Pan American Games being held in Toronto this summer have made the club a nomad for its first five games of the CFL campaign. But having to play the season opener here Saturday is unusual because the Argos will be the home team some 2,600 kilometres away from home in a venue they've never played in before.

The "visiting" Edmonton Eskimos have already experienced the new, 15,000-seat SMS Equipment Stadium, beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-24 there in a June 13 pre-season game.

The Esks will have the bulk of fan support in a city 435 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

"I expect it to be a pro-Edmonton crowd, obviously," Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said. "Just feels like a road game for us.

"I don't know that any of our players are treating it like a home game."

The "Northern Kickoff" is billed as the most northerly regular-season game ever played in the CFL. Fort McMurray, with a population around 80,000, is the centre of the oil sands industry.

The temperature is expected to be close to 30 C by Saturday's kickoff at 3 p.m. local time.

Toronto, which doesn't play at home until Aug. 8, will open the season with backup Trevor Harris under centre. Incumbent Ricky Ray is on the six-game injured list recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

Harris appeared in five games last year and started the regular-season finale against Ottawa. The six-foot-three, 235-pound Harris completed 26-of-36 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 23-5 win.

"He has gotten playing time. He's not like a normal backup that comes in very green," Milanovich said. "Trevor is highly intelligent. Phenomenal the way he prepares himself even when he's not the starter.

"The fact this is his team right now, I don't think that weighs too heavily on him. I think he embraces that."

The Argos missed the playoffs last season with an 8-10 record. The Eskimos finished second in the West Division at 12-6 before losing to eventual Grey Cup-champion Calgary in the conference final.

The Eskimos have also been displaced from Commonwealth Stadium to start this season by the Women's World Cup soccer event. However, they'll be back in their home building by mid-July.

The Argos arrived Thursday evening following a four-hour non-stop charter flight from Toronto. The Eskimos held their walkthrough in Edmonton on Friday morning before a quick flight north.

"The crowd was pretty full when we were here last time and it was a fun place to play a football game in," Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly said. "It's in Alberta, so we're excited we should have a pretty good turnout from out fan base.

"We did have the opportunity to go and play a couple of weeks ago here, but once the ball is kicked, football is football. Nobody really cares where you're playing. Once that ball is kicked off, you've got one thing to do and that's win."

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