For the first time in 2015, the Montreal Alouettes are leaving the province of Quebec to play a football game!
Tomorrow evening, the Birds of Prey will make their lone scheduled visit to Investors Group Field to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I say scheduled because hopefully the Alouettes will be making a return trip in late November to compete for the 103rd Grey Cup. At least for the game tomorrow, they don’t have to pack their long johns and tuques. All Montreal needs to bring for this weekend’s voyage to the ‘Peg is a solid game plan and some good fortune to stay healthy.
Coming off a stellar performance last week versus Calgary, Rakeem Cato is now in the driver’s seat of this Alouettes offense and this will be his first road game as a starter. The former Marshall pivot will have to continue what he started last week, moving the ball around and taking full advantage of Tyrell Sutton in the backfield. After Drew Willy was viciously knocked out of the game, the wind was taken right out of the Bombers’ sails and they just couldn’t handle the onslaught from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Winnipeg got lit up last week as their defense was gassed from being kept out on the field.
But in a surprising twist, Willy is actually expected to start tomorrow after he was cleared by the Blue Bombers’ medical staff. The Alouettes defense is very similar to Hamilton’s, so I hope for Willy’s sake that his O-Line is prepared for the heat that will be brought to #5. The Bombers can breathe a sigh of relief as they don’t have to worry about Bear Woods trying to rip Willy’s concussed head from his body; Woods underwent surgery yesterday to repair a torn pectoral muscle suffered against the Stampeders last week.
The Alouettes have put Woods on the 6-game injured list, but an injury like this will probably require more games than that to come back from. These types of injuries have been career killers for some, but Bear is still a young man and his physical conditioning is beyond compare. That being said, with the ferocity that Woods plays the game with, I would honestly be surprised if he came back before October.
Replacing him will be Kyler Elsworth, who played very well in the pre-season. Kyler can also dish out the punishment on the opposing attack, but Woods’ intensity is unmatched. Losing Bear is a blow for Montreal, but they do have the depth ready to step up. Look for Alouettes special teams ace Nicolas Boulay and young Nick Shortill to also get some choice linebacking reps in Woods’ absence.
At practice this week, the team seemed a lot looser mentally and more cohesive. With that first win under their belts and Cato’s ability to lead the attack providing some relief, there didn’t seem to be that pall of doom that hung overhead. Gone also is the sense you can’t make ANY mistakes lest you lose your starting job. That is, unless you are already injured and watching this team from the sidelines. When Jonathan Crompton and Tanner Marsh get the green light to return to the lineup, they will have to compete extra hard for playing time if Cato continues to play lights-out football.
Great teams have depth and that’s how they stay on top. But right now, the key for Montreal’s stars is to stay healthy. That’s easier said than done, as this young season has seen several of the league’s stars bitten hard by the injury bug. As a player, you know that your replacement is lying in wait just in case you get hurt. Thus your natural instinct is to attack every game and even every practice as though it’s your last one ever. And sometimes, you can lose your job through no fault of your own; the guy behind you on the depth chart is often younger, healthier and simply needed a chance to prove himself, which your injury provided.
Banged up or not, Montreal is on a mission this Friday as they look to maintain their perfect record against Western opponents and hopefully bring home their first road win of the season. Two things are certain though; Bombers coach Mike O’Shea will bring every trick he’s got from his playbook and the fans in Winnipeg will bring the noise to Investors Group Field in hopes that their squad can nab that first home win.
I was quite pleased to see this piece of news released yesterday; According to an independent poll by Insightrix Research, the top ten sports brands in Canada were released and not one, but TWO Canadian Football League teams made the list. To no one’s surprise, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were the top CFL team. That team is a Canadian brand unto itself, alongside of Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. But who joined them in the top ten? None other than THE Montreal Alouettes!
When you consider how huge hockey is and with the oversaturation of all Toronto-based sport teams in Canada, being able to crack this particular top ten is no small feat. With their penchant for constantly competing every year and their signing of infamous players, the visibility of this Alouettes team goes far and wide across this country. Even though at times no one seems to know how to spell the team’s name properly (PRO TIP: One L, Two T’s. Or just call them the Als!).
Naturally, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs were the top teams on that list because at the end of the day, this country lives and dies on a sheet of ice and nothing will ever change that. And the reach of the Green Riders easily extends from one ocean to the other. But Alouettes Nation is proving that their Strength in Numbers credo is not just pointless hype; there appears to be a lot of respect for the red/blue/silver!
That’s all for now. I have to give a quick shoutout to the fine folks that make up the fanbase of the Marshall University Thundering Herd. No doubt that they are going to pack the bars and restaurants in Huntington, West Virginia to watch their former QB take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on ESPN2 tomorrow.
The overwhelming amount of love and support they have shown for Rakeem is nothing short of remarkable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Herd’s faithful make the trek north to Montreal before the summer is out. If you see a ton of green-clad fans in the stands during the next game at Percival Molson Stadium, they may no longer be solely misplaced Riders fans!
Enjoy the game tomorrow, regardless of where you watch it.
GO ALS GO!!!