The ALSternative — 2017 Season Preview: Final Thoughts

Over the past five days, we’ve looked at every aspect of this Montreal Alouettes football team on the field here at The ALSternative.

From coaches to players, there’s a lot to be encouraged about. Say what you will about the idea of hiring last year’s special teams coach to be the new general manager, but so far the moves that have been made are clearly with one objective in mind: Going to Ottawa in late November and winning the 105th Grey Cup.

For years, the fanbase of this team have complained about a lack of real offense and the need for a true starting quarterback. Well your prayers have been answered, Alouettes Nation; This team has its new leader on the field, plenty of protection and a fully stocked war chest of weapons at its disposal. Along with its already potent defense, this team on paper looks to make a lot of noise in 2017 and be competitive in all eighteen of its scheduled football games.

There have been a lot of changes that fans are understandably upset about; a lot of fan favourites are no longer on this team for a variety of reasons. Seeing the Toronto Argonauts hire both Jim Popp and Marc Trestman, the architects of the 2009-2010 Grey Cup champion Alouettes, surely felt like a knife in the heart for many.

I have zero doubt that those gentlemen will make the Argos a lot better than they have been in recent years. But take a look at this new-look Alouettes team and there’s just so much to be excited about on the field. How about off the field? What’s being done to ensure a better fan experience for the Montreal faithful? Let’s have a look at that now.

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As reported by the Alouettes Flightdeck, there will be TWO fan road trips scheduled for this season; a bus trip to Ottawa’s TD Place to see the Alouettes play the Grey Cup champions RedBlacks and a trip aboard the Alouettes’ new charter plane to Toronto to see Montreal play the Argos at BMO Field.

The latter is in part of the new agreement between the Alouettes and Nolinor Aviation, based in Mirabel, QC. The Alouettes become the first CFL team to have a chartered plane designed with the particular needs of a professional football team in mind. The Alouettes will be flying to all of their road games on this custom plane, allowing for a more relaxed and professional environment before and after games.

While I think these are great initiatives to get fans excited about the Alouettes product, it’s my personal hope that this will lead to eventual trips out west for the fans to join the team. It’s one thing to fly from Montreal to places like Hamilton and Toronto, which is roughly an hour flight. But how about trips out West to places like Calgary, Regina or BC?

I’ve found over the years that CFL fans out West aren’t really sure what to make of Alouettes fans. Do they exist? Do they support their team on the road? Do they speak English?? I can tell you that the answer to all three questions is YES. So hopefully these 2017 fan road trips will spark an interest amongst the current Montreal fanbase to push beyond the borders of Ontario in support of their football team away from Percival Molson Stadium.

I’d also like to see this organization encourage these fan-driven initiatives as well by working with the other teams in this league to provide a chance for visiting Alouettes fans to support their team on the road. Having attended games in other CFL stadiums, it’s been a really great experience to see how the other half live, so to speak. While it’s important to keep growing the game at home in Quebec, a more concerted effort to encourage Montreal fans to visit the rest of Canada would be fantastic.

It can be something as simple asking other teams to designate a section for the visiting fans, not far from the Alouettes’ bench. When the Roughriders play at Percival Molson, you will see pockets of green in the stands and that raucous fanbase always makes itself heard on game day. I can appreciate the aspect of safety in numbers, so having one small part of the opposing stadium be a safe space of sorts would make for an interesting dynamic for both fanbases alike.

While there is no place like home and Molson Stadium feels like a second home for many Alouettes fans, I really would like to see more of a red & blue presence in those seas of green and orange out in western Canada. Here’s hoping this new partnership with Nolinor Aviation is the start of something big for Alouettes Nation.

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One change that should excite Alouettes fans and add to their game day experience is the extension of the radio broadcast of games on TSN 690. Joining the broadcast team on a full-time basis is former Montreal Alouette Davis Sanchez, whose broadcasting abilities have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

Davis has been a presence on the CFL’s web site, covering such live events as the CFL free agency period and combine for fans. He’s also the co-host of The Waggle, a CFL podcast that spans the entire league. Davis brings a wealth of football experience and infectious energy to everything he does. That will translate well as he offers his commentary on every Alouettes game and beyond.

Davis has told me that he is also looking to reconnect with the 514 again with this new role and wants to be a part of the Alouettes community. In a world where it seems like local reporters only want to cover things that put the Alouettes in a negative light, the addition of this multiple-time Grey Cup champion will be a breath of fresh air in the deadened lungs of this city’s football coverage.

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As the Montreal Alouettes embark on what feels like yet another reinvention of itself, it all starts with training camp. And in a move that I am greatly encouraged by, fans won’t have to get up the crack of dawn to experience it!

I’ve long stated that I love the idea of the Montreal Alouettes holding their annual training camp at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, far from the lure of temptations that the city of Montreal can offer. In this quiet little town, you can concentrate on football 100% distraction-free. However, that also means that fans in Montreal would have to make the trek east in order to see their football heroes. And when the first sessions start at 8:30am on a Sunday, only the true diehards are crazy enough to do that. I include myself in that group here.

So rather than having the team’s beat reporter (who surely wouldn’t be there himself if not for a paycheque) make snide remarks on Twitter about the lack of participation from this loyal fanbase, it makes complete sense to give fans the opportunity to attend camp at a more reasonable hour. So starting with the first session tomorrow, there will be afternoon sessions of training camp on the weekends!

There still will be early morning sessions as part of the usual two-a-days during the week and fans are welcome to attend those as well. But on the weekends (including the annual scrimmage game featuring CFL refs), fans can make their way to Lennoxville in the afternoon to see the Alouettes prepare for the start of the CFL season. To that end, I think it’d also be a great idea one day to organize a bus trip from Montreal to Lennoxville for fans who want to participate in these weekend training camp sessions.

I’ve had people in the past tell me that they would love to see training camp live, but not everyone can make their way to the Eastern Townships. Or they’ve shown up at Molson Stadium, thinking that the team holds camp there because other CFL teams have THEIR camp at their home stadium. I’ve also said in the past that it would be great to do at least ONE training camp day at Percival Molson Stadium to create a sort of open house atmosphere to allow casual fans to experience the Alouettes live.

Perhaps in time, such moves can be made. Until then, at least some positive changes have been made to allow fans to get their first taste of the new football season. You can find all the info you need for the 2017 Alouettes training camp by clicking this link here.

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In closing, this will be a year like no other for the Montreal Alouettes. The fans of this storied franchise are now in some very uncharted waters, as new leadership and direction takes shape. Many people don’t like change, but I am willing to wager that they like losing even less. After years DECADES of consistently winning football, the Alouettes have experienced more losses than victories these past four years. And that’s never fun.

The direction that this new regime has taken is a bold one and one that likely has been needed for some time now. As I have said before, what worked in 2009-2010 isn’t going to work in 2017 and beyond. It surely wasn’t easy to make these much-needed changes and the immediate reaction of said changes led to an understandable amount of confusion and even anger from many folks.

The entire Canadian Football League is growing and changing too, looking to attract a new generation of fans to go along with the older guard. Naturally, there will be some resistance and doubts as new ideas look to replace old ones. But from the top to the bottom, the idea of these changes is always towards the same goal; to improve and make things better that they were before.

I can’t promise that these changes will work any better than what fans in Montreal have been used to. But the time has come and change has arrived, whether you are ready for it or not. How will these changes affect Montreal? Only time will tell.

I do feel confident in saying that this Alouettes organization will be better than it has been in recent years. I am not typically one for predictions, but barring major injuries and other unforeseen events, I do strongly feel that this 2017 Alouettes team will be extremely competitive this season. I don’t think that expecting this team to make their return to the Grey Cup playoffs after a two year absence is an unrealisitic one.

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And with that, this 2017 Season Preview series comes to its close. I’m always excited for the start of the new CFL football season and hope you all are as well. I’m looking forward to seeing as many folks as possible at camp starting tomorrow. These off-seasons feel longer and longer with every passing year.

Be sure to follow along on Twitter as camp begins for all kinds of thoughts and analysis. Also, the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast will make its return for Season 2 very soon, so make sure you tune in on Podbean or search for “Alouettes Flightdeck” on either iTunes or Google Play Music.

Canadian Football fans, your long wait is finally over. It’s not quite June yet, but starting tomorrow, your team is finally back in action!

GO ALS GO!!!

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