Dave Dickenson isn’t sure the CFL has done the Calgary Stampeders any favours.
Calgary opens the 2017 season with a home-and-home series against the Ottawa Redblacks, the defending Grey Cup champions. The two teams meet Friday at TD Place before heading to McMahon Stadium on June 29.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders visit the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday night to kick off the 2017 season.
Ottawa captured last year’s Grey Cup with a thrilling 39-22 upset win over Calgary at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Calgary was the class of the CFL last year, posting a league-best 15-2-1. Ottawa finished atop the East Division but with an 8-9-1 record.
But that didn’t matter in the Grey Cup as game MVP Henry Burris’s 18-yard TD strike to Ernest Jackson in overtime earned Ottawa its winning margin.
“They’re the defending champs and they’re scary, they’ve got a lot of good players,” Dickenson said about facing Ottawa. “Everything about them is the reason they won it all last year so it is a huge challenge.
“I love challenges and I’d hope with that challenge our guys rise to it and have a great opportunity to win one on the road.”
While Calgary returns many familiar faces this season, Ottawa will sport a different look in 2017. Most notably, Burris retired in the off-season, making Trevor Harris the club’s undisputed starter, and Jackson joined the Montreal Alouettes as a free agent.
“I feel like they’ve got a great team still and I know we’ve got a big challenge,” he said. “I don’t love playing teams back to back.
“I think it’s hard for either team to sweep. We’ll just hopefully have to steal one on the road and protect our house.”
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, last year’s CFL MVP, leads a high-powered Calgary offence that also includes ‘16 rushing leader Jerome Messam and receivers Marquay McDaniel, Davaris Daniels and Kamar Jorden but the offensive line will be without Derek Dennis, the league’s top lineman who’s now with Saskatchewan.
Charleston Hughes, who had a CFL-high 16 sacks last year, anchors what’s expected to again be a solid Calgary defence. And the combination of kicker Rene Paredes and punter Rob Maver is arguably the league’s best.
Calgary has plenty to play for this year and what better way to start than to make a point against the defending champion.
Saskatchewan Roughriders versus Montreal Alouettes (Thursday night)
Another opening-week storyline is quarterback Darian Durant facing his former team. Saskatchewan dealt Durant’s rights to Montreal this off-season and the Alouettes wasted little time signing him to a multi-year deal. Durant spent his first 11 CFL seasons in Regina, leading the team to a Grey Cup victory on home soil in 2013. Veteran Kevin Glenn — a former Al — has replaced Durant as the Riders’ starter but won’t have veteran receivers Rob Bagg and Chad Owens due to injury.
Edmonton Eskimos versus B.C. Lions (Saturday night)
An interesting quarterback duel between B.C. youngster Jonathon Jennings and Edmonton veteran Mike Reilly. Reilly led the CFL in passing last year with 5.554 yards but Jennings, entering just his third CFL season, was third overall with 5,226 yards. Reilly still has a bona fide star receiver in Adarius Bowman but big-play threat Derel Walker is now in the NFL. Jennings has a solid receiving corps with veterans Emmaneul Arcenaux and Bryan Burnham and the Lions also have big-play returner Chris Rainey.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Toronto Argonauts (Sunday afternoon)
Toronto coach Marc Trestman officially makes his CFL return after four seasons south of the border. In his previous CFL stint, Trestman led Montreal to three Grey Cup appearances and two wins between 2008-12. After a 5-13 finish last year, the Argos have plenty of new faces and it will likely take time for the coaches and players to mesh. Hamilton finished second in 2016 but with a 7-11 record. Slotback Andy Fantuz continues to recover from a knee injury but quarterback Zach Collaros is healthy and that’s the key to the Ticats’ fortunes.