Yesterday we went down to the Saddledome, arriving before the doors opened, which allowed some time to walk around the Stampede grounds on what was one of the warmest days of the cold winter. Come eleven o’clock, we were back at the door, excited to get a choice seat and a preview of the event. Soon security greeted us and brought us down the hall to the restaurant and on the way we could hear the Calgary Flames practicing in the arena below. The restaurant was set up for approximately one hundred guests with a podium and three chairs at the front. On both sides of the room, they had buffets set up for lunch. At the back of the room was the bar with bar staff awaiting the VIP guests to cash in our complimentary drink tickets.
After considering a few seating options, we settled on a front seat and then went to the bar to collect a beer before the crowd arrived. I then went back to my seat to look through the provided folder, when I was warmly greeted by Stampeder Head Coach and General Manager, John Hufnagel. We exchanged pleasantries, but I couldn’t resist but ask him a football question: “Are you done signing players in free agency?” Huf answered that he had already spent enough money and that he was done. We then parted company and Huf went on to greet other guests.
A few minutes later, the food arrived and we joined the line and soon discovered delicious Italian pasta was what awaited us. Not long after we had returned to our table, the formal program began. Here is what everyone had to say:
President of the Calgary Flames Limited Partnership, Ken King
- The most interesting item he spoke on was the new stadium project. He did not reveal much, but did say that there was lots of work going on but they were choosing to be quiet for now about their plans. He made it clear that we need a new facility and that it will not be long until an “elaborate and sophisticated plan” would be announced. He said we would not be disappointed and that they would tell us when they could. Later on in the program, there were a few other hints dropped by others that indicated the location was the piece they were working on now, and that they were looking for a central location out of the flood plain.
- King also remarked that the schedule conflicts that happened between the Flames and the Stampeders that took place last year had been fixed so no one would have to race from event to event next year.
Stampeder President, Gord Norrie
- He began his address with a warm welcome to all the Stampeder supporters who were present and thanked us for supporting the team.
- He outlined the successes of the team last year, with a 14-4 regular season with just one home loss.
- He talked about the individual accomplishments of the team, including Jon Cornish winning the rushing crown for the second consecutive year and the Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards and the major awards won by kicker Rene Parades and centre Brett Jones.
- The team also reversed a three year trend in declining attendance. (applause)
- He mentioned the team had a season ticket referral program where current ticket holders would receive rewards for bringing in new ticket holders ranging from merchandise at the Stamps Store to dinner with John Hufnagel. (http://www.stampeders.com/referral)
- Gord made the promise to do what he could to improve McMahon, “while we are there”. This would include new field turf being laid down before the start of training camp, improvements in the Red and White Club to take it from looking like a high school cafeteria to a classier establishment, and an expansion of the concourse on the northeast and northwest ends to allow for more washrooms and concessions. (applause)
Stampeder Head Coach and General Manager, John Hufnagel
- Huf began by showing his appreciation to the guests who had gathered. He mentioned that he was particularly pleased to see that there were no green jerseys gathered among the Stampeders faithful. (applause)
- Huf then outlined the changes in the team through the long off-season. He began with the new coaches the team has added including long time CFL coach Rich Stubler as defensive coordinator, the very knowledgeable Pat DelMonaco as offensive coordinator, and Mark Mueller as defensive assistant. He explained the hiring of Mark Mueller as some were wondering why he would hire a former university quarterback as a defensive coach. Huf said that he was the grandson of CFL great Ronnie Lancaster and has been around the CFL since he was six years old. He is very intelligent and understands football well. Spending a year with the defense will enhance his future coaching ability. Huf then quipped that he looked far better in red and white than in green and white.
- Huf then went into the player personnel moves in the offseason. He began with the re-signing of 11 free agents: receivers Maurice Price, Jabari Arthur, and Anthony Parker; fullbacks Rob Cote and Tim St. Pierre; linebacker Juwan Simpson; defensive backs Fred Bennett, Jamar Wall, and Jeff Hecht; defensive lineman Demonte Bolden; and long-snapper Randy Chevrier.
- The Stampeders has two players sign on in the NFL: defensive end Coderro Law and defensive back Derrius Brooks.
- Starting cornerback Chris Randle was traded to Winnipeg, but was replaced the next day by signing free agent starting defensive back Josh Bell from BC who Rich Stubler knows well and the team is very happy to have acquired.
- Returner and running back Jock Saunders was then signed as a free agent, which led to trading Larry Taylor to Montreal. He explained that this was not done because he was dissatisfied with Taylor, but because he liked the ratio flexibility that Saunders brought as a backup running back. He explained that if Cornish got hurt, he could feel comfortable that Matt Walter and Jock Saunders could handle the position and the team could maintain the ratio.
- Huf then recited the veteran players who had been re-signed to contract extensions this off-season and these included: Charleston Hughes, Deron Mayo, Spencer Wilson, Keon Raymond, Joe West, Jeff Fuller, Bo Levi Mitchell, and Drew Tate.
- Huf mentioned that their first round pick from the 2013 draft, Brander Craighead has also been signed.
- Now, the team is in the midst of free agent camps. Right now the team is in Houston and Dallas.
- The CFL draft will be held on May 13, and the team is preparing for that. Next week are the CFL Combines which will help clarify the direction the Stampeders will go.
- Huf then signed off by saying that the players have a tremendous respect for the city, the ownership, and enjoy the great fans of the Stampeders which is why so many decide to continue as Stampeders. He then said he looked forward to seeing us at McMahon Stadium on June 28 when the Stampeders would take on Montreal.
Stampeder defensive tackle, Corey Mace
- He began by thanking us for the year round support we give the team. He said his teammates are constantly talking about what is being said on social media about them.
- When you go to the game, don’t be shy. Go “freaking nuts” as it does help inspire the team.
- Mace gave thanks to Huf, and mentioned that there is “always a method to his madness”. Even when it seems like he has made a crazy move, like trading Larry Taylor, there is always a good reason for it, like signing Jock Saunders.
- Every year the goal of the team is to win the Grey Cup. This off-season, however, “I have a weird feeling... This is the year of the horse!"
- I asked about injuries and if the team was continuing to study the inordinate number of injuries the team had received the last two years. Huf replied that a professor at the University of Calgary was working with Mike Petrie to study injuries on turf. Huf mentioned that the two big defensive line injuries at the end of the season took place at BC Place, so that had nothing to do with the McMahon turf. That said, they are hoping that replacing the worn field turf will help.
- Another question asked was what rule changes would be implemented next year. Huf answered that none had been agreed upon yet. They were set to have discussions next Wednesday and voting on them would take place the following day.
- Huf was asked if he has received any phone calls from Ottawa about a quarterback. Huf said that no one had called, and that it has become a bit of a soap opera and it will be interesting to see what comes of it.
- Gord was asked if the Stampeders would be using the “Year of the Horse” as their slogan this year. Gord responded by saying because the “Whatever it takes!” campaign received such a great response that the team will continue to use it for the next few years, with a few new wrinkles thrown in.
- A fan asked what the term was on Nik Lewis’ contract because she wanted to tie her season ticket commitment to his contract length. Huf answered by joking, “It’s been nice knowing ya!” He then went on to say that last contract, Nik was compensated as one of the top five receivers in the CFL. He then went on to say that the Stampders have won a lot of games with Nik, but they have also won games without him. He said he enjoyed having 82 on the team and hoped that would continue.
- What are your thoughts regarding the quarterbacks for next year? We have three quality quarterbacks: Tate, Mitchell and McPherson and it will be an open competition in camp between Bo and Drew. If it is a tie at the end, it will come down to the coach’s discretion.
- The question was asked if Huf had changed his coaching philosophy after the injuries in BC from playing players to keep them sharp to resting players to ensure their health. Huf responded that what happened does not change his philosophy. He said that he only has 56 players at his disposal and 42 have to play. His intention was that no one would play the entire 60 minutes, but all would get some reps to stay sharp. He said he could have done what Toronto did and played a bunch of guys in their first game, but they lost too, so that is hardly the model to follow.
- The last question asked what areas he would be concentrating on for improvement in his recruiting this year. Huf responded that he needed to replace Coderro Law, and so defensive end would be a focus. He also wondered what was going to happen at receiver because he wouldn’t be able to keep all of the import and Canadian receivers that the team had. He also stated that it will be interesting to see who steps up on the offensive line with the departure of Tsoumpas and Deane. Wilson will get an opportunity. They are interested to see what Craighead and Bergman can do as well.
This was an absolute first class event and I would like to congratulate the Stampeders on their treatment of their fans once again. I cannot think of any professional team who gives the fans such great access and treatment. Many fans of other CFL teams are very jealous of events like this that their team simply does not have. They make it very easy to be a Calgary Stampeders fan. If this event sounded interesting to you, be sure to check out the Fan Forum, coming up on Monday, April 14. Check www.stampeders.com/fan_forum for more information.