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It was a nice early Christmas present for fans of the BC Lions and CFL, as the 2018 schedule was officially released on Thursday morning. Fans can now start planning their summer and circling other key dates on the calendars. The most significant change is the fact training camp and the start of the season will be moved up one week. That comes with the announcement in October that the league will go up to a 21-week regular season, giving each squad a third bye week starting in 2018.
As a result, it all kicks off for real on Saturday June 16th when the Montreal Alouettes visit BC Place.
The west coast has not been kind to the Alouettes this century, as they have won only two of their 19 visits to BC Place. That includes a loss to Edmonton in the 2005 Grey Cup.
Week two brings an early bye before a critical two-game road stretch against Western opponents: they will invade GM Ed Hervey’s old home of Edmonton on Saturday, June 29th and renew their rivalry with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field exactly one week later. Those games mark the only regular season visits to each of those respective cities in 2018. After that, it’s a return to BC Place for a rematch with the Blue Bombers on Saturday, July 14th. It should all make for an interesting race to Edmonton and the 106th Grey Cup on Sunday, November 25th.
Here is a more thorough breakdown of the 2018 regular season schedule:
Of the nine regular season home games, six will be played on Saturday night. Along with the previously mentioned season opener and the July contest against Winnipeg, other Saturday contests include an August 25th visit by Saskatchewan, the Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts invading town on October 6th and the regular season finale/lone visit from the rival Calgary Stampeders on November 3rd. The home date with Toronto also marks the only 4:00PM start time at BC Place. Every other home game will be a 7:00 PM kickoff. To round it out, there are two Friday nights, September 7th against Ottawa and October 19th against Toronto, plus a Thursday visit from the Eskimos on August 9th. As per a broadcast arrangement with TSN, every CFL team will play at least one Thursday night home game in 2018.
Both 2016 and 2017 saw the Lions visit every Eastern Division city before September came calling. In each case, the club also stayed out east in between two consecutive road games. Neither will happen this time around. Following the third and final bye on Labour Day Weekend, a busy September for the club includes visits to Montreal on the 14th and Hamilton on the 29th. The Tiger Cats will be at BC Place for the first end of a home and home series on the 22nd. The Lions had a nine-game road winning streak in the east snapped against Ottawa last season, so you know they will be anxious to re-claim that identity of being able to win anywhere, no matter how long the flight.
The quest to begin another lengthy CFL playoff streak for the franchise may very well come down to the wire. The fact Wally Buono and company close out the regular season with four games against Western opponents makes it much more intriguing. Along with the previously mentioned visits from Edmonton October 19th and Calgary November 3rd, they are scheduled to visit the Stampeders on October 13th and make their lone visit to Saskatchewan October 27th. This big divisional quartet follows a stretch of five consecutive matchups against Eastern teams between September 7th and October 6th, some of which we outlined above. Buckle up. It could make for a roller coaster-type finish to the 65th BC Lions regular season.
The Eskimos make two visits to Vancouver for a second straight season. The Lions travel to Calgary twice for the first time since 2014. Saturday August 4th is the first trip to McMahon Stadium.
This marks only the second time in league history, 1981 being the other instance, where the Alouettes are here for the regular season opener. More recently, the Lions visited Montreal in week one of the 2002 and 2011 seasons.
The only regular season back-to-back home situation has the third and final bye week sandwiched in between. This marks the first time since 1984 where the club will not play home games on back-to-back weeks. That previous situation also involved a bye in the middle.
As was the case in 2017, they will not play any Sunday games, home or away.
Can’t forget about the pre-season: it opens Friday, June 1st with a visit to Calgary. After returning to Kamloops for the final six days of training camp, the Blue Bombers come to BC Place for a final tune up on June 8th.
Don’t underestimate the importance of that five-game East Division stretch after Labour Day. With four West Division playoff spots seemingly an annual possibility these days, it will be important to get results against the likes of Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto in the second half of the season.
Getting five home games after Labour Day should also help create some buzz for the playoff push. Those Edmonton and Winnipeg visits after the opener are the only instance all year where they play two straight away from home. The club has to be happy with that.
Whether planned in advance or not, kudos to the league for scheduling Buono’s last regular season game against his old Stampeders squad. It should add up to a special night of tributes for the CFL Godfather. And who knows? Maybe the football gods were saving 2018 for an all-West Grey Cup. With Calgary crossing over of course…..