November 9, 2018

Playoff Notebook | Embracing the “Elements”

Hamilton, ON- They knew the questions were coming. It seems to be the “go-to” storyline whenever the BC Lions venture outdoors in November. How will they handle the cold? Naturally, being the only CFL team that plays the majority of their home games indoors, they are going to be subject to the same questions this time of year.

With temperatures potentially dipping to below zero for Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final at Tim Hortons Field ( 10:00 AM/TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPNEWS), it will likely continue to be mentioned by both local and national media alike. Since they touched down in Hamilton late Thursday night, Tyrell Sutton and company have felt right at home in the overcast, drizzling elements. That carried over into Friday’s practice at McMaster University.

“Nobody cares about the weather. This is Vancouver weather right here right? (We’re) right at home, just three hours ahead,” said the bruising back.

But what rarely gets mentioned is the fact these Lions are built just like every other team. They have guys who grew up in cold climates, guys from the Sunbelt and guys who have played in all kinds of weather, good and bad. You name it.

From left: Anthony Thompson, Bryan Burnham, Ricky Collins Jr. and Shaq Johnson take a breather during Friday practice at McMaster.

“It doesn’t matter,” added Sutton.

“They got to play in the same weather we do. So I don’t care.”

As he prepares for the 41st and hopefully not the final post-season contest of his head coaching career Wally Buono is also embracing both the forecast and the environment.

“When you’ve been in the West as long as I have, this is like playing in the summer,” said Buono.

“It’s good weather, it’s not that cold and today was a good experiment. The grind of the travel is what it is. I think we’ve done well.  (President) Rick (LeLacheur) and (GM) Ed (Hervey) sitting down and deciding to come here on Thursday, which I think has been helpful, is going to get the players inundated to what we need them to get done and they’re going to be ready to play on Sunday.”

The only element standing in their way of what they want to accomplish is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Sutton had just been acquired and watched the last meeting between these two teams from the sidelines, a 40-10 Hamilton pasting that dropped the Lions to 6-7 and ultimately served as a good wake up call for the resurgent squad. Sutton is ready to roll in what will be his first playoff game since way back in 2013 when he was just a rookie with the Montreal Alouettes.

Wally Buono observes special teams period during Friday practice at McMaster. The Lions will have one final walkthrough on Saturday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.

“I’m very excited to be here with these guys,” said Sutton.

“Being able to watch them the first time around and get a sense of how they played and get a sense of my guys and how they react to adversity, it only made it that much better.”

One thing he and the offence learned that day is just how opportunistic Jerry Glanville’s defensive unit can be: they intercepted Jonathon Jennings three times, including the one returned for a touchdown by Don Unamba, and recorded six quarterback sacks.

“Execute and continue drives,” explained Sutton of the priorities.

“They’re a very physical team. Intimidation. That’s what they try to do. You’ve got to make sure you handle Big Ted (Laurent) up front too. They have a pretty good defence all around. Front seven and the back end as well. We’ve got to make sure we come out and play sound offence.”

Sutton, Travis Lulay and Solomon Elimimian all were not available for that last showdown in Steeltown. With Elimimian continuing to take first-team reps at practice, all signs point toward number 56 making a return after suffering that wrist injury 17 weeks ago. Buono expects their presence to have a trickle-down effect on the entire team.

“When you look at those guys, they’re main guys,” said the CFL’s all-time wins leader.

“The game should be different. It should have a different appearance, it should have a different emotional state, but it’s a playoff game for both team and playoffs are always (played) at a higher level and if you don’t rise up to the higher level, you’re going to lose.”

They’ve had the right approach and the right mindset all week in practice and that carried over into Friday’s session at rainy McMaster. Look for that business-like approach to carry over into the game.

“I think the mood has been very positive,” said Buono.

“We got here yesterday, had meetings early this morning and things have gone very smoothly. I think it’s important to practice in the environment that you’re going to play. We were fortunate to be able to get onto McMaster’s field, obviously, David Braley had a lot to do with that, but the good thing is we had a good short practice, the guys got used to the elements and obviously, it’s a big game.”

And we predict the weather will play zero factor.

Matt Baker: