May 3, 2016

BLOG: Inside the Locker Room

By Darren Cameron

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of last week’s win over Montreal. Sure, it was important to get back into the win column after the tough home opener, but inside the walls of Investors Group Field, the home opener (and the unfavourable outcome)was viewed as an anomaly rather than what we can expect this season.

Nevertheless, a loss like the one in week two builds up the pressure and nerves around the locker room. As much as everyone wants to forget it all and move on, the stakes are a little bit higher and the tension could be felt throughout week three.

Fans can’t see what happens in the locker room prior to the team taking the field. Typically, music can be heard all the way down the hall from the locker room. As they get ready, players are loose, having fun, dancing and singing in the locker room. The atmosphere is usually very upbeat and energetic as Coach O’Shea enters the room to say a few words. When he’s done, a player will stand up (most times, this role falls on Greg Peach), and say a few words of his own. A big cheer follows as the players grab their helmets and head out the door to the tunnel for introductions.

What was interesting about the game against Montreal was that the room sat silent. As the game clock in the locker room ticked down, nobody stood up to say a word, but players all sat in their lockers, staring ahead, completely still and focused. It was almost eerie to see as we drew closer and closer to game time.

The mantra all week had been “do your job and don’t worry about others”. A bit cliché? Maybe. But the funny thing about clichés is that they’re repeated so frequently for a reason – they’re almost always bang-on. Finally, Peach stood up and rallied the team at the centre of the locker room. The speech was a bit more serious than usual, quieter but filled with raw emotion. It was an uncharacteristic start to a game that would ultimately be won the old fashioned way.

With :23 seconds to play in the first half, I found myself standing relatively close to Coach O’Shea as Montreal ran out their punt team for third down. He covered his mouth with his play card sheet, and yelled “block it” three times to special teams coordinator Pat Tracey. Coach O’Shea is widely known for his love of special teams and his ability to help scheme the right call at the right time, and know when to execute it.

As Lin-J Shell dove through, blocking the punt, and Teague Sherman scooped it up in the endzone, Coach O’Shea yelled an empathic “yes!” It was a major, major play in the game. The 2014 season saw four blocked punts returned for touchdowns. Three of the four teams who did so won the game.

The team will leave late Friday morning for Calgary. As per usual, some of us will head to McMahon Stadium to meet with the assembled media while the rest of the team is scheduled to arrive at our downtown hotel at around 1pm. There, they will hold meetings for a few hours before players disperse on their own for dinner. With a bit of an earlier kickoff on Saturday, the team will have a pre-game meal in the hotel at 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., and then the team bus will take everyone to McMahon at 2:30 p.m..

As we know, Calgary hasn’t been too kind to our franchise over the past few years, although we did get the win in the regular season finale in 2014. I do believe this is in large part due to the fact that the Stamps have been the best home team since 2010, going 36-11 over this time span.

The plan is to make that 36-12, come Saturday night.