Scene setter: A superb matchup for the season opener for both teams – and the home debut for the Blue Bombers – as old friend Bo Levi Mitchell and the Tiger-Cats play a visit. Both teams were 1-1 in the preseason, for whatever that is worth.
A nugget to consider here: the Blue Bombers have the best record in season openers over the last eight years with a 6-2 mark and are unbeaten in their last three home openers – a 19-17 decision over Ottawa last year, a 19-6 win versus Hamilton in 2021 and 28-21 over Edmonton in 2019.
Kickoff: Friday, 7:30 p.m., IG Field, Winnipeg
Tickets: Buy here
TV: TSN or live streaming (international)
Radio: 680 CJOB
Last meeting: September 17 at Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton – Tiger-Cats 48 Blue Bombers 31
PlayNow odds: The Blue Bombers are favoured by five points.
Take note: Illusionist and Winnipegger Darcy Oake will have a special performance at halftime. The gates open 60 minutes before kickoff, with pre-game specials including $5 355 ml cans of Molson Coors and Molson Coors Light, $3.50 fountain drinks and hot dogs. The Princess Auto Pre-game tailgate area opens at 5:30 p.m.
- Winnipeg lines up Zach Collaros behind centre. He is 61-36 in his career and now a remarkable 33-5 in his games as a starter in Winnipeg, including playoffs and two Grey Cup victories.
- Hamilton rolls with Mitchell, who comes to Hamilton from Calgary with a 90-25-2 record, ranking him 12th in CFL history in all-time wins.
Winnipeg: Mike O’Shea has a career won-lost record of 82-58. O’Shea’s 82 wins as a Blue Bombers head coach ranks third on the club’s all-time list, behind only Bud Grant (102) and Cal Murphy (86).
Hamilton: Orlondo Steinauer leads the Ticats and has a career record of 31-19 in his three seasons as the Hamilton boss.
- The Blue Bombers have moved CB Winston Rose and DB Jamal Parker to the six-game injured list, where they join LB Kyrie Wilson, DE Thiadric Hansen and FB Konner Burtenshaw. UPDATE: On Friday, just a few hours before kickoff, the team moved FB Mike Miller and LB Brian Cole to the one-game injured list, activating OL Jakub Szott and FB Damian Jackson from the practice roster in their place.
- Transferred to the one-game injured list was DT Cam Lawson. Also on the one-game is OL Tui Eli.
- The injuries to Rose and Shaw mean Demerio Houston starts at corner, with Evan Holm at halfback. As well, 2023 CFL Draft pick Tanner Schmekel of the University of Regina will line up at DT in place of Lawson.
- With Kenny Lawler on the suspended list, Carlton Agudosi will start at WR.
Blue Bomber Spotlight: Cornerback Desmond Lawrence
The Blue Bombers scooped up Lawrence early last October – just five days after his release from the Ticats – and he settled in at corner for the club, making one regular-season start and then in both the Western Final and Grey Cup.
Lawrence, Hamilton’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021, was one of 15 players who made starts in the secondary for the Blue Bombers last year. The hope is now that with a full training camp and more depth and continuity in the air defence, this unit could further improve on already solid numbers – Winnipeg surrendered just 19 passing TDs a year ago, which was fewest in the CFL and 253.6 yards passing against, tied with B.C. for first.
“Last year before I got here there was a lot of shifting in the back end,” said Lawrence. “We had a lot of guys in their first year up here and playing in their first game. In those situations, you have nerves, and you want to make sure you do everything right.
“But when you have experience it gives you confidence because you’ve seen a lot and you have an understanding of what you need to do. I think this year we’ll have a lot more confidence amongst each other and individually.”
Scouting the Ticats
Hamilton is hosting the Grey Cup this season and is all-in on chasing a berth in the game and ending the CFL’s longest championship drought, which dates to 1999.
In addition to trading for Mitchell, the team added RB James Butler and OT Joel Figueroa (B.C.), LB Jameer Thurman and WR Richie Sindani (Cal), WR Duke Williams (Sask), DT Ja’Gared Davis and DB Chris Edwards (Tor), DT Casey Sayles (Wpg) while trading this week for another former Blue Bomber in DE Jonathan Kongbo.
Gone from last year are WR Bralon Addison (Ott), CB Cariel Brooks (Ott), WR Steven Dunbar, Jr. (Edm), QB Dane Evans (B.C.), DE Julian Howsare (Cal), DT Micah Johnson (Sask), LB Jovan Santos-Knox (Ott) and CB Ciante Evans (Mtl).
- The Blue Bombers and Ticats have met in seven season openers in the past, with Winnipeg holding a 5-2 advantage.
- Hamilton is just 2-15 in season openers since 2005 and 28-44 since 1950.
- Winnipeg is 8-4 in season openers since 2010 and 6-2 under Coach O’Shea.
- Blue Bombers receiver Dalton Schoen, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie Player last year, scored at least one touchdown in 12 of his 18 games played.
- Brady Oliveira last year became the 18th player to rush for 1,000 yards as a Blue Bomber. The other 17 dating back to 1950: Gerry James, Bob McNamara, Leo Lewis, Charlie Shepard, Dave Raimey. Mack Herron, Jim Washington, William Miller, Willard Reaves, Robert Mimbs, Mike Richardson, Blaise Bryant, Ronald Williams, Charles Roberts, Fred Reid, Chad Simpson and Andrew Harris.
- Friday’s game will be the 100th of Nic Demski’s CFL career.
- Adam Bighill has 817 tackles in his career and needs 17 more to pass Solomon Elimimian (833) for 6th place on the CFL’s all-time list.