Saturday 5 November 2011

Would They Rather...

For the third consecutive season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be playing in the post-season. The difference this year is that the game will not be played in Hamilton. We will find out tonight if Hamilton's Grey Cup odyssey will begin in Montreal or Winnipeg.

But which stadium would be the best place to start the journey? Would the Tiger-Cats be better off heading to the Manitoba capital or the largest city in Quebec?

If Montreal is Hamilton's destination, there are many perils awaiting them. The first is that the Tiger-Cats have not gone to Montreal and won since 2002, and they have not won in Olympic Stadium – where their playoff game would be held – since the 1999 East Division Final. Montreal has also not lost at home in the playoffs since 2004, and have only lost twice at home in the playoffs since 1996. Combine that with the larger-than-normal crowd (upwards of 50,000) and the Alouettes have one of the best home-field advantages in the playoffs.

It is not all doom and gloom, though. Just a few weeks ago, Hamilton came within a failed two-point convert (and some egregious officiating) away from finally winning in Montreal. That near victory could be enough to lift the spirits of the locker room. And, of course, there is always the completely unscientific notion of them being due. Aren't the Cats just due a win in Montreal? There is also the question of whether Montreal would have a hard time getting up for a Semi-Final game. The Als have not had to play on the first week of the CFL playoffs since 2007, and because of their immense success over the past decade and a half, they do not have much experience playing in the Semi-Final. (This is admittedly a stretch, but it could play a role.)

Winnipeg presents its own unique challenges for the Tiger-Cats. CanadInns Stadium would be hosting its final game ever, and there is no doubt that the Bombers would want to win that game almost as much as any other. There is also the fact that Winnipeg has owned Hamilton this season. The Bombers won all three matchups with the Tiger-Cats and just may have their number in 2011. The crowds in Winnipeg have been among the loudest in the CFL this season, and a playoff game would only ratchet up that noise.

Winnipeg has not had the same hex on Hamilton as Montreal has. The Cats have won in Winnipeg twice in the last three seasons, with one win coming on the final day of the 2009 regular season where it was win or go home for both teams. The prospective Hamilton-Winnipeg matchup would mirror the elements of last year's Toronto-Hamilton playoff game. The Cats had won all three matchups in the regular season (blowing the Argos out in the final meeting in October; similar to what Winnipeg did to Hamilton this year) and then laid an egg at home in the playoffs. The scenarios are strikingly similar.

Looking at all the factors, a trip to CanadInns next Sunday is probably the best place for Hamilton to start their quest for the Grey Cup. This is the first time Winnipeg will be playing in the post-season since 2008, and playoff neophytes are prone to mistakes or letting the moment get the best of them. In fact, Hamilton in 2009 is the perfect example of that. This is not to say that Hamilton will beat Winnipeg, just that Winnipeg poses fewer threats than Montreal.

We will know tonight where Hamilton will play in eight days when the curtain falls on the 2011 CFL regular season. Will it be Montreal? Will it be Winnipeg? We are about to find out.

1 comment:

  1. Much more than their playoff experience - Winnipeg has lost 7 of their last 10 games... they're in serious free fall mode. Though I like Hamilton's chances in Montreal if they have to go there first... we'll see.