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Calgary Stampeders open 2014 healthier because of McMahon's new turf

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CALGARY - The Calgary Stampeders open the regular season Saturday against the Montreal Alouettes feeling less sore and beat up from the pre-season.

New turf installed at McMahon Stadium this spring lessened wear and tear on their bodies during training camp.

"The turf helps a lot on your knees," linebacker Karl McCartney said. "I'm a heavy guy so normally the knees ache right away, but I went all throughout camp with hardly any pain in the joints.

"We have this thing call 'vet days.' If your knees are aching from playing for so long, you need the extra rest to heal up so I think there was a lot less vet days this camp."

The outgoing turf installed in 2006 had reached its eight-year life span. Some Stampeders said it expired before that. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell compared it to "running on a basketball court with carpet on it."

"We've been asking for new turf around here for a couple years and we're definitely noticing a difference — legs, joints, ankles, knees and hips feel a whole lot better," receiver Maurice Price said. "The last turf didn't give at all. We hated it."

The new surface is the updated version of the previous by FieldTurf. It's a synthetic fibre mat filled with tiny rubber pellets.

"The tendinitis is down," Stampeder athletic therapist Mike Gudmundson said. "Especially from what we're seeing so far, getting through two-a-days, the wear and tear on knees, the ankles and hips is down, the low-back tightness is reduced.

"Things like tendinitis or contusions, obviously cushioning helps with those things. Guys can change shoes and in-soles, but it still comes down to the surface you're playing on. Softer surface with more cushioning definitely helps us in that regard."

The water barrier between McMahon's asphalt base and the fibre mat is improved, Stampeder president Gordon Norrie said.

"The old water barrier was pretty much hard plastic," Norrie explained. "The new one is much more malleable. As the players refer to it, there's a lot more bounce, more traction with this field."

The manufactured green fibre breaks down under ultraviolet rays, so outdoor turf wears out sooner than indoors, he added.

"When the players were on the field and in their whites, you could actually see green marks on their clothing," Norrie said. "That's basically the UV rays breaking down the fibre on the field."

Stampeder fans will see a brighter playing surface Saturday, but visually the new video scoreboard nine metres wide and 15 metres high will likely trump the turf.

At 580 horizontal scan lines, it doesn't quite meet the definition of high-definition, but the resolution is crisp and sharp.

Stampeder management polled season-ticket holders to prioritize improvements at 54-year-old McMahon Stadium this year.

In addition to the new video board, space was reconfigured and opened up at the stadium's north end to improve concessions and access to them, as well as add portable washroom units.

Norrie wouldn't say how much the Stampeders, who are owned by the NHL's Calgary Flames, spent on renovations for 2014. A Calgary Herald report two years ago said ownership intended to make $15 million in improvements to McMahon.

The University of Calgary acquired ownership of McMahon and the land in 1985 in an agreement with the City of Calgary. The stadium is operated by the McMahon Stadium Society which has a lease agreement with the Stampeders.

McMahon's retrofit is modest compared to stadium developments in other CFL markets. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers began playing in the new Investors Group Field last season and will host the 2015 Grey cup.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are scheduled to move into Tim Hortons Stadium, also a Pan Am Games venue in 2015, this summer. Shovels are in the ground in Regina for a new building for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The expansion Ottawa Redblacks make their home debut at TD Place, a renovated stadium at Lansdowne Park, on July 18.

"There's $160 million in investments in stadiums that we're making," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in March.

Meanwhile, the Stampeders look forward to breaking in their new turf.

"It needs some action on it and by the middle of the season it will be perfect," linebacker Keon Raymond said. "It needs to be run on, need to smack some guys on it and build some victories up on it."

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