November 17, 2018

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Prep begins for Labour Day clash

Bombers and Riders adjusting to increased crowd noise during practice

ANDREW RYAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Kienan LaFrance (left) takes first-team reps as starter Andrew Harris (maintenance day) assists during Wednesday’s practice.</p>

ANDREW RYAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Kienan LaFrance (left) takes first-team reps as starter Andrew Harris (maintenance day) assists during Wednesday’s practice.

It’s that time of year again.

The Blue Bombers began their on-field preparations for the ear-splitting fan reception they’ll get in Regina on Sunday afternoon by practising for much of Wednesday’s workout accompanied by the similarly ear-splitting simulated crowd noise piped in over the speakers at Investors Group Field.

Winnipeg running back Kienan LaFrance, a veteran of last season’s Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium and the Banjo Bowl at IGF as a member of the Roughriders, wasn’t bothered by the cacophony of sound.

“Having the noise adds a whole other element to the game,” LaFrance said. “I think the goal is to simulate the game as much as you can in order to get yourself ready, so there’s no surprises.”

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It’s that time of year again.

The Blue Bombers began their on-field preparations for the ear-splitting fan reception they’ll get in Regina on Sunday afternoon by practising for much of Wednesday’s workout accompanied by the similarly ear-splitting simulated crowd noise piped in over the speakers at Investors Group Field.

Winnipeg running back Kienan LaFrance, a veteran of last season’s Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium and the Banjo Bowl at IGF as a member of the Roughriders, wasn’t bothered by the cacophony of sound.

"Having the noise adds a whole other element to the game," LaFrance said. "I think the goal is to simulate the game as much as you can in order to get yourself ready, so there’s no surprises."

LaFrance took starting tailback Andrew Harris’s place Wednesday (Harris took a maintainence day and was mostly a spectator at practice) and he’s looking forward to Labour Day in Riderville, no matter how loud it gets.

"It’s just part of the game," LaFrance said. "You have to adapt to it, being a professional. I think the coaches are doing a good job putting us in similar situations for the game in order to prepare us.

"If you’re the home team on offence, I think the fans are pretty good with that. But when you’re going into another dog-pen, it’s a whole other game. I prefer it, whether it’s music or noise or whatever it is, it’s good to get prepared for it."

LaFrance is eager to meet up with former teammate and fellow University of Manitoba grad Eddie Steele, Saskatchewan’s "Mr. Versatile."

"Eddie’s a good friend of mine," LaFrance said about the defensive lineman. "It’s going to be fun getting back there again. It’s like that when you play another team you’ve been a part of. There’s always a little bit of chirping, but it’s all in love."

Simulated crowd noise will also be part of the Roughriders’ environment in the days leading up to the Banjo Bowl.

"It’s another extra edge you can have in terms of preparation," Steele said via telephone. "I guess, in a sense, it’s better to have at least, going into a game, having faced that noise in practice and working your silent count."

He had a firm opinion on the question of which stadium is louder.

"To be honest, ours over here in Saskatchewan," Steele said. "There’s no denying Winnipeg gets pretty raucous, but the fact it was our inaugural season (in a new stadium), there was an extra effort to really to put out every home game."

Steele, who is a major cog in Saskatchewan’s defensive tackle rotation with Zack Evans and Mic’hael Brooks, has also seen spot duty as on the club’s sixth O-lineman while also serving on the kickoff return team.

Former No. 1 overall pick Josiah St. John has replaced Steele in the O-line pecking order, but he’s proud of his multi-faceted role.

"Right now I’m on O-line, D-line and wherever they need me on special teams," said Steele, who was drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2010 and is currently in his ninth year in the CFL. "I embrace the workload, to be honest. I don’t mind it whatsoever... knowing I’m one of the few guys in the league going both ways and have the ability to go both ways. It’s something I’m proud of. I want to work that much harder to be successful at what I do."

The Kelvin High School grad, listed at 6-2 and 280 pounds, doesn’t think his lack of bulk is a handicap when he takes offensive snaps.

"I was 280 pounds back in 2015 when I started two games (on the O-line) with the Edmonton Eskimos," Steele said. "I was a starting defensive tackle and all of a sudden for two weeks I was a starting guard. It’s funny, that was for the Labour Day Classic in Calgary and then the rematch. That’s some high-pressure football.

"Coaches clearly trust my ability and the fact is I weigh 280, but I’m a strong guy. I think anybody who knows me knows I’m one of the stronger guys you’ll come across."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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