The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are back.
But for how long, we don’t really know.
With the CFL’s tenuous labour situation as a backdrop, the defending East Division champions will open training camp at McMaster University’s Ron Joyce Stadium Sunday morning.
After negotiations between the league and Players’ Association broke down on Thursday, the union instructed its players to attend their respective training camps.
But the PA has also sent out strike ballots to its members and if enough players vote to walk off the job, training camp facilities will become virtually empty.
With no new talks on a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon the Players’ Association could be poised to play their biggest card as early as next weekend.
That’s when when labour laws in Alberta would allow players in Edmonton and Calgary to participate in any job action against the league.
Until then, players around the league will be competing for roster spots on the teams they are butting heads with off the field.
Ticats Caretaker Bob Young has written a letter to fans about the labour situation.
You can read it HERE.
For the Tiger-Cats, training camp could not come soon enough.
Whenever a team loses its last game, they want to get right back on the field.
Unfortunately for Hamilton, their last game was the biggest game of the season, the 101st Grey Cup in Regina in which the Tiger-Cats lost 45-23 to the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Cats general manager and head coach Kent Austin used the long offseason to make a number of roster changes, highlighted by the free agent signing of quarterback Zach Collaros and the subsequent release of future Hall of Fame QB Henry Burris, who is now in Ottawa.
CLICK HERE to see the Ticats current roster.
Hamilton brought in other free agents, including hard hitting Canadian safety Craig Butler from the Roughriders, speedy receiver Cary Koch from the Eskimos, physical linebacker Abraham Kromah from Saskatchewan, Blue Bombers veteran defensive back Brandon Stewart and kicker/punter Justin Medlock from the NFL.
But the Ticats also bid farewell to a host of players, such as 10 year veteran centre Marwan Hage, defensive leader Jamall Johnson, linebacker Brandon Isaac, defensive back Dee Webb, receiver Onrea Jones, speedy running back Chevon Walker, fullback John Delahunt, kicker Luca Congi and punter Josh Bartel.
A large part of Hamilton’s core players are returning for another run at the Grey Cup, namely receivers Andy Fantuz and Bakari Grant, running back C.J. Gable, linebacker Simoni Lawrence, defensive backs Courtney Stephen and Delvin Breaux and the entire defensive line, including Canadian Defensive Player of the Year nominee Brian Bulcke.
As is always the case, most fans will be paying close attention to the training camp competition at the quarterback position, with Collaros’ main competitor being Dan LeFevour.
2013 third stringer Jeremiah Masoli and former Dallas Cowboys QB Stephen McGee are also in the mix.
Collaros, who has made less than 10 starts over his three year CFL career, has seen the most game action at this level.
With starter Ricky Ray out with an injury, Collaros guided the Toronto Argonauts to victory in an unprecedented four consecutive games on the road.
Now #4 in Black & Gold will be tasked with leading the Tiger-Cats back to the big game in B.C. this November.
Given there is labour peace between the CFL and the union, Hamilton will open the preseason on June 14 when they host the Montreal Alouettes at McMaster.
The Cats close out the exhibition schedule with a date in Toronto on June 19 at Varsity Stadium.
Hamilton’s regular season opener is scheduled for June 29 in Saskatchewan, seven months after their last meeting in the CFL final.
Single game tickets for Ticats home games during the inaugural season at Tim Hortons Field are now on sale.
Fans can purchase tickets by calling 905-547-CATS (2287) or by CLICKING HERE.