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An Alouettes training camp like no other begins amid the CFL’s first strike since 1974

“I’ve never seen a group of players so united in all my years.”

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TROIS-RIVIÈRES — It was the opening day of the Alouettes training camp on Sunday, but there were no helmets, pads, tackles or trainers. The handful of fans at Stade Diablos watched the passage from the parking lot and only two veterans made themselves available to the media.

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“I’ve been in this league since 2010 and we’ve never had a break from work or not practiced on the first day of camp,” warden Kristian Matte told the Montreal Gazette. “I’ve never seen a group of players so united in all my years. Everyone’s on the same page, whether it’s the new guy who’s never played in the CFL or the old guys who’ve been around for a while.”

Talks between the league and the players’ union ended on Saturday, hours before the contract expired. As of Sunday morning, seven of the CFL’s nine teams were in a legal strike position; only Edmonton and Calgary were temporarily barred under Alberta provincial labor laws. It’s only the second strike in league history, following a 1974 work stoppage at training camp, which was settled before the start of the regular season.

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As late as Thursday evening, Als management believed that its players would also be excluded from the strike until May 21st. But on the advice of its legal counsel, the Players’ Association told Montreal players’ representatives – Chris Ackie and Almondo Sewell – that the team was in a legal strike position.

The players, who are housed and fed by the organization – a league-wide mandate – chose to do the light training entirely on a voluntary basis as no organized activities can take place. The CFLPA has encouraged its players to spend time together, both on and off the field, to create camaraderie.

“We told the guys you don’t have to come here,” receiver Eugene Lewis said. “You can stay in your room and do whatever you want. There is no pressure and this is not mandatory. We thought that was the right thing to do.”

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Not only were no talks scheduled between the two teams as of Sunday, the CFLPA was informed that all nine training camps have now been closed and players have been locked out. As usual, money, the length of a new CBA and player safety are at the root of the divide.

Nonetheless, this could turn into a PR nightmare for a league that didn’t play in 2020 due to COVID-19, had a reduced 14-game schedule last season and struggled to grow its fan base and popularity under commissioner Randy Ambrosie, The CFL has adhered to a partnership with its players.

“It’s not looking good and I hope the fans will understand that,” Matte said. “It’s not a selfish attitude. It’s about justice. We feel like we’ve caved in on a lot of things over the years. We’ve finally gotten to a point where… we know what we want and what’s expected.

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“It’s a professional league. We have certain expectations, just like they have of us. We all play in the CFL for the love of the game. We’re not going to do that for 30 years. It’s not something you can retire from (unemployed). We are very aware of that.”

If players must remain patient as this fluid situation unfolds, General Manager Danny Maciocia has his own issues, his hands tied as he works to field a competitive team. The Als’ first exhibition game is scheduled for May 28 in Hamilton, while the regular season begins June 9 in Calgary.

“I don’t know where this is all going,” he said. “I think there is a desire to play on both sides. Absolutely. The optimism is definitely there. Will this come to fruition in the next few hours? days? That’s the only thing I find a little frustrating.

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“We’re all in the same boat. The question is how long? All of this will definitely have some side effect or harm. The question is how much. It’s difficult to say. Everyone feels that time is of the essence.”

Even though the camp is at a standstill, Maciocia and his football operations staff still have a lot of work to do. There are always movies to watch and potential players to monitor, along with phone calls, texts and emails from around the league that require his attention. Maciocia is also available to all players who need advice.

“It’s supposed to be there on our part, compassionate and understanding,” Maciocia said. “It doesn’t matter what we think about it. Just make sure they understand there is some form of support. you want to play That is also the wish at league level.”

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