Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
CALGARY – If you were expecting bad blood ahead of Saturday's 80th Hardy Cup between the UBC Thunderbirds and Calgary Dinos, it was nowhere to be found Friday, as both sides met the media less than 24 hours before the big game.
Meeting for the second Hardy Cup in as many seasons, and with former Calgary coach turned UBC boss Blake Nill returning in search of a second consecutive Hardy Cup, the Canada West title game on the surface seems to have all the makings of a gridiron grudge match.
But neither coach would venture too deep into those waters ahead of the big game.
"My time in Calgary was an incredible experience. I have the fondest memories," said Nill, who led the Dinos to seven straight Hardy Cup appearances before leaving last season for UBC, where he guided the T-Birds to the Vanier Cup.
"But now I have a new group and I want this group to experience the same kind of opportunities that my Calgary kids did."
As for Calgary head coach Wayne Harris, who guided the Dinos to a perfect record last season before his team's 34-26 setback to the Thunderbirds in the 79th Hardy Cup, Saturday is about winning a conference title – no matter who is standing on the opposite sideline.
"Motivation is just in the fact that we're here, regardless of who we have to play," said Harris.
"We've approached each game the same way and if [playing UBC] motivates the guys a little bit more, that's going to be internal. There's been some changeover too and there are some new guys and they don't have the background of some of the more senior players. We're not relying on that for our motivation to win."
For third-year Calgary linebacker Boston Rowe, Saturday's Hardy Cup rematch – just the second all-time between UBC and Calgary after the pair met back-to-back in 1977 and 1978 – is about taking something the Dinos let slip away in 2015.
"I think last year we maybe felt more entitled to it. We felt like we deserved to be there and to win," said Rowe. "I think this year we feel more like we have to go out and take it and go get it, so we're excited more for the opportunity that way."
Without question Rowe and the Dinos are once again the favourites in the conference title game, as UBC enters the matchup after a 3-5 regular season, joining the 2010 Alberta Golden Bears as the only 3-5 teams in conference history to make the Hardy Cup.
That contest was one of the most lopsided playoff games in Canada West history, as the Dinos dismantled the Bears to the tune of 56-3.
But the chances of another Hardy Cup like that are far from likely, as the defending Canada West and Vanier Cup champs UBC are without question a worthy opponent following their Hardy Cup semifinal win over first-place Regina 40-34 last weekend in the final game at Mosaic Stadium.
"It's extremely deceiving," said Harris of UBC's 3-5 regular season mark. "They lost some close games and they could've had the opportunity to win."
"There's a reason they were the champions last year."
Whether UBC holds onto their place atop Canada West football, or Calgary retakes the Hardy Cup after two years straight of championship losses, it will be decided on Saturday (1 p.m. MT / McMahon Stadium), as both teams look to move on to next week's national semifinal, the Mitchell Bowl.
The 80th Hardy Cup can be seen live on local Shaw TV, Shaw Direct 299, Shaw HD where available, Access Communications' channel 7/70, and CanadaWest.tv.
NOTES: The Hardy Cup champion will host the winner of Atlantic University Sport's Loney Bowl between Mount Allison and St. FX on Saturday, November 19…Calgary is looking to avoid becoming just the second team in Canada West history to lose three consecutive Hardy Cups. Alberta dropped three straight between 2003 and 2005.