Labour Day offering former Argo Van Zeyl very different perspective
HAMILTON — Labour Day has a much different look and feel this year for Chris Van Zeyl.
For 10 seasons, it meant making the trip to Hamilton and into hostile territory as a member of the hated Toronto Argonauts. But on Monday, Van Zeyl will line up at right tackle for the Tiger-Cats in the annual showdown between the two arch rivals.
"It’s like everything else this year, it’s been a little bit different obviously," Van Zeyl said following Sunday’s walkthrough at Tim Hortons Field. "But they’ve done a great job of making me feel at home right from the get-go.
"It’s not really weird anymore."
Toronto released Van Zeyl, who’ll turn 36 on Friday, in May following 10-plus seasons in a reported salary-cap move. But the native of Fonthill, Ont., and two-time Grey Cup champion, wasn’t unemployed long, signing a two-year deal with Hamilton later that same day.
And the six-foot-six, 312-pound Van Zeyl has settled in nicely at his usual right tackle spot with Hamilton (8-2). The Ticats’ offence ranks second overall in offensive points (26.2 per game), touchdowns (31) and offensive touchdowns (25) while allowing the third-fewest sacks (15).
But this won’t be the first time Van Zeyl has faced his former team. Hamilton handed Toronto (1-8) a lopsided 64-14 loss in the Argos season/home opener June 22.
And again, Van Zeyl won’t be overly sentimental facing his former team.
"The emotions I have for players on the other side of the ball are just that," he said. "Whoever is on the other side of the ball … they’re the enemy and I’ve always kind of seen it that way.
"This is a big game for the city (of Hamilton) and the people have expectations and beliefs."
It’s also an important game for Hamilton. A win would not only give the Ticats the season series against their bitter rivals but move them eight points ahead of the second-place Montreal Alouettes (5-4), who are idle.
Hamilton has won five straight Labour Day games against Toronto and seven of the last eight. Not only are the Ticats unbeaten at home but have never lost on Labour Day to Toronto since Tim Hortons Field opened in 2014.
Since 1950, Hamilton holds a commanding 34-13-1 Labour Day edge over Toronto and 168-137-9 mark overall.
"The intensity, as I’ve experienced, is as close to playoff as you get in the regular season," said Van Zeyl, a two-time CFL all-star. "It’s a divisional opponent, it’s a team that there’s a heated rivalry with and it’s an exciting game to be a part of.
"For me as far as football and my pro career it (Labour Day game in Hamilton) was always wanting to spoil the party. Now, you want to bring the party. We’ve been winning games but we haven’t really just dominated and taken off and that’s what we’re looking to do."
Nine of the past 15 Labour Day contests between the two teams have come down to the final three minutes before being decided. And two years ago, Hamilton snapped an 0-8 slide by downing Toronto 24-22.
Labour Day games are always special for veteran Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
"I just really love football and love it when football is played aggressively," Lawrence said. "They’re expecting to get hit and I’m expecting to get hit and that’s OK because that’s how football is.
"It’s a violent, physical game and on Labour Day … for whatever reason everybody is OK with it. I know how much the fans love it and for me it’s an appreciation game because I want the fans to be happy and this my thank-you to them for having me in the city."
This will be Orlondo Steinauer’s first Labour Day clash as Hamilton’s head coach but he participated in several as a player with the Ticats and Argos. Steinauer said perspective will be key for both teams.
"It’s a great environment, it’s hostile," Steinauer said. "It was fun on both sides whether you’re Toronto or Hamilton.
"You just have to approach it as a football game and not put anything else into it. For us, it’s a division game, we have a chance to get the season series … everything else kind of falls into place after that."
Hamilton will be without defensive end Adrian Tracy (season-ending triceps injury), who was injured in last week’s 13-10 road win over B.C. And former Argo Anthony Coombs starts at running back with Cameron Marshall going on the six-game injured list.
Toronto’s James Wilder Jr. will start at tailback with Brandon Burks going on the six-game injured list. Wilder, the CFL’s top rookie in 2017, has run for 161 yards on 38 carries (4.2-yard average) while adding 26 catches for 260 yards and two TDs.
Defensive tackle Cleyon Laing will start after coming off the six-game injured list.
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-8) VERSUS HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (8-2)
Monday afternoon, Tim Hortons Field.
PASSING GRADE: Toronto starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson has thrown for 300 or more yards in five of his last seven starts. He had a career-high 464 yards passing in last weekend’s 28-22 loss to Montreal in Moncton, N.B. But Bethel-Thompson has been sacked 23 times, second-most in the CFL.
RUNNING WOES: The Toronto Argonauts are the only CFL team to not have scored a rushing touchdown this season. Dating back to 2018, the Argos have gone a league-record tying 11 games without scoring on the ground.
SACK HAPPY: Hamilton defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis has four sacks in his last three games after registering four over his first seven contests. Teammate Dylan Wynn tied a CFL-high with three sacks last week against B.C. to boost his season total to eight also.
— By Dan Ralph