November 20, 2013 5:12 pm

Welcome to winter: Ticats brave chilly conditions in first Grey Cup practice

For Hamilton Tiger-Cats like C.J. Gable and Josh Bartel, Mosaic Stadium might as well have been on Pluto given the frigid temperatures Wednesday.

Nathan Denette/CP

REGINA – For Hamilton Tiger-Cats like C.J. Gable and Josh Bartel, Mosaic Stadium might as well have been on Pluto given the frigid temperatures Wednesday.

The Eastern champion Ticats ventured outside into the Grey Cup deep freeze and it didn’t take long before players with visors looked they needed an ice-scraper to see out. Warm-air heaters drew a crowd.

And when the lengthy practice ended, two snowplows took over the field.

The Hamilton players exchanged helmets for Grey Cup tuques and happily headed for the warmth of their hotel.

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“My toes are numb. Fingers are numb,” Gable, a California native who played running back at USC, said after practice.

“I’ve told the boys that I’m going to be doing a lot of complaining (Sunday),” said Bartel, Hamilton’s Australian punter.

The temperature was listed at minus-16 but it felt like minus-28. A light snowfall made it the turf look festive but it was downright nasty at field level under an overcast sky.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders opted for an afternoon practice indoors in Moose Jaw.

Hamilton coach Kent Austin, who played and coached in Saskatchewan, said he has that option and may use it later in the week but opted to train in the cold Wednesday.

“If you looked at the reaction of our players coming off the plane to the terminal, the walk to the bus, you would understand exactly why we need to be in the weather today,” Austin said with a laugh at the coaches’ news conference earlier in the day. “So we’re going to get that out of the way early.”

Gable, at least, was warned about the conditions

“Yeah, they told me about it, they told me. But I was like ‘OK, it can’t be that bad,”‘ he said with a chuckle. “I was wrong, I was wrong.”

Gable, who seemed genuinely befuddled by the conditions, said he would have to change his running style to take short, choppy steps rather than long strides and to avoid making a lot of cuts while running.

“When I played against Notre Dame, it was cold. But not like this.”

Said Bartel: “The first two seconds were good. And then I couldn’t feel my feet.”

Most of the Tiger-Cats were swaddled in one layer after another of clothing, although some opted to see what it was like without dipping into their wardrobe.

“I tried to see if I can take it,” said Gable. “(Thursday) I’m going to have some more on.”

The forecast for Sunday is improved, with a daytime high of minus-one and low of minus-12. Kickoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. local time.

Austin insisted the cold will not be an issue for his team come Sunday.

“The Eastern semifinal (in Guelph) wasn’t exactly a balmy day. It was pretty rough. … Our guys have played in bad weather.

“This is for a championship. We can all weather three hours of cold weather, that’s not a big deal.”

In addition to working out in the cold, the Ticats piped in blaring crowd noise into the empty stadium to get ready for the din of the Saskatchewan crowd Sunday.

Veteran offensive lineman Marwan Hage says he expects hard and slippery conditions, with the game coming down to ball security and fundamental football.

But the hulking six-foot-two 291-pounder wasn’t about to complain about the conditions, saying the team had handled the weather well in practice.

“It was a little cold , but it’s cold for everybody,” he said cheerfully. “It’ll be cold for the other team.”

“It’s Canada,” he added.

That truism was of little help to the team’s Aussie, who was trying to see the glass half-full.

“Both teams have got to deal with it,” he said stoically before adding: “I’ll probably be spending a fair bit of time in front of the heater.”

© The Canadian Press, 2013

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