Winnipeg general manager Joe Mack won't have to worry about the Blue Bombers opening the 2013 CFL season as road warriors.
Winnipeg kicks off the campaign hosting the Montreal Alouettes on June 27 at brand new Investors Group Field. Last year, Winnipeg had to play its first four games on the road while the stadium was being completed.
However, construction and weather delayed the opening until this year. That meant Winnipeg had to play its 2012 home games at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Bombers began last season 0-4 and never recovered, finishing last in the East Division with a league-worst 6-12 record. That came after Winnipeg finished atop the conference in 2011 and reached the Grey Cup game.
This year, Winnipeg will play three of its first five regular-season games at home.
"It's good to start at home," Mack said Tuesday. "That [opening 2012 on road] was really tough on our team and coaches and in that light I think it's going to be a much better situation for us.
"Bless the old lady's heart but Canad Inns had definitely seen better days. It's good for the players and coaches to have the extra room, an outstanding locker-room and bigger and better meeting rooms, all of which are big positives. While that doesn't equate into wins it certainly does help the overall atmosphere so I think that's a big plus."
The season opener will also be memorable for Montreal's Dan Hawkins, who'll make his head-coaching debut. Hawkins replaces Marc Trestman, who led the Alouettes to two Grey Cup titles over five seasons before becoming the head coach of the NFL's Chicago Bears.
Winnipeg actually makes its Investors Group Field debut June 12 with an exhibition game versus the Toronto Argonauts. Excessive crowd noise made it tough on opponents at Canad Inns and Mack hopes the Bombers' faithful gives his team a decided advantage at its new facility.
"The sightlines are outstanding and it's kind of like in a bowl so I think that's going to contain (crowd noise) along with the canopy," he said. "There's actually no dividing wall between the stands, field and concessions so people will still be able to watch while they're at the concessions which I think is a big plus.
"I'm going to suggest it's going to be as good a football stadium as there is in Canada. I think our fans will relate to that and we have to emphasize that but I think our fans will go bonkers over it."
Defending Grey Cup-champion Toronto begins its title defence at Rogers Centre on June 28 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Ticats will have to endure watching their arch rivals receive their championship rings and raise their championship banner before the game.
The contest will mark the CFL return of Hamilton head coach/GM Kent Austin.
Austin led the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the '07 Grey Cup as their head coach. He left afterwards to become the offensive co-ordinator at Mississippi (his alma mater) then served as Cornell's head coach before joining the Ticats this off-season.
The B.C. Lions also visit the Calgary Stampeders on June 28 in a rematch of last year's West Division final. Saskatchewan is in Edmonton to face the Eskimos on June 29.
Hamilton plays its first regular-season home game at the University of Guelph on July 7 against Edmonton. The Ticats will call Alumni Stadium home while a new facility is being built to replace Ivor Wynne Stadium, which was demolished in December.
The Ticats will move into the new stadium for the 2014 season. Hamilton faces Winnipeg in an exhibition game at Guelph on June 20.
Other schedule highlights include:
- Toronto will play an exhibition game at Varsity Stadium on June 20 against Montreal, the first CFL contest there in 55 years. Varsity Stadium hosted 30 Grey Cup games, including nine won by the Argos.
- B.C. will open its home schedule hosting Toronto on July 4 in what will be its 1,000th regular-season contest and 500th home game.
- Hamilton plays Montreal on Sept. 21 in Moncton, the third time in four years a CFL game will be played there.
- Edmonton hosts Montreal in the Hall of Fame game Oct. 5.
- The final four weeks of the regular season will feature divisional matchups only to enhance playoff runs.
- The league will again raise awareness for women's cancers with its CFL Pink initiative Oct. 18-20 and Oct. 24-26.
- Former B.C. slotback Geroy Simon, dealt Jan. 24 to Saskatchewan, returns to B.C. Place on Oct. 4. Simon, the CFL's career receiving yards leader, needs just 29 catches to break Ben Cahoon's all-time mark (1,017).
Toronto and Hamilton won't meet in their annual Labour Day showdown for the second time in three seasons.
Guelph hosts Windsor at Alumni Stadium on Monday Sept. 2. The Toronto Blue Jays conclude a series against Kansas City at Rogers Centre on Sept. 1 but the field can't be reconfigured to football in time.
B.C. will host Hamilton on Aug. 30 with the two teams meeting at Guelph on Sept. 7 while Toronto plays Montreal on Sept. 3 at Rogers Centre, then travels to Molson Stadium on Sept. 8.
But Hamilton will host Toronto in a Thanksgiving Day showdown Oct. 14.
The other two traditional Labour Day contests will be played as Saskatchewan hosts Winnipeg on Sept. 1 and Edmonton visits Calgary on Sept. 2. The Stampeders host the Eskimos on Sept. 6 with Riders playing the Bombers at Mosaic Stadium two days later.