The Toronto Argonauts are listed as the home team on the CFL schedule for this Saturday’s Touchdown Atlantic game, but Saskatchewan Roughriders’ kicker Brett Lauther expects that the field in Wolfville will actually be tilted in his team’s favour.
“The fact that I’m out here and out east and Rider Nation is over here in full force, I feel like we’re stealing a home game by playing here this year,” the fan-favourite specialist said with a chuckle after practice.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Lauther could have hit the window of his college dorm room with a chip shot field goal while the Riders went through the paces on the field at Saint Mary’s University on Thursday.
A native of nearby Truro, Nova Scotia, Lauther is one of just two players from the Maritimes suiting up for the CFL’s latest neutral field clash in Atlantic Canada and by far the highest profile, becoming the game’s unofficial ambassador.
As a result, he may also be its biggest ticket draw. While Rider fans have travelled from far and wide to soak up the CFL’s special events in Halifax, more than 180 of the green-clad faithful in the sellout crowd of 10,000 will be Lauther’s own friends and family.
“Playing over here this weekend, it’s really for everyone else. For me, it’s a product of everyone else’s support and everything over the years,” Lauther acknowledged.
“The fact that I’m going to have buddies down here wearing jerseys and shirts and kind of cheering and my family and my grandmother and everyone that kind of supported me and got me here today, it’s the real reason why I’m still playing. You’ve got to kind of remember what you’re here for sometimes and being over here is a good reminder.”
The CFL hopes that Lauther will have more reminders in the future, as this year’s Touchdown Atlantic game is intended as a litmus test for the faltering dream of expansion to the Halifax area.
The league unveiled the ownership and marketing for the long-awaited Atlantic Schooners way back in 2018 but progress has stalled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and no public funding for a CFL-sized stadium is currently on the table.
Nevertheless, commissioner Randy Ambrosie has all but guaranteed expansion in the near future, with the Maritimes the preferred destination.
“I think it’d be huge, not just from my opinion, but a coast-to-coast league, 10 teams, it’s almost needed,” Lauther said of the possibility, adding that luring in a CFL franchise with a stadium would be a net benefit to Halifax as a whole.
“There are personal reasons [for why I support it] obviously, coming home once a year or playing for the team potentially, and then I think it would be a huge hit out here. I mean, it’s not just a football stadium for football, we play nine home games a year. It’s for U Sports, for concerts, to grow things out here and, as I’ve said many times now, a Nathan MacKinnon versus Sidney Crosby Winter Classic hockey game, I think that would be sold out in a second.”
Lauther believes that kids in the Maritimes need local pro athletes to look up to and inspire them, much as happens in Regina. The two small cities share similarities in terms of how they support local teams, though one can certainly expect Halifax to be a more popular road trip amongst opposing players.
Still, don’t expect Lauther to sprint home to the East Coast if the Schooners ever get off the ground. While playing at home is a draw for many, the kicker has found a new spot to call his own after five years with Saskatchewan.
“I feel like I have a really good situation going and things can change quickly but I definitely don’t want to wish any of my time away from being with the Riders and Rider Nation,” Lauther said, before noting he probably couldn’t keep up with the ticket requests if he ever did sign in Halifax.
“We’ll see what happens. I think the one road game out here a year would be enough of a headache compared to nine home games.”
With his father handling most of the complicated ticketing logistics this time around, Lauther will simply cherish the rare opportunity to play in front of his own community.
“I’m just happy to be home and excited for everyone to get a chance to see a CFL game live up here, especially a regular season one,” he grinned. “What can I say? I can’t keep the smile off my face.”