I'll do a by-the-numbers look at the teams in a bit, but I figured I'd start with some general thoughts on the match. First off, the weather's looking pretty good here; it's sunny and about -5, according to The Weather Network. Second, even though Western's a 19.5 point underdog [James Mirtle, The Globe and Mail], I think this one could be closer than that. I went to Western's practice at Ivor Wynne Stadium afternoon, and I was impressed by how loose the Mustangs looked. This makes some sense; after all, everyone's expecting them to lose, so there can't be too much pressure. For Laval, on the other hand, they're expected not just to win but to dominate. They pulled that off against Calgary in the semifinals, but this is a bigger stage and even more of a challenge. I still like their chances, but you underestimate a Greg Marshall team at your peril; just ask Queen's about how last year's playoffs went against a 4-4 Western team.
Some interesting tidbits about this year's clash from the CIS media guide;
- This is Marshall's first Vanier Cup as a head coach, which is somewhat surprising considering the success he had first with McMaster and now with Western. His teams lost five bowl games and never advanced to the final clash. However, he's been to the Vanier once as a player and five times as a Mustangs' assistant coach and picked up rings in two of his appearances as an assistant coach.
- This is the first Vanier Cup in history to feature an Ontario university and a Quebec university.
- Laval and Western are the only two CIS teams to have claimed Vanier Cup titles at three different stadiums. Laval has triumphed at the former SkyDome in Toronto, Ivor Wynne here in Hamilton and Saskatoon's Griffiths Stadium, while Western has won at Varsity Stadium, the CNE Stadium and the SkyDome, all in Toronto.
- 11 teams in CIS history, including last year's Manitoba Bisons, have gone undefeated throughout the season and the playoffs. Laval will try to be the twelfth.
- Laval is 4-0 in Vanier Cup games with wins in 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2006. The only other team with a perfect Vanier record is the Guelph Gryphons, who beat Mount Allison in 1984 in their only trip to the Vanier.
- This will be the third time the Vanier has been played in Hamilton.
- Laval and Western have played pre-season games for the last two years. The Rouge et Or won 20-2 in 2007 and 37-9 this year.
- Both Laval and Western have played in November 22 Vanier Cups before. Laval is 1-0 (14-7 win over St. Mary's in 2003) and Western is 1-1 (19-15 victory against the University of Toronto in 1974, 25-23 loss to UBC in 1986).
- Marshall (70-24-2) and Laval head coach Glen Constantin (70-19) both have 70 CIS wins as head coaches (combined regular-season and playoffs) heading into today's game.
- Western has won more Vanier Cups (6) than any other school and has also appeared in the Vanier 12 times, more than any other university. Laval is tied with Calgary for second place with 4 victories.
- Constantin has three Vanier titles as a head coach. If he wins today, he'll be tied with former Calgary head coach Peter Connellan for the most Vanier titles won by a head coach. He also has a Vanier ring from Laval's 1999 triumph, when he was the defensive coordinator.
- Western was in the highest-scoring Vanier Cup match ever (50-40 overtime win against Saskatchewan in 1994), while Laval was in the lowest-scoring Vanier match ever (7-1 win over Saskatchewan in 2004). I think we're more likely to see a game towards the higher end of the spectrum today.
- It's the first time Laval will play a team that doesn't go by "Huskies" in the final. They beat St. Mary's in 1999 and 2003 and Saskatchewan in 2004 and 2006.