Monarchs to host Drillers in first game back in Fort McMurray

Fort McMurray Monarchs quarterback Will Arndt prepares to receive a snapped ball during a drill at practice at Shell Place in Fort McMurray Alta. on Wednesday June 15, 2016. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray Monarchs quarterback Will Arndt prepares to receive a snapped ball during a drill at practice at Shell Place in Fort McMurray Alta. on Wednesday June 15, 2016. Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Robert Murray – Fort McMurray Today – Thursday, June 16, 2016

As nice as the Calgary Stampeders’ donation of equipment to the Fort McMurray Monarchs was, the donation of a starting quarterback was appreciated a bit more.

Will Arndt, who attended the Stampeders’ mini-camp in mid-April, was under center Wednesday night at practice, replacing Charles Drinkard, who left the team due to undisclosed reasons.

Assuming Arndt lives up to his credentials, the loss of Drinkard won’t be a huge one, though in Saturday’s important game — the Monarchs’ first under a tenancy agreement at Shell Place after May’s wildfires — the team will be feeling things out as they host the 0-2 Grande Prairie Drillers.

“It’s never easy, but with the guy we have coming in, I feel very capable in his knowledge and experience,” said team president Jesse Maddox. “With Coach Spence leading the helm on the offence, it should be a match made in heaven.”

Dismantled by the Central Alberta Buccaneers in their season-opener by a 50-16 score, the Drillers fell into their 0-2 hole last weekend due to a 14-13 loss against the Edmonton Raiders.

The Monarchs rebounded from their own loss to the Bucs by smoking the Airdrie Irish by a 44-0 final last weekend. After that close loss in Week Two, Monarchs head coach Dave Spence wasn’t about to take things lightly.

“I treat them as if they’re 2-0,” said Spence. “There’s somethings that they do extremely well and there’s somethings that they don’t, so we’re going to try to capitalize on that.”

As much as Saturday’s game will be about moving to 3-1 on the year, the game will also mark the first major sporting event held in the region since May’s forced evacuation. As such, Maddox said the team have a ceremony planned to honour first responders. With free tickets offered at the Shell Place box office, Maddox added the experience would be one the team’s newer players would remember as well.

“We’re playing for Fort McMurray,” said Maddox. “It’s also going to outline a lot of things that a lot of these players haven’t seen yet being new to the city and part of the team.”

With the focus on the offensive addition of Arndt, two of the Monarchs’ new players — linemen Asante Mizan and Denzel Philip — will help on the defensive side of the ball.

Mizan, a graduate of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, and Philip, a Canadian product of Eastern New Mexico Unveristy, had both been linked to the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, but were in Fort McMurray Wednesday, ready to ply their trade in the Alberta Football League.

“They gave me an opportunity so I came out here,” said Philip. “I’m confident in [my ability] to compete.”

The Monarchs and Drillers kick-off Saturday’s game at 7 p.m. at Shell Place.