Kristian Matte is last link to Alouettes team that won 11 games in 2012

Now the team’s oldest player at 38, veteran guard is preparing for Saturday’s East Division semifinal against Hamilton at Molson Stadium.

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When the Alouettes won 11 games in 2012, little did Kristian Matte realize they wouldn’t do it again until this season — or that he would be the lone surviving member of that team still playing for Montreal.

“A positive and confident younger me would have said no way that could happen,” the veteran guard said after a practice this week. “Even today I’d say there was no way. That’s just the way it fell.”

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Now in his 14th season with the Als, and the team’s oldest player at 38, Matte is preparing for Saturday’s East Division semifinal against Hamilton at Molson Stadium.

But 11 years ago, the graduate of Concordia University was still learning the ropes of the pro game after being selected seventh overall by Montreal two years earlier. The Als finished first that season, only to lose the division final, 27-20, to Toronto at Olympic Stadium. It was head coach Marc Trestman’s final season with the Als and the last complete season of quarterback Anthony Calvillo’s career; he would suffer a career-ending concussion in 2013 at Regina.

Matte played all 18 regular-season games this season and still enjoys the competition. While he won’t speculate on his future, he realizes the sun will soon set on his career. He also knows championship opportunities can be rare. The Als have not won — let alone reached — the Grey Cup since 2010, Matte’s rookie season, when he dressed for only one game.

“I learned early on, during the Trestman years, to embrace every moment,” said the 6-foot-3, 308-pound Matte. “The game’s never going to love you back. Every year you start to understand (more) what that meant and you can’t take it for granted. You have to enjoy every moment. You have to know it’s not always you that controls the outcome.

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“At the end of the season we all know it’s one and done (if a team loses). It’s different than any other sport. You have to make sure you’re prepared. Don’t do anything different; that means you didn’t do it right all season. The rest should fall into place.”

While the Als ended the season on a five-game winning streak, they didn’t defeat any CFL team with a winning record this season, making it hard to believe they’re serious title contenders.

“Let’s wait and see what happens,” Matte said. “The story’s going to unfold. We’ll give it our best and see what happens.”

As one of a handful of veteran players on what’s considered a young team, Matte’s words of wisdom will be counted on heavily throughout this week. Rush-end Shawn Lemon also has led by example since being signed by Montreal in late July. Lemon and tackle Almondo Sewell are the only two defensive players that have won a Grey Cup.

“You need vets that understand the league and lead by example,” said Lemon, who had a team-leading nine quarterback sacks. He also produced two interceptions, a forced fumble and recovery and scored the first touchdown — one of nine by Montreal’s defence — of his career.

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“This is what I get paid to do,” added Lemon, 35. “Everybody’s watching — your parents, kids, family and all the teams that passed on you in the league. I can’t wait. Enjoy the moment and don’t take it for granted. You get 18 tries during the regular season to prepare for moments like this.”

As improbable as it was for the Als to defeat the Tiger-Cats three times this season, that will mean nothing if they can’t do it a fourth time.

“We’ve done that before, where we’ve beaten teams multiple times, or every time we’ve faced them,” head coach Jason Maas said. “All the games have been a little different. We’ve done enough every single game (against Hamilton) to find a way to win. Have we played to our ultimate best for 60 minutes? Not yet. That’s the expectation this week.”

The Als could be missing guard Pier-Olivier Lestage for the game. He hasn’t practised due to a knee injury.

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