Another Era in Cornwall Hockey – The Revamped FHL

Hockey season is here again and once more we have another foray into semi-professional/professional hockey by the city of Cornwall. City council came out and said they don’t want to get into the “hockey business” but let’s face it, the name of the city is smack dab on the name of the team. Kind of have to go with the flow now. And they are. Just this week the city of Cornwall bought a rink board inside the Ed Lumley Arena. If that’s not a step in the right direction of a city giving a blessing for the team, then I don’t know what is.

But, why now? Well, for one, the Cornwall Nationals are in a completely different league. A league that has a bit more of a favourable opinion in the hockey world and a league that is trying to actually develop players to the next stage in their career (three FHL players signed with SPHL teams this week, a goaltender attended LA Kings training camp, some are on loan with AHL teams, and some have had ECHL try outs last year). It is not the same FHL that held the Akwesasne Warriors as champions. There’s no staged fighting and you’re not guaranteed a fight every game. I’ll let you decide on the quality of play when you see it.

14291702_184075755356901_2702889070874924457_nThat’s not to say you’re not going to get entertaining hockey out of this venture. Cornwall fans know how to make any team feel like Stanley Cup Champions no matter their record. You can’t deny the heart they put into saving the LNAH’s Cornwall River Kings and I expect that passion to continue with the Nationals especially since most are familiar with the FHL landscape. And for $13.00 a ticket? That’s cheaper then the Junior A Cornwall Colts for crying out loud.

Another thing worth pointing out with the Nationals is the crazy experience they are going have with their roster. A simple click on Elite Prospects can show you the average age of each team in the league. (excluding Cornwall because they are obviously not at full roster status yet). Luckily for you, I went and did this so you don’t have to: (Brewster either folded or went dormant for this year so I’m not counting them and St. Clair is starting up this year and in the middle of signing guys as well, as far as I recall.)

Average age based on 2015-2016 season

Watertown Wolves: 25 years old
Berlin River Drivers: 24 years old
Danbury Titans: 25 years old
Danville Dashers: 25 years old
Port Huron Prowlers: 25 years old

Most of the guys Cornwall has already signed are well above 25 years old and are coming off extraordinary pro careers. The majority of this league picks up guys just turning pro from junior or NCAA. Don’t get me wrong, there’s extreme talent happening in those two categories but you absolutely can not push aside the wealth of experience the Nationals already have in signing what, 7 guys already? Insane.

A lot of people brush me off with my opinions of hockey in Cornwall and that’s their right to do so. Just let me say one thing. The way this team is coming together in this league so far, I have my doubts that anyone will be able to stop them.
As long as the team doesn’t fold at Christmas.

Just kidding.

Check back once the roster is complete for a complete player profile and run through so you can have an idea of who you’ll be cheering on!

A competitive Cornwall River Kings? They just may surprise you

It’s felt like 40 degrees for the past couple weeks and doesn’t seem to stop for the foreseeable future. It’s time to start thinking winter and with winter comes hockey! In my temp neck of the woods of Cornwall, Ontario, that means it’s time the Cornwall River Kings to come gliding out onto the ice of the Ed Lumley Arena.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I haven’t written about them lately. I know most of you turned a blind eye to some of my articles when I was elaborating on issues and moves. (Hey, I spoke the truth and I was right.) However, it’s time to speak up once again.

Why haven’t I been writing about them?

Because they’re doing things right.

And it’s now, more then ever, that we need to praise them for it.

Now I can only talk about roster moves because I’ve been blocked from seeing things on facebook but for the first time in several seasons and maybe since the inaugural season, the River Kings are going to ice a competitive team. Overall, they’ve traded better, they’ve acquired better, they’ve drafted better and they’ve signed better. The brass has gone after guys with exceeding reputations. Likely the work of Bob Desjardins that I hope Rick Lalonde is exemplifying his valuable input.

Let’s take a look at some of the newcomers that are going to grace the bench of the very quite possible Big Red Machine of the Cornwall River Kings.

MARTIN LARIVIERE

Back in the beginning of June, the River Kings sent Maxime Vachon to the Thetford Assurancia in exchange for tough guy Martin Lariviere. Lariviere has spent his entire hockey career in Quebec having his Jr. A days with the Lachine Maroons and bouncing the around the old crazy Quebec senior league and the LNAH. It will be different to not show up to the arena in Thetford this season as spent the past 8 years with the squad.  However, it was here where he fine tuned his reputation as a pest and an agitator. While not a big lad, 5’9 on skates can be just as intimidating as 6’4. After leading the team in PIMs with 210 last season, you can look for the big man from Verdun to put up just as much.

 

OLIVIER CROTEAU AND JEREMY VIGNEAULT-BELANGER

QMJHL (LHJMQ) hockey profile photo on Prince Edward Island Rocket Olivier Croteau December 16, 2011 at the Colisee Pepsi in Quebec city.
Croteau

In the middle of June, the Kings acquired Croteau and Vigneault-Belanger from the Jonquiere Marquis for a draft pick. Heck of a deal I might add.

Croteau has a couple of really decent Jr. A seasons combined with experience from not only teams in the QMJHL (Gatineau Olympiques and PEI Rocket) but with Team Canada U-17 World Championships as well. At 6’2 and boasting a left handed shot that is much needed on the depth chart, Croteau will be a nice welcome to the younger guys on the squad and on the ice.

 

 

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Photo: Mariane L. Gelais

Another young kid that has QMJHL experience is Vigneault-Belanger. A season with the Quebec Ramparts was enough to cross over into the LNAH territory. Two years ago he put up 58 points in 38 games with St. Georges. Last year while bouncing between St. Georges and Jonquière, Vigeanaut-Belanger was almost a point a game player with 35 in 38 games. Given the right players to play with him, this kid could turn out to be something.

 

LOU DICKENSON

When Dickenson retired from pro hockey earlier this off-season I shook my head when the River Kings drafted him. (I still forget that the LNAH is semi-pro!) I knew how great of a player he is and was equally excited and disappointed at his retirement. After I finally realized my mistake, I jumped for joy and wondered how the hell the Kings pulled this off.

ag_HLh5lDickenson, who you may remember from CBC’s Making the Cut back in the early 2000s, has had a huge and lengthy pro career that has taken him almost everywhere. Well, at least all over Europe. He’s a scoring machine which is definitely needed badly for Cornwall. Even if those European clubs are sometimes a lesser calibre it is not a knock on Dickenson’s play. Those pictures out there with him in a gold helmet? That’s to showcase the top scorer on the team. Neat thing to have.

He played 13 games with Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia, crushed out 20 points in 13 games and took home the championship. Last season he spent it with the Dundee Stars of my beloved EIHL and went over a point a game. Another asset is he’s a big guy who can skate and can hold his own. He’s another left handed shot (told you they need them badly) and accustomed to the bigger ice. If Bob Desjardins can put a smart right winger who isn’t flashy and sticks to the little things on his line combined with the smaller ice, Dickenson will be scoring for days in this league.

 

JEFF LEGUE

Legue_Lifts_the_TrophyIf you’re a hockey fan that lives in Cornwall and don’t know who the hell Jeff Legue is then I’m sorry, you need to get out to the rink more. Legue, who has reached legendary status in Sheffield, England, had decided to retire from pro hockey and move back home to Cornwall with his family. It was obviously a no brainer that a conversation about playing for the River Kings was going to come up at some point. I’m not going to ramble about how much Legue’s hockey means to the city (and to the country of England) because like I said, if you don’t know then there’s a problem. But if you do want to brush up on his career, have a read at a sort of biography I did with him a couple yeas ago. You can check it out here:  Jeff Legue: Two Cities and the Sport of Hockey

I can truly say with all honesty that for the first time in a while it is an exciting time to be a Cornwall River Kings fan. They celebrate a milestone this season in turning 5. I hope we can look forward to different events and celebrations to mark this feat. Maybe there’s a 5th Anniversary patch in the works?  Who’d ever thought we’d last this long? Who knows.

What I do know is it’s only 3 more months until you can start chanting “Go Kings Go.”

Pat Haramis and the 1980 Memorial Cup Champions: The Cornwall Royals

First published in the April 2014 edition of Cornwall, SD&G, Akwesasne’s Sports Energy News

When one takes the time to sit back and think of all the great sports teams to come out of this area, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Cornwall Royals will be one of the first teams mentioned. The early 1980’s saw the team take two Memorial Cup championships with the first one taking the hockey world by surprise. The Royals were not lacking in depth during the 1979-1980 campaign. Four solid lines anchored the ice and cruised Cornwall to a QMJHL President’s Cup championship by unexpectedly defeating the first place ranked Sherbrooke Castors four games to two.

Pat Haramis
For Pat Haramis, a look back during his time with the Royals as they headed out for the Memorial Cup tournament seems to tire him out. “It’s all a blur. There was so much going on that we didn’t have time to think. We didn’t have time to be nervous.” Haramis grew up in nearby Maxville, Ontario before his parents moved to Cornwall in 1973. Playing peewee hockey in the Cornwall system is what bumped him up to the Royals ranks. Always supportive in his children’s endeavors, Nick Haramis Sr. urged Pat to find a way to get to and from games. Being busy working to support his 10 kids, he found that his time was scarce. Luckily Pat found aid in a teammate. “I can’t thank Dan O’Reilly and his father enough. If it wasn’t for them driving me back and forth from practice, I never would’ve had a hockey career.”

The 1980 Memorial Cup was staged out west switching from the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Manitoba and the Regina Agridome in Regina, Saskatchewan. For some of the boys, it was there first time on a plane. “I know it was my first time,” recalls Haramis. “The team bought us all cowboy hats and Dan Daoust even wrote a song about us bringing home the championship. It was a number one hit in Cornwall that spring.” Laughter aside, on the ice is where things got serious. “I don’t know what it was but every single player on that team contributed in one way or another. Yes, we had our all stars like Dale Hawerchuk but guys like Newell Brown and Pat O’Kane really made it a team effort.”

Dale Hawerchuk in model form with his 1980 Cornwall Royals uniforms.
Dale Hawerchuk in model form with his 1980 Cornwall Royals uniforms.

When Robert Savard scored and clinched the victory with his overtime goal over the Peterborough Petes, the fun was just about to begin. “I remember coming back to the Montreal airport and there was about 38 buses waiting for us. We needed a police escort just to come down the 401!” Haramis could not believe the support the fans and community gave the team. “Cornwall really knew how to do it. As we got into Ontario and closer to Cornwall, there were people upon people lined up with signs on the overpass just screaming and waving at us. It was when we rolled into the Water Street Arena that I knew how much this meant to the city.” Waiting for them in the parking lot were thousands upon thousands of screaming fans. So many that it made getting into the arena difficult. “We were hanging out of the windows of the bus trying to high five as many people as we could.”

With a whirlwind trip home, the Royals were treated to a parade around Cornwall complete with sitting in the backseat of brand new Corvettes. “The work that must have went into making this celebration, I just can’t fathom it. I hope that all the volunteers with this and throughout the season know that their work did not go unnoticed. Every one of us noticed and appreciated everything anybody ever did with the team.”

The Royals and their second straight Memorial Cup in 1981.
The Royals and their second straight Memorial Cup in 1981.

After a monumental celebration, Haramis turned his attention down the collegiate road. Getting offers from a few U.S. universities including Yale and Bowling Green, he decided on nearby Clarkson University to start his college career. “Clarkson had the number one ranked hockey program and is still one of the best today. It was a big reason why I choose it. That and it’s close to home.” Juggling schooling with his hockey prowess seemed to bolt Haramis to a higher level. In his four years as a Golden Knight, Haramis notched 140 points in 134 games. He was also a recipient of the Paul J. Pilon Memorial award which is given out to the hockey program’s top scholar-athlete and team MVP. “I loved every minute of my time at Clarkson. We were always ranked first or second in the country,” Haramis recalls fondly. “Funny thing is we lost every game in the Eastern championships but were still awarded home ice in the next tournament because that’s how good of a team we were.”

2013-2014 Clarkson University Hockey Media guide.
2013-2014 Clarkson University Hockey Media guide.

Haramis lives in the Kitchener-Waterloo area now as an engineer with his family. His daughter excels in dance and his son is carving out his own hockey legacy albeit on a much smaller scale. “I’d love to give back. You don’t realize while you’re playing how much people volunteer their time, energy, money to supporting your dreams. I’m going to see if my son will want to turn into coaching with me some day; I feel the need to give back to the game that gave me so much.”

Why the Cornwall Comets will not be forgotten

Cornwall_Comets_(hockey_team)_logoWhen it comes to hockey, the city of Cornwall has been blessed with many competitive and championship winning teams. From the 70s and 80s Memorial Cup wins of the Cornwall Royals, to the Robert W Clarke trophy (Western conference champions) winning squads of the Cornwall Aces in the 90s. Rounding out the decade with a few Bogart Cups and one Fred Page Cup for the Cornwall Colts, the city’s championship swagger was slowly coming to an end.

A few decades of powerful junior and professional hockey seemed like it was closing a chapter on the little border town but a strange new team in a strange new league popped up. Without a senior professional team for over a decade, it seemed that once again the city was now alive with championship dreams.

The Quebec Senior AA Hockey League was filled with legendary tales. Acting as what one would call a “farm league” to the LNAH, the QSAAHL was just as swift with their on ice brutality; if not, worse. Billing enforcers on teams like they would a boxing match, fans came out in droves to be able to witness some of the antics and fisticuffs that would take place. It was never about the skill.

They loved it.

In Ontario the league had a mystique about it. Remember, this was just before YouTube got started so there wasn’t video clip upon video clip being thrown at you on the internet. If you wanted to know exactly what kind of things happened in this league and if the rumors were true, you’d have to see it in person.

1297659949019_ORIGINALIn 2004, the league granted Cornwall a team. Choosing the Comets as their rallying cry, the brass iced a squad that would show no mercy. Patrick Allard had 45 fights that first year and as the team played throughout the season, fans knew they were witnessing something crazy yet something to have hope for. Since the city was dealing with the loss of thousands of jobs due to the closure of Domtar, the Comets, albeit in a brutal league, was a breath of fresh air and something to get the residents mind off of what was happening around them.

The next year saw the Comets really take a chance at winning a championship seriously. At the end of the season, Allard was right back up there again with 58 fights. Following him was Paul Shantz with 44, L.P. Charbonneau with 36, Benoit Deschamps with 30 and Simon Desormeaux with 26.

“Yeah, I knew what this league was about.” remembers Corey Payment. “I played briefly in the old LNAH in Lasalle and Verdun. “ Payment was no stranger to the antics of hockey but more importantly preferred playing at home. Having spent a year in the United Hockey League with the Mohawk Valley Prowlers then two more after that in the Central league, coming home and playing in front of hometown friends and family made it all worthwhile.

“Our team was just so physical. With Desormeaux, Mathieu Raby, Jean-Rene Forget, Ken McCleod. It was incredible.”

However, none of these players or even the winning season would have been possible with the leadership at the top. “I don’t think enough credit went to our owner Dan Larocque. He came in and stabilized ownership. He made sure all the players were happy which in turn made playing for him easy. He was the best owner I ever played for. “

Simon Desormeux
Simon Desormeaux

In the same breath, the passionate fan base the Comets had was what kept the players going week after week. That championship was just as much for them as it was for the players. “In the final there were two games that we played on the road in St. Jean,” recalls Payment. “The fans followed us to both games and filled their own section in the arena. It was amazing.”

That was nothing compared to at home.

“3000 fans watching us win that trophy was amazing. We wanted to win for them.” Being a Cornwall boy, this win holds a special place in Payment’s heart. “It was my first championship win in hockey and to be able to do it in my hometown in front of family and friends was a great experience I won’t forget.”

The Cornwall Comets may just be a blip on the hockey radar of what was already a solid hockey town. However for the brief two seasons they were here, it helped instill the fact that yes, Cornwall can still support professional hockey. Where cities are dying for a team of some kind across the country, we’re lucky that we’ve gotten to call so many great franchises ours. Let’s hope the championship winning ways someday continue.

—————————–

The Cornwall River Kings are holding a 10 year anniversary of the Cornwall Comets championship this Saturday when they host Sorel. A pre-game ceremony with some of the Comets players on hand will precede the game. Make sure you get out to this historic night!

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How the OHL can survive in Cornwall. Again.

OHL_NTIH5751

Word on the street is the Plymouth Whalers are on the move out of Michigan. First place that ownership would like to re-locate to is Chatham, Ontario. If sold, Cornwall could be the first place on the market. We have to realize that Cornwall is starting to grow and grow rapidly no matter what the nay-sayers say. The OHL would become a major attraction to the city.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Cornwall has housed an OHL team. The second half of the Royals life played out in the OHL from 1983-1992. Poor attendance is what caused its demise and eventual move to Newmarket. Now, the franchise is known as the Sarnia Sting.

First issue you’d have to tackle is an arena housing three teams. Well, Cornwall is not big enough to support two major players in the River Kings and this new OHL franchise so guess what? Bye-bye River Kings for good.  All of the drama it went through would have been done for absolutely nothing.

The CCHL Junior A Colts are a perfect feeder for the new OHL team. Send them over to the Benson Centre and fill that place night in and night out. It’s really a no-brainer that way. Ian McInnis and company know how to develop players to an elite level and they wouldn’t have to go further than down the street to reach that next level.

Next step to tackle? The 1970s barn of the Ed Lumley Arena inside the Cornwall Civic Complex.

org_634958262246787825For nostalgia’s sake, I love the Complex. It’s a great venue for hockey but let’s be honest with ourselves. It would never work for a modern team in this day and age. It needs major upgrades. Brand new score-board, sound system, get rid of the dungeon locker rooms, etc. Best bet might be to tear the damn thing down and start fresh. That turns into a city council issue though.

Kingston did it. They tore down the old police station and built the K-Rock Centre and look at the beauty of the Kingston Frontenacs right now. Just with a new arena, the team was given life again. Either way, we need something done about the Complex.

Going inside the Complex, or new arena, the concessions need a local business handling things. No more trying to save money by outsourcing to other cities. (Can you believe that the concessions right now in that arena is home to a business from Kingston? The arena, the city, nor the teams that play there get any kick back from it.) You need that money for your team to survive.

Alright, so we’ve got a team, got an arena, now what do we need. That’s right.

FAN SUPPORT.

Yeah, that means you.

This is pretty much a no-brainer too. Cornwall would have to, at the very least, have 2500 fans at every home game. That will be done and then some. There are so many people in this city that still cry for the good times that the Royals brought that they would come out in droves to support this new team. Season ticket drives would be off the charts.

Bascially, you would need at least 2,000 season tickets sold and then another 1,500 that would show up to games. Easy peasey if you consider that businesses will buy season tickets too!

It’s a money maker for the city too. How many people would come in from all over to watch major junior hockey? A hell of a lot. A lot of fans do OHL road trips. You could hit Ottawa, Cornwall and Kingston in one shot to the see the future of the NHL.

(Just don't do this. Photo: Rick Bowen)
(Just don’t do this. Photo: Rick Bowen)

Advertising wouldn’t be an issue because we only have one team occupying that arena now. Businesses would flock to have their logos appear on national television. In fact, you’d have big, national, corporate sponsors knocking at your door to throw money your way. That’s something no hockey team is Cornwall has ever had and that’s the beauty of Major Junior hockey.

Like any new hockey franchise starting out, you’re not going to make money off the hop. Hell, you might not break even. However with a little patience and perseverance, it can turn into a goldmine which is what any major hockey playing team will end up in Cornwall in due time. I’m serious. That includes the poor old River Kings.

Major Junior is a whole different breed of monster. The people who buy teams and invest in them know that they will most likely lose some cash at the beginning but that’s hardly the point. The point is the game of hockey.

Finally, I’m going to mention something that I will likely get backlash for.

DO NOT CALL THE TEAM THE ROYALS.

My god, they’ve come, conquered and are now a thing of the past. Let’s leave them that way! What happens if this new team sucks and is a gong show for the next 10 years? The name is now tainted and that’s all anybody will remember.

It’s a new era of hockey in Cornwall.

It’s time to face the future.

————–

For nostalgia’s sake, and because I know how much the people of Cornwall love talking about this team, here is a list of NHLers who played junior for the OHL version of the Cornwall Royals.

·         Scott Arniel·         Bobby Babcock

·         Eric Calder

·         Jason Cirone

·         Larry Courville

·         Craig Duncanson

·         Jeff Eatough

·         Dan Frawley

·         Doug Gilmour·         Jim Kyte

·         Nathan LaFayette

·         Alan Letang

·         Guy Leveque

·         Steve Maltais

·         Owen Nolan

·         Mike Prokopec·         Rob Ray

·         Joe Reekie

·         Ken Sabourin

·         Mathieu Schneider

·         Ray Sheppard

·         John Slaney

·         Mike Stapleton·         Jeremy Stevenson

·         Rick Tabaracci

·         Tom Thornbury

·         Mike Tomlak

·         Ryan Vandenbussche

·         Michael Ware

 

Cornwall_royals_1980_1981

Jeff Legue: Two Cities and the sport of hockey

Cornwall_RoyalsOn the Ontario shores near the central part of the St. Lawrence River lies a city whose habitants ignite a passion for a cold and frosty game. As most Canadian cities do, this one has been breeding hockey players and fans for the better part of 100 years. The history of hockey runs deep in the hard working and blue collar city of Cornwall, Ontario. Many teams have come and gone; championship memories are few and far between but most residents can recall where they were when the Memorial Cup was raised on three separate occasions and which hometown boys have made names for themselves in the game.

After the demise of the major junior powerhouse Cornwall Royals in 1992, fans were left with a gaping hole in their hearts. Junior hockey had just started to become a major attraction across the country. Prayers were answered quickly however when across the river in nearby Massena, New York, the Junior A team of the Americans were sold over the Seaway International Bridge to Cornwall. Renamed the Colts, the new group quickly grew an intensive following even if it was step down in play from the Royals.

Small Canadian cities such as this always come with their own breed of hockey fan. This fan will not only know the life story of every player to ever step onto the hometown rinks, but every stat that comes flowing in.  It was no different when hometown boy Jeff Legue laced up his skates night after night and stepped out onto the ice at the Si Miller Arena. He felt like a superstar as fans would stop and ask him for autographs and kids would chant his name as they filled the old barn. “Growing up in a small town that has a successful hockey team is any young players dream,” recalls Legue fondly. “When I got the chance to play in front of a sold out Si Miller Arena, I fulfilled that young hockey players dream.” It wasn’t just his dream. Family, friends and fans alike knew how special it was to have a homegrown superstar stay on the city’s squad. “Both my friends and family got to watch me grow and progress as a player and to this day I believe that’s what helped me the most throughout my junior career.”

In the late 1990’s, the Cornwall Colts were nothing short of a wrecking crew. Finishing a top of the Robinson Division in the Canadian Junior A Hockey League, Legue and the Colts captured two Art Bogart Cups which sent the squad to the Fred Page Cup championships. During his second season with the Colts, the dominance continued as they won the Fred Page tournament and headed off to Nationals in Fort McMurray, BbFMg9oCAAAlZhJAlberta. Even though they went winless, Legue remains proud of the accomplishments. “That year stands out to me the most; we played as a team. We all had our own part in helping our team become successful.”

Successful they were. Legue lists off players who he recognises as the “unsung heroes” on the ice that year. Names like Lindsay Campbell, Ross McCain, Sylvain Moreau, Jarret Robertson and Tim Vokey are thrown about with smiles and fondness. The ultimate compliment however is reserved for someone who doesn’t need any introduction to Cornwall hockey circles, Coach Al Wagar. “Al believed in me,” says Legue with authority. “I was put in all situations at the beginning of my career which gave me lots of experience early.” Wagar coached the Colts for the better part of the decade and along with ownership played a pivotal role in the teams’ success. “He told me my job was to go out and create opportunities. He gave me freedom on the ice. Al Wagar was a great coach for me.”

Legue’s skills both on and off the ice started catching the eyes of NCAA recruiters. After looking over a few offers, the Bulldogs that belonged to Ferris State University became the perfect fit for Jeff to start his successful collegiate career. Located in Big Rapids, Michigan, the Ferris State Bulldogs skate out of the Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena; an arena that seats just about 2,500. Along with former Colts teammates Tim Vokey and Matt Verdone, Legue skated alongside current NHLer and Pittsburgh Penguins’ Chris Kunitz; no doubt learning as much as he could from such talented leadership. After contributing a point in each of his 152 collegiate games, it was time to turn professional. After a stint on two different teams in the East Coast Hockey League, Europe came calling. It was time to make some hockey ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’.

In the middle of the United Kingdom lies a city of just over 500,000 people. A hard working and blue collar steel town, the passion for sport runs deep in the city’s inhabitants. Football was a main stay for many in the city of Sheffield and with it came its own special breed of sporting fan. Still reeling from the loss of 96 passionate football fans that were crushed to death in the Hillsborough Stadium disaster two years earlier, a new sport was about to take over in the fall of 1991. Sheffield Arena (now known as Motorpoint Arena) had been built with much precision and its main resident became the Sheffield Steelers Ice Hockey Club. While hockey had been played in the UK for over a hundred years, it just never seemed to catch on. That was about to change.

Arguably the Sheffield Steelers had reached their peak in popularity during the mid-1990s. Partly due to the renaissance that the sport of ice hockey was having and partly due to the squad becoming the first real professional club of its kind in the UK; for all intents and purposes, money talked. You could watch most games from this era and you’d swear it was an NHL game just from the fans that filled the arena. The Steelers were crowned the last champions in 1996 of the Heineken sponsored British Hockey League before the premier of what was the British Ice Hockey Superleague.

(Photo: Dean Woolley)
(Photo: Dean Woolley)

By the time the modern day Elite Ice Hockey League came to fruition, the Steelers were one of the most decorated clubs in the United Kingdom; obviously a selling point for anyone willing to hop across the pond. Legue was offered a spot and made the trek to set up shop in Sheffield for the 2007-2008 season. Admittedly he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. “When I came to Sheffield I didn’t know what to expect because to be honest, I didn’t know there was hockey here in the UK.” The naivety was soon lost on Legue as he made his first strides on ice in front of the home crowd at Motorpoint Arena. “I soon realised that they are some of the most passionate fans imaginable.”

Legue spent his entire seven year Elite league career with the Sheffield Steelers; the city and the club made an important impression on him his first season. Half way through the campaign Legue got a phone call that no one wants to take while being the furthest away from his family. His father and ultimately one of his biggest fans had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. The organisation didn’t hesitate to send Legue back to Canada. “Sheffield became a big part of my life during that first year,” recalls Legue.  “I will always be thankful for how they treated me at that time.”

“My father told me to go back and finish season.” What a finish they had. The Steelers ended up winning the playoffs that year. “Captain Jonathan Phillips made it a point to hand me the trophy first.” With no doubt his father smiling down at him, Legue knew he made the right decision. “That was my most memorable moment as a Steeler.”

Of course, the people he met throughout the city of Sheffield and the success on the ice made it easy for Legue to come back year after year. Meeting his beautiful wife nearby and having his adorable son to raise made it the perfect ending to an illustrious Elite league career.

The game of hockey and the city of Sheffield just couldn’t get rid of him though.

(Payette (7) instructs his Legue (11) and his Steeldog squad)
(Payette (7) instructs his Legue (11) and his Steeldog squad. Photo: Roger Williams)

With the EIHL schedule being so demanding with his new family, Legue dropped down a tier to the English Premier Ice Hockey League and is now suiting up for the Steeldogs. Head manned by another Cornwall, Ontario native Andre Payette, Legue is humbled by the fact that there’s another one with him who knows the trials and tribulations of the city he’s from. “It’s always nice to have someone to back up your stories of the beautiful St. Lawrence River.”

Back on the Canadian side, the hockey doesn’t stop in his family at any point. Legue’s brother in law, Brennan Barker, is suiting up for the Cornwall River Kings of the LNAH. Known for its no holds barred fighting, does Legue have any advice? “Other than keep your head up?” he says with a laugh. “Brennan is a tough cookie and he can take care of himself.  I’ve seen his hands.  I wish him and his team all the best and good luck for the rest of the season.”

As Jeff Legue suits up for the Steeldogs, we can only speculate what’s in his future. Who knows, maybe we’ll see his son continue the tradition and end up back in Canada. The saga continues. For now, this remains how a tale of two cities, with an ocean that separates them for miles, became closer to each other with the power of sport.

 

I leave you with a video from the Cornwall River Kings from last year that some of you in the UK made not have seen.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @MarchHockey 

Cornwall’s Brock McBride shines in Champions Hockey League for Villach SV

The majority of you have probably been enjoying the last bits of your summer but hockey is already in full swing over in Europe! The newly minted Champions Hockey League features 44 teams from six different leagues and at least eight different countries all competing for the title of Europe’s best and the pay-day of 1.5 million Euros isn’t bad either.

The 26 founding clubs send off their best every season to compete in the “A” tier. Tier “B” would be two teams from each league who have gained the top regular season title or were the playoff winners who weren’t apart of the founding group of clubs. These leagues include the DEL, Swedish Elite, Finnish Elite, Swiss league, and many others.

The “C” tier would be considered a wild card spot and made up of two to six teams from high European leagues but are not a part of the founding members. This would be your Elite league, and leagues from Denmark, Italy, Norway, France and Slovakia.
BrockMcBride
I’ve managed to catch a couple of games myself and its great hockey and interesting to see how other countries are building their teams.

For those of us from Cornwall, we do have a connection.

Former Cornwall Colt and President of Cornwall’s Own The Ice Hockey training, Brock McBride is suiting up for Villach SV from Austria. Villach has entered the tournament in Group C alongside Sweden’s Frolunda Gotherburg, Switzerland’s Geneve-Servette, and France’s Briancon Diables Rouges. They are currently tied for second with Frolunda by splitting their first two games.

During the first game against Briancon, McBride sealed the win for Villach when he scored with less then three minutes left to go in the third period. McBride who is an essential part of Villach’s first line brought the same intensity to their matchup against Geneve-Servette the following day. Despite losing 4-2, Villach played a close and rough game to counter the Swiss side.

Villach SV has won six national championships with their last one coming in 2006. This is McBride’s second year suiting up for the Austrian club. His hockey career so far has seen him makes stops with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, Elmira Jackals, South Carolina Stingrays, the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, Houston Aeros, Milwaukee Admirals and a brief tenure with the EIHL’s Belfast Giants before sitting comfortably in Austria.

Stick around Cornwall for updates on Brock’s impressive ride into the inaugural Champions Hockey League season.

Cornwall River Kings Booster Club to hold Pre-Season bash in Alexandria!

10455304_10152488079245930_4490968349305824540_nThe executive of the Cornwall River Kings Booster Club and the River Kings themselves, invite you and your family for a day of fun filled laughter, music and good eats! Taking place this Saturday at the Giant Tiger in Alexandria, Ontario, the Boosters will be out be in full force between 10am and 3pm to gather up your spirit for the River Kings and their upcoming third LNAH season.

Along with the BBQ, music will be provided by Crazy Dave’s DJ service for your entertainment. Find out how you can help your team and boosters for their campaign; all support is truly appreciated! Who knows, maybe you’ll want to become a Booster volunteer yourself!

Come out and support local professional hockey! You wanted it here; now let’s make it last.

Giant Tiger
595 Main Street South
Alexandria, Ontario
(613)525-2991

 

The Booster Club will also have a booth at Cornwall’s Ribfest which is also taking place this weekend. Don’t be shy! Come up and ask questions; get involved!

The Cornwall River Kings start off their 2014/2015 pre-season with the annual Blue and White game taking place on Sunday, September 7th at the Ed Lumley Arena inside the Cornwall Civic Complex. Puck drop is 7:30. Their first pre-season game will take place on the road in Laval the following Friday, September 19th.

The Laval Predateurs will then make their way to Cornwall on Sunday, September 21 to face the River Kings in their home barn. Fans are expected to fill up the joint to make an intimidating impact for the opponents. Season tickets are sale now at the River Kings box office. Call (613)933-9797

Thoughts on the Cornwall River Kings as the GM resigns

10455304_10152488079245930_4490968349305824540_nI wasn’t going to comment on this but after seeing social media blow up while giving it some thought, I figured I would.

General Manager Mitch Gagne resigned his position last night. If you’ve been following the drama that is the River Kings, I’m sure that comes as no shock. It sure as hell doesn’t to me. While there are plenty of people defending him, and in some ways rightfully so, this is nothing more than a huge blessing in disguise for the team.

You can’t have flaky people on the business side of the game. Yes, he knows a lot of players around the league and was arguably trying his best to get them here. That’s great, being a scout has its own title and merit within the organization. However, if you’re going to bail the minute something doesn’t go your way well, I guess the skin isn’t thick enough. Three strikes you’re out.

I made a comment on the Cornwall River Kings fan page when Brock Frost bought the team. I said to make sure that there were the right hockey minded people in place. Now, I believe he has that.

Frost announced today that Rick Lalonde has come in as the new General Manager with long time Cornwall hockey veteran Al Wagar being his assistant. Here are two guys with enough hockey knowledge to build from. Sure, they may not have had their two cents into the LNAH for very long but they take their jobs seriously and won’t crumble under pressure. They aren’t afraid to get their toes dirty.

Lalonde was rumored to come in as head coach. Those rumors were put to rest with Frost announcing that they are still in the process of electing one which is great news. Lalonde has an extensive career coaching Junior A in Quebec but with all due respect (he is good at it), the LNAH is an entirely different breed of hockey and entertainment all together.

As for the fans and the comments I’ve read. Of course, they’re warranted and you deserve the right to voice your opinion, no one’s telling you not to. Humor me though and take a step back from those comments. Realize that a few months ago we didn’t even have a team. If it wasn’t for Brock Frost, you wouldn’t be making those remarks. GM’s come and go, coaches come and go.

Owners tend to be around for a little while; this one just might.

Sprague Cleghorn and the Cornwall Cougars

Sprague_CleghornA name like Sprague Cleghorn is bound to be stuck in your mind. A bit of a forerunner for what it means to have a “hockey name”. Older hockey fans will remember Cleghorn as one of the toughest men to lace up the skates. In fact rumors are that Evelyn Byng, the wife of Lord Byng who was the twelfth Governor General of Canada, donated the Lady Byng Trophy to the NHL in 1924 on account of being repulsed with Cleghorn’s play.

Born and bred out of Montreal, Quebec, Cleghorn was a four time Stanley Cup champion having won two with the Montreal Canadiens and two with the Ottawa Senators. During the beginning of establishing the National Hockey League, Cleghorn was charged twice with on ice infractions that evidently led to his legacy. One such incident caused him to take a bad tumble to the ice and break his ankle. Upon returning back home to Montreal, he fell on the slippery sidewalks and broke the other one. If that’s not karma, I don’t know what is.

Upon hanging up the skates or the gloves if you will, Cleghorn didn’t get away from the game and instead turned to coaching. He was picked up the lead the Pittsburgh Shamrocks of the International Hockey League in the late 1930’s. Just like the issues of hockey today, Cleghorn was let go after one season due to the accusation of the team not paying him. He sued and won.

After the Pittsburgh debacle, not many teams we’re looking for a beat up tough guy with business sense. Naturally, Cornwall came calling.

P195803SThe Cornwall Cougars were a senior team playing out of the Quebec Provincial Hockey League. The Cougars were in operation for a little under three years and were hardly a powerhouse. Cleghorn first set up in Cornwall running hockey clinics around town when he was appointed as coach. Cornwall was the only Ontario entry as they face off against Quebec squads from Victoriaville, Sherbrooke, Saint Hyacinthe, Lachine and Drummondville.

Cleghorn wasn’t noted for his coaching. After going six games without a win and being shut out by 11 goals, Cleghorn was canned. Soon after the entire team folded and the legacy of the Cornwall Royals would soon come to fruition.

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958 but didn’t live to see it happen. Cleghorn was hit by a car two years earlier in his hometown of Montreal and succumbed to his numerous head injuries. Sprague Cleghorn will be forever remembered as one of the few who reaches the Hall for his fists.