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.

 

 

1160014-prolongation-jonquierois-jeremy-vigneault-belanger
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.”

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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 Jeff Legue makes Elite League milestone

Jeff Legue. (Photo: www.sheffield.steelers.co.uk)
Jeff Legue. (Photo: http://www.sheffield.steelers.co.uk)

What an illustrious career so far for Cornwall’s Jeff Legue. In his 7 seasons with the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom, Legue has become only the fifth player in Elite league history to reach 500 career points.

His time in Sheffield has made him a household name in the U.K. league. Legue’s assist on the game winning goal against Hull on Saturday night locked him into the league’s VIP. Sheffield fans flocked to Ice Sheffield to see their franchise player in action and on Sunday night they paid tribute to Legue in fine fashion. At the 11th minute, (a tribute to number Legue has worn since his Cornwall Colts days), the entire arena stood on it’s feet and gave him a one minute salute. Securing the win against Fife and Hull the night before on Saturday gave Sheffield a big 4 point weekend that was much needed.

Legue in his Colts days. (Photo: MarchHockey)
Legue in his Colts days. (Photo: MarchHockey)

Legue is an alumni of the Canadian Junior Hockey League, most notably the Central Canada Hockey League. He stuck out his Junior A career with the Tier II Cornwall Colts. From there he skated to an outstanding collegiate career with Ferris State University. After a quick stop in the East Coast league it was off to Europe for the man they call “Leggy”.

Legue is over a point a game player and is proving that once against this season with his current 30 points in 28 games. His speed, skill and hockey sense are a joy to watch for Steelers fans for many more years to come.

Here’s to you, Leggy, Cornwall’s still looking out for ya!