Since starting this gig a little more than two years ago, there are a handful of games I’ve attended that remain vivid in my mind. Games I still remember, and likely will for a long, long time.
As if they’ve happened yesterday, my hair still stands on end at the thought of the sound of the final whistle on the warm afternoon of June 5, 2015, when the St. Stephen Spartans girls rugby team finally won the championship after standing at the altar as bridesmaids for so many years.
I couldn’t help but smile, knowing the longtime coach of 16 years was retiring on a happy note.
Or the way my ears rang, after the Fundy Mariners girls basketball team defeated Woodstock –serving up the opponents first loss in who knows how long; years I’m told – on Feb. 13, 2016, in regionals in a packed to the brim gymnasium, and very electric, intoxicating crowd.
The Mariners, a week later, gave another outstanding performance in front of the energetic crowd, in the final game of sectionals, to secure a spot in the provincial final for the first time since the early 90s.
Or the time my white knuckled hands gripped my camera, as fans in my peripheral view, clad in purple ‘Warriors Express’ t-shirts, bounced signs in the final minute of the McAdam High Warriors boys basketball provincial championship, at Harbour Station on Feb. 26, 2016.
The way a chill climbed through my body as the fans only grew louder as the championship slipped away from the Warriors by one basket, after leading by 20 in the third quarter. The way I nearly choked back tears as the captain – a senior who gave everything he had in every moment he stepped on the court – covered his face, overcome with emotion at the sting of the loss.
This past Saturday evening became a game I will remember for a long, long time.
The St. Stephen Aces, as a large part of the community know, were fighting for a spot in playoffs. The team, hosting the Dieppe Commandos, had to win the game, or at least take it to overtime for there to be any sliver of hope for a playoff berth, and probability wasn’t on their side. The Commandos had won every single game in matchups with the Aces earlier in the season.
But the Aces, no strangers to adversity, determined to prove that sometimes stats just don’t matter; fought tooth and nail, and never took a shift off, to show it was well within their power to give it their best shot at a chance for a playoff run.
Fighting a 2-1 deficit, with no luck on power play opportunities, 17-year-old Evan White scored the tie power play goal late in the third, to show the Commandos they weren’t a team to roll over.
And then, in overtime, it happened, and the scene couldn’t have been more perfectly set. Hometown captain, Ricky Young, who, as a 20-year-old is playing his final year of junior A, outpaced a Commandos defender, to sink the goal he’ll likely remember for the rest of his life.
The celebration that ensued is one I’ll likely remember forever. The way 1,070 fans, after gripping the edge of their seats, nibbling fingernails to stubs, and collectively holding their breath, jumped to their feet in possibly the loudest celebration the Garcelon Civic Center has ever had.
What is equally memorable as the overtime goal, is the way the players took the time to talk to, and pose for pictures with young fans, eagerly awaiting the chance to congratulate their hockey heroes.
One of the first things I learned in my time in the journalism program at university – don’t get emotionally involved; free yourself of bias. But telling the stories of these youngsters – it becomes impossible.
A minor hockey coach – atom, I believe, once said to me, after a tournament game no less, “they played like they were fighting for the Stanley Cup,” and his voice jumps in my head frequently when I attend games, because I see it so often, regardless of the age level. It’s nearly impossible to cut emotional ties as a community sports reporter.
Games like these are a reminder why it’s a privilege to tell the stories of the county’s youth, and if given the choice of the opportunity to cover a minor hockey game or an NHL game, I’d choose the minor hockey game, hands down, every time.