NEW GLASGOW – They weren’t supposed to be carrying the Fred Page Cup around the ice at John Brother MacDonald Stadium, 10 years to the day on Friday.
They weren’t supposed to be scrambling to book hotel rooms in Cornwall, Ont., for the Royal Bank Cup, Tier 2 junior hockey’s national championship scheduled to start just days later.
The idea that the Crushers could beat the best teams in eastern Canada in April 2008 seemed like a pipedream, and yet history tells a different story.
“We were a group of friends first, and second, a group of hockey players,” said Andrew Paquet, now a police officer in HRM.
“We had ups and downs that year, but we really pulled it together.”
The Crushers had been eliminated in the second round of the Maritime Hockey League playoffs earlier that spring by the eventual league-champion Yarmouth Mariners and had to wait several weeks before the FPC began.
When it finally did, the Crushers were run over in their first game, a 7-1 loss to Ontario’s Pembroke Lumber Kings, the defending Fred Page Cup champions.
“It was only 7-1?” then-Crushers’ captain Scott Lavigne said in a recent interview. “It felt like 10-1.”
Pictou County were thoroughly dominated by Pembroke and it seemed they were in over their heads, but they started to win; they beat the Sherbrooke Cougars (the Quebec representative) the next day and took down Yarmouth in their final last round-robin game, setting up a Saturday semifinal against those same Mariners.
The atmosphere that night was electric; two goals from Scott McManaman and some brilliant saves from goaltender Alexandre Quessy helped put Pictou County into the championship game against Pembroke.
The Crushers were in a place no one expected them to be, and still underdogs.
“Oh god, yeah,” said Troy Ryan, former coach of the team.
“Even beating Yarmouth in the semifinal was an upset in itself. When we got to the final, I don’t think many people expected us to win.”
With a warm April sun shining outside JMB and a lucky loonie buried under the ice on the west end of the rink, Andrew Joudrey broke into the Pembroke zone and ripped home a backhand seven minutes into the game. The Crushers were in front of the mighty Lumber Kings, and belief was growing on their bench.
Pembroke tied the game in the second period, and then came controversy: in front of the Crushers’ net, the Lumber Kings celebrated an apparent goal that would have given them a 2-1 lead, but the red light never came on behind Quessy and play continued.
It was 1-1 heading into the third period, the tension thick at John Brother MacDonald Stadium. And then it was Jason Rinzler to the rescue – again.
The big centreman popped his seventh goal of the tournament early in the third, Jordan Knox scored on a breakaway, and later, with the Kings’ net empty and the crowd going crazy, Knox made it 4-1 and the Crushers were soon celebrating with those fans.
“It was definitely special,” Ryan said. “Sometimes, when you do those things in small communities – I remember the buzz that was going around the town.”
Most of the Crushers are now scattered across North America (“it seems like the last 10 years completely flew by,” Paquet mused), in their late 20s or barely into their 30s. Some of them married, some with children of their own.
The Crushers went on to the Royal Bank Cup in 2008 and made it to the semifinal before their unlikely run came to an end, but the kids from Pictou County and that old barn on Washington Street had made their mark.
“We were just a Pictou hockey team – gritty, blocking shots, going hard to the net. All those little things you have to do,” said Lavigne, a Sudbury, Ont., native who now lives outside Hamilton, where he owns a physical therapy business and is married, with an 11-year-old stepson he drives to the hockey rink.
“It was one of the best times of my life – going down there in a U-Haul, to a little town where I didn’t know anyone. I would like to go back there someday, even if it’s just for a short visit, and maybe head down to The Thistle for a burger and a couple beers.”