Although Halifax is home to two Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey teams, the city isn’t known as a college hockey town.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Mooseheads have dominated the Halifax sports scene for the past two decades. While many of the franchise’s best players have moved on to play professionally, there are quite a few fan favourites playing in the Canadian college ranks.
This past weekend’s University Cup offered Mooseheads fans a chance to see some of their favourite players from the past hit the Scotiabank Centre ice once again.
John Strowbridge, the co-creator of the popular “Herdcast” Mooseheads podcast, was one of the many Moose supporters taking in the tournament.
“I think that it’s important that Moose fans get out and support these guys after they’re gone,” said Strowbridge. “They put their heart and soul into doing well for our city. Coming to support them in their university careers is the least we can do.”
Former Mooseheads participating in this year’s University Cup included Randy Gazzola (UNB), Cam Critchlow (UNB), R.D Chisholm (UNB), Brad Cuzner (StFX), Trey Lewis (StFX), Gabriel O’Connor (StFX) and Travis Randell (Acadia).
Critchlow, Cuzner, Lewis and Randell all played similar gritty, hard-nosed styles that earned them plenty of respect from the Mooseheads faithful.
“Real heart and soul guys — every single one of them,” said Strowbridge.
Critchlow is an interesting case. Even though he played just one season in Halifax, he’s viewed as one of the best captains in team history. The Fredericton native led a young 2011-12 Moose team — which featured rookies Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale — all the way to the QMJHL semifinals.
“He worked his heart out the year he was here. That was a magic year with MacKinnon and Drouin.”
That season also featured one of the greatest QMJHL playoff series of all time. Down 3-0 in their best-of-seven quarterfinal series against Quebec, the Moose climbed all the way back to tie the series. In game seven, Critchlow scored four goals and Drouin netted the overtime winner to send Halifax to the semifinals.
“I can’t really even talk about it without getting the cold shivers,” said Strowbridge about the series.
“Captain clutch … captain Critch. He’s still the captain of the Varsity Reds, which just goes to show what the guy is made of.”
Critchlow made an immediate impact in his return to Scotiabank Centre last Thursday, scoring the game’s first goal and recording three shots on net in UNB’s 6-2 win over the Windsor Landcers.
“Being a kid from the Maritimes, anytime you get a chance to play in the Scotiabank Centre is always a privilege,” said Critchlow after the game. “I was lucky enough to play my last year of junior here and it’s a special building. It certainly has a great atmosphere and I think we’ve got a lot of fan support here and I’m grateful for that.”
Chisholm only played seven career games with the Mooseheads while Gazzola played half a season.
Like Critchlow, Gazzola’s limited time in Halifax is well remembered. The defenceman was relatively unknown when he left the Ontario junior “A” ranks to join the Mooseheads. He went on to record 20 points in 39 games and was traded to the Val-d’Or Foreurs midseason.
“We only had him for half a season but he definitely made an imprint. Even last year when he was with the Foreurs at the Memorial Cup, [Mooseheads fans] still had a reason to cheer for them even after they took us out in the third round.”