November 20. While this date was just another lazy Saturday for most, the men’s hockey team knew this day was another one for the books — but not in the way they imagined.
The Lions versus the Varsity Blues. A face-off at Canlan between two of the biggest rivals, grappling with each other in a three-set for the ultimate award — bragging rights. Part and parcel with these bragging rights comes a key to ‘Run This City’.
For these reasons, you could feel the tension in the air the moment you walked into zone number two. Emotions were running high on both sides with a clear division in the stands — those cheering when the Varsity Blues scored and those cheering when the Lions did.
These emotions got the best of Xavier Pouliot, who was sent to the penalty box minutes into the first period.
Despite an ejection, the Lions maintained a 2-1 lead over the Blues. Going into the game, both teams had lost only one game at home, and the optimists believed that this would favour the Lions and this held true — at least until the first period.
Fans received a slight respite from having to cheer one minute, boo the next, and sitting on the edge of their seats as both teams headed into their locker rooms for a 15-minute intermission.
When asked what he thinks about the age-old rivalry between these two teams, Shane Gates, a supporter of the Varsity Blues didn’t hesitate. “We are the better team,” said Gates. Even though the Blues were behind by one, Gates firmly believed that the “boys will come back in the second and third period.”
The Varsity Blues did come back with a vengeance and went on to score an additional four goals, while the Lions crumbled under pressure, ending their game and season thus far with a 5-2 loss at home.
Gates further went on to state that Alex Bishop is one to watch out for — the goalkeeper on the Varsity Blues. Indeed he was one to watch out for as he blocked 92.5 per cent of shots this season. There must be a reason why he was on lease to the Maple Leafs then, eh?
However, not all hope is lost, as this was just the first showdown in a ‘three-set’. The Lions resume their season on January 7, with an away game against the Varsity Blues.
Justin Bean, leading the team this year, remains confident in his team.
“It’s just a matter of the team coming together and following through on plays.”
Citing the one-game elimination rule for the play-offs, Bean believes that the game has an element of unpredictability where either team can win.
Whether or not this is an optimist’s hope or a realist’s prediction is yet to be seen.
Amidst the tensions, the pressure, and the bandwagon fans, one fan reminded everyone about the true value and purpose of sports. Eight-year-old Maya McOuat was the youngest fan in attendance, who proudly showed off her purple hair, which according to her was a way to show her cousin, Brendan Browne, forward for the Lions, her love and pride for him.
Regardless of what the scoreboard said, Maya firmly believed that the Lions would win not only the game, but the OUAs as well. Looking up to her cousin, she aims to play hockey for the Lions one day.
McOuat running and calling her cousin’s name during the intermission in hopes of acknowledgement — rest assured she did — should serve to remind everyone that this sport has transcended beyond simple statistics and bids to chase after fleeting moments of glory following a gruelling battle on ice.
“It is nice to have fans cheering you on, but knowing that your family is there in the stands, that is an indescribable feeling,” says Browne in response to the importance of having a support system in games such as these.
Browne acknowledges that while being someone his cousin looks up to fills him with immense gratitude, it also gives him a sense of responsibility. He wants to be someone who is worthy of being an idol both on and off the ice.
Speaking more on initiatives and winning off the ice, Browne stresses the importance of using their platform to spread awareness about men’s mental health. Several of his teammates, including the team’s captain Justin Bean, are growing their moustaches to support the movement ‘Movember’.
“Hockey is a game where boys are taught to be very tough, and sometimes we forget that there are days when we do not feel our best,” says Browne.
However, he believes that the Lions are changing the perception regarding men’s mental health, especially in a sport that has been in headlines recently for all the wrong reasons.
According to Browne, the family-like community that the Lions are fostering goes a long way in creating a space that is welcoming and inclusive.
Echoing similar sentiments, Bean comments on being elected as captain. “It is truly an honour being captain and having the opportunity to lead by example.”
By growing his moustache and taking part in Movember alongside his teammates, Bean hopes to break certain barriers that prevent access to mental health resources and destigmatize such conversations in sports. The men’s hockey team was also raising money that will go towards causes that support mental health — having gone beyond their intended goal of $1,000 in donations.