Since the early 1950s, import players have had a significant impact on senior hockey in this province.
From Lac-Saint-John, Que., sniper Jacques Allard with the Gander Flyers in the 1960s to New Glasgow, N.S., native Frank (Danky) Dorrington’s MVP-calibre exploits with the Corner Brook Royals into the 1970s, and Amherst, N.S., product Bill Riley’s bombastic antics with the St. John’s Capitals in the 1980s, the come-from-away players have long played a part in creating an exciting product for fans across the province.
In today’s Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, home-grown players — many with impressive hockey resumes in their own right — continue to dominate the rosters, but teams still look outside the province’s borders for imports.
And if statistics are any indication of which organization won the import arms-race this season, the Clarenville Caribous are clear victors.
Additions with great numbers
In addition to adding Newfoundlanders and former pros Andrew Sweetland of Bonavista and Steve Yetman of St. John’s, the ‘Bous picked up import forwards Ryan Desrosiers and Chris Hulit. The latter duo, who were roommates at St. Francis Xavier University and teammates on the X-Men of the AUS, didn’t disappoint, finishing first and second in NSHL scoring.
“We thought they’d be good additions,” Caribous captain Dustin Russell said of Hulit and Desrosiers.
“And they certainly proved us right.”
The Caribous’ face the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars in Game 5 of their best-of-seven NSHL semifinal 8 p.m. tonight at the Clarenville Events Centre. The Caribous lead the series 3-1.
For Desrosiers, his 18-goal, 37-point, MVP season wasn’t his first on the Rock. The 28-year-old Waterford Valley, N.S., native spent last season with the Deer Lake Red Wings of the West Coast senior circuit.
When the Red Wings folded prior to the formation of the province-wide league in the off-season, Desrosiers started shopping himself around to the remaining teams and settled on Clarenville.
It wasn’t only hockey that drew him to the Caribous. The move also provided Desrosiers, who has a degree in human kinetics and education, with an opportunity to begin his professional life.
“It’s a great town to come play hockey in,” said Desrosiers, who skated for Maritime junior league’s Amherst Ramblers before attending St. FX .
“Their fan support is second to none, the building they play in is state of the art and as far as a place to start my career in teaching, it seemed like an ideal fit.”
He’s been able to obtain consistent work as a substitute teacher at Clarenville Middle School, where his quasi-celebrity status helps him enjoy a level of respect from students that would make most tenured teachers jealous.
“You get that added respect level, which is always nice in the classroom,” he said.
“I’m probably not the smartest math teacher, but when students can relate to you, it goes a along way.”
As much as he appreciates being able to connect with students on a more personal level, Desrosiers is sometimes forced to draw the line and exert his educator’s authority.
“I hate being that guy,” he admits, “but at the end of the day, they’re there to learn, not talk hockey.”
Desrosiers isn’t the only Caribou import living and teaching in the Clarenville region. Also edifying the local youth is blueliner Jordan Smith from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Hulit, another native of the Soo, has a different kind of work-hockey rhythm. He flies to Newfoundland Friday evenings (as do the majority of imports) and early Monday, he heads back to Toronto, where he has a marketing job.
“It was challenging at first, flying back Monday morning at 5 a.m. to head right into the office,” he said.
“But I’ve kind of lucked out in that my current role with my company has given me the flexibility to handle this type of travel.”
Desrosiers finished his collegiate hockey career in 2010, but during the 2010-11 season he was still attending classes at St. FX while playing senior with the Red Wings on weekends. He’d return from Deer Lake, regaling Hulit, who was still playing with St. FX, with stories about Newfoundland.
“He really got me interested in coming over this year,” says the 27-year-old Hulit, who played in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals and Ottawa 67. “
(His) going on about the caliber of play sold me on it pretty quick.”
His coming to Newfoundland, however, wasn’t a guarantee. After finishing at St. FX, Hulit had offers from teams in the ECHL and Europe. But a number of factors, including a connection to Matt Bragg — the Newman’s Cove native was a St. FX teammate last year and had returned to join his brother Mitch on the Caribous — made Clarenville seem like the best option.
“Whether you’re in a playoff game in the CIS, the OHL or the NSHL, it’s the exact same feeling, the exact same competitive level,” said Hulit, who had 17 goals and 37 points this season.
“Honestly, it’s about as close to professional hockey as it could be.”
He’s also appreciated the opportunity to play alongside Sweetland, who appeared in 113 AHL over the last three seasons, and Yetman, back in Newfoundland after playing in the European pro ranks.
“Two of the best hockey players I’ve literally played with in my entire life,” he said.
So far,l games have been close
The Caribous need just one victory to advance to this year’s Herder Memorial Trophy Championship Series, but both Desrosiers and Hulit know collecting that win against the CeeBees won’t be easy.
“The fourth win is the hardest to come by and the CeeBees have not laid down yet and I’m sure they won’t,” says Hulit about the series, which has seen four one-goal decisions.
Desrosiers says the CeeBees have “continued to get better game in and game out” all season, and he expects the same tonight in Game 5.
“They’re a hard-working, structured team that isn’t going to go down easy.”
Game 6, if necessary, goes Saturday 7:30 p.m. at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace. Should the series go the distance, Game 7 will be played Sunday night, 8 o’clock, at the CEC.