There was a time when Jason Churchill often didn’t bother taking his goaltending gear with him when he returned to his Halifax home after playing a couple of weekend senior hockey games with the Clarenville Caribou.
But not this season.
The Hodge’s Cove native came to the realization that policy wasn’t going to work if the ’Bous hoped to have any success in the new Newfoundland Senior Hockey League.
“In past years, (there were instances) where I didn’t skate for a couple of weeks in a row and it wasn’t that big of a deal,” says Churchill, who will turn 27 later this year.
“Now that I’m getting older and where the league has gotten better, I can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to get on the ice and at least get the bugs worked out a little bit.”
Churchill says he didn’t really start feeling really comfortable until the second half of the season after he found a lunch-hour pickup game in Halifax, where he works for Cougar Helicopters as an aircraft maintenance engineer.
In the NSHL, Churchill had a 10-5-1 record, posted a 3.69 goals-against average and had an .898 save percentage, second only to that Mark Yetman of the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts.
Yetman will get the start at the other end of the ice as the Caribous and Cataracts square off in the first two games of the best-of-seven Telegram Herder Memorial Trophy Championship Series at Mile One Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday afternoon (2 p.m.)
Despite his solid numbers, Churchill — the Allan Cup MVP last spring as the Caribous won the Canadian senior hockey championship — isn’t happy with his overall performance this season.
“My work schedule the previous two years with Cougar was a lot easier than what it has been this year,” he says.
“That played a big part in not skating up here (in Halifax), which played a part in not performing as well in Newfoundland.
“The numbers don’t lie. I never felt as good this year as I did in previous ones. It’s getting tougher. This season didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.”
As well, the back-and-forth between St. John’s and Halifax every weekend is taxing, and as he becomes more of an integral part of Cougar’s work force, it’s “getting a lot harder.”
“Travelling every single weekend and trying to manage my schedule up here and having people cover for me when I’m gone is tough, and it’s tough on my co-workers, too,” he says.
“There’s only so much I can do that.”
Churchill has applied for a transfer to St. John’s, but with the company still dealing with the fallout from the crash of Flight 219 two years ago, his request is “on the backburner.”
Also keeping him in Halifax for at least the next couple of years, he says, is the fact he’s become a homeowner, having bought a codo.
“I really couldn’t wait any longer, I wanted to get into a property so I went ahead and purchased,” Churchill said.
“ When the transfer happens, I’ll worry about it then.”
For now, he’s only worried about the challenge of beating defending Herder champion Grand Falls-Windsor.
“They have a deep lineup with some explosive offense,” says Churchill of the Cataracts.
“It’s going to be a great Herder, probably one of the best in a long time.”