The noise and excitement inside tiny Robert French Memorial Stadium in Kelligrews this week would rival that which can be found at the Clarenville Events Centre for a Caribous’ provincial senior hockey game, maybe even a sleepy Sunday afternoon St. John’s IceCaps’ contest at Mile One Centre.
Creating the cacophony and clamour were hundreds of high school students from Queen Elizabeth and Holy Spirit, on hand to cheer on their respective Pioneers and Falcons in the Fred Squires Shield, a hockey tournament named in memory of the arena’s first manager who died in a tragic car accident over two decades ago. Student fans, many of whom show up sporting their school’s colours, cheer wildly, throw confetti, spray Silly String, and use just about anything to add to the overwhelming din, including banging wooden spoons against metal pots borrowed from Mom’s kitchen.
“It’s unreal,” says Queen Elizabeth captain Jordan Hutchings, who was playing in his third Shield.
“There’s nothing like it. It makes me want to work a lot harder and really strive for success for my school and my team.
“I’m so proud to be a Pioneer and I always look forward to these games.”
With nothing more than a shared staircase separating the rival school’s fans, the energy tends to spill onto the ice.
“It really gets your blood pumping having a big crowd here,” says the Falcons’ Andrew Smith, a Shield sophomore, but one who has never missed a game of the tournament that has become one of the highlights of the town of Conception Bay South’s annual WinterFest schedule.
“It’s all about supporting your school and playing for the crest on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back.”
The tournament wrapped up its 17th year Thursday night with the Pioneers winning their second straight Shield — but only third overall — by defeating the Falcons 6-4 in the final game of the best-of-three series. It was just the second time in the tournament’s history that all three games were needed to declare a winner of the shield-shaped plaque. (The Falcons needed three games to dispatch the Pioneers in 2006).
Matt Porter, player of the game for Queen Elizabeth, netted a pair of goals, as did Mitchell Searle, with Justin Boland and Josh Weir adding singles.
Falcons player of the game Cody Dwyer had two in a losing cause, with Adam Duff and Riley Baggs also scoring for the Falcons.
The Falcons took the opening game 4-3, with the Pioneers knotting the series by prevailing 5-4 in quadruple overtime in Game 2 Wednesday.
C.B.S. director of recreation Dave Tibbo has been involved with the tournament for all 17 years, including an eight-year stint as the Holy Spirit coach that started at the first Shield in 1997. Queen Elizabeth won the inaugural tournament, but Tibbo and the Falcons went undefeated for the next seven years.
“During my reign, I had some great hockey players like Ciaran Hearn, Derrick Kent, and Adam Gear.”
Tibbo says the Shield, for most students, is more important than any other hockey they’ll play throughout the season. That goes for his own son Kyle, who was part of last year’s Pioneers lineup that broke the Falcons’ streak of 14-straight titles.
“It seems like no matter what provincial tournament or what division or league they are playing in, their life is the Shield, it means everything to them. They play well all year, but they always seem to rise to the occasion for the Shield.
“It’s about school and community spirit.”
While bragging rights and pride are on the line, Tibbo says both schools win out in the end as 100 per cent of the gate receipts go back to the respective high schools.
“Not only will one team win the Shield, not only will it bring community spirit, but our mayor and council will present a cheque to each school for their hockey program or any other program in the school.”
Squires helped improved stadium ‘bit by bit’
Fred Squires didn’t necessarily have a passion for high school or minor hockey, but he did have a certain fervor for making the arena a success when he was started as manager in 1976.
Councilor Sandra Baggs — grandmother to Riley and mother to Thursday-night linesman Roy Baggs — was Squires’ assistant when the arena opened and later went on to be the manager herself. The stadium was quite literally built around the pair.
“When we first came up here, all we had was the ice surface, the boards, the very crude seats, four dressing rooms and there was a couple of bathrooms,” Baggs recounts of their early days at Robert French Memorial Stadium.
“He was a real dog for getting grants, and that’s how every bit of the stuff up her was built. Bit by bit.”
Squires went on to become town manager and later went to work for the Canadian Red Cross until his death.