It’s hard to imagine how much Friday’s win over McGill meant to Brett Gibson. An overnight success takes time.
Eleven years of hard work building a program, doing it the right way and trusting, in the end, it all pays off. In recent years, CHL players started committing to Queen’s and they built an elite program. But, it seemed like every year at playoff time ‘good wasn’t quite good enough’, and with it came plenty of playoff heartbreak.
Heading into Friday night’s game at the Memorial Centre, sixty minutes of hockey stood between the Gaels and the CIS championships. McGill hit the post twice in the early going and it seemed like on this night the Gaels would actually catch a break. Dylan Anderson scored three times and goaltender Kevin Bailie, who has been brilliant all season, turned aside 34 shots, many were big saves at key moments.
Last time Queen’s went to the CIS finals was in 1981 and it’s fitting another Gananoque native, Fred O’Donnell, was behind the Queen’s bench. I ran into Fred leaving the rink Friday night, he was there to support Gibson and the Gaels and remarked how this Queen’s team, “is good enough to win it all”, and he should know.
What’s most remarkable about the program Gibson built are the fifteen former CHL players he recruited to play here. Players with plenty of options, who could play anywhere in the country or turn pro.
Queen’s is not an easy sell. Academically the entrance requirements are as high as any school in the country, with no exceptions made for student athletes. The hockey facilities? Shameful.
The Kingston Memorial Centre is a perfect home for the local Church Athletic League kids, but for a CIS team challenging for a national title, are you kidding me? The ‘glory days’ for the M-Centre were 60 years ago when the Kingston Goodyears Senior teams were packing the place. It’s worse than going to a Queen’s football game (prior to last year) and worrying the grandstand might collapse underneath you. Queen’s poured tens of millions into the new opera house at the Tett Centre, great for the arts, but somehow they’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the hockey programs and the desperate need for a new facility on-campus.
Did I mention virtually every CIS program has a full-time hockey coach? Yet Gibson runs a successful family business by day, and in his off hours has built a hockey program that is among the best in Canada.
I’m sure when Gibson brings a new recruit to town he sells every other aspect of the hockey program before showing them the rink. Yep, it’s a 20-minute walk from campus and there’s an oversized portrait of Queen Elizabeth that’s been hanging there since the doors opened in 1951. She looked pretty good in her 20’s didn’t she? Want to see our off-ice facilities? Well, here’s our fitness & wellness center; 3 stationary bikes beside the washer & dryer at the back of the old Kingston Frontenacs change room. These players had access to better facilities in their hometowns when they were playing Double-A Novice.
When Queen’s knocked down the Jock Harty Arena, to make way for the new ARC and provide the basketball and volleyball teams with state of the art facilities, there were promises a new hockey facility would be built. The Memorial Centre was a stop-gap measure and yet years later here we are. Did Stu Lang ever play hockey? He might be worth a call. He pretty much self-funded the newly refurbished Richardson Stadium for the football team.
Queen’s isn’t exactly the Ryerson Rams. They have 130 years of hockey pedigree with the tricolour, played in some of the earliest games of hockey on record and challenged for three Stanley Cups.
Gibson has done his part, building a program that might deliver Queen’s a National Championship. It’s time Queen’s made hockey a priority and built them a decent rink to play in.
Mark Potter is a former Kingston sports broadcaster and member of the Kingston & District Sports Hall of Fame