Over an hour and a half before puck drop there was no parking room at the Bruce II Sports Centre lot. Around the complex, both sides of the street were packed so tightly that the team bus carrying the Corner Brook Royals had no alternative but to drop its players at the far end of the elementary school parking lot, about a half city block away. From there Royals players and staff dragged their gear through the biting cold while navigating cars, snow and ice to reach the crowded stadium.
Port aux Basques has always been a hockey town, but the extra show of enthusiasm Friday, March 8, boiled down to two factors. The hometown Mariners hosted a pre-game ceremony to retire local legend Juan Strickland’s No. 9, and they also played their first game of the West Coast Senior Hockey League (WCSHL) finals since the league’s resurrection three years ago.
“Obviously it’s quite the honour. When you started playing hockey years ago you didn’t see this day coming. You didn’t think that someday you were going to be too old to play hockey or the game was going to pass you by. You just wanted to put on the skates and play,” said Strickland. “It’s nice that they recognize what you put into it and what you contribute to the game. But I wasn’t expecting it and now that it’s here it’s quite the honour.”
Last Christmas Strickland was notified the Mariners were planning to retire his sweater. The signed copy will be kept on permanent display near the rink’s scoreboard. Strickland’s number is the first and only one the team has chosen to retire.
Strickland has a long history with the Mariners, serving as their captain and scoring the game-winning goal that clinched the team’s Herder Cup win.
“Watching that goal go in, when Juan scored, that was just amazing,” recalls former right winger Barry Fudge.
Shawn Tobin is also a former Mariner winger who was on hand for the celebration.
“Juan is well deserving of this,” says Tobin. “He was our captain for five years and people might not know this, but Juan was instrumental in helping get the Mariners started.”
After a few words of congratulations from team representatives and local dignitaries, Strickland joined some of his former Mariners teammates on the ice to sign the sweater and thank the fans.
“It’s quite the honour.”