When Queen’s head coach Brett Gibson wanted to provide an extra boost for his team leading into the U Sports men’s hockey championship, he turned to his golfing buddies for help.
Gord Sinclair and Paul Langlois, members of legendary Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, answered the call and suited up to skate with the Gaels, who will try to claim the Kingston, Ont., school’s first University Cup title this weekend in Fredericton.
“The boys, eyeballs were popping out of their heads,” Gibson said. ”It was just a good motivator.”
The Tragically Hip was formed in Kingston in 1983, and Gibson has become friends with the band members through golfing at the same country club. He got the idea of reaching out to Hip for inspiration after seeing guitarist Rob Baker at a playoff game against McGill earlier this month.
Baker wasn’t able to attend due to an emergency appendectomy — he later apologized on Twitter — but bassist Sinclair and guitarist Langlois were happy to lace up their skates.
“They’re so down to earth,” said Gaels goaltender Kevin Bailie, who adds that the team always plays the Hip’s music in its dressing room. ”If no one told you they were the Tragically Hip, you would have thought they were just a couple dads of players on the team.”
Added Gibson: ”They came in and talked about living in the moment and don’t look past it. They were proud of us for beating McGill (in the OUA East final) because that was a long time coming. It was really just short and sweet and it was perfect.”
Queen’s enters this weekend’s championship as the No. 4 seed in its first appearance since 1981.
The Gaels (18-7-3) have a tough road ahead. Not only did their Tuesday flight get cancelled — prompting an over 11-hour bus ride from Kingston — but Queen’s faces the host and defending champion UNB Varsity Reds on Thursday night in the single-elimination format tournament.
Led by head coach Gardiner MacDougall, the Varsity Reds are looking for their seventh U Sports title and have won five championships in the last 10 years. UNB (25-2-3) finished the regular season first in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference before falling to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the league final.
Bailie and Queen’s know that feeling all too well after also coming up short in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final to the York Lions.
“Unfortunately for us, they’ll definitely be pissed off which is never a good thing,” Bailie said.
“I’m not afraid to say, I think we’re definitely a big time underdog. It’s just a fact. UNB is effectively a professional hockey team, they’re ridiculously good.”
Canada West champion, the Alberta Golden Bears, is the tournament’s top seed and seeking its 16th championship. Along with Queen’s, UNB, York and St. FX, the Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West finalist), McGill Redmen (OUA bronze medallist) and Acadia Axemen (AUS bronze medallist) round out the eight-team competition.
The last time the Gaels appeared in the University Cup, they were led by two-time Canadian university player of the year Paul Stothart.
Stothart, who had 206 points in only 88 games over four seasons, died from cancer in 2012. His son Alex is a forward on this year’s team and says it’s a pretty unique situation to be representing Queen’s in the tournament for the first time since his dad did.
“Growing up, I didn’t really understand what the university hockey what it all meant, but my dad would talk about teammates and show us pictures of back in the day with Queen’s when they went to nationals and would tell stories about how it was fun.
“Now that it’s all coming together, it is a pretty neat story.”
The two Stothart’s are very different players — Paul was a scorer, Alex a defensive forward. Alex feels as though he’s following his father’s footsteps to an extent, but has never made a point of follow his lead.
“But it’s a heck of a coincidence that I’m at the same school, playing on the same team, having the same kind of success,” he said.