A few years ago, a group of determined boys from École secondaire Macdonald-Cartier decided they wanted to start a hockey program.
There hadn’t been boys’ hockey at the school for about 10 years, not since the program folded due to low participation.
They made their case to school officials. It was a passionate plea and one that couldn’t be ignored or denied.
“The boys wanted hockey back and they were not going to take no for an answer,” said Louise Roberge, Macdonald-Cartier teacher and boys hockey representative. “The boys wanted a team of their own. They did a lot of work to achieve this. They showed a lot of school pride.”
It was more than three years ago that Macdonald-Cartier entered its boys’ exhibition hockey team in a well-known Francophone tournament.
They placed second.
It got the boys thinking and, more importantly, believing they could be a competitive squad in the Sudbury District Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association (SDSSAA) league.
The team played its first regular full season in 2011-12.
The welcome mat wasn’t rolled out for the returning Panthères boys hockey team. They were humbled by the league and established teams, finishing with one of the worst records in the league (4-11) and no post-season.
They learned from their mistakes, though, and brought in a new head coach, Mitch Loiselle, the following season.
Experience under their belts and a new playing style under Loiselle paid immediate dividends.
The Panthères were one of the top teams this year, placing third in the regular-season standings with a 9-4-1 record. And they made the playoffs.
They lost in the first round, but their season was far from done.
The biggest moment in the new history of Macdonald-Cartier boys hockey was written when the team faced the Bishop Carter squad in a A/AA NOSSA challenge match for the right to go to the regional championship, representing Greater Sudbury.
It was a dramatic finish.
Bishop Carter led 5-3 with six minutes left in the third.
The Macdonald-Cartier boys dug in and scored twice with just seconds to spare, sending the game into overtime. Their overtime win was a significant moment for the program and school.
“We made it to NOSSA for the first time in I don’t know how long,” said Roberge. “I’ve been at the school for 20 years and it never happened during my time. It was a true accomplishment.”
The players on the team got what they wanted and made the most of the opportunity. They worked hard to get the team and worked harder to prove themselves in an ultra-competitive league.
The 2012-13 edition of the Panthères hockey team was rough and tough, but also had some high-end skill driving it. They weren’t afraid to mix it up physically and, when push came to shove, they never backed down.
It made them a playoff team.
“It has been a big booster for the boys in the school,” Panthères veteran Eric Gélinas said. “We needed this team. We believed we could compete in the Sudbury league and we did that.
“It always felt good to put on the jersey and represent our school.”
School officials asked a lot from the players to make the program a reality. They wanted dedication from the players. They wanted heart and character. But there was never any question about what the boys were willing to do to play hockey for their school.
“We pushed for the team and we got it, and there wasn’t anything any of us wasn’t going to do to make it happen,” Nicholas Roberge, another veteran, said. “It meant a lot to all of us to get a team. We would do anything to play hockey for our school.”
When Loiselle came into the fold as head coach, he saw a team with raw potential, but needing polish and discipline. He challenged his boys to play with a new attitude and mindset. If he could get them to be a team, he knew big things would follow.
Loiselle sees the program as established and the foundation has been laid for bigger and better things in the future.
“These guys had heart and work ethic this season and that is how they won games,” Loiselle said. “They were hungry and talented. They showed by being a team, they can achieve big goals together.”
The Panthères season ended in round-robin play at NOSSA. They hope to go further next season.
Scott Haddow has been writing about sports in Greater Sudbury for the past 10 years.