A good many adjectives might be used but simply none seem appropriate to describe the positive manner in which the players, coaches and parents have accepted the outcome of the move of the Tantramar Hockey Titans into the Northern AA division of the New Brunswick High School Athletic Association (NBIAA).
At the conclusion of the 20-game schedule the Titans were still looking for their first victory – yes, they ended with a 0-20 record – but to a person they embraced the year as one of learning and gaining valuable experience for the players and teams to follow.
Scattered in among the winless league games were actually a couple of exhibition victories – both coming at the expense of their cross-border rivals, the Amherst High Vikings. So, overall, the Titans were 2-30, which included one win against five losses in tournament play and one victory in four tries exhibition play.
But head coach Ernie Austin estimated the team was 25 per cent improved over the previous season and advanced “ light miles” during the long season. He said he and others realized what they would face when moving out of the Eastern Conference but things were “pretty rough” in the early going when they were being thumped by as much as 10 goals a game. However, since Christmas they were in most matches, losing by anywhere from one to three goals.
“It was a fun team,” says captain Zach Snowdon who led the team in scoring with 24 points in 20 games. “It wasn’t difficult to keep my teammates motivated and we simply took it one game at a time while looking to build on the little things. We could see improvements each game and our practices became intense as the coaches designed plays to help us move forward.”
Snowdon said the players learned how to deal with challenges and diversity while the coaches dealt with situations ideally.
Two parents – Dan Hilchie and Scott Embree – emphasized their satisfaction with the progress of the team, saying they had full confidence in the coaching staff who gave it their all and encouraged the players each step of the way.
The Titans were grouped in a league with treams from Campbellton, Caraquet, Shippegan, Dalhousie and Bathurst meaning long road trips during which they played two games on each weekend. With many of the Titans still playing football the team was particularly slow getting off the mark but when the lineup was complete they became much more competitive.
As Austin pointed out, it was only Tantramar who were crippled through the loss of some of their top players going to play at another level. There were four at triple A, one at junior C, one at triple A bantam and one at a US prep school. None of the northern schools experienced such losses and he noted that his is a recent phenomenon. All athletes remained with their school team during the “heyday” of Tantramar hockey when they raced to a series of provincial titles. But he emphasized this was not be used as an alibi for the poor record during the 2013-14 campaign.
However, he would like to see some changes made for next season as the team budget for the season just completed was $45,000, much of it covering travel and ice rental. Fundraising projects like the alumni game and the SYSCO drive combined with corporate sponsors Save Easy, Subway, Coastal Inn, Brunswick Fire and Safety and Carl Ward of Ward’s Hydraulics made it possible to cover the bills.
The coaches in addition to Austin were Mike Cullihall, Ben Brown and Tim Hicks with manager Wayne Hicks, agree the move to AA was absolutely the correct one even though it drove the cost of operation up considerably but it allowed the athletes to compete against schools of similar size.
“We had our struggles on the ice,” commented Cullihall “but we were all happy and proud of how well the boys conducted themselves on the road and on the ice – iit was a pleasure to work with them.”
And Tim Hicks said it took a special group of boys to experience what they did and remain positive and that he couldn’t be prouder.
Assistant captain Brooke Beale, a young man who played every position but goal, says he is confident the correct steps were taken, adding that everything was positive except the overall record.
“We weren’t able to go as far as we had hoped but we improved just so much that it should get better in the years to come.”
Austin agreed there had been a lot of ups and downs during the season as the young team struggled to find itself but ne pointed out only four members were in their senior year at Tantramar so the experience gained will be invaluable as they move on.
And so, while the Titan players may have gone through the most trying time of their young lives they also because of adversity will be stronger people as they move on to other things.
One move that would be especially helpful would be to find a schedule that would not take them to the far reaches of New Brunswick but one where they could operate under normal conditions and not make travel become the number one priority.
Only time will tell, but the players and coaches deserve better – both on the road and on the ice.