SACKVILLE, N.B. – Sunday afternoon proved to be the culmination of a five-year dream held by Ernie Austin as his Tantramar Titans put the icing on the cake in gritty fashion by carving out a well-played 5-1 victory over the Carleton North Stars to add more decoration to the school gymnasium. Following the win, they were presented with the banner emblematic of New Brunswick AA hockey and this will take a prominent place along those of ladies’ soccer and men’s football, both of which set the bar high with championship victories.
Austin’s dream began his first season at the helm of the Titans as they failed to register a victory in 20 tries. But they have gradually improved each season, and 2018 was the one in which they ran roughshod over opponents in league play, easily taking the championship for the second consecutive season.
The provincial title was the first the hockey team has won since 1997 when Ted Doncaster was the coach.
After viewing the team this season Wayne Hicks, a true veteran of the hockey wars as a member of the Titan organization, said he ranked the 1997 and 2018 squads as very similar, the two being the finest ones he has been associated with.
The Titans hosted the provincial tournament at the civic centre, with team manager Tim Long heading up the arrangements. He said the cooperation shown by the town, the rink, the high school and volunteers was amazing.
“I can’t complain about one thing,” he said on Sunday. “Opposing team players, coaches and their fans have been coming up to me and saying how much they enjoyed how the tournament was organized and run.”
And in addition, Phil – the Zamboni operator – appeared in full formal wear, including a top had – to add even more class to the three-day event.
Due to a lack of local accommodations, the three visiting teams were housed in the Moncton area and brought in by bus each day. But there may have been some residual benefits for the community.
The three visiting squads were the Carleon North Stars from Bristol, Polyvante Louis Mailloux from Caraquet and Roland Pepid Predaeurs from Campbellton.
The Titans barely made it to the finals even though were hosts. After losing 4-2 to Carleton they were forced to find a late goal to tie Roland Pepin to scrape in.
But things were far different in Sackville. The Titans, playing disciplined hockey, knocked off Louis Maillooux 5-2 on Friday, then tied Carleton North 2-2 on Saturday before returning to lay a 12-1 thrashing on Roland Pepin to qualify for the championship game.
Perhaps the largest crowd ever to fill the civic centre went crazy as their hometown Titans displayed tirelessness and led all the way to defeat their long-time nemesis Carleton North 5-1 for the gold.
Tyler Long who led the entire league in scoring all season continued his onslaught in the final as he rifled a pair of goals. Others came off the sticks of underrated Justin Vogels, who was a thorn in the side of the opposition all afternoon, the talented Jeff Lafford and hard-working Jared Prescott.
Over the year Long notched 21 goals and 24 assists in 17 games, Prescott had 13, Lafford 11 and Vogels four. In the four games over the weekend Long notched another eight.
The tournament proved to be a boon for the Titans in other ways as well. Their chase-the-ace game ended with more than $3,000 for the team while their 50-50 tickets proved popular while the crowds were amazing.
The well-operated tournament proved that Sackville can rise to the occasion. Actually, the previous week saw the national university women’s basketball championship decided here under trying but also in a successful manner.
The only part that could be improved would be if his community had a hotel sufficiently large to accommodate upwards of 100 or more people.
Obviously, coach Austin and his staff will now have to go back and rebuild as a good many of the team’s leaders will be graduating in June. However, all coaches at the high school, junior and university levels face the same challenge and it will simply mean the staff and players will have to work that much harder.
But the bar has been raised as it has in all Titan programs, which only makes winning that much sweeter.