‘If you don’t win, you’re not going out’: Inside the 2018-2019 Queen’s Men’s Hockey season, part five

An eight-part series on the Gaels’ Queen’s Cup victory

Graeme Brown discusses his experience with the Carr-Harris Cup.

“I hope that the tradition continues.”

From skating on the outdoor rink under starlight to packing bags for weekend junior tournaments, hockey always starts at home. Nowhere is that truer than Kingston and its surrounding communities.

And for one night in February each year, Kingston’s intercollegiate rivals—the Queen’s Gaels and RMC Paladins—compete for the title of hometown hegemon.

They compete for the Carr-Harris Cup.

Played since 1886, the Carr-Harris Cup is an annual showcase of the oldest rivalry in Canadian Hockey and a series in which the Gaels currently lead 21-11-2.

As in 2021, the 2022 Carr-Harris Cup has been put on hold due to the pandemic, depriving teams and spectators of another showdown. But in 2019, the game was intense as ever as the Gaels looked to capitalize on their regular-season success against RMC, whom they had routinely topped that year.

Instead, they left the Leon’s Centre empty-handed, facing some tough questions and even tougher answers about themselves.

To tell the story of that night in its entirety, The Journal spoke to Graeme Brown, a defenseman on the 2018-19 team and a now four-year veteran of the Carr-Harris Cup.

“The fans in there are electric. You go to the Memorial Centre and sometimes we get 500 or 1,000 fans a night and then suddenly we’re playing against RMC at the [Leon’s Centre] with [thousands of] fans there that are going crazy,” Brown described in an interview.

“It’s one of the best games to be a part of because there’s so much more on the line than just winning the hockey game […] You have the bragging rights over the other team, you get to go out after with the trophy, and if you don’t win, you’re not going out.”

That year, the Leon’s Centre held 3,888 raucous spectators, a number which topped the previous attendance record—set just a year beforehand—for a Carr-Harris Cup game by a margin of three hundred.

After a significant amount of fanfare and the ceremonial puck drop, the game started slowly until a Gaels’ player, Luke Edwards, was given a 10-minute penalty after checking another player from behind. 

Just after the powerplay ended, RMC opened the scoring, putting one in past Queen’s goaltender Justin Fazio. Nearly four minutes later, they struck again, placing another puck right below the crossbar after a hard slapshot that flew over Fazio’s shoulder. 

The second period opened with a nightmare sequence for the Gaels. The Paladins scored two goals in the first two minutes, including one just 30 seconds into the period as Fazio was pulled for goaltender Jack Flinn.

Finally, Queen’s found some life. Gaels captain Spencer Abraham found the back of the net on a power-play, ripping a slapshot from the point to keep the Gaels in the game.

The Paladins responded once again near the end of the second, ultimately eliminating any chance of a Queen’s comeback when both teams held on defensively in the third period.

Final score: 5-1 Paladins.

For Brown, the result would eventually mean his record at the Carr-Harris Cup would permanently sit at 2-2 in his time as a Gaels player.

For head coach Brett Gibson, the results were to be expected given his team’s performance, and he said so directly after the game.

“They earned every part of that win and I expected that result when our team doesn't work. We played a team that was out of the playoffs and really had this game to play for and we didn't have any urgency whatsoever,” Gibson told Athletics and Recreation at the time.

It wasn’t the first loss of the season for the Gaels or even the most lopsided. Coming into the matchup, the Gaels had split a road trip with a tight win against Nipissing and a loss to Laurentian to cap an up-and-down January.

But such a loss coming off an opponent bound for an early spring vacation this late in the season was a red flag. If playoff hockey is about anything, it’s about determination, and coming out flat for even one weekend would all but guarantee eventual defeat in the postseason.

Simply put, after the 2019 Carr-Harris Cup, the Gaels had to ask themselves, “If 3,888 screaming fans can’t wake us up, what can?”

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