Junior A Hockey Franchise Comes to Garcelon Civic Center

By Dan Northcutt

St. Stephen and the Garcelon Civic Center are home to the newest Junior A Hockey franchise. The Aces will start their season at the new civic center this fall. Part of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League, under Hockey Canada, they will play against 4 other teams from New Brunswick, one from Prince Edward Island, and six from Nova Scotia, comprising the Roger Meek and Maurice Bent Divisions. The winner goes on to face the Quebec AAA and Central Junior A Hockey Leagues for the Fred Page Cup and a shot at the Canadian National Junior A championship’s Royal Bank Cup. The competitive league consists of students aged 16-20 with collegiate and professional aspirations. 

The Aces take their name from two sources, a St. Stephen hockey team that operated half a century ago and from a WWII era Royal Air Force aviation training field located in the Eastern part of the province at Pennfield. The airfield was part of part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan whose effectiveness in combat and high proportion of “flying aces,” defined as flight crew pilots and members with five or more confirmed aerial kills, prompted President Roosevelt  to label them the “Aerodrome of Democracy.” The well thought out team logo also pays tribute to the region’s resources and character. The blue and green colors represent the nautical and forest industries that serve as the foundation for the area’s economy. The fighter jet which is most likely a silhouetted RCAF CF-18 Hornet, hearkens back to the aforementioned RAF air strip, On the left is a hockey puck stylized with Canada’s global brand, the maple leaf, and because of their unique status as an immediate border town, surrounding that are stars, representing the United States. 

The ties to the U.S. go deeper than just stars though. The team plans on taking full advantage of their proximity to Washington County. The Aces hope to draw fans from Maine as well as up to 8 allowed players from the U.S. Additionally, recent changes will allow U.S. based players to remain enrolled in U.S. schools; previously membership required enrollment at a Canadian institution. The two communities have fostered an almost unprecedented relationship with one another from the war of 1812 when, instead of making war on one another at their government’s insistence they instead shared gunpowder so they could both enjoy fireworks on the 4th, to the contemporary annual International festival, the communities are inexorably linked and the Aces plan to make this an integral part of their operation. Present at the franchise’s announcement was Calais Mayor Marianne Moore, who despite receiving last minute notice, was happy to speak about the relationship between Calais and St. Stephen and what the new team will mean for them. Moreover, St. Stephen Mayor John Quatermain has continually asserted that the team’s home ice at the Garcelon Civic Center is being constructed for the benefit and use of both Charlotte and Washington County residents. 

Also present at the announcement were Master of Ceremonies Bob Sweeney, President John Hyslop, Senior Advisor Paul Sweeney, and Coach Jamie McKinley. All spoke on the community involvement the team will embody, as well as the high hopes they hold for the success on the ice and with the fans. Coach McKinley, a Memorial Cup winner, is a seasoned professional player and coach on two continents. Previously he was part of the NB/PEI Major Midget AAA coaching staff that won two consecutive league “coach of the year” awards for their management of the St. John Vito’s. 

With goals of 200-300 season pass holders and average game attendance of 700, aspirations are high for a newly minted small town hockey team on untested ice. However, under the tutelage of veteran McKinley and in the state of the art Garcelon facilities the Aces stand a real chance of making a serious impact in Maritime and Downeast hockey.