Pictou County hockey fans certainly found out a decade and more ago what it was like to cheer on local players who were taking care of business in professional ranks.
Former Weeks Midget teammates Jon Sim, Colin White and Derrick Walser, who combined for 1,486 National Hockey League games and three Stanley Cup championships between 1998 and 2012, provided plenty of story lines to talk about over morning coffee.
It was happy days.
In more recent seasons, it’s been hockey followers in the Halifax-Dartmouth region who have been enjoying those kinds of gabfests in Tim Hortons from Cole Harbour to Hammonds Plains.
I’ve been surrounded by it.
The chatter that’s been going on as a result of the amazing contributions being made by their three hometown heroes, Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand, has been endless in recent months. You just can’t walk into a Tims anywhere in the area without overhearing discussions about Sid, Nate and Brad.
What is making this such a dramatic and fascinating story is the fact all three of them are having super seasons.
Of course Crosby has been getting our attention ever since he was a little guy learning to skate at Cole Harbour Place. Before we knew it, he was being called the best player on the planet – and it doesn’t get any better than that.
His scoring ability, his play-making talents, his all-around play, his leadership and, yes, his everything, has made him one of the most popular athletes in any sport anywhere.
For those of us in Cole Harbour neighbourhoods, the excitement reached the mountaintop when MacKinnon followed his older pal through local ranks and on to the best league in the world.
You’re reminded of them every time you walk into Cole Harbour Place and see a banner with MacKinnon’s number 29 hanging from the rafters alongside Crosby’s famous 87.
Almost unnoticed at first, Marchand, a much different style of player, worked his way up through the various levels of minor hockey and into the same conversations locally and everywhere else.
But his style of play is so different from the two Cole Harbour guys. You either love him or hate him. I can assure you nobody uses the word “hate” when talking about Crosby or MacKinnon. Marchand’s game is that opposite to the others.
Sid and Nate have taken similar routes to the big time.
They both played in Cole Harbour Minor, both went on to star in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – MacKinnon with two big years with the Halifax Mooseheads – and both were first overall picks in the NHL’s entry draft, Crosby going to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, MacKinnon to the Colorado Avalanche in 2013.
As well, both won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. Crosby, who this summer turns 30 – holy smokes – has been on two Stanley Cup champions with the Pens, has twice been named the league’s most valuable player, has passed the 1,000 mark in points and has won many other honours.
MacKinnon, so much younger at 21, has lots of time to try to duplicate Crosby in the awards department. He has already put up some great numbers despite being with the league’s worst team. His future does look extremely bright.
Marchand, who turns 29 in May, also went through the Quebec loop, including 26 games with the Mooseheads in 2007-08. The Boston Bruins selected him 71st overall in the 2006 draft. Unlike Crosby and MacKinnon, Marchand spent a year and a half in the minors before reaching Boston.
His goal scoring has been better than average – seasons of 21, 28, 25, 24 and 37 goals – but his aggressive, sometimes questionable play overshadows his knack of beating the goalies. Overall, he’s much better than his detractors will admit.
Me? I like him.
Perhaps more than any other season to date, Sid, Nate and Brad have been catching the attention of every hockey-loving human around metro.
Nothing’s changed with Crosby. He just goes on and on like those batteries that never die. He reached the 1,000-point plateau a few weeks ago and, as usual, he’s having another 30-plus goal campaign and is in the thick of another scoring race.
MacKinnon, despite being on a lacklustre club, continues to display offensive pluses. He’s the team’s points leader and obviously has many years to live up to his potential. I like his abilities, as I did when he had back-to-back 30-goal seasons with the Mooseheads.
The surprise? Marchand’s offensive play.
When Brad scored a hat-trick last week against the Vancouver Canucks – all three goals coming in the third period – he reached the 35-goal mark, just two tallies shy of his big 37-goal performance last year. A goal and an assist against the Calgary Flames the next night vaulted him into the middle of the scoring race.
Something I point out to fans who criticize Marchand is the fact he has never had 100 penalty minutes in a season. Despite a couple incidents in 2016-17, at the 70-game mark he had spent only 60 minutes in the penalty box. I don’t call that a goon, a bad guy or a trouble maker. I call it a guy who gives the proverbial 110 per cent and aggressively leads his team all the time.
I may be a life-long Maple Leafs die-hard, but 10 and 15 years ago I was keeping tabs on White’s New Jersey Devils, Walser’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and Sim’s Dallas Stars and the seven other NHL teams he was with.
Now, from my pew in Dartmouth, I do the same with Crosby’s Penguins, MacKinnon’s Avalanche and Marchand’s Bruins.
It’s things like this that keep a guy – even an old one – watching hockey and checking game results every night.