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Large crowd welcomes senior hockey back to Port Aux Basques

A sold out crowd cheers the action as hometown team Port Aux Basques Mariners defeated the Deer Lake Red Wings 7 to 5 on Saturday, March 18th.
A sold out crowd cheers the action as hometown team Port Aux Basques Mariners defeated the Deer Lake Red Wings 7 to 5 on Saturday, March 18th.

The Port aux Basques Mariners won their first home game in 17 years Saturday night, March 18, in front of a sold-out crowd.

Dylan Savory scored four goals to lead the team to a 7-5 victory over the Deer Lake Red Wings. It was only the second game for the Mariners in a shortened season — aiming to test the interest in a senior hockey league for the west coast — and their first victory.

They had come up a bit short the evening before, losing 8-7 against the Corner Brook Royals.

This afternoon the Mariners play their third game in three days, against the Stephenville Jets.

Now that the Mariners have finally returned, Team President Shannon Battiste knows there’s still work to be done. For him it’s an ongoing labor of love, and the community support — from sponsors to fans — has him hopeful the Mariners are back for good.

“Look at the people that are here tonight – the fans and all the kids – to watch a great game of hockey. It’s been a long time since we had it here and it’s great to see it back again,” he told TC Media in an interview during Saturday night’s game.

Some fans have been waiting 17 years to see their hometown heroes take to the ice once again.

Derrick Osmond and Wally Lawrence have already reclaimed their prime viewing spots, just behind the visitor’s net.

Lawrence has been standing in that same spot to watch hockey ever since he can remember and has the photos to prove it.

Osmond was delighted to see the Bruce II Sports Centre bursting to capacity with hockey fans, lamenting that seating hadn’t been constructed on both sides of the ice. He thinks that the Mariners could easily bring in double the arena’s current capacity of 1073.

“It’s nice to see there’s a crowd,” he said, noting the team had always been popular.

Lawrence also used to watch the original Mariners play when he was a boy, and planned to drive to Stephenville for the Sunday afternoon match.

“Best thing that ever happened,” he said of the return of senior hockey to the area.

He’s already looking forward to next season, when the Mariners are expected to play a full schedule. In the past, he never missed a game, if he could help it, and he hopes to be there every time the Mariners play.

 “It’s good for the community. It’s good for hockey. You can’t beat it. This is a hockey town.”

That same excitement was also evident from the coach and the players.

“There’s no words to describe it,” said Mark Lawrence, Head Coach and GM. “None at all.”

He’s been part of the effort to return hockey to Port aux Basques since 2012, initially focusing on the junior level.

The original coach and GM for the juniors, Lawrence has now been tapped to lead the senior Mariners to victory.

That was easier said than done, as some of the players had only met their teammates the night before stepping onto the ice versus the Royals.

“We probably should have won the game last night,” said Lawrence, noting the team did practice during the afternoon in preparation for their home opener.

“Hopefully we’ve cleaned some of that stuff up in the last 24 hours, and we’re going to come out, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to skate hard, and hopefully we’re going to do something with it.”

Team captain Bruce Billard echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“It doesn’t get more exciting than this. I mean, in front of a packed crowd at your home rink? It doesn’t get better than this. This is what every hockey player dreams about doing.”

Having said that Billard confessed that up until quite recently he was initially reluctant to join the Mariners, let alone wear the C.

“I had no intentions of playing. It’s been 10 years since I played,” he admitted. ”Mark and Shannon (Battiste, President of the Mariners) were adamant that they wanted me to play and they wanted me to lead the team.”

Despite his reluctance, in January Billard began a strict fitness regimen to get back into game shape. During the process, it triggered within him a longing to return to the sport.

“Everything started to come together a little bit easier, so I decided probably about three weeks before the season that I actually would play.”

The overwhelming support of Mariners fans has only served to reinforce his commitment.

“I really want to say that Port aux Basques definitely has the best fans,” said the captain. “We see it here again tonight, and this is for our community. It’s something to be proud of and hopefully our fans can keep embracing the Mariners as they did for years and years.”    

PAB Mariners battle Red Wings for the puck during play at the Bruce II Sports Centre on Saturday, March 18th.

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