Article by N. Schoonderbeek/Photos by C. Archer, C. Poulin & N. Schoonderbeek
This is the fourth and final article in a multi-part series exploring the Eagles’ fandom – a community of people who passionately support the team.
In this article, Eagles alumni talk about what it’s like to return after flying the nest and offer advice to win the Schmalz Cup.
As the Eagles prepare to play their first round-robin game in the Schmalz Cup tournament tonight, nobody understands what they are experiencing quite like Alex Lepizzera and Mitch Doyle. These gentlemen were among the overagers that lead the team to within one goal of the championship last year. They both were in attendance at this year’s alumni game in late March, during which Mitch was celebrated with a pre-game ceremony.
As recent graduates, watching the team play means seeing former teammates continue their legacy on the ice. This can bring a range of sentiments.
“I absolutely love it. Standing in the crowd with everybody…it’s just a great feeling,” said Mitch. “There’s just nothing better than to come back home to your town and watch them succeed.”
But Alex was a little more hesitant. “It’s kind of tough actually. I wish I was playing,” he shared. But he still appreciates being in the arena that feels like home. “It’s good being back and the crowd’s really good too, just like last year. It’s a good community, good support from everybody, and I’m just glad to be back in this kind of atmosphere and the best rink in the world.”
Brett Poulin has a little more distance from his playing days. He started with the Eagles in 2019 and played until the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. The team was down 3-0 in their playoff series then, but Brett argues that the shutdown means they weren’t beat out. “They called it off mid-series, so it didn’t count. I didn’t lose.”
Brett comes out to games not just as an alumni, but to watch his brother Kolby play. When asked how he thought Kolby was playing he replied as any big brother would, with a bit of good-humoured teasing and resentment. “Well, other than that empty net he just missed he’s doing great,” Brett assessed. “He’s getting a lot more ice than I ever got so…”
Nick Dennis has even more distance from his days as an Eagle. So much distance, in fact, that he could not tell me when he played. “Oh boy, I can’t even remember. One of those ones up there,” he said pointing at the ceiling at Rickard. “We’ve got a banner up there. I played with Dean and I played with Dave [Fairey].”
Nick is also Director of Hockey Operations for the Eagles, which involves a hodgepodge of duties including bringing in revenue from sources such as sponsors. But he really enjoys just watching the games and tries to get a lot of the older alumni to come out as well. “I see a lot of them here tonight. And it’s good to see them out. They look like they’re having a good time and it’s a good game so far.”
I asked all four alumni what they thought the Eagles had to do to win the Schmalz Cup this year, and they all offered great advice. But they also had some consistent thoughts, as all agreed that the team is currently doing the right things and it’s important to carry on with their current style of play to go the distance.
“Just keep doing what they’re doing right now. They’ve been holding their own. Pretty much the whole season they’ve been holding their own. They just need to keep going and working hard like they have been and they’ll be fine,” offered Alex.
“Stay composed, show up every single night, and if they do that I think there’s not a team in the league that can touch them. It’s just going to be staying on top of their game every single night and not having any slipups,” said Mitch.
“I think they need to keep doing what they’re doing. As long as they have four lines rolling and listen to Baumer, who knows what he’s talking about, and they continue to play like they’re playing they’ll go the distance,” agreed Brett.
“I like the team this year. If they play the way they are tonight, forecheck, always on the puck, it’s hard for them to beat,” said Nick.