A Nova Scotia man says a Newfoundland league has allowed him to keep playing competitive, high-level hockey — even if that means travelling back and forth between the two provinces 20 times a season.
Bryan Gillis is the goalie for the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, which won the Allan Cup, a national senior hockey championship, last week. The Allan Cup is one oldest club-team hockey competitions in North America, and was first given out in 1908.
Despite it being part of Newfoundland's Central West Hockey league, a segment of the Grand Falls-Windsor team is from Nova Scotia, including 28-year-old Gillis, who lives in Enfield.
"At the end of the day I still extremely love playing hockey, I'm still a really competitive guy, and at my age if I want to live at home there is no league offered locally for me to play, so this is my best option," Gillis told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.
An opportunity to move up
Gillis began playing for the Central West Hockey League five years ago, after a successful season with the now-defunct Central Hockey League in the U.S.
"This was the year of the NHL lockout, so for me as a goaltender trying to move up it, was tough to find a position to play."
Gillis decided to stay in Atlantic Canada, and after a call from a friend with whom he'd played hockey at St. Francis Xavier University, found himself en route to Newfoundland.
"Five years later I'm still playing there," he said. "It's a bit of a hidden gem of a league, but it's extremely competitive and fun for my age to get to play hockey at this level."
Gillis travels to Newfoundland a minimum of 12 weekends a season, with the number climbing to 17 or 20 if the team makes it into the playoffs.
Each team in the league is allowed to import two players, plus an import goaltender. More imports are allowed during the Allan Cup.
"We had 4 or 5 of us that were Nova Scotians [for the playoffs]," Gillis said.
'One of my proudest moments'
Gillis said many of the players in the league are former minor professional hockey players, as well as Atlantic university players and occasionally a former member of the NHL.
For Gillis, one of the greatest parts of being in a league for older players — age being a relative construct in hockey — was having both his father and his 14-month son there to watch him win.
"It was honestly one of my proudest moments, my dad and my son were both there watching me play, so it was a lot of fun having them both on the ice to celebrate with me, a national title. It was pretty special."