2008-09 Golden Eagles
The Brantford Golden Eagles Hockey Team (“Golden Eagles”) was inducted into the Sports Hall in 2020 for their accomplishments in Hockey from 2008 to 2009.
The Sutherland Cup is the ice hockey Ontario Junior "B" Championship trophy. The trophy was first awarded in 1934, and named in honour of former OHA and CAHA president, James T. Sutherland. The Sutherland Cup is now the championship trophy of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
At the end of the last century, the Golden Eagles arrived in the city from Ohsweken and were known as the Brant County Golden Eagles. The team would eventually change its name to the Brantford Golden Eagles.
When the Brantford Golden Eagles captured the Sutherland Cup provincial junior B hockey championship in 2009, it was a first for a Brantford team in almost 70 years. It’s a tough championship to win.
Up until the middle of the 2000s, Brantford struggled in the standings. Brian Rizzetto was eventually brought on board and new owners, Jerry Montour and Ken Hill, helped the team’s original owner, Nick Pellegrino, start building a better team.
Following the 2007-08 season coach Jay Wells stepped away from the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League team and was replaced by Scott Rex.
Rizzetto said that Rex was the right person for the job for the 2008/2009 season. “I have to give props to Scott,” he said. “I think he set the tone.”
Rex said he came home because of the potential he saw in the team. The Golden Eagles had more than 10 players who called Brantford home and 2 from Six Nations which made the team special.
Rex, whose staff included Darryl Paquette and Mike Down, said it was evident early that the team had a chance to be successful.
The team was strong from the start of the season but got a boost in November with the addition of Brantford goalie Daryl Borden from the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals.
Borden was another piece of a roster that included arguably one of the greatest junior B lines. Taking its name from the first initials of each player’s name, the Big MAC line of Matt Garbowsky, Alex Szczechura and Chris Dunham tore up the Mid-Western Conference that season.
The three finished 1-2-3 in league scoring with Garbowsky (46 goals, 64 assists) first, Szczechura (37G, 68A) second and Dunham (31G, 71A) tied for third.
“Every one of them offered something different,” Rex said. “The things they did (were) very special.”
Garbowsky, Szczechura and Dunham joined Sam Milligan, Ryan Moore, Brock Smith, Mark Taylor, Dan Savelli, Mark Madarasz and Matt Mascarin to comprise a group of 18-year-olds that led the team offensively.
As for older players, Captain Mike McKinley had played with the team for several years. He was part of a group of 18- and 19-year-olds that included Justin Biancucci, Kody Musselman, Luke Van Moerkerke, Bobby MacDonald, T.J. Fergus, Jordan Ogilvie, Luc Boissonneault, Mike Mazurek and Borden.
Matt Hill and John Szasz, 17-year-olds, rounded out the roster.
When the dust settled on the regular season, Brantford had posted a league best record of 41 wins, seven losses and four overtime losses.
After getting blanked at the awards banquet the team kind of took it as “us against the world” and that nobody wanted Brantford to win.
The team held a meeting the night before Game 1 of its best-of-seven quarter-final playoff series against the Guelph Dominators.
The plan was to bring in a goalie stick, have each player sign it and give a brief speech about someone they were playing for that post-season.
“We wanted to take their minds off things but have them dedicate their performance right through the playoffs to somebody that was important to them in their lives,” Rex recalled.
“What we thought might be a 45-minute meeting ended up being about 3.5 hours the night before we opened up. Guys were balling. Guys just let their guards down for each other.
“It was the most powerful meeting I’ve ever been a part of. We came out and won Game 1 the next night 15-0.”
The Expositor’s headline on the Game 1 story was “Big MAC attack.” Szczechura (5G, 2A), Dunham (1G, 5A) and Garbowsky (1G, 3A) proved once again to be lethal but the team’s secondary scorers also came up big with McKinley (1G, 4A) and Van Moerkerke (5A) having career nights.
After beating Guelph in the quarter-finals and the Listowel Cyclones in the semifinals, Brantford moved into the final against the Kitchener Dutchmen.
Taking five penalties to open Game 1 in the best-of-seven championship series, the Eagles found themselves down 3-0 at the civic centre before the game was six minutes old.
“We were losing 3-0 but the biggest advantage we had was we had 54 minutes left on the clock,” said Rex. “We remained as calm as can be. With that team, that firepower and how they were playing for each other, we weren’t scared at all behind the bench.”
Brantford would go on to score six unanswered goals to take Game 1 in a series they eventually won 4-1.
In the Sutherland Cup’s three-team double round-robin, Brantford lost its first two games. That put the Golden Eagles in a huge hole as only two teams would advance to the best-of-seven final.
“You would never count that group out,” said Rex,
“We had our backs against the wall but we never panicked.”
Playing in a must-win game in Sarnia, an ailing Ogilvie led the way with two assists powering his team to a 4-2 win over the Legionnaires in front of 2,123 fans.
Brantford would go on to beat the Stoney Creek Warriors in its next game, advancing to the best-of-seven final where they would beat the Warriors in five games to win the Sutherland Cup.
Prior to the Golden Eagles winning, the Brantford Lions were the last city team to win the Sutherland Cup.
“We were very aware that Brantford had never won anything since (1941),” said Rex, who got to raise the trophy after Game 5 in Dundas, a place where he grew up and played hockey until he was 10.
“That part was important to all of us as coaches. We wanted to fly the Brantford flag. It was a great achievement for the town.”