Queen’s Gaels: Process of Winning Culture Pays Off

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On March 9, 2019, the Queen’s Gaels men’s hockey team won the Queen’s Cup on home ice for the first time since 1981 – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

As the last seconds of the Queen’s Cup finals between the Queen’s University Gaels and the Guelph University Gryphons men’s hockey team ticked down, the fans packing the Memorial Centre in Kingston, Ontario, witnessed history.

On March 9, helmets, gloves, and sticks littered the ice. They were thrown up in the air in celebration of the Gaels winning the Queen’s Cup for the first time since 1981.

38 years ago, is the last time the Gaels won the Queen’s Cup on home ice.

The Queen’s Cup is the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) trophy that is awarded to the winning team by the end of the Queen’s Cup Playoffs. It has been around since 1903, and it got its name when Queen’s University donated it.

On their quest for the Queen’s Cup, the Gaels swept the Concordia University Stingers by scores of 3-2 and 5-4, respectively, in the quarterfinals.

“You learn a lot from that type of series. They’re a really good hockey team, and it took a lot to beat them, and we really got the experience in how to finish games, and compete right to the end, and it goes a long way for us,” Gaels goaltender Justin Fazio, said.

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The Queen’s Cup has been in existence since 1903 and has earned its name due to being donated by Queen’s University – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Following their quarterfinals series, the Gaels faced off against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, and ended up defeating the Gee-Gees in three games.

“It was fun. They’re obviously a great team. They were first in the East for a reason, and it was a really good series, and for us to go in there and take two games when they didn’t lose all season at home, it’s obviously huge for us,” Gaels forward Liam Dunda, said.

“And we stuck to our game plan and our coach is really big on sticking together as a team, and fighting through adversity. I think that’s what we did, and a lot of guys is just everyone buying in and doing the right thing, right down from our first to our fourth line, so its good to see,” he added.

Following the defeat of the Gee-Gees, the Gaels swept the Carleton University Ravens by scores of 3-2 and 4-1, respectively, in the OUA East finals.

“It’s pure bliss right now. It was a hard-fought series, give credit to Carleton, they stayed in it, tying it up in the first game going to overtime, and making a close one tonight,” Gaels forward Duncan Campbell said after game two.

With Queen’s entering the playoffs as one of the underdogs, in fourth place, winning all three series has given the guys confidence, knowing that they can do anything.

“That is so huge. You know, just for the confidence, for the guys, it builds us up,” Campbell said.

 Following the sweep of the Ravens, the Gaels then faced off against the Gryphons in the Queen’s Cup gold medal game, and won by a score of 4-1.

“To be honest, it was just pure excitement and joy. We’ve got a group of guys here that have been working hard all year, especially the last four or five weeks, and to see the hard work pay off and get that trophy and the medal, it was really special,” Gaels defenceman Patrick Sanvido said about the win.

And to win in front of a packed crowd of 3,000 people at the Gaels’ home arena, the Kingston Memorial Centre, is even more special.

“In four years at Queen’s I have never seen the Memorial Centre even close to a sell out, so, to win in front of 2,800 people who weren’t even fans, it was a full rink of Queen’s alumni, our closest friends and family and our peers at school who we all know and see, was even more special than winning in front of fans who don’t really know us as people,” Gaels forward Slater Doggett said.

Following their win over Guelph, the Gaels players poured off the team bench and raced over to Fazio, amid a litter of sticks, helmets, and gloves on the ice. Injured players and coaches soon followed, gliding their way over to the celebratory group in their shoes, as they had one thing in mind: to join the celebration.

In terms of what the victory means, it means everything to the guys.

“This victory is very special and is something no one could ever take away from us. We are OUA champions. We had one goal in mind at the start of the year and through the ups and downs of the year we continued to work towards it,” Gaels forward Jaden Lindo said.

 

In a way, the win was in progress when head coach Brett Gibson stepped into the coaching role 14 years ago.

“We needed to change a culture, and season over season, we created a culture of winning, and our athletics and hockey program now match our academic standings,” Gibson said about creating a winning culture over the years.

Prior to becoming a coach, Gibson spent some time in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) which saw him play for the Erie Otters, the North Bay Centennials, and the London Knights. Gibson also spent some time in the USports, where he played for the Saint Mary’s University Huskies, of the Atlantic University Sports (AUS).

Following his playing career, Gibson spent a year as an assistant coach with the Kingston Frontenacs, before spending the next 14 years coaching the Gaels, mixed in with a few sporadic stints as a coach at the Universiade tournament, as well as coaching some Canada U17 teams.

“That’s a great way of putting it. It’s been an unbelievable journey, and journeys have ups and downs, and it’s been really rewarding. Because when you start out in the program, its not where it needs to be and you have some tough losses and some tough seasons along the way,” Gibson said about his coaching journey.

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Brett Gibson has been coaching Queen’s for the past 14 years – Photo by Robin Kasem 

When asked how this year’s team is special compared to other years, Gibson said that he loves every team he’s coached, but this year’s team is unique.

“That question is very tough because I love every team that I’ve ever coached, and what I say about this group, is they’re unique. This is a very young hockey team, and that’s our competitive advantage, because I think they’re naïve, they’re not scared, and it’s been fun, and it’s been, as a coach, challenging, but the reward at the end is to witness their maturity and their development throughout the year and to win OUA champions,” Gibson said.

When talked about the winning culture that Gibson has instilled in building throughout the seasons, he said it has taken a lot of sweat and equity getting to where the team is now.

“It’s just hard work. You know, a lot of sweat and equity, you put a lot of time into a program. I’ve been a part of great programs in my junior career and also at Saint Mary’s, where I went,” Gibson said.

“I knew what winning looked like, and you have to experience failure, you have to experience losses before you understand what it takes to win, and I think that’s the best advice I got,” he added.

Gibson also has high praise for the seniors Doggett, and Spencer Abraham who will end their Gaels career at nationals.

“Everything,” Gibson said about what the seniors have meant to the program.

“Spencer Abraham and Slater Doggett are generational players. I don’t know if they won’t be replaced. Their points and their stats, that will go down in the record books, but their leadership is what their legacy’s going to be, and they’re champions.”

And for Gibson to watch his seniors win the OUA championship on home ice, is a very special thing. In a way, it’s a fairy tale ending.

“You dream of those moments, right, you never know, unfortunately, at this level, when your career is going to come to an end,” Gibson said.

“And we knew last night, we were either going to be gold medalists or we were going to be silver medalists, but I also knew that they were going to play their last OUA game at home, and that’s pretty special,” he added.

But what is also a fairy tale beginning is the fact that the ten new players who joined the Gaels back in September have now experienced what it’s like to be part of a winning culture.

“You can’t drill it into them what the culture is at Queen’s, or what a winning culture is. You have to live it. And I’m spoiled that this team got to do it in their first year,” Gibson said.

“Now they know and they can tell new freshman coming in what it takes to win, and what a great feeling, and what a great skill we just went through, so, I think our program will have a bright future in the next few years,” he added.

 

One of those generational talent players that Gibson mentioned, is Slater Doggett.

Doggett is currently wrapping up his fourth and final year as a member of the Gaels.

“What coach Gibson does really well is build a full team of leaders. Being here for four years and becoming an assistant captain and part of the leadership group has opened my eyes to all the different kinds of leaders we have in our program,” Doggett said about becoming a leader on the team.

Doggett got started in the sport of hockey like any other young boy. He was introduced to it by his father, as he grew up in Oakville, Ontario.

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Doggett grew up in Oakville, Ontario, and got his start in hockey due to his father – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

“I got started in hockey when I was really young, my dad grew up playing hockey in Northern Ontario and I always watched hockey with him. When I was little, he would take me to the outdoor rink and teach me how to skate and a couple of years later I finally got a stick in my hand and never looked back,” Doggett said.

Prior to coming to Queen’s, Doggett played in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) for the Burlington Cougars, the OHL for the Kingston Frontenacs and the Windsor Spitfires, and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) for the Alaska Aces.

In a sense, Doggett’s time in Windsor, would come back around to the Gaels, as he met Sanvido and Graeme Brown on the Spitfires – two players who also now play for Queen’s.

“Playing with Pat and Graeme on Windsor was great and they’ve grown from great guys and great hockey players that I loved seeing every day in Windsor to the same amazing people who I now share a championship with and I will never forget that,” Doggett said.

Following his time with the Aces, Doggett then made his way over to Queen’s for the 2015-16 season, and would spend four years as a Gael.

“I wanted to go to Queen’s because after playing for the Kingston Frontenacs, I met so many great people in Kingston and many former teammates who were already at Queen’s,” Doggett said.

“When I talked to Gibson, I could tell how passionate he was about the program and had already seen the direction Queen’s men’s hockey was going. I wanted to be a part of a winning culture and I just had a feeling that we would win the Queen’s Cup before I left,” he added.

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This year, Doggett wraps up his fourth and final year as a Gael – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Over his time with the Gaels, Doggett has been named to the 2015-16 OUA East All-Rookie team, the 2016-17 OUA East Second All-Star team, and the 2017-18 OUA East First All-Star team.

“Although individual awards aren’t really the goal going into any season, I think that looking back and reflecting on my career as a Gael some of those OUA awards are something to be proud of,” Doggett said.

Like many athletes, Doggett has faced many challenges and adversities, but they have allowed him to grow as a player and as a person on and off the ice.

“I feel I’ve grown as a person on and off the ice by being able to control my emotions better on the ice. As a kid and a couple of times as a Gael, I’ve lost control of my emotions and other than a few instances now and then, that isn’t as much of a problem for me as it used to be,” Doggett said.

“Off the ice I have grown as a person a lot more than I have on the ice. I’m a pretty shy person but I feel l have grown as a leader and have become more outgoing over the years given how many people that I have had the opportunity to meet through hockey,” he added.

Being able to grow as a person, hockey has also taught Doggett many valuable life lessons.

“The lesson I have learned is to never take the opportunity I have to play the game I love for granted, I will only have this opportunity for so long and there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as lucky as me,” Doggett said.

So far, while on Queen’s, Doggett has played in 126 games, while recording 68 goals and 81 assists for a total of 149 points.

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Doggett and his team are currently up in Lethbridge, Alberta, getting ready to play in the U Sport men’s hockey nationals – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

And throughout those 126 games played as a Gael, Doggett has made many memorable moments.

“I’m going to miss being a part of the team that spends more than just the hockey season together. We spend time at school together, a lot of guys stay in town, so, when I visit Kingston in the summer, I see a lot of my teammates,” Doggett said about what he will miss the most of being a Gael.

 

Although this is Patrick Sanvido’s first nationals experience, he has experienced the playoffs as a Gael last year.

“I think we had about ten first years, or so, that came in this year, so we obviously had some new faces, and we had a pretty older team last year and a lot of guys that ended up graduating that really built this program up, and that have allowed us to have the success that we have now,” Sanvido said about how the team has changed from last year to this year.

As a young child growing up in Guelph, Ontario, Sanvido got his start in hockey as he was influenced by his father, while also cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“In the newspaper when I was born, it basically said that I was going to be a future first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, when I was a day old, and I had a Toronto Maple Leaf wallpaper, so, at a young age I was already a fan,” Sanvido said.

“And then as I grew up, I was playing hockey, rollerblading around the house trying to learn to skate, and I eventually got in to the Guelph Minor Hockey Association, and it went from there,” he added.

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Sanvido is currently in his second season as a Gael – Photo by Robin Kasem 

Prior to coming to Queen’s, Sanvido played for the Windsor Spitfires and the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. And as well as playing with Doggett on Windsor, Sanvido also played with Dunda while a part of the Wolves.

While a part of the Spitfires, Sanvido played in 259 career games, while recording five goals and 32 assists for a total of 37 points.

“Lots. I love my time there. My billet family there were the best. They were basically like parents to me, and the guys I got to play with. I could probably spend the next three hours on the phone with you telling you stories of fun times I’ve had in Windsor,” Sanvido said.

“I was pretty upset when I found out that I was going to get traded, and I remember sending out a message to some of the guys saying I want to meet up because I was leaving first thing in the morning, and just about everybody showed up. So, that was pretty special to know that they had my back, and those are the friendships I’ll have for the rest of my life,” he added.

While a part of the Wolves, Sanvido played in 40 games, while recording three goals and five assists for a total of eight points.

“I loved being in Sudbury. I got to live with Dave Matsos, he was the coach, assistant coach in Windsor my first year, so it was great. It’s a great hockey town, got to play in front of a sellout crowd in playoffs there, that was fun,” Sanvido said.

“And it was a pretty close group of guys there too, and some of the memories, when we were in playoffs, I’d have six or seven guys over for dinner, and I lived with the head coach, and he’d cook us all up steaks, and it was pretty cool sitting around the table, and we’d do it just about every night before a game, we’d get together as a group and have dinner together, so that was a lot of fun,” he added.

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Sanvido will get the chance to experience his first U Sport nationals starting on March 15, 2019 – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Due to his many hockey experiences, Sanvido believes he has grown as a player and as a person, through everything that he has experienced.

“I think obviously a lot. Going to Windsor when I was 15 or 16 years old, I was pretty young and naïve, and then being in Windsor, being able to play under all those guys, they really helped me grow up and become a man. Because if you think about it, I left home at 16, which is a pretty tender age to be away from home, and I spent a quarter of my life in Windsor, and they really helped me develop into the person I am now,” Sanvido said.

So far, while on Queen’s, Sanvido has played in 69 games, while recording five goals and 16 assists for a total of 21 points.

“I think what we accomplished last Saturday, most definitely, is going to be we’re going to have to do it again for anything to top that. Obviously if we win nationals, that would be up there with it, as well, but definitely winning the Queen’s Cup, on home ice, in front of a sold-out crowd, is one of my best hockey memories in my entire life,” Sanvido said about his most memorable moment as a Gael so far.

 

In his first season as a Gael so far, goaltender Justin Fazio, has proved countless and countless times that his team can rely on him to be a rock in net.

 “I just try and be consistent so my team knows what they’ll be getting out of me every night. If I do my job, and they do theirs, there’s no stopping us,” Fazio said.

And helping propel Sanvido’s dream of winning the Queen’s Cup, is Fazio, who Sanvido has said, has been “lights out.”

“He was very good obviously, he’s maybe been our top player on any given night between him, Doggett, Abraham, we’ve had guys step up. Every playoff series seem to have a guy step up, but Fazio has always been the rock back there,” Sanvido said.

“And it gives us the confidence to go out and play our game. We know he’s back there, he’s going to save us a goal, at least a goal every game, and he’s been amazing for us so far, especially being a first year, it’s been pretty outstanding to see what he’s been able to do,” he added.

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In his first season as a Gael so far, Fazio has 13 wins and 4 losses and has been stellar in the Queen’s Cup playoffs – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Prior to coming to Queen’s, Fazio has played for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL.

At the start of the 2018-19 season, Fazio made his way over to Queen’s, where he has, so far, played in 19 games, while recording 13 wins and four losses, and posting 2.50 goals against average and a .936 save percentage.

“Definitely a mix of things. I have always loved Kingston as a city, and knowing its one of the best schools in the country helps make the decision pretty easy. We have one of the most up and coming hockey programs in the country, and the chance to be a big part of building something even more special here was too hard to turn down. Once I spoke to Gibson, I knew this was the place for me,” Fazio said.

Another factor that drew him to Queen’s, was the fact that Jaden Lindo, a teammate of his on the Gaels, used to play with him on Sarnia.

“He was a big reason I actually came here and is actually my roommate now. He was the first person from Queen’s to reach out to me, and when I told him Queen’s was one of my top choices all along it really got the ball rolling quickly. He’s an amazing guy on and off the ice and is a big part of our team,” Fazio said.

Despite his stellar performance through his first season as a Gael, Fazio can also rely on the players in front of him to do their job and score.

“The boys have been great. We’ve completely bought in to the systems Gibson has brought forward, and have been playing amazing games. We’ve been putting forth full 60-minute efforts and that’s what you need at this time of year,” Fazio said about his teammate’s performance in front of him.

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Prior to joining the Gaels, Fazio played for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Fazio has also credited the veterans on the team for helping make himself and the other first-year players comfortable and feel as part of the family.

“Right from the get go the vets have been amazing to us. We have an amazing, close atmosphere at Queen’s and it’s the closest team I’ve ever been apart of, and that’s helped us get as far as we have. When you’re not just playing with your teammates but you’re playing with your brothers, it helps you bring your game to another level,” Fazio said.

“With a captain like Spencer leading the way, right from the beginning of the season we began gelling and got closer and closer through all the adversity we faced during the season. Everyone is here to help one another, whether it be in the rink or in the classroom and it’s an unbelievable atmosphere to be apart of,” he added.

And due to his experience on Queen’s so far, Fazio believes that he has grown as a player and as a person due to experiencing the student-athlete life.

“I think adding the aspect of school has definitely helped me grow as a person off the ice. Having to juggle being a student, being an athlete and trying to have a social life gets challenging at times but really helps you grow as a person,” Fazio said.

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Fazio has previously played with Jaden Lindo, a Gaels teammate, before joining the Gaels – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

 

Throughout the playoffs, Jaden Lindo has really stepped up, scoring the overtime winner in game one versus the Ravens, and scoring the game winner in the Queen’s Cup gold medal game.

“It all happened so fast I didn’t even know what I was thinking. Just completely filled with so much emotion. The game was far from over after that, we knew they were going to push back, and they did,” Lindo said about scoring two goals in his team’s 4-1 win over Guelph.

“We did an amazing job in closing out that win. The whole team played great, bought in, and really stuck together. It was an all-around team effort from the top of the program down to the players,” he added.

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In his NHL draft year, Lindo tore his ACL pretty badly, but has bounced back amazing from it – Photo by – Robin Kasem

Prior to coming to Queen’s, Lindo played for the Owen Sound Attack and the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, as well as playing in the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League (GTMMHL).

“I wanted to go to one of the best academic schools that also has a hockey team and that could compete for a championship. When I came on my recruiting trip, the city of Kingston and Queen’s university gave me a great feeling. The team was the closest I’ve ever seen, and I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of,” Lindo said about his decision to come to Queen’s.

Like Sanvido, Lindo is also in his second year as a Gael, meaning he also experienced the Queen’s Cup playoffs last year as well.

“We learned a lot from last year. Last year did not end the way we wanted it to, and we never wanted to experience that feeling again,” Lindo said.

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Along with Gaels teammate Patrick Sanvido, Lindo is also in his second season on Queen’s – Photo by – Robin Kasem

And like Fazio, Lindo also feels that he’s grown as a player and as a person due to becoming a student-athlete.

“Dealing with school as well as hockey and trying to excel in both has forced me to mature. A big thing I realized since joining Queen’s university is a big part of the game is giving back to the community. Queen’s does a fantastic job of working outside the community and integrating all of Kingston within the university,” Lindo said.

“They do a lot of events and as an athlete you really get to know people in the community, and those are the people that come out and support us. It’s almost like one great big family,” he added.

And due to an injury sustained in his NHL draft year, Lindo feels that he’s come back as a stronger person.

“One of my biggest challenges was tearing my ACL midway through my NHL draft year. Fortunately, I was still drafted and had the opportunity to pursue my dream of playing in the NHL but the recovery was a long process to get back to my normal self on the ice,” Lindo said.

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Lindo scored the game winning goal in the Queen’s Cup gold medal game against Guelph – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

 

What all these guys have in common, is that they are now headed to the U Sports men’s hockey nationals as the third seed team, as part of the Gaels.

“I’ve definitely been lucky to be able to win a Queen’s Cup and get the chance to go to nationals in my first year. Many players go their entire university careers without getting to experience both these things and its definitely something I’m going to soak in and enjoy for the entire experience,” Fazio said about his first chance to experience nationals.

On March 15, the Gaels will face off against the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men in their quarterfinal game.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup. You know, StFX, Brad Peddle is an unbelievable coach, he runs an unbelievable program, but we’re a confident program as well. We’re confident we can matchup with anyone in U Sport. You don’t have to beat them two times, it’s not a best of three, it’s a one game series, and anyone can win,” Gibson said about the matchup.

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The team will face off against St FX in their nationals quarterfinals game on March 15 – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

Like all of the other guys on the Gaels, Sanvido is excited and over the moon to be able to compete in his first nationals experience.

“This is the second time in three or four years that Queen’s has gone. My first time. I’m extremely excited to go out there, and even though it’s exciting, at the same time, it is a business trip for us, and we have a goal in mind, and we want to go out there and do everything we can to accomplish it,” Sanvido said.

And while there is excitement, the players also understand that there is work to be done at nationals.

“We’ve been using every playoff win to build to the next round, we played four teams that can beat us on any given night, and winning each series gave us the confidence we needed to trust the way we play and not change anything,” Doggett said about building off their Queen’s Cup win into nationals.

“We know we will be playing one of the best teams in the country the first game in nationals and we have learned these playoffs, to never look past the next opponent because we know how good every team is,” he added.

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Spencer Abraham, another graduating player, is wrapping up his fifth and final season as a Gael this year – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

As for the future, the Queen’s Cup win will be incentive for new guys coming onto the team and help in teaching them a winning culture.

“Going forward winning the Queen’s Cup is huge for the program. It is hopefully the start of a winning culture where everyone that is a part of the team believes that more OUA titles are possible, and that the program can continue to grow into a consistent national championship contender,” Doggett said.

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Due to the success the team has had this year, the coach and many of the players have mentioned how their team will be successful in years to come – Photo by – Robin Kasem 

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