SHAWINIGAN, Que. — People are used to seeing Stephen MacAulay fire the Saint John Sea Dogs up — but on Thursday he almost smoked them out.
On Thursday, when the Sea Dogs chilled out while waiting to see if they would play Shawinigan or Edmonton in the semifinal, MacAulay came back to his and centre Zack Phillips' first-floor room at the Gouverneur Shawinigan hotel carrying a plastic bag containing a T-shirt a fan had given to him for the team to autograph. Like every weary traveller since the invention of the hospitality industry, he randomly set the bag down. Little did he know he put it down right on the room's hotplate, which somehow got turned on.
Soon thereafter, the bag started smouldering, filling the first floor of the Gouverneur with an aroma of burnt rubber. Neither player was in the room — Phillips had gone to the Shawinigan-Edmonton game and MacAulay was watching it on TV in another room. Soon the other Sea Dogs got a whiff of what was going up in smoke.
"I was getting texts — 'what's going on in your room?' " Phillips said. "I figured it was nothing. I thought, oh, we're off today, and thought the boys pranked my room or something. Then the texts were getting more and more serious. Then they were like, 'no, it's on fire.' You better talk to your roommate.
"Then I got back to our room and the smell was just all over. It smelled like a bonfire."
All the while, MacAulay had been more or less oblivious. Then Tomas Jurco told him.
"I was in another room watching the game and then Jurco went out and came back and says, 'Hey Mac, I think your room's on fire.' "
Hotel staff discovered the smoke and contained it before it did any serious damage to the room, although the fan's shirt was a goner. The players were thinking about replacing it.
"I just saw the shirt lying there in the tub where they'd thrown it," Phillips said.
"The smell was just awful," defenceman Nathan Beaulieu said.
"It was fine by the time we went to bed," Phillips added. "We just left the door open and turned all the fans on full blast."
Hockey players spend a lot of time on the road, so a hotplate is often an essential for making simple meals such as macaroni and cheese. But MacAulay and Phillips said they hadn't been using the one in their room.
"That's the mystery," Phillips said. "We don't know what happened, We didn't turn it on. We didn't know what it was."
MacAulay is a vital part of the Sea Dogs, a two-way centre whose line with agitator Ryan Tesink and rugged Maxime Villemaire often wears down opposing defenders and creates openings for Saint John's scorers. The MacAulay-Villemaire-Tesink line, pound for pound, has perhaps been Saint John's best during the tournament, with Tesink scoring in each game and finding about 1,749 ways to annoy opponents.
The Sea Dogs might not be one win from playing for the MasterCard Memorial Cup without the Cole Harbour, N.S., native. As graceful as he is on the ice, though, MacAulay's teammates say he can be a one-man blooper reel. Of course, they wouldn't say it nicely if he wasn't so valuable to them.
"Stuff like that always happens to Macker," Phillips said with a head shake. "He's the type of guy who'll be sitting in a chair watching a movie and then out of nowhere jump up and spill his pop everywhere."
The fact he's a nice guy removed any insecurity about sharing his embarrassing Memorial Cup moment.
"Go ahead," MacAulay smiled. "Everyone always make fun of me."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.