SASKATOON - On the ice, his teammates describe him as a warrior. His coach says he is one of the most versatile players in their lineup. He has won the President’s Cup three times as a QMJHL champion and has one Memorial Cup ring. He is a fierce competitor.
And yet, there is a gentleness that radiates through Stephen MacAulay. There’s no hint of bravado or bluster despite the fact he’s bidding for a second Memorial Cup title with the Halifax Mooseheads while playing in his third straight tournament.
It’s a rare accomplishment. He is currently tied with Jacques Jr. Locas, a QMJHL star from the early 1970s, who like MacAulay, participated in four President’s Cup finals, won three, went to three Memorial Cups and won once. A win on Sunday would allow MacAulay to stand alone in the QMJHL record book.
One would understand if the 21-year-old showed a little swagger – but that’s just not MacAulay’s style.
In fact, he doesn’t even like to talk about his Memorial Cup experiences with his teammates.
“I don’t like to bring it up,” says MacAulay who went to two previous tournaments with the Saint John Sea Dogs. “I’ve just been fortunate to be on good teams. There’s a bit of luck involved, too. I don’t bring it up, but every now and again guys will ask me what it’s like and what to expect. Any way I can help I’m really glad to.”
Halifax star Nathan MacKinnon remembers the first time he met MacAulay. He was 11 and practicing with MacAulay’s bantam team, in their native Cole Harbour, N.S. They became teammates in January when MacAulay was traded to Halifax by the two-time President’s Cup champion Sea Dogs.
“(MacAulay’s) one of the nicest guys I know,” says MacKinnon. “He has a kind heart.”
The trade to Halifax was precipitated by the need for MacAulay to be closer to home because his mother, Jean, was battling cancer. Both the Mooseheads and Sea Dogs worked diligently to get a deal done.
“I knew talking to (Sea Dogs general manager Mike Kelly) that Mike would ideally like to have him in Halifax to be close to home so he could be with his mother who was ill with cancer,” said Halifax GM Cam Russell. “It just seemed like the right decision for so many different reasons. At the end of the day it might have been the best trade, just because it was the right thing to do.”
Jean MacAulay succumbed to the disease on March 11.
“It was healing,” says Russell of MacAulay’s return home. “I went through the same thing when my mother passed away. As hard as it is to go through something like that, it’s the best thing to be around your family and just that opportunity for him to spend those last few months with his mum.
“He handled it like a pro. He went through so much, but you’d never know it. He never brought it to the rink. But I guess that’s why he’s made such a big impression on his coaches and his teammates.”
MacAulay has found some solace on the ice. He’s had his best season to date and was a valuable contributor during the Mooseheads’ playoff run with eight goals and 12 assists in 16 games.
“He brings a lot and not only in the locker room,” says Herd head coach Dominique Ducharme. “On the ice or on the bench and in game situations he can be on the ice in an offensive role, he can be in a more defensive style game, taking a faceoff, playing on the (penalty kill) or on the power play. So his composure in the game and what he brings to the team is hard to estimate in terms of what he brings to us.”
No matter who you talk to about MacAulay, the word “calm” is used to describe him in interviews. He’s rarely rattled and has the ability to put his teammates at ease. It’s not just the rookies or younger players that lean on MacAulay for support.
“Throughout the playoffs and even now when he sees me a little bit pent up and I’m a little on edge he always has a few calming words,” said Mooseheads co-captain Stefan Fournier. “It was nice to have that reassurance. For me, it did help.”
Even Ducharme says he is appreciative of MacAulay’s presence in the dressing room when it comes to reaffirming his game plan – especially when things aren’t going as expected. He’s not a loud cheerleader in the room, but rather a player who speaks with an air of gravitas.
[Memorial Cup Three Stars: Knights fall to Portland and the Airdrie Assassin]
“He’s the one saying, ‘Hey, let’s go back to doing the little things. Things will be fine if we go back to our game and our way of playing’,” said Ducharme.
Regardless of the outcome, Sunday’s game against the Portland Winterhawks will mark the end of MacAulay’s junior eligibility. He’ll finish with the kind of junior career most players in the Canadian Hockey League can only dream of having. You can bet Ducharme and the Mooseheads will be mining MacAulay’s familiarity with being under pressure in the big game for all it’s worth.
“How many players in the CHL can say they went to the league final four times in a row and three times to a Memorial Cup?” said Ducharme. “Experience – you can’t buy that – it comes through things that you live and that you go through, and he’s been through a lot. It’s great to have him on our side.”
The biggest piece of advice for his Mooseheads teammates on the Memorial Cup experience?
“You’ve got to enjoy it,” says MacAulay. “It seems like a long time, but it’s really not when you’re here. It goes by pretty quick.
“We have to make sure we cherish it and make the most of it.”
More from the 2013 Memorial Cup:
• London Knights leave it on the ice in prologue to bid to win on home ice in 2014
• Saskatoon Blades’ last game fits their season’s theme
• Montreal Canadiens prospect Dalton Thrower out of tournament over headshot