Travis Brigley has never won a Cup, not a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and not a Stanley Cup, either.
What he wants, before deciding whether to retire from hockey at 35, is to hoist a trophy he knew nothing about until four seasons ago when he joined the Bentley Generals of the Alberta-based Chinook Hockey League.
That was when Brigley, a former NHLer with the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche, learned about the Allan Cup and its rich history as one of the oldest sporting trophies in Canada.
Now, there’s nothing he’d like more than to do than celebrate a senior men’s AAA national title with his fellow Generals.
“It’s hard to walk away from the game,’” Brigley explained from his home in Sylvan Lake. “You’ve sacrificed your whole life to be in the NHL. For us, this is our NHL now. This is our Stanley Cup.”
The 2013 Allan Cup tournament begins Monday in Red Deer and concludes with Saturday’s championship game.
Six teams are in the hunt, including Newfoundland’s Clarenville Caribous - their motto: Be Loud, Be Herd - Northwestern Ontario’s Kenora Thistles and B.C.’s Fort St. John Flyers.
The Generals are hosts but also provincial champs. They last won the Allan Cup in 2009. That summer Bentley coach and former NHLer Brian Sutter called Brigley and asked, “How can we get you here?” Brigley had played for the Flames when Sutter was their head coach. Sutter told Brigley to bring his best because Allan Cup-level hockey was not to be treated lightly.
The Cup dates back to 1909 when it was donated by Sir H. Montague Allan, who oversaw the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association and wanted something to reward the amateur hockey champions of Canada. By that time, the Stanley Cup, commissioned 17 years earlier, was for teams using professional players.
The Allan Cup winners represented Canada at the Olympics and world championships for several decades. Eventually, the hockey landscape shifted, the game grew in popularity at the other levels while senior men’s hockey lost much of its appeal.
And yet, in Bentley, a small-town northwest of Red Deer, the Generals have fashioned a winning tradition and boast both a new head coach, Brandin Cote, and a cast of former NHLers such as Darren Van Impe (Boston Bruins), Trent Hunter (New York Islanders) and Jeremy Colliton (Islanders, who was also a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2005 world junior championships). Many commute from Calgary for practices and games.
“[The Generals] are what you see and will be the class of the tournament,” Stony Plain Eagles’ coach Mike Thompson told the Red Deer Advocate. “They have so much depth and so much skill they’ll be hard to beat.”
Brigley, who works as a sales and marketing manager for NexSource Power, knows he’s counting down on a career that has taken him around the world, from Philadelphia to Knoxville to Great Britain, Germany, Austria and Slovenia.
This is his fourth try at the Allan Cup – the Generals were finalists in 2010 and 2011 and didn’t qualify for the tournament last year. He understands now what the trophy represents and what winning it would mean to him and his teammates.
“We go to work, practice Monday night and Wednesday and play games on the weekend. It’s a big commitment,” Brigley said. “It’s something that’s hard to explain. Some of us have been in the NHL and people think this is beer league. It’s not. They’re all good teams (in the tournament), with some pretty good kids on them, too. I’m excited for it.”
The Generals play their first game Monday against the Rosetown Redwings, the Saskatchewan senior champions.