By Bll Hunt
FREDERICTON, N.B. — What do you get the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey coach who has everything for Christmas?
How about two more?
Gardiner MacDougall, fresh off a gold-medal victory with the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey conference all-star team in Italy, announced on Friday that two prized recruits who wriggled off the hook in the fall have jumped back into the boat with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
Forwards Ben Duffy, who led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in scoring last season with the former P.E.I. Rocket, and Phillipe Halley, a 40-goal scorer with the Victoriaville Tigres last year, have forsaken their professional ambitions for now and will join the V-Reds as they pursue a second straight Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey championship.
In fact, both are expected to be in the lineup Sunday when the V-Reds face off against the rival St. Thomas Tommies in the annual Pete Kelly Challenge.
Faceoff time is 4 p.m. at the Aitken Centre. The Tommies will unveil two new recruits of their own in forward Matthew Bissonnette and defenceman Ian Saab.
But for the V-Reds, already loaded, the five-foot-10 inch, 165-pound Duffy and the five-foot-nine inch 165-pound Halley are two more good things that came in small packages as they put their pro hockey ambitions on pause.
Duffy signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens organization after a strong showing at their spring rookie camp and began the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. But after playing 15 games in the AHL and collecting just two assists, he was dispatched to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. He averaged a point a game there — four goals and two assists in six games. But MacDougall said he received a text from Duffy while he was in Italy indicating that he was interested in pursuing the academic route. Ditto Halley, who had three goals and three assists with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators.
Centres, both are scheduled to arrive today, will skate with their new teammates and dress on Sunday.
Halley, ironically, scored against the V-Reds in their pre-season exhibition loss against the AHL’s Portland Pirates.
“What it does is, it gives you good additions now, but also for the future,” said MacDougall, a native of Bedeque, P.E.I. “Any time you get top-quality people and top-quality players . . . Halley is a really strong leader and a really good person. You can’t have enough of those type of players.”
Duffy was a member of the 92 V-Reds Prospects program under general manager Roger Shannon. The 21-year-old native of Lower Sackville, N.S., spent his entire junior career with the Rocket — the team has since changed its name to the Charlottetown Islanders — where he scored 30 or more goals three straight seasons and cracked the 80-point barrier in each of the last three years.
“He was Mr. P.E.I. Rocket,” said MacDougall.
The V-Reds courted him last spring, but Duffy told MacDougall he wanted to give professional hockey one year.
But “obviously he changed his mind,” said MacDougall. He said he received a text shortly after the AUS stars won the gold medal in Trentino.
“He has faith in his agency, and obviously, they see the big picture,” said MacDougall. “He’s obviously got tremendous talent . . . sees the game well and has great vision. It’s a development process, and we’re fortunate enough that he wants to come to UNB to develop.
“There are parts of his game he needs to improve on, and he has a chance to get a university degree as well,” said MacDougall. “You have to give those guys a lot of credit for making big decisions, that’s for sure.”
MacDougall, of course, has a pretty good pedigree for turning players into pros. Darryl Boyce went from UNB to the American Hockey League and to a stint in the National Hockey League. Kevin Henderson spent a couple of years on campus before signing with the San Jose Sharks and then the Nashville Predators organizations. Daine Todd parlayed a five-year career here into a contract with the AHL Pirates.
“Each player is different, but a lot of players make the decision to come to UNB for the hockey program and for the development.
They have the chance to win and the chance to develop, but they also turn into pretty good students along the way.”
MacDougall hasn’t had time to slot them in on the depth chart just yet.
“Things happened fast,” he said. “Both he and Phil will practice, and then it will be ongoing after that.”