A former northern Manitoba teacher and Flin Flon Bomber coach-turned-collegiate hockey kingmaker has another title to claim - Memorial Cup champion.
Gardiner MacDougall, who started his career as a bench boss over three decades ago in northern Manitoba, led the QMJHL’S Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup title June 29, leading the team to a 6-3 win over OHL champions Hamilton in the final. Fellow Bomber alumni Travis Crickard, formerly a goalie for the maroon and white, also hoisted the trophy as one of the team’s assistant coaches.
MacDougall, best known as the long-time head coach for the USports’ Univ. of New Brunswick Reds, took the bench under unusual circumstances shortly before the tournament began. The Sea Dogs automatically qualified for the tournament as hosts, but were eliminated in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. That led to the team firing their head coach, Gordie Dwyer, and bringing in MacDougall to coach on an interim basis less than a month before the national title tournament.
That decision led to a dramatic turnaround. The Sea Dogs under MacDougall went 2-0-1 through the round robin, getting a bye to the finals and winning the tournament on home ice.
MacDougall started his hockey coaching career in the north, first coaching student teams at Frontier Collegiate in Cranberry Portage in the 1980s. Following that came the first of two stints the Bedeque, P.E.I. native had with the Bombers - a pair of seasons as an assistant coach, staying with the team from 1990 to 1992. MacDougall then left for the now-defunct Lebret Eagles, spending two years there as an assistant coach and one as the team’s head coach, before being hired as the first head coach of the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard.
In three seasons in OCN, MacDougall reached the league finals twice, helming the team to their first of five straight Manitoba championships in 1999. MacDougall then was hired on again by the Bombers to serve as the team’s director of hockey operations and spent a season here, before being hired as the coach of the UNB Reds - a job he’s held ever since.
Since then, MacDougall’s Reds have won seven national USports championships, 10 AUS titles and have become one of Canada’s top collegiate hockey powerhouses. MacDougall also coached Team Canada to gold at two Universiade international tournaments and was named the USports national coach of the year twice.
Before the final game, MacDougall shared a tale of his time in Flin Flon with the tournament press gallery, talking about a meeting at the now-closed Flin Flon Hotel with Bobby Clarke, then the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I remember, when I was a young coach in Flin Flon, we retired Bobby Clarke’s jersey and we retired Reggie Leach’s jersey. At that time, Clarke was the GM of the Flyers. In the wee hours of the morning at the historic Flin Flon Hotel, I had a chance to ask Clarke, ‘What do you think of Mike Keenan?’” MacDougall recalled.
“Keenan had won a university title, won the American Hockey League, had taken the Flyers to the division final, I think to the Stanley Cup finals - he told me, ‘He hasn’t done anything yet.’ I’ve used that as a bit of a model as coach - you’re in a bottom line business.”