Players on both sides carry memories of MacLean and Craswell into Saturday's game
By GEORDIE CARRAGHER
Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
It's April 2009, and the Charlottetown Abbies were seconds away from winning the SEDMHA Midget AA tournament championship. All of the team's veterans, playing in their final game together, were on the ice as the clock ticked down to zero. The final buzzer sounded, and the Abbies rushed onto the ice. Abbies alternate captain Jamie Lee picked up the puck.
Lee, who now plays for the Charlottetown Halliwell Consulting Abbies of the PEI Junior C Hockey League, still has the puck today, though it holds an added significance to him. The puck is a reminder of his late friend Mitch MacLean, who served as team captain that season. MacLean, along with his friend Tanner Craswell, were on their way home from Alberta when they were shot and killed on Dec. 14, 2011. The Abbies were devastated by the tragedy, having grown up with both MacLean and Craswell.
This Saturday, the Abbies will host the Holland College Junior Hurricanes at Simmons Sports Arena at 8 p.m. in a game dedicated to the memory of both boys. All proceeds at the door and from 50-50 sales will go directly to their respective families. Prior to the game, a moment of silence will be observed to honour both MacLean and Craswell. For Lee and his teammates, the shock of losing a friend hasn't completely sunk in yet. However, they found solace on the ice.
"I find the rink is a place to get your mind away from it, and even when we're not there, we're all in groups together anyway," Lee said. "When we're at the rink, we're doing something for him and it's good to have everyone together."
Lee and his teammates weren't the only ones impacted by the tragedy. AJ McInnis, captain of the Holland College Junior Hurricanes, was also shocked to hear about their passing. McInnis played baseball and hockey against MacLean, as well as his brother Morgan, who currently plays for the Junior C Abbies. Craswell was one of his pitching coaches as a baseball player, and McInnis learned a lot from him.
"Mitch was a great ball player and hockey player, and he and Tanner were both going somewhere with their lives in baseball and education," McInnis said. "They were really great guys."
McInnis respected both men for their abilities and personalities. Jamie Lee knew it was a similar story for just about anybody who knew them. While on a trip to Alberta with his friends in November, Lee met up with MacLean and Craswell, who played baseball for the Lethbridge Bulls. The group went to a bar in Lethbridge, and the room parted so they could walk through. It was as if they were celebrities or legends in the community.
"People are trying to say nobody's going to be like them," Lee said, "and I know it sounds cliché, but there really won't be anybody like them. They were who everybody wanted to be like, but they were never cocky about it."
Their humility was always present. Lee said MacLean had an inintimable smile and infectious laugh. He was also popular throughout high school, yet he didn't let the popularity go to his head.
"He'd never forget about the people who might not have been so popular, making sure to include them," Lee said. "He didn't have to, a lot of times, but he did." MacLean's personality is Lee's favourite memory.
Cory Gaudet, who coached the Midget AA team for the 2008-09 season and currently coaches the Junior C Abbies, shares a similar vision. Gaudet recalled a situation in the 2008-09 season where one of the players came back to the team after dealing with some personal issues. All of his teammates were passing him the puck for the first two periods of the game, unbeknownst to Gaudet. During the second intermission, Gaudet pulled his captain aside. "What's going on with the guys tonight?" Gaudet asked MacLean, "we need to win this game."
"Well, wouldn't it be nice if he scored?" MacLean responded. MacLean's response personified who he was, Gaudet said. AJ McInnis also recognizes and remembers MacLean and Craswell for the people they were.
"They were the type who would do anything for anybody, they were great athletes, and they got along with everybody around town," McInnis said. McInnis said people should come out to Simmons on Saturday and show support for the families. "Why wouldn't you go?" McInnis said. "You're supporting two families that most of us probably know, and most of us have either played baseball or hockey against Mitch, Tanner and Morgan and know their parents since they're having a rough time right now."
McInnis said he was in a rough spot following his grandfather's passing, but his family and friends helped pull him through the tough times. McInnis is hoping to offer similar support on Saturday. "Come on out and support the families."
Cory Gaudet said the game could add a positive spin to what's been a difficult month for everybody involved. "One, I think Mitch and Tanner touched so many people, you could tell by how many showed up for their memorials and the funerals," Gaudet said. "Second, I think maybe the younger people need something like this because it should be a fun way to remember Mitch and Tanner. We are really hoping for a lot of support."
Jamie Lee hopes to see as many people at the game as possible. "It's in memory of them," Lee said, "and even if you don't know them, it's just to support the families. I'm sure, even if you didn't know the boys, it was heartfelt at the time, just the way it happened, and I think it's a really good way to get out into the community and show your support."
For Lee and the rest of the Abbies, motivation for Saturday's game goes far beyond two points in the standings.