As Cape Breton Screaming Eagles fans in attendance for Friday's game against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan would know, the contest was quite emotional for all members of the organization and in particular captain Declan Smith.
The 20-year-old Smith returned to the Screaming Eagles lineup on Friday, less than a week after the passing of his mother, Rachel, a beloved wife, mother, sister, friend and vice principal at St. Andrew's Junior High School in Antigonish. Rachel passed away from cancer on Dec. 1. She was 48-years-old.
As Smith was introduced in the starting lineup for the Screaming Eagles, many of the 1,888 fans at Centre 200 applauded the St. Andrews product, showing their support to a player who has entertained them with his gritty style and never back down attitude for the past four seasons.
It didn't take long for Smith's presence to be felt in the Cape Breton lineup. He picked up an assist on a power-play goal by Brooklyn Kalmikov at 13:17 of the first period, which again drew loud cheers from the fans when Smith's name was announced — at the time they didn't know there was more to come.
With the Screaming Eagles trailing 2-1 in the third period, Ian Smallwood would tie the game, leading to a moment Smith and Cape Breton fans won't forget any time soon.
At the 15:09 mark of the third period, Smith would score his seventh goal of the season, 35th of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career.
Following the goal, Smith turned towards the Screaming Eagles bench and pointed to the sky in honour of his mother — an emotional moment that brought tears and scratchy voices to many that witnessed the goal, which later proved to the game-winner.
Smith finished the game with a goal and an assist and was named the game’s first star.
With the final horn sounding and the Screaming Eagles skating away with a 4-2 win over the Titan, fans thought it was the perfect ending to an emotional game — but it was far from over.
As Smith did a post-game interview with Mavs Gillis of Eastlink TV near the Screaming Eagles centre ice logo, his teammates remained on the ice in a heartwarming gesture, showing their support for their leader both on and off the ice. When the interview was complete, Smith skated to his teammates as the players surrounded him, sharing hugs and tapping his helmet.
Check out the post-game video below:
It was a powerful moment and one many won't forget, but what this group of 16 to 20-year-old players didn't realize, at that moment they taught a valuable life lesson to everyone at the rink and watching on television.
Not only did the Screaming Eagles players show how close they are to one another, they taught many youth hockey players the importance of being a teammate and to always be there for family and friends. Although the lesson was shown through the sport of hockey, it doesn't only apply to those in the sporting community, it applies to everyone in everyday life.
It's certainly good to know that people can count on family, friends and teammates for support during difficult times in life, and the Screaming Eagles players reminded everyone of that on Friday. Surly the gesture was appreciated by Smith as well.
Members of the Screaming Eagles organization — including all players and coaches — attended Rachel's funeral at St. Andrew's Church last Wednesday, prior to the team's road game later that night against the Moncton Wildcats. With heavy hearts, Cape Breton was victorious in that game, defeating Moncton 5-4 on a Mitchell Balmas game-winner, surely for Declan and his family.
Jeremy Fraser covers sports for the Cape Breton Post. If you have a column idea, sports story or would like to give feedback about this week's Sports Chat, contact Jeremy by emailing email@example.com or follow @CBPost_Jeremy on Twitter.