by Matthew Tidcombe | AHL On The Beat
Both were born and raised in the city. Both played many games at the Yardmen Arena during their Ontario Hockey League careers. And both love that professional hockey has made its debut in the Bay of Quinte through the Belleville Senators.
“I think it’s awesome for the community and exciting to see hockey back in Belleville,” said Cousins, who is currently playing for the Arizona Coyotes. “The fans are pretty passionate about hockey so it’s good to see it back in the community.”
The city had the Belleville Bulls of the OHL for 34 years. The Wellington Dukes and the Trenton Golden Hawks play in the OJHL. Minor hockey is a huge draw to the area, too. Simply put, hockey lives and breathes in Belleville. And now the Belleville Senators are here. There are 12 professional hockey teams in Canada and Belleville is home to one of them. A city of 50,000 people. The next ‘smallest’ is Brampton, which is pushing 600,000 people.
“I think it’s a little bit underrated,” Cousins said of the Belleville hockey community. “Growing up there, we always had a good minor hockey team. I still keep in touch with some former teammates I grew up playing with on the Quinte Red Devils and I still call those guys friends today. It’s been a huge part of my life and I can’t thank Belleville enough for what they’ve done for me.
“It kind of has a family feel to it.”
Shaw, who plays for the Montreal Canadiens, agrees, noting that the community is invested in helping its athletes make it to the next level.
“Belleville is a small town but they like to support their athletes and growing up there they helped me and supported me throughout my career and fans still follow what I do. It just shows the community helps their athletes to succeed.”
The Yardmen Arena underwent a major renovation ahead of the Sens’ inaugural AHL season. Cousins played four years in the OHL with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds while Shaw played for the Niagara Ice Dogs and Owen Sound Attack over the course of three seasons. Both have fond memories of the Yardmen.
“I always got up for those games,” Cousins said. Shaw visited the Yardmen Arena recently during Montreal’s bye week.
“It looks like they’ve done a really good job,” he said of the Yardmen. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Both Cousins and Shaw spent time in the AHL early in their careers and each had the benefit of their NHL club being close to their affiliation. Cousins played 184 games with Lehigh Valley while Shaw suited up for 66 games with Rockford.
“If you’re one of those players on the cusp, going up and down a lot, the travel can be hard and people have families too. To have that is huge. We had that in Rockford and it’s something the organization realized when they had them that close it was an asset.”
While it’s a benefit to the players, Cousins also acknowledges its handiness for the NHL team’s front office too, as well as the fans.
“It makes it a lot easier for the GM to come watch the games and see the team’s prospects. If fans want to go and watch the young Sens play it’s very close so I think it’s huge and more teams seem to be doing that. It can only be beneficial for the players, coaching staff and management.”