‘Quite a party’ happening in Sydney, N.S. thanks to Cape Breton Eagles playoff run

Click to play video: 'Cape Breton Eagles 1 game away from reaching QMJHL semifinals'
Cape Breton Eagles 1 game away from reaching QMJHL semifinals
After winning the first three of a best-of-seven games series against the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, the Cape Breton Eagles are closing in on their first QMJHL semifinal berth since 2007. Sylvain Couturier, the general manager for the Cape Breton Eagles, tells Global News that the whole city of Sydney, N.S., has been rallying behind his team – Apr 17, 2024

Cape Breton’s renowned Bras D’or Lakes aren’t the only spot on the island where residents are spotting high-flying eagles as of late.

Centre 200 in Sydney, N.S., has recently played host to back-to-back sell-out crowds as the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) have advanced to the league’s semifinal series for the first time since 2007.

Barkley Haddad, owner of the Steel City Sports Bar & Steakhouse in the downtown core, said the excitement is in the air — and business is booming as a result.

“We’ve got people calling for reservations already. It turns out to be quite a party,” he said ahead of Wednesday night’s game that saw the Eagles advance to the third round of the playoffs. “The city’s abuzz.”

Haddad, who’s operated the family-owned restaurant for about 40 years, began hosting watch parties for the Eagles’ away playoff games at the start of the post-season. As the team continues gaining momentum on the ice, so does the turnout for his restaurant’s fan events.

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“It’s a real nice shot to the economy. You get a lot of people out. Everyone’s in a good mood, especially when the boys are winning,” he said, mentioning that sell-out crowds at Centre 200 have also resulted in Steel City reaching capacity on game day due to its close proximity to the arena.

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“It just adds up to a really nice picture for everybody. We’re not an overly big city, (so when) you get this product on the ice and how well they’re playing … it’s been nice to see.”

The first two games of the best-of-seven series were held in Sydney, where a record 4,922 fans were in attendance for both games.

The Eagles celebrate after another playoff victory. Jamie Lee Gouthro

On Wednesday night, the Eagles completed a second-round playoff sweep for the first time in franchise history following a high-scoring clash with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. The game ended with an 8-5 scoreline in favour of Cape Breton.

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Sylvain Couturier, the general manager for the Eagles, said the whole community has stuck behind his team throughout the regular season and into their dominant playoff run.

“It’s great to see. Everywhere you go right now, you’re the talk of the town,” he said, sitting among some of the team’s staff in his Quebec hotel room early Wednesday afternoon.

“I know players appreciate it and it reflects on their game too. The bigger the crowd is, the better the players seem to play. We need the fans.”

When comparing this year’s squad to previous seasons and identifying the difference, Couturier said the experience among the players has been an underlying key factor in the team’s success.

“It’s a special group. They’re very, very tight. I’ve been around for 22 years (working in hockey) and that group is as tight as I’ve seen,” he said, adding that he didn’t prioritize “shopping” for players prior to the league’s trade deadline as his staff was more focused on building chemistry within the existing roster.

Back when Couturier was first announced as the team’s general manager in 2022, he stated that his “main goal” was to bring a championship to Cape Breton. When asked if that objective was starting to seem more obtainable, he opted to remain focused on the nearest task ahead.

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“It’s the old cliche, it’s one game at a time. Let’s finish the second round here. But it’s exciting, for sure,” he smiled.

“It’s about winning in hockey, a championship for the city you’re in and it’s no different here. We’re excited about where we are but it’s halfway true. Nothing is for granted right now, even this series … the toughest game to win is always the last one so let’s see what happens from here.”

Looking ahead, the Eagles will play either Baie-Comeau, Victoriaville, or Rouyn-Noranda in the third round of the playoffs.

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