One of the smallest hockey markets in Canada has big reason to celebrate, and fans in Bathurst, N.B., are doing just that.
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan beat the host Regina Pats 3-0 Sunday night to claim the Memorial Cup – the first Canadian Hockey League championship in the team’s 20-year history.
“It’s a statement for a small market: We won the cup,” said Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie.
“It feels awesome. I’m so proud of the boys, the owners and our region,” he said.
With a population of just under 12,000 people, Bathurst is the smallest market to win the Memorial Cup since Flin Flon, Manitoba, won it in 1957.
Close to 800 people watched the game on a big screen at an arena in Bathurst, and fan Fred Best says the celebration lasted well into the night.
“I’m just trying to recover,” Best said Monday afternoon. “There was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of cheering. We had a great time.”
Best, with his usual helmet and horns, was cheering again Monday as a large crowd of residents welcomed the players home as they stepped off a plane at the regional airport in Bathurst.
A parade through the downtown is planned for Tuesday evening.
The team first arrived in the city in 1998 and played for the Memorial Cup in 1999 in Ottawa but didn’t win.
“Twenty years later, here we are. It’s just overwhelming,” Best said.
He said the team does a lot to unify the people of Bathurst and surrounding communities, and get them through long, harsh winters.
“If it wasn’t for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan here, there wouldn’t be much else going on. We have a beautiful rink that seats 3,450 fans. Without them here we wouldn’t have too much,” he said.
The team has seen some ups and downs over the last 20 years and could have been on the verge of moving on a couple of occasions. A group of about 30 shareholders bought the team five years ago and launched a rebuilding process.
Premier Brian Gallant said the investors have done a lot for the team and the community.
“Hats off to everybody in the organization, to the players and of course to the fans who have been patient and so supportive of the team,” Gallant said.
WATCH: Hockey fans gather to send off Acadie-Bathurst Titan ahead of Memorial Cup
Over the last 20 years, the team has produced some great players who have gone onto success in the NHL, including Patrice Bergeron and Roberto Luongo.
The Titan are the first Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team to capture the Canadian major junior championship since 2013.
Fongemie said the league draft is this weekend, and the win will help entice young players to want to play for Bathurst.
Bathurst will be celebrating the win for some time, Fongemie said, and he hopes it sends a message across the country.
“It’s great for all the other small markets that they can still dream and work hard and get it done,” he said.