Rob Pearce remembers it like it was yesterday.
“It was a great pass from Nick(Marach) that sent me in alone. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Pearce. “It was as if the Moncton D-men were trying to make a change, which opened up a free lane for me.”
Pearce took full advantage of that opening, scoring in overtime to give the UNB Varsity Reds a 3-2 win over the host Universite de Moncton Aigles Bleus in the 2007 University Cup championship game.
“After that goal, I remember turning the corner and being mauled by my teammates,” said Pearce. “The Moncton crowd was in disbelief.”
It was UNB’s second national championship, the first of five under head coach Gardiner MacDougall.
Pearce remembers Coach MacDougall had assembled a confident and talent team.
“We all knew what to do,” said Pearce. “With leaders like Dustin Friesen, Darryl Boyce, Rob Hennigar, Colin Sinclair, Jesse Ferguson, Stacy Smallman, and Mike Ouzas, everyone was willing to do whatever it took to win.”
And win they did.
The Varsity Reds went 18-7-3 during the 2006-2007 Atlantic University Sport season, earning a first round playoff bye.
UNB met St. FX in the conference semi-finals, winning that best of five series 3-1.
Moncton won the best of three AUS final, including a dramatic 3-2 win, in double-overtime in the second game of the series, at the Aitken Centre.
“Moncton beat us at the Aitken Centre to win the AUS and things were the exact same as we beat them in the CIS Final a few weeks later,” remembers Josh Hepditch, then a first year defenceman with the Varsity Reds.
The previous year, as a member of the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, he’d lost the Memorial Cup to the Quebec Rempart on the same Moncton Coliseum ice.
“I can remember being on the bench before the game and fighting back tears of excitement to have another opportunity at a national championship in that rink,” said Hepditch. “It was almost a feeling of unfinished business.”
Jesse Ferguson remembers being on the bench when Pearce scored his winning goal.
He’d been cut on a previous shift and was being tended to when the Varsity Reds celebration erupted.
Ferguson says no one wanted it to end.
“For me, the celebration in the dressing room after the game was the most memorable part of the weekend,” says Ferguson. “We had a lot of graduating players and I remember nobody wanted to take their gear off, as I think we all realized in the moment that it was all over.”
The Varsity Reds went to Moncton as the number five seed in the six team tournament.
In their opening game, they narrowly beat second-ranked Saskatchewan before shutting out the third-ranked UQTR.
That 2-0 record set up a rematch with the Aigles Bleus, the tournament’s number one seed.
Even as that game went to overtime, Hepditch had a feeling.
“I remember guys being so positive on the bench,” he said. “There was almost a feeling of no doubt. We had such a veteran group that there was just a calm belief that we were going to get the job done.”
Cue Marach’s pass to Pearce, and the goal.
Hepditch feels it’s a moment that’s impacted every day of his life since then.
“That championship has had a major impact on my life,” he said. “When you play on championship teams, there are little things you pick up on and learn, things that lead to success that people use in their lives every day.”
Hepditch would win two more CIS titles with the Varsity Reds, but 2007 remains special.
“I look back on that championship ten years later and it’s probably my most enjoyable one,” he said. “I remember after we won, Fredericton was wild. The whole city was excited and it was celebrated unlike any of the others.”
Ferguson too, says the 2007 championship has had a profound impact on his life.
“I think that I spent my entire career… junior, pro, university… worrying about personal success,” he says. “I left that weekend having realized that none of that personal success ultimately mattered if we did not win. What mattered the most was doing whatever you had to in order for the team to be successful.”
Rob Pearce admits, from time to time, he still gets asked about “the goal.”
He believes that goal played a small part in starting something at UNB, something that continues today, in large part because of the man in charge.
“Gardiner has a way of recruiting quality people,” said Pearce. “It shows with where the program as gone, national championship after national championship.”
Several members of the 2007 national championship team will return to Fredericton in March, for the 2017 Cavendish Farms University Cup.
Jesse Ferguson will be among them.
“It is very humbling to think that we played a part in laying the foundation for the culture, and I couldn’t be more proud of the success that has continued over the past ten years,” says Ferguson.
The 2007 CIS championship team will be honoured in an on-ice ceremony in between periods of the 7:00pm game, on Thursday, March 16th.
Tournament passes are still available for the 2017 Cavendish Farms Coupe U Cup, being hosted by the University of New Brunswick.
They can be purchased at the Aitken Centre box office, or on-line at www.vreds.ca/tickets
Coupe U Cup tournament passes are $175 for adults, $150 for seniors, and $75 for students and children.
Single game tickets are not available at this time.
As well, tickets for the U SPORTS Canada men’s hockey awards gala, which will take place on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, at 7:30pm, at the Richard J. Currie Center, are available.
They cost $30.00 and can be purchased in person from the Aitken Centre box office, or on-line. Those tickets are available until March 9.
For more information, you can call the Aitken Centre box office, at 453-5054.