Thirty years after finishing his playing career, the man who holds the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s (MHL) all-time scoring record at 352 points reflects fondly on his four years in what was then known as the Metro Valley Junior Hockey League (MVJHL). Duane Saulnier says playing Junior A, for the Halifax Lions and DQ Blizzard, has great memories for him.
“Players aren’t in the league as long now. Back then, you were there for four years unless you went to Major Junior but there weren’t many spots available,” says Saulnier. The first few years, he says, was gaining experience and getting used to the aggressive style of the league after finishing playing Midget AAA in Dartmouth.
After a Centennial Cup run came up short in his rookie season, Saulnier says everything fell in place in 1987-88. Though he spent half a season with the Toronto Marlboros, the 18-year-old scored 20 goals and 20 assists in 20 games during his sophomore season in the MVJHL as the Lions advanced to the Centennial Cup in Pembroke, Ontario.
“It was just one of those seasons,” Saulnier says. “We had an incredible group of guys. We had Colin Power, who was a fantastic centreman and a great athlete. He helped me a lot. Jimbo (legendary MHL coach Jim Bottomley) was very involved in developing players and was great at putting together the right mix of players to be successful.”
In the end, Saulnier says the 1988 Centennial Cup would be among the best and worst moments of his hockey career. After finishing atop the four-team group in the round-robin and advancing to the final, the Halifax Lions lost 3-2 in the championship game to Notre Dame. The Hounds boasted three future NHLers in Rod Brind’Amour, Curtis Joseph, and Joby Messier. Saulnier was named a tournament All-Star at forward and tied Brind’Amour for tournament scoring, while teammates Darin Baker was an All-Star in goal and Power was named Most Sportsmanlike.
Saulnier says by the 1988-89 season, he had a lot of confidence in his game and it showed. His 70 goals remain an MHL record and he posted 132 points in total to lead the league, but the Moncton Hawks would win the Callaghan Cup and represent the league in the Centennial Cup in Summerside, P.E.I.
Then came his final year of Junior A in 1989-90. Saulnier once again led the league in scoring with 121 points for the renamed Halifax DQ Blizzard, who finished second in the league but were unable to advance to the Centennial Cup. Despite that disappointment, a greater prize awaited Saulnier. He became the first player in the league’s history to be named Canadian Junior Hockey League Player of the Year. “It was incredible to be honoured like that and completely unexpected,” Saulnier says.
His all-time mark of 352 career points withstood the effort of former Summerside Western Capital and Pictou County Weeks Crusher Jordan Knox, who ended his MHL career in 2008 with 342 points. A new challenger to that record has emerged in Summerside’s Brodie MacArthur, who looks poised to pass the record this month. When asked if he thought his total would last 30 years, Saulnier says it takes a special player in today’s game to be able to put up those numbers.
“Like I mentioned, players now usually don’t stay in the league as long as we did. The league itself is so competitive and there’s a lot of parity,” says Saulnier. “You have to stay healthy and productive for a long time, so kudos to MacArthur. You can see the passion on the ice. It’s a fantastic feat.”
“Congratulations to him on a fantastic career, and I wish him the best of luck the rest of this season and beyond,” says Saulnier. “It’s great if he’s able to get over that finish line and break the record.”
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