Newest CeeBee Robert Slaney (dark jersey) attempts to cut to the net on defenceman Jared Touton at the first CeeBees practice of the season.
For Robert Slaney, it did not matter who came calling from the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League. His choice was always going to be his hometown team.
The Upper Island Cove native was going to sign with the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars, and with good reason.
"I don't think I would've played anywhere else, no matter who called," said Slaney.
Slaney came up through the ranks with CeeBees minor hockey, which is based in Harbour Grace.
"I was a kid who went to every game, season tickets and wanting to watch the CeeBees " he said.
While in midget, Slaney played for the Tri-Pen Frost of the provincial midget AAA league, which used the S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace as its home arena. His coach at the time was current CeeBees bench boss Corey Crocker.
"It's like coming full circle, really," he said after the CeeBees first practice of the season.
Slaney said it has been a dream of his to slide the red, white and blue of the CeeBees over his shoulders.
"I never thought it would come this early, but I'm certainly excited about it," he said.
Decked out in Hamilton Bulldogs gear, Slaney took to the ice for the first time with the CeeBees. He looked at home with the likes of Keith Delaney and Terry Ryan.
Going back to school
Slaney made the decision to come home after deciding to return to school after he was not offered a professional contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
The 24-year-old finished last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League and had four points in 21 games.
"I had a pretty good end in Hamilton last year, and I was pretty confident I was going to get a contract," said Slaney.
But, with the lockout looming in the NHL, the contract never materialized.
"The general manager called and said, 'we don't offer contracts that we don't have jobs for,'" said Slaney.
With that, he decided to go a different route.
Slaney had a couple of offers come in, but made a life decision.
"I had two years of eligibility left to play school hockey, I mean, hockey is only going to last so long, so I decided to get an education while it was paid for," he said.
Slaney is enrolled at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, with hopes of pursuing a career in medicine.
Slaney comes to the CeeBees in the prime of his career.
At six foot two and 203 pounds, he figures to be a big part of the CeeBees sophomore season in the Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Hockey League
Head coach Corey Crocker said the team is excited to have Slaney on board.
"It's really a feel-good story," he said. "Slaney decided on a different route and we're going to be the beneficiaries here, that he is going to come home and play senior hockey in his home area.
"He's going to be a very exciting player for the fans to watch."
Crocker called Slaney a "born leader" and a "goal-driven" player and prides himself on being a pro.
The move for Slaney will help fill the hole left by the departure of captain and fan-favourite Matthew Thomey.
"You're not going to replace Matthew Thomey, but Robert Slaney is going to be an elite player in this league," said Crocker. "The big thing about Robert is his total commitment. He wants to win and he is going to do whatever it takes to win.
"He's just another piece of the puzzle."
The head coach described Slaney as "power forward" and said he is going to be playing on the top lines for the club.
"He's going to be a big player for us this season," said Crocker. "It's going to be a pleasure."
At the box office
Slaney's presence will not only be felt on the ice for the CeeBees. Being a local boy, the CeeBees are sure to see a surge at the gate when the seasons starts later this month.
"Whatever it is, Upper Island Cove really supports their own," said assistant coach Peter George.
It is that support that CeeBees officials will hope translates into getting more fans through the doors at the stadium in Harbour Grace.
For long stretches last season, the club saw meagre returns at the box office, but that should all change once Slaney hits the ice.
Slaney said he was impressed with the team put together by Crocker, who is also the CeeBees' general manager.
"There were players who were already here and then he added a few good pieces," he said. "I'm not going to be playing this for fun. If you're going to play, I'd rather win."