Two former Greater Trail players, Riley Brandt and Luke Bertolucci, get set to face off against each other in the world’s oldest hockey rivalry, Thursday in Kingston, Ont.
The pair will play in the 132nd Carr-Harris Cup, an annual winter grudge match between the Queen’s University Gaels and the Royal Military College Paladins, believed to be the oldest rivalry in hockey and possibly sports. The first ever match took place on Oct. 22, 1886 when according to hockey lore, a group of Queen’s University students challenged local cadets to a game of shinny on the frozen St. Lawrence River.
“It’s so highly touted all around Kingston, and everybody in the town knows about it,” said Brandt. “It’s when both schools come together and all go to the rink. It’s loud, both bands are there, it’s definitely a really cool rivalry to be a part of and I’m very excited to be a part of it this year.”
The universities are separated by a bridge and barely three-kilometres of road. Bertolucci, who played for the Trail Smoke Eaters in 2011-12 before joining the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, is in his second year of a psychology major at Queen’s, while Brandt is in his first year at Canada’s Royal Military College (RMC) where the former Beaver Valley Nitehawk suits up for the hockey Paladins.
“Being in Kingston, there’s a lot of buddies (on either side), but you put that aside when it comes to a game like this,” said Bertolucci, who was injured in last year’s Carr-Harris match. “Just the games in general when we play them, when you get on the ice, it’s head-to-head and they’re your enemy.”
Time and proximity has intertwined their respective histories and fanned the flames of animosity. Both teams compete in Ontario Hockey Athletics (OHA) division of the CIS, and Queen’s, with 27,000 students, rosters a hockey team filled with former Major Junior players from the CHL. The Gaels are currently tied for second in the OUA standings, and ranked #10 in the nation.
As a military college, the Paladins have less than 2,000 full-time students, and finished last in the OUA’s East Division with a 6-20-2 record in 2016-17.
“It’s a military college so it’s difficult to recruit,” explained Brandt. “You have to get guys that want to play the game but also do some military stuff on the side. Sometimes it’s difficult, but I think that’s what brings our team closer together. We’re a pretty tight-knit group, and having to deal with so much adversity is a key factor as why we are so tight.”
This year, RMC has already seen marked improvement. They are one win away from equalling its wins total from last season and boast the OUA’s leading goal scorer in Brandt with 17 goals in 22 games.
Neither Brandt nor Bertolucci have considerable height on their side, but both are talented forwards that play a physical and intense style of game that coaches love and fans go crazy over.
Bertolucci, a Montrose native, was an integral part of the Oil Kings team that won the 2014 Memorial Cup, and then helped the Gaels to the quarter-final of the CIS national championship last season.
Brandt captained and played for the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers from 2014-17, and was a key cog in the Nitehawks line up that won the 2014 KIJHL, Cyclone Taylor, and Keystone Cup championships.
“He’s a really good player,” said Bertolucci. “He’s having a great year, so we notice him from a team perspective, but also when I get out there, it’s kind of nice to talk on the face offs, and play against a familiar face … It’s nice to see Riley and nice to see him doing well.”
Bertolucci started in the 2017 game but was injured, as Brandt watched from the stands after getting flown in for the Carr-Harris Cup as a potential recruit of Paladins coach, Richard Lim. The experience made Brandt’s decision to attend RMC a simple one, after the Paladins won that Carr-Harris game 3-2.
However, Queen’s is coming off a recent 5-2 victory over RMC on Jan. 17 and have won three straight, while the Paladins are on a seven game stretch of futility. But, when it comes to the Carr-Harris Cup, it’s a different game.
“Going against Queen’s, where they’re such a bigger school, when you get a chance to play those games, it means so much more because you want to win and prove you can battle through anything and still win the game,” said Brandt.
“It’s going to be a huge game for us. We’re literally five minutes away from Queen’s so it’s definitely a cross-town rivalry. Something like B.V. (Nitehawks) and Castlegar (Rebels) back in the day, or even Nelson and B.V.”
While the actual win-loss record of the 132-year history is a matter of debate, the annual event was dubbed the Carr-Harris Cup on its 100th anniversary in 1986, and, since then, Queen’s has held the edge going 19-10-2.
The game also counts in the OUA standings, but for most in Kingston, both players and fans, it’s about maintaining a tradtion, celebrating the game of hockey, and making history every single year.
“The Universities alone have so much history, and the fact that this rivalry between them keeps going, speaks a lot of about how good these universities are and how far they’ve come since the starting point,” said Bertolucci. “So it’s nice to continue that tradition, and keep the competitive juices flowing.”
The Carr-Harris Cup goes Thursday, Feb. 1 at 4:30 p.m. P.T. and can be streamed online at OUA TV.