Kevin Elliott was, much like the team that employed him, embarking on a new adventure in the summer of 2003. That’s when he was hired by the newly-relocated PEI Rocket as that club’s Athletic Therapist. It could’ve been a much rockier beginning on the island for Elliott had it not been for a fateful phone call.
“When I first got to the QMJHL, our Head Coach, Alain Vigneault, had a whole bunch of questions for me and I had no clue how to answer them,” Elliott recalls. “Alain handed me a phone number and told me to call this guy. That guy was Brian St-Louis. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“The biggest question is who plays us in the movie?” St-Louis quickly chimes in.
Not only can Elliott, currently in his 16th season with the now-Charlottetown Islanders, call Baie-Comeau Drakkar Equipment Manager Brian St-Louis a friend (and maybe, one day, a co-star), he can call him a teammate. This holiday season, they are representing Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta.
This is familiar territory for both men. Between the two of them, they lay claim to 10 previous appearances at this event along with stints for the national Under-18 squad. Additionally, Elliott’s resume includes time spent at the IIHF World Championship and Spengler Cup.
Talk to both of them and this much is evident; it never gets old.
“For me, it’s always been a privilege to be a part of Team Canada,” St-Louis explains. “I soak up every moment of this. I’m just happy to be able to come here and help the players perform, do my duties and take care of my responsibilities the best I can. Every year’s a privilege.”
St-Louis has been behind the Drakkar bench since day one. Now in his 23rd season with the organization, this campaign like no other has created its own series of challenges. But with experience comes the ability to adapt. His club in Baie-Comeau did that successfully. So did Team Canada.
“Hockey Canada goes above and beyond to make sure everything is taken care of,” St-Louis proclaims. “Nothing is taken lightly.”
Elliott can only expand on the praise heaped on Hockey Canada by his QMJHL contemporary.
“Everything’s been done 100%,” Elliott said. “We’re surrounded by unbelievable people, hotel staff, rink staff. Hockey Canada has done an unbelievable job for us. Coming into the bubble, some players were in COVID protocols, some weren’t, some were just trying to get back to playing. It was a shock for them and us, but we’ve adapted well.”
But still, whether in Charlottetown or Baie-Comeau or Edmonton, these are professionals working with kids. We were all kids at one point. Most of us remember what that’s like. Doesn’t that add another layer of difficulty to an already demanding situation?
Not as much as you’d think, says Elliott.
“Every kid here and kids everywhere get it; if you don’t follow protocols, you don’t play,” he says emphatically. “In my opinion, they’ve adjusted well because they saw what was at the end of the tunnel. Getting to play again. Kids realize that it’s the new norm. Don’t do it, you don’t play. Do it and we stand a much better chance of playing.”
Part of the allure of the event, even in these challenging times, is the prospect of winning it all. Both men have cherished that very experience for their nation. And, as you might expect, with that comes immense pride and perspective.
“You’re proud of the job you’ve done but I always try to stay humble,” St-Louis, a member of the last year’s Championship squad, proclaims. “I’m a small part of this operation. It all falls back to the players. It’s a big sense of pride.”
“It’s the pride of being Canadian, proud of being part of the QMJHL, but even more than that, you’re proud to be an Elliott,” Kevin, a winner in 2018, adds. “There’s nothing more gratifying than calling your family after you’ve won and hearing the excitement in their voice because you know that they weren’t there but (at the same time) they were there.”
With St-Louis and Elliott entrenched in their roles both in the QMJHL and with Team Canada, there are not enough words to describe their typical day on the job. It’s not an exaggeration to say both wear more hats that can be found at your average souvenir stand.
To their coaches in the QMJHL, they are, quite literally, everything.
“What Brian brings is more than just being an Equipment Manager,” Drakkar Head Coach JF Gregoire explains. “He’s also a father. He’s got two sons playing hockey, so he’s good all around in the room and with the kids.”
“He’s resilient,” Gregoire continues. “Whenever we have to make changes, he stays calm about it and it keeps the rest of us calm. He’s taking care of so much stuff off the ice that allows me to focus on the team. He’s on the details. Players know if they need something, they’re going to get it.”
Charlottetown Islanders Head Coach/GM Jim Hulton echoes those same thoughts about his Athletic Therapist.
“It’s a big role,” Hulton says. “You have to have a lot of trust. Bottom line is Kevin’s really, really good at what he does. Then, once you get to know his personality, you realize what an exceptional human being he is. His body of work stands for itself but Kev’s a really unique guy. He’s an absolute giver. He gives to all aspects in life. We’re really fortunate to have him.”
As high as that praise may be, it still doesn’t cover the value St-Louis and Elliott bring to their respective teams year in and year out.
“They’re both genuine people,” says Hulton, who has also worked with St-Louis internationally. “They love people first and foremost. They’re not necessarily a father figure for these kids, but an uncle. Someone they trust. The Equipment Managers and Trainers know a lot more about what’s going on in the room than the coaches do because there’s a real comfort level with the players.”
“It’s very reassuring for a coach to know that they’ve got a veteran hand guiding these kids. They end up having a big impact. I see it now when our players come back. They just swarm to Kevin”, Hulton remarks.
Just as it was when that first long-distance conversation was placed nearly two decades ago, look for both of these men to continue to go above and beyond the call.