HEARST – Tributes to hometown hero Claude Giroux are front and centre as fans of the Hearst Lumberjacks can now dream in colour after the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team released its logo and uniform on Monday.
“We released everything on Facebook at about 11 a.m. this morning, and just the feedback we got from the community and everywhere — we’re close to already 500 likes — so that’s very positive for a town of about 5,000,” Lumberjacks president Patrick Vaillancourt told The Daily Press on Monday.
“We’re very, very happy that the people of Hearst are backing us, so it’s great news.”
The obvious overarching reference in the Lumberjacks scheme is to Hearst’s roots, both past and present, as a logging and forestry town.
“The ‘Lumberjack’ (name) is to thank all the pioneers that founded the town of Hearst,” offered Vaillancourt. “We all know that in Hearst, our main hub is still forestry, so that was something that we wanted to have, a name that we stand behind and the whole community stands behind.”
The black, orange and white colour scheme is a clear shout-out to Giroux’s Philadelphia Flyers.
But upon closer inspection — and surely much to the delight of logo aficionados and graphic designers alike — there’s more hiding in the crest than first meets the eye.
The five trees in the background outline the shape of a crown, a tribute to the Hearst Lumber Kings of the local minor hockey association and the teams Giroux grew up skating with.
Peering in even closer, one can spot a small tattoo-like icon on the lumberjack character’s right arm that features a stacked ‘C’ and ‘G’ placed beside a ‘2’ — the whole forming a stylized ’28,’ the logo Giroux uses on his own website and other personal branding materials.
Giroux, the Flyers’ captain since January 2013, wears the number 28 with Philadelphia.
Notably, Giroux never even hinted at the idea. It was the Lumberjacks and their board of directors who decided to honour their hometown hero by including his personal design on their logo.
“As a tribute to Claude, because we’re not shy about this — Claude did give us a hand in contributing to the team — so we just wanted to thank him, and that was our way of saying thanks to Claude,” explained Vaillancourt.
“His financial support to the team is one of the reasons we have a team now in Hearst, and we really, really appreciate what Claude did for the town.”
It was less than two weeks ago that the NOJHL announced the ownership group led by Allan Donnan, the president and CEO of TPA Sports, would be relocating the Iroquois Falls Eskis to Hearst.
The Eskis incarnation of the franchise was born at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, when Donnan’s group led the relocation of the Mattawa Blackhawks to Iroquois Falls in March 2015. Just a few weeks before, the Abitibi Eskimos — who had been based in Iroquois Falls since 1999 since the relocation of the Timmins Golden Bears (1991-99) — moved back to Timmins to become the Rock.
Similarly to how former NHLer and Timmins native Steve Sullivan has supported the Rock over the past two seasons, Giroux will serve as a special hockey advisor to the Lumberjacks.
“He’s a very, very busy guy,” said Vaillancourt. “Having Claude Giroux is great, he’s very busy, but he’s always available if we need help.”
According to recent census statistics, close to 90% of Hearst’s population speaks French, but Vaillancourt didn’t believe the team’s unilingual name would be of too much concern to the community and fans once the squad hits the ice.
“Even if we’re (a) mainly French (community), lumberjack is a name we used often, even if it’s ‘bucheron’ in French, lumberjack is still used as slang or just a word that we commonly use,” said Vaillancourt, who is himself a native of Hearst and a bilingual francophone.
“We know the league is mainly English, so we’re not shy about this. Most of our players will be English also, so we have to make sure that everybody understands what it means to have the Lumberjacks name.
“It’s our name and we’re very proud of it.”
Though the NOJHL finals are currently underway between the Powassan Voodoos and the Blind River Beavers, it won’t be long before general managers and scouts are back on the road scouring Canada, the United States and even beyond to bring external talent North.
The next step for the Lumberjacks will be to name a coach and a general manager, an announcement which Vaillancourt said will be coming “within a few weeks.”
Time is of essence, since the team hopes to host a spring camp in early May.
Luckily for him, Vaillancourt said he’s just a small part of a large group of people who have endeavoured to make Hearst’s junior hockey dream a reality.
Along with announcing Vaillancourt’s role as president, the Lumberjacks also officially introduced vice presidents Alain Comeau and Jonathan Blier, treasurer Eric Buteau and secretary Eric Boulanger on Monday.
“We’ve got lots of work and we knew when we were getting into this project that it was going to be lots and lots of work,” said Vaillancourt. “But everybody is gung-ho, everybody is happy, we’re all excited and we’re putting all our energy into it right now.”
Out-of-town recruiting will be a big part of the team’s success once a coach and general manager are in place, but the Lumberjacks appear to have a good base to start from in their own backyard.
The Hearst Nordiks boys team triumphed in regional high school hockey competition this past season, making it all the way to the OFSAA provincial championships before falling in elimination play.
A string of talented Hearst-based players have also helped fill the ranks of the Kapuskasing Flyers of the Great North Midget ‘AAA’ League (GNML) over the past few seasons.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a good season for us, even if we’re a young team,” commented Vaillancourt. “We’re going to have the people of Hearst behind us, we’re going to have some great players and we’ll have a competitive team in front of us.”