Stanley Cup champion Nathan MacKinnon returned to the place where it all started for an unforgettable ceremony on Friday night — establishing himself as the Halifax Mooseheads’ permanent No.22 as his jersey was raised into the rafters in front of thousands of fans at the Scotiabank Centre.
Emotions were high as a near-sellout crowd rose to its feet and offered a standing ovation when MacKinnon, who led the Mooseheads to their first Memorial Cup championship in 2013, delivered a heartfelt speech before his jersey was retired.
A congratulatory video was played during the ceremoney, featuring the likes of Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, former teammates, coaches, and friends, including fellow Nova Scotian hockey superstar Sidney Crosby.
Josh Doucett, a long-time Mooseheads fan, said it’s “about time” that the Herd paid official tribute to MacKinnon’s contributions.
“He’s a local legend. I think it’s deserved, completely warranted,” Doucette said, adding that MacKinnon has been an “amazing” leader for the Colorado Avalanche since being drafted into the NHL in 2013.
“It’s about time, I think. It’s been a little too long.”
The ceremonial portion of Friday night’s event took place before the Mooseheads kicked off their 2023-2024 campaign with a home-opener against the Charlottetown Islanders.
While speaking with media before the big-night events, MacKinnon admitted he was a “little nervous” but excited.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before… being from here, I spent my summers back home in Halifax. Definitely a close connection to the city, a lot of family and friends here tonight,” he said.
“It’s cool to share it with people, not just myself. I think the best part is having everyone around me.”
MacKinnon’s entire family joined him on the ice, alongside Mooseheads owner Peter and Sam Simon, as he stepped towards a podium that was draped with his former jersey.
Sidney Crosby, who received the title of “Hometown Friend” in the tribute video played during the ceremony, offered a congratulatory message for his provincial counterpart.
“You deserve it, hope you have a great night celebrating with everyone, and congratulations,” he said.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage chimed in as well, noting that the 2013 Memorial Cup win was “something special” for the city.
“You’re the greatest Moosehead ever, buddy. Congratulations on having your jersey retired,” he said.
MacKinnon, who was born in Springhill and grew up playing minor hockey in Cole Harbour, described the night’s event as “coming full circle” and said he “couldn’t believe it” when he received the news that the franchise was looking to retire his jersey.
“I never would’ve thought my jersey would be retired. Growing up as a Mooseheads fan, obviously, this team means a lot to me,” he said.
Although his time playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Mooseheads only lasted for two years before he was drafted into the pros at age 17, the nostalgia wasn’t lost on MacKinnon as he toured around his former arena.
“I remember warming up here. I spoke to the team quick, and I recognized my stall, whoever’s sitting in there… it was only two years, but I think those two years stick out in my life more than any,” he said.
“That age is just a special time. Those two years felt like 10, and I’m super grateful for that time.”
Grant MacDonald, another fan, said he knew MacKinnon’s talents were “above and beyond” when the 6-foot-1 centre began playing for the Mooseheads at the age of 16.
“He’s awesome and he carried it right through to the NHL and he’s always going to be awesome. Local boy does well,” MacDonald said.
MacKinnon even had a chance to speak with the newest generation of Mooseheads players before they hit the ice, offering words of encouragement.
“I said they better not mess up my night by losing,” he laughed. “I appreciate them letting me spoil their home-opener a little bit.”
“I just told them that my times with the Mooseheads were the best times of my life and I hope it will be the same for them.”
As for the home opener, despite the Mooseheads getting on the scoresheet first, a youthful Halifax side ended up falling 3-1 as the Islanders’ Michael Horth nabbed a pair of goals to silence the hometown crowd.
The Mooseheads will look to get their revenge when they travel for a rematch at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown on Saturday night.
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