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It was the Beast of times: Looking back at the Canadiens’ ECHL affiliation in Brampton

Former Brampton Beast broadcaster Anthony Fusco reflects on his time with the team and recounts a Zachary Fucale story.

(Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast) 20161030 Fucale 3 Robyn Iwaskiw/Brampton Beast

It’s been a month since the Brampton Beast confirmed at the ECHL Board of Governors meetings that after six seasons it was ceasing its operations and closing its doors. Given the uncertainty still plaguing professional sports headed into the fall of 2020, the team determined that three seasons of financial impact would be unsupportable.

The Beast were the only third-tier professional hockey team in Canada until the Newfoundland Growlers joined them for the 2018-19 season. At this level, fan support is paramount to a sustainable economic model, and even then it is hard. Despite their championship inaugural season, the Growlers still struggled financially, leaving many wondering how sustainable Canadian ECHL teams are. The Victoria Salmon Kings folded in 2011 after seven seasons, and now the Beast are the second Canadian casualty exacerbated by the pandemic. Next season Trois-Rivières is joining the league as its fourth dive into the Canadian market.

We presented the opportunity to the Beast’s former Media Relations Coordinator and Broadcaster Anthony Fusco to write a guest column recalling his time with the club and how the abrupt end to this stage of his journey resonated with him.

I have many incredible memories of my time with the Beast. Over the last three years, I had the chance to work with some of the most talented and professional people I’ve ever known. These range from front office workers to everyone in the Beast hockey operations department to scouts and media members.

The news of the Beast folding was a tough pill to swallow. Covid played a large part and we weren’t able to recover enough to resume a normal season. It was tough to go out that way. Many of us in the front office, the coaching staff and the player side had no idea that March 10, 2020, would be our last Beast game ever. We never got the chance to go out on our own terms.

This piece will serve as a look back at some of the amazing times in the organization and the memories I’ll continue to carry with me.

When I began in 2017-18, we were the affiliates of the Montreal Canadiens. As someone who hadn’t worked in professional hockey before, I quickly learned what being affiliated meant.

The Canadiens and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Laval Rocket, would send us players near the beginning of the season. We were sent three forwards and goaltender Micheal McNiven.

While the other three were called up a month into the season, McNiven played meaningful games for the team that season and was always relied upon to put on a show between the pipes.

Being affiliated with an NHL team gave the fans in Brampton a chance to see some of the lower-tier prospects up close and personal. If you were lucky, they might one day make it to the NHL and that would give you a moment to think, “Wow, I saw him in Brampton.”

There is one goaltending story from my first year that stands out. It involves Zach Fucale who, at the time, was a goaltending prospect for the Canadiens but had been up and down between the Beast and the Rocket.

The Beast used to play a weekend series with a home game in Brampton on Friday night, an away game in Adirondack on Saturday, and then return home for an afternoon game on Sunday.

I didn’t travel with the team due to the fact that I wasn’t the lead broadcaster yet. Once the team and Fucale played Friday, everyone hockey ops wise packed up the bus and made the overnight trip.

They left Fucale, who already knew ahead of time that he would be starting Sunday’s contest, behind. The staff usually took advantage of the open ice after a Friday night game and would occasionally organize a game of shinny.

So there we were, on the Beast ice decked out in our red or black practice jerseys and starting to warm up. We’re just about to drop the puck when Fucale comes out of the dressing room wearing a pair of compression shorts and a t-shirt.

He had long grey and black socks that were pulled up to his knee and on his feet were his skates. He grabbed a player’s stick on the way out and made his way onto the bench with the staff.

We couldn’t believe it. Fucale, who had just played a full game in net, was somehow back on the ice with us. He had a big grin on his face as he sat down next to me and said, “Don’t tell the coaches” before hopping over the boards and joining the action.

We had some decent players on the ice from our staff but Fucale who, let me remind you is a goalie, was incredible. He was zipping up and down the ice, setting up chances and dangling his way to highlight-reel goals. And he was doing it all while wearing compression shorts and a t-shirt.

When I reflect on my time with the Beast, that memory always serves to bring a smile to my face. He was a great goalie and I’m glad to see he’s found his stride with the Hershey Bears this season.

It may not get top billing all the time, but the ECHL is a great league for development and hockey. The players are pros and many of them go on to make the NHL after a stint with many of the member clubs.

Even though the Beast are now gone, I personally wouldn’t trade the experience I gained there for anything in the world. It was a first step in what is hopefully a long career and I’m so lucky to have had the chance to grow and learn these past few years.