PORTLAND, ME — You’re lucky to catch Guy Rousseau in the skate shop during the summer. The 79-year old French Canadian, who spends five days a week revolving rinks during the winter, spends a fair amount on fairways playing golf in the summer, enjoying beach life in Old Orchard.
But just try to keep him away.
“Monsieur Rousseau?” I ask as I stroll into the skate shop, knowing full well he’s in his Zen.
“Ah, oui. Who is that? JC!” is the retort I knew was coming as I am greeted with a smile and a high five to match.
A blue and yellow Charlestown hockey jersey, one of dozens upon dozens of jerseys that line the store, catches my eye and I motion up to the ceiling and ask, “Who owns da Chiefs?”
“Slapshot, eh? Grrrreeeaaat movie,” Guy says, unfazed by my line of questioning as he returns to pressing blade to stone.
Chances are if you played ice hockey in Maine over the past 30 years, chances are good you skated with the Rousseau’s.
“It’s my dad’s skate shop — people come in and only want their skates sharpened by my dad,” Scott Rousseau, owner and operator of Play-it-Again Sports in Portland, says.
“When there’s a big high school game in town — let’s say Cheverus is playing Portland — all the kids will come in and he’ll say, ‘Got to get it right for the big game today! Two goals for the big win!’ Then, the kids from the other team will come in and he’ll sharpen their skates and say, “OK, I make sure I get this right to win the big game today!‘
“I tell him, ‘Dad, they all can’t win!‘” Scott said with a laugh.
“I’m blessed,” Scott said. “He just loves it here. Not only does it keep him physically fit, working a strong day keeps him mentally sharp. It keeps him vibrant. He loves talking to the customers and he has a lot of regulars.”
One of those regulars is NHL referee and South Portland resident Wes McCauley.
“Wes only lets my dad do his skates,” Scott, Vice President of Casco Bay Youth Hockey, said. “He’s done the last five or six Stanley Cup Finals. I coach his daughter. We skate together every Wednesday morning… he’s one of the guys and he only lets my dad sharpen his skates. Every time he comes back from a trip, only Guy sharpens his skates.”
The senior member of the Rousseau hockey clan, Guy immigrated to the United States in his early 20’s over 50 years ago from the infamous mining town of Asbestos, Quebec, to settle in Maine. He has four sons, Gary, Steve, Scott and Shawn, and eight grandchildren, Adam, Erik, Lauren, Jackson, Sophie, Caroline, Whitney and Sydney.
Rousseau Hockey Clinic
In what began as a father’s love for his sons and a desire to share with them a life long passion for the game of hockey, the Rousseau Hockey Clinic was born in 1986.
From its humble beginnings with a handful of students, The Rousseau Hockey Clinic has grown into a generational, multi-level program with over 700 students from beginners to intermediate to adult in this, its 32nd season.
A family business with three generations of counselors and instructors, the Rousseau Hockey Clinic has become Maine’s largest and most highly-regarded program for ice hockey instruction with clinics in Auburn (Norway Savings Bank Arena), Augusta (Camden National Bank Ice Vault) and Falmouth (Family Ice Center). Students ranging from age 3 to 72 participate in a wide array of programs from Power Skating, Passing and Puck Handling to Advanced Team Skills.
“In 1986, we started with about 40 students ages 10-12 at Kennebec Ice Arena, which at the time was the only rink in the state that had summer ice,” Gary Rousseau, President of the Rousseau Hockey Clinic said. “We ran solely out of there until 1995 when Portland Ice Arena started some summer ice. When Family Ice Center in Falmouth opened, we met with them and made a commitment to move our program. Six years ago Auburn added summer ice so we expanded and now run out of three rinks.
“Every year our programs start in early March and finish up in early November,” Gary said. “It began as invitation-only but word spread and we opened it up. This year, we’ll have nearly 700 go through the program as young as 4 and as old as 68.”
“When Family Ice in Falmouth opened, we literally doubled in size overnight,” Scott, who after 14 years as head coach at Falmouth High (1996-2010) is currently in his second season as head coach of the Cheverus Girls’ Varsity Team, said.
At last count, the Rousseau’s were proud to acknowledge 39 students who went on to excel at the collegiate level including Kasey Boucher (Boston University), Alex Meintel (Harvard), Seth Pelletier (Air Force), Zach Pelletier (Ohio State), Matt Smith (Bowdoin) and Matt Torti (Colgate). Smith, as well as both Pelletier’s, served as their respective school’s team captains.
“All of these kids played at these schools, not just showed up for coffee,” Scott added. “Most of these kids started with us very young, but these six in particular learned to skate at RHC when they were 4-6 years old and were with us all the way through until they left for college.
“Zach, in particular was very touching,” Scott added. “His senior year at OSU, they made the NCAA’s and played in Manchester. He invited us to come, to make sure we knew how much the Rousseau Family meant to him and his development to be able to get to that place.”
After several years at the clinic, Shawn, the youngest of three, relocated to Connecticut to assume head coaching duties at The Kent School, and now, a third generation has tapped the hockey bloodlines at the clinic as Adam, Erik and Lauren have become instructors with their own divisions.
“We have 30 additional instructors that help us out, some on a volunteer basis, and 22 of them are former students,” Gary said. “It’s a family business.”
Long gone are the days of equipment swaps at your local hockey rinks. Nowadays, parents rush off to buy their kids the newest, latest, most expensive hockey gear on the market. But when I tell you it always wasn’t that way, take my word for it.
In what is arguably the most expensive youth sport to play, ice hockey parents congregated monthly or even weekly to trade equipment with other parents to help mediate costs as their kids grew. Play-it-Again Sports, each individually owned and operated, began to pop up nationwide in 1983 marketing primarily to parents of growing kids offering cash back or trade-in credit for old gear when purchasing new.
There are over 400 Play-it-Again Sports locations in the United States with another 43 based in Canada, but the number of stores are dwlindling. Long lost is the art of the swap meet, but several stores in Maine including two stores owned by the Rousseau’s in Portland and Biddeford are continuing the tradition.
“We’re a very different Play-it-Again Sports store. We’ve very unique in that we’re one of the few that are high-end hockey dealers,” Scott said. “In the hockey world, we’re not considered a Play-it-Again Sports store by Bauer, CCM and the like, we’re considered a five star, elite regional account. When you throw in team sales, hockey accounts for 65% of our sales.”
The amount of recycling youth hockey equipment is down to 15-20%. According to Rousseau a big reason is the restrictions placed upon used helmets.
“It used to be a lot higher,” Rousseau said. “One of the reasons is we stopped buying used helmets. It became a major liability. Once the helmet is used the manufacturer’s warranty is gone and they will no longer be held responsible. A lot of helmets, like ski helmets, are like car seats: one impact and they’re no longer usable. It all started when concussion issues really came to the surface.”
From Kennebec to Kennebunkport, team sales are on the rise, however, as the Rousseau’s are now responsible for dressing three colleges (Bowdoin, University of New England, University of Southern Maine), most of the prep and high school teams in the area as well as many of the youth hockey programs out of Biddeford, Brunswick, Falmouth, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn. From as far north as Kents Hill in Readfield to Thornton Academy down in Saco, team sales represent a large part of the business.
There is no doubt, the positive impact the Rousseau Family has had on the hockey community in the great state of Maine. With tradition brings excellence and the waters in Vacationland are rich with life, especially when that water turns to ice.
“If you played hockey, there’s almost a 40-year window of people we touched. My oldest brother Gary is 14 years older than my younger brother Shawn so my dad coached this entire generation of kids,” Scott said. “It’s funny when you look at all the counselors and staff across the state and where they are now from Bobby Parker (St. Dominic Academy) to Jamie Belleau (Lewiston) to Dave St. Pierre (Yarmouth) to Ted Fabian (Lawrence) to Mike Carmody, the new coach at Cheverus this year — they all played for my father. The tree runs really deep when you look at all the guys coaching around the state.”
After graduating from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, a job opportunity took Adam Rousseau to Texas but the allure of coming home proved too difficult to resist. Along with his brother, Erik, and sister, Lauren, they are carrying on the family tradition as the next generation.
“When I moved back there was some interest in bringing back our high school division,” Adam said. “Coming up through the program as a high school hockey player I made a lot of friends, Scott had just moved back, he was coaching in high school, and there was this real strong group of players — Division-I, Division-III caliber players — who graduated and went on and the high school division died off. But there was still some pretty heavy talent in the area and the opportunity came up. Even girls my sister’s age were going off and playing in college.”
As a result, a high school division, a select girls ice hockey division and a goaltender program were brought back or implemented.
“They come back as counselors and role models,” Adam said. “Even those players that moved out-of-state, if we see them or they come back it’s funny, they always ask, ‘Hey, how’s your father doing? How’s your uncle? How’s your grandfather?’ And I just say, ‘Why don’t you go see them if you’re in town? Go to the rink, pop in the store — they’re there!‘”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
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