Ontario Hockey League scouts weren’t flocking to see the junior B Alexandria Glens play in 1997-98.
But two who did, Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach of the expansion Brampton Battalion, and area scout Brent Loney, were rewarded by finding a player who would be an important contributor for the club’s first four seasons.
Kurt MacSweyn, who hails from the community of Dalkeith, Ont., a little more than 100 kilometers east of Ottawa, scored 26 goals and added 37 assists for 63 points in 42 games for the Glens that season and would be one of two Battalion picks in the fourth round of the 1998 OHL Priority Selection.
“I saw Kurt play for the Glens,” said Butler, who spent 1997-98 scouring Ontario and elsewhere for talent. “It was on one of my crazy road trips that year and I have never been back to that rink since. We took Kurt in the fourth round and got four very good seasons out of him.”
At the time MacSweyn, then 16, figured he had a shot at making it to the OHL.
“It was in the back of my mind,” he said via telephone from the family farm in Dalkeith, where he returned after spending four seasons playing professionally in Europe. “I went with the junior B team at home with my friends and figured I would move up to junior A the next season with an eye towards the OHL or a college scholarship.
“I had talked to some teams and Stan and Brent didn’t want me to go in to a prospects tournament where I ended up putting up pretty good numbers. There was a lot more interest in me after that so they probably ended up taking me earlier than they might have wanted to.”
MacSweyn stepped right into the lineup in the Battalion’s inaugural season and made history as his first career OHL goal proved the winner in the club’s first victory, a 5-4 decision over the visiting Sudbury Wolves on Oct. 18.
“Sudbury was a strong team as I recall. It is a vague, distant memory now, but we were seven games in and it wasn’t like we had gone though a horrible stretch. Some of those first games weren’t the closest, but we finally got deep into a tight game and won and it was a huge boost to our confidence.”
MacSweyn played left wing on a line with 18-year-old right winger Scott Thompson and 15-year-old Jason Spezza who was playing as an underage under an OHL rule at the time that allowed 15-year-olds to play one season for their hometown team. Spezza led the Troops in scoring with 71 points and has enjoyed a long National Hockey League career with the Ottawa Senators.
“He made the game easy,” MacSweyn said of Spezza. “Even as a 15-year-old he was so smart and creative with the puck it made things simple. I went out and played my game and worked hard and made sure I could get the puck to him. After that all I focused on was creating screens or getting open so he could create his magic. It was a good time and something I look back fondly on.”
MacSweyn played 60 games that season and contributed 16 goals and 13 assists for 29 points for a team that won only eight games.
“I didn’t think it would be a season where we’d only win eight games, but we knew as an expansion team that we would be in tough with teams loaded with 18 and 19-year-olds.
“We were all winners in minor hockey and all of a sudden we were all placed in a situation where we had to do the little things to help us win games. It was a learning curve for us. You even see that kind of philosophy a little bit in the NHL with teams like the Edmonton Oilers who build through the draft and take their lumps and learn together as a team. The next season we came back a year older and stronger and we started off pretty well.”
The Battalion won 11 of its first 14 games the next season and qualified for the playoffs for the first time, falling in six hard-fought games to the Erie Otters in a Western Conference quarterfinal. MacSweyn was limited to only 51 games after breaking a knuckle in a fight with Matt Coughlin of the Mississauga IceDogs on Jan. 12, 2000, but he still recorded 33 points, including 18 goals.
The Battalion enjoyed a terrific season in 2000-01, winning 33 games and capturing its first playoff series win by sweeping the Guelph Storm in a first-round set, but was ousted in five games in the second round by Erie.
“We had the team and the pieces to the puzzle that season,” said MacSweyn, who had 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points in 66 games. “I thought we could match up with anyone in a series, but Erie was a team that seemed to have our number and that’s how things went in the playoffs. They got some bounces and knocked us off. I think if we had got by them we would have gone pretty far.”
MacSweyn was named captain for his final season in 2001-02, succeeding Jason Maleyko who had held the position for the first three seasons.
“It was a great honour,” said MacSweyn. “It is something special to be looked upon as a leader. I tried to lead by example and work hard and show the guys how to do the little things that fans might not always see. It was nice to see I was appreciated.”
Said Butler: “He was a very underrated player. In a lot of ways I felt he was more respected in the dressing room than he was outside of it. He was a quiet leader who led by example.”
Despite losing stalwarts such as Maleyko to graduation and major offensive contributors such as Raffi Torres, Rostislav Klesla and Jeff Bateman to the professional ranks, the Battalion remained in contention for a playoff spot deep into the 2001-02 season, but a 10-4 road loss to the Ottawa 67’s on Feb. 8, 2002 saw injuries to MacSweyn and rookies Tyler Harrison and Mike Looby. Overage right winger Aaron van Leusen also battled injuries that season as the Battalion missed the playoffs for the final time during its 15 seasons in Brampton.
“We knew we were losing a lot of key pieces, but we still had a good core and some good young players coming up,” said MacSweyn, who finished third in team scoring with 23 goals and 25 assists for 48 points in 53 games.
“I blew my shoulder out and van Leusen got hurt just after I did. We could have done something if we could have got into the playoffs, but injuries are part of the game. It was difficult to end like that, especially knowing we had such a strong team the season before.”
After graduating from the Battalion, MacSweyn spent three years at Saint Mary’s University and played in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads in 2005-06.
“I dealt with some injuries in the ECHL, I hurt my knee and tore my groin. At that point I wanted to travel around Europe and play there if the opportunity ever came up and figured it would be a good time to try that.”
MacSweyn spent three seasons playing for teams in Germany, Austria and Italy.
“I loved it and had a great time. I was going over not just to play hockey, but I wanted to get into different situations and experience different places. I had a great time fitting into the culture and seeing different things.”
MacSweyn, now 32, is in his first season with the Cornwall River Kings, the only Ontario entry in a Quebec-based semi-pro league.
“A former coach of mine is the coach there and I know some guys on the team and they convinced me to play the season for them. There are a lot of guys who had pro experience and it’s pretty good hockey.”
MacSweyn finished his junior career with 74 goals and 77 assists for 151 points, good for 12th on the Battalion’s all-time list. He is ninth all-time in goals, is tied for seventh with five career shorthanded goals and his 11 game-winning goals are tied for ninth in club history.
“It was a good time and I made so many good friends. It was a big part of my life. I have a lot of fond memories of it and I’m happy I had a chance to do that for four years.”