James Melindy is a mountain of a man and stands an imposing figure on a pair of skates. The Goulds native, however, is all charm as he talks about the support he and the team have received from local fans.
“It’s obviously super special to come home and be able to play in front of friends and family. Since I was 14 years old I was living away from home and the only time you played in front of family was once in a blue moon if they flew to catch some games. So to be able to come home and play in front of them is super special,” he said. Especially his parents, he added. “They are very proud of what I’ve become and the person I’ve become, so any time Mom gets the chance to get out on the concourse and brag a little bit, she doesn’t mind doing that.” But “it’s awesome,” he added. “You’re paying your parents back finally for everything they’ve done and for the sacrifices. Seeing the smiles on their faces during games and giving that little wave during warm up means a lot,” he said.
Melindy says he feels the passion to give back to the community too. “Obviously, any time you’re a professional athlete or somebody that’s a role model in the community, you try to get out as much as possible and interact with fans because a lot of times, you know, they only see you on the ice.” Being able to interact one-on-one with fans is a bonus of the profession, he said. “That part is super special for all of us, especially for some of the local guys. Todd (Skirving) also obviously takes big pride in giving back to the community. I know how important it was when I was a kid when the St. John’s Maple Leafs were coming around to schools and helping out with the Janeway and whatnot. So we just try to keep progressing in the community and giving back in any way we can.”
At heart, he’s still just a fan of the game, he added. “Being a little boy and going down to Memorial Stadium and watching the ‘Baby Leafs’ was all good memories. Then the Fog Devils and the IceCaps, and to have an opportunity later to come back and play against the IceCaps and to now play for the hometown team is amazing. It’s such an honor and an opportunity not a lot of people get. And to be very fortunate to have good teams here with lots of success has been a bonus. We’re just trying to keep that running and hopefully come out with another trophy again this year.”
On the loss of Chris Abbott, Melindy paused. “We had a tough spell there with the passing of Chris, who was just an amazing human gone way too early. The arena never really feels the same since he’s been gone. He’s one of those guys that you hear him before you see him and he always brought a smile to everybody’s face and made everybody’s day better.” ‘Buddy’ was more than a mascot, he added.
“I’ve known the mascot side of him and what he brought to the community and coming down to the game as a kid, he put smiles on our faces and those are memories a lot of people cherish, but I was lucky enough to be able to meet him on a more personal level and to get to know him as a person. There’s not many humans as good as him around, and if there was, the world would be a lot better place, for sure.”
As for the fans, ‘thank you,’ Melindy said. “We know, throughout this season, it’s been a little bit difficult just because of restrictions … but there’s no better place to play than here at home with the fans. We had a great season, so that’s something that’s easy to get behind and then with Newfoundlanders on the team, we’re hoping that we’re getting a lot of support here come playoff time because it really does make a difference for us.”
And, he added, you simply can’t beat playing the game you love on home ice. “Our families supported us and put us in a situation to be able to chase our dreams. You’ll never be able to repay how much they’ve given to us, but to be able to play games here while living across the street from my parents, and to go over and have a chat with them after games means so much.”
So does playing with b’ys you grew up with, he said. “Myself, Zach (O’Brien)and Marcus (Power) all grew up playing against each other and playing with each other so the familiarity is there and that helps new players adjust a little bit easier too,” he said.
Newfoundland, he added, is a “different place.” “It’s a super special place and we’re very fortunate to get a chance to play here because we get treated exceptionally well. It’s a very unique place with amazing people.”