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Pat Quinn with the Vancouver Canucks in 1996.

Why Hockey Matters During Times of Sadness

11/26/2014, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech

There are times when the hockey world rightfully comes to a stand-still.

Times of tragedy. Times of sadness. Times of strife.

For all the energy we pour into our wonderful game, it’s the moments that remind us we are human that the hockey world gives back to us. 

Pat Quinn, a former player, coach and manager of the Vancouver Canucks, a world champion and by all accounts a man with the ability to hush all in the room upon his entry, passed away earlier this week.

Quinn goes to rest following the recent departure of another icon in the hockey world; legendary Russian Coach Victor Tikhonov.

Reading a note from my friend Garry Valk made me ponder the connections we make in hockey and the nature of our relationships with the people around us.

RIP Pat. My hero, boss, friend. You will be missed.

— Garry Valk (@garryvalk5) November 24, 2014

It seems everyone has a sad story about the passing of someone they were connected to through hockey. I didn’t know Pat Quinn, but the words Garry wrote above speak to the impact he had on people. 

I felt a similar impact by a mentor of mine back in Edmonton who left far, far too soon. I remember getting the call from another coach informing me of his passing and immediately imagining where my career would be without this man, this parent who trusted me with his child.

Fortunately, I remember the call he made out of the blue and said “Kelvin, I’m not going take no for an answer - you need to coach at the South Side Athletic Club.”

Two years later and that man was gone.

Making the Most of the Time We Have

I believe that hockey gives back that which you invest. I wore my heart on my sleeve as a player and that’s probably why I played above my head (literally and figuratively). 

As a coach, an instructor and now a hockey story-teller, I still believe in the emotional power of hockey. I believe that one ought to embrace the emotion of the game without a filter. The highest highs, the lowest lows, the crushing realities of a sport that borders on obsessive religion in western Canada. 

Because, you see, for many of us, hockey has given us all we have. Hockey is our social life, hockey is our professional life even though we don’t put skates on and play games. And when someone is removed from that life, even someone you might not personally know, the entire community is poorer for it. 

The North Shore Winter Club lost a beautiful, wickedly smart woman this past summer, Deanna MacInnis. I hardly knew Deanna, but I feel the impact of her loss through the eyes of her friends; strong, brave people like Fiona Hoffart. It’s the strength of the community that helps Deanna’s family heal, even if we can only offer a warm smile.

Why Hockey Matters

Certainly, there are circumstances that happen throughout the world that remind us of the times when hockey doesn’t matter - except that, hockey always matters.

Hockey was the voice that encouraged our nation’s healing after the deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec and Private Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last month. 

Coaching in Edmonton, when a rival player’s older brother passed away suddenly, our entire league stood in solidarity with this young man who returned to practice the next day in order to lean on his teammates. 

Everyone experiences loss in different ways. Everyone copes with loss in different ways. Every community goes through times of tragedy.

In the end, we’re fortunate to have a community to lean on, and a blank canvas with which to paint a story on the backs of the memories of those who’ve left us. 

To Coach Quinn, Deanna MacInnis, Coach Tikhonov, Brad Martin, Patrick Steele and Kevin Kerr, rest easy tonight. 

We’ll pick up the pucks. 

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