A hockey team in East Nipissing is coming together for one of its own.
Mike Kowal, a longtime, well-known and liked coach, passed away earlier this week after a year-long battle with cancer. While Mike's visitation was Thursday night, it was also a game night for his son Cayden's bantam 'A' team in Astorville.
While mourning the loss of his dad, Cayden asked his mother Sara if he could play the game he loved Thursday night.
"He begged his mother to allow him to come out and play and his teammates welcomed him out there," said Mark Lockhart, the Farquhar Chrysler East Nipissing Bantam Rep Vipers head coach and longtime friend of Mike, who passed away at the young age of 43.
See related: Mike Kowal obituary
Of course, Cayden's teammates were thrilled to see him and their actions showed it. The team held the game in honour of Mike and raised $600 for the family through ticket sales and donations at the Vipers versus Almaguin Ice Devils game 7 p.m. Thursday evening at the Astorville Arena.
Lockhart says the team knew about Mike's condition and wanted to be there for Cayden and the family.
"I think that the team needed to acknowledge the amount of involvement that Mike had with a lot of those players on that team and how important it was to recognize that as a team we had been influenced by him as a coach as well as many parents on the team were very good friends with him away from the rink," said Lockhart noting Mike had coached many of the players on this team before.
"We were able to have a really quick recognition and have Cayden present for that and really acknowledge in respect of Mike and his involvement with East Nipissing Minor Hockey and with hockey, sports and coaching in general in the North Bay area."
The players did their part too. They wore Mike Kowal stickers made by King Sportswear and Skater's North on their helmets and all the Vipers players wrote Mike Kowal's name on the tape of their hockey stick blades.
"Our team has a responsibility to step up and put together the best support system we can for the Kowal’s and for Cayden and Sara," said Lockhart.
"This is just the start of a couple of things that we want to do short term and long term."
While it was an emotional evening for the Vipers, Cayden was able to overcome his emotion and score the game's opening goal in an eventual 2-2 tie.
A goal he and his friends will certainly remember as yet another great tribute to Mike Kowal on this night.
"Mike was a leader, he took the reigns, he was supportive, he was competitive and he was a team player," recalled Lockhart about Mike.
"He always did what he could to help kids and the other coaches to be successful in our association and we know he did that beyond hockey. We are going to miss him, so we wanted to take the opportunity to let everybody know that. He was a never quit kind of guy. He did it right until the end and that was his dedication."
Lockhart says the team will continue to provide the support for Cayden, his mom and his three siblings with other events throughout the season.