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Reflections on a frozen pond

The Gulf Coast Hurricanes had a whirlwind tour of North Bay. From left to right Taylor Morse, Leland Wilson, Brennan O'Connor, Dakota Beaulieu and Reid Fulmer. Back row (left to right) Lt. Col. Bob Bower and Sgt. Michael Augustine who are U.S.

The Gulf Coast Hurricanes had a whirlwind tour of North Bay. From left to right Taylor Morse, Leland Wilson, Brennan O'Connor, Dakota Beaulieu and Reid Fulmer. Back row (left to right) Lt. Col. Bob Bower and Sgt. Michael Augustine who are U.S. personnel who work at CFB North Bay. They put on a tour of the hole for the team on Saturday. Photo submitted.

This is an editorial piece done by Sports Director Chris Dawson who spent the weekend as the host for the Gulf Coast Hurricanes hockey team and is co-chair of the Canadian Pond Hockey Face Off.

Ice was considered one of the most valuable commodities for citizens of the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina swept through the region last summer. Many without power lined up for hours to get the valuable resource which was used to help refrigerate any food they had left or needed to buy.

Six months later, ice again has become a powerful resource, this time in the form of pond hockey ice which was used to help put a smile on the face of five young hurricane survivors who love hockey.

It was a weekend of fun, laughs and a chance to get away from a way of life that, for them, may never feel normal again.

But that’s not what this weekend was all about. For three days these five kids and their parents received a form of hockey therapy – to play hockey on a pond for the first time in their lives.

For 12 year old Leland Wilson from Biloxi, Mississippi the game on ice is the game he plays best.

“I play hockey better than I think,” he told me during a tour of the North Bay Police facility on Friday.

For Dakota Beaulieu and Taylor Morse their goal was to come home with a Canadian five dollar bill. If you don’t know the bill just happens to have a picture on it of kids playing hockey on a pond.

Reid Fulmer likes to mix it up.

“Hypothetically if I get in a fight will I get kicked out?” Reid said to Constable Aaron Northrup who spent the weekend driving the kids around including getting up with me to take the group to the airport at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning as well as giving them a police escort into town at 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

The boys wearing the now defunct Baton Rouge Kingfish jerseys looked pretty good out there on the pond, finishing the tournament with a 3-2 record and opening up with two wins in their first two games on this different ice surface.

“It feels like I’m skating on rocks, really, except rocks would be harder to skate on,” said Leland Wilson who by far was the funniest character out of the bunch.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition of handing out beads was a common pre-game ceremony as the North Bay teams exchanged gifts before taking to the ice.

Prior to their fourth game Dakota Beaulieu went racing over to his Mom after a gift exchange.

“Mom I got a pin!” Dakota exclaimed after he received the small token from the opposition. He was a pin collector and his old collection in New Orleans was washed away by the hurricane.

Later that night Skyhawks trainer Rick Stanton helped build up a new collection by handing him over a zip lock bag of pins he owned.

It didn’t seem like much but it meant a lot, and so did the generosity from those who helped pay for their flights, the hotel rooms (thank you Inn on the Bay!) and their meals.

Aramark (Canadore College), Burgerworld, Casey’s, Fionn MacCools, and the Bull and Quench all provided meals free of charge for the kids and their families.

While we were having dinner at Fionn MacCools on Saturday night I received a call from Jazz Mathon. The CTV reporter was letting me know that the story on the kids would be airing within minutes on CTV newsnet. I told the kids and we gathered around the big screen and they watched their story which was shown across the country.

After the story ended, Leland’s father Brian got on his cell phone to call his wife Kim. She was busy but Brian insisted she listen to him.

“Your son was just on National TV in Canada!” he said with his Southern accent.

The kids were just thrilled.

Then there was Wilf Wityshyn. The retired army captain who resides in Pembroke, found out about the story about the Gulf Coast kids coming to North Bay in mid February. He’s leaving on March 6th to join his wife in Gulfport, MS helping in the ongoing cleanup.

The Edmonton native not only paid for a flight, he bought a new helmet for Taylor Morse and purchased thin cotton gloves for the boys to wear under their hockey gloves. Oh, yeah and he ended up coaching the team as well plus he brought Pembroke Lumber Kings t-shirts for the players which I told them they shouldn’t wear at the Skyhawks game on Sunday night. Yes, the Skyhawks too paid for their tickets.

The list goes on.

While the Gulf Coast crew appreciated everything that was done for them; some thought it was just too much.

“I probably don’t really deserve this but I really think this is nice of y’all,” said the very quiet Brennan O’Connor who’s been separated this year from his lifelong friend and teammate Dakota Beaulieu except for this weekend.

These teens who were chosen by Baton Rouge Youth Ice Hockey because of the adversity they’ve faced came here with the expectations that this would be a trip of a lifetime.

North Bay you helped greatly in meeting their lofty expectations.