A Fort McMurray hockey team forced from their homes during the evacuation of the community nearly three weeks ago, was able to compete in an Edmonton hockey tournament thanks to a huge gesture by one of their coaches.
The Fort McMurray Mountaineers were already signed up to play in the Edmonton Empty Net tournament, which took place this weekend at the Terwillegar Recreation Centre. But when members of the team and their parents were forced to flee they didn’t think to grab their hockey equipment.
“My son wanted to take it but at the time it wasn’t really a priority. We took essential stuff only,” Jennifer Pittman said. Her son, Ethan, plays for the Mountaineers.
Ethan was able to grab a few mementos important to him; unfortunately, no hockey equipment made the cut.
“I took my gold medal that we won this year, a necklace I had bought that had the Mountaineer thing on it with 22 on the back, and I took all my jerseys.”
Without equipment, the Mountaineers’ place in the tournament was in jeopardy. That was, until coach Mike Gratton came to the rescue.
Gratton got a call to return to Fort McMurray to run equipment on the frontlines. While his focus was on protecting his community, the hockey coach used some of his time off work to go to some of his players’ home and get their hockey equipment.
Gratton was able to grab six hockey bags and bring them down to Edmonton for this weekend’s tournament. The players were overjoyed that they were able to play.
“It was tough. A few tears came to my eyes,” Gratton said. “You don’t imagine that something as simple as some hockey equipment means so much to them.”
Pittman said being able to hit the ice and play the game he loves was huge for Ethan, and helped bring a bit of normalcy to his life at a time of much uncertainty.
“He’s having such a tough time,” Pittman said. “All of his things were at home, he’s changed schools, his friends aren’t here and the way that his smile came on his face was complete joy when he knew that he was going to be able to still play. And I know all the kids feel like that.”
To honour their coach, the kids wore the letters MG on their new jerseys Saturday afternoon.
With files from Quinn Ohler, Global News.