Hockey shows its heart at Noah Yelizarov memorial tournament
The heart of the hockey community has never been more apparent.
Coming together with friends and family to "Remember Noah," some 130 players including NHLers Jason Garrison of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks took to the ice Sunday for the 10th annual Noah Yelizarov Memorial Hockey Tournament at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Then afterwards, during a post-games social, they raised some $20,000 for various charities in memory of the former Richmond minor hockey goaltender who tragically died at age 18 of an accident while vacationing in Thailand in 2004.
Garrison has been participating in the event for several years now, since first learning of it through longtime friend and former Richmond Sockeyes' teammate Ray Sawada.
"It's a lot of fun," said Garrison, whose team won the tournament the first year he played.
Garrison and former Canucks' teammate Higgins—making his first tournament appearance—said the calibre of player the tournament attracts is very good. This year the two pros played on a team captained by Noah's brother Jonathan, with whom Higgins is a close friend. However, reflecting the high talent pool they spoke of, Team Yelizarov lost two of its first three games and was eliminated in overtime in the Division One semifinals by eventual champion Team Anderton.
The Division One final had a pronounced Richmond presence. Backstopped by ex-Sockeyes' goaltender Justin Mulholland, Team Anderton edged Team Shams 5-4 with the latter featuring former Sockeyes Sean and Rudi Thorsteinson, Adam Nishi and Keenan Webb.
Garrison and Higgins have both gone beyond simply lacing up their skates. Garrison last year volunteered to sit in a dunk tank and allow individuals to toss softballs his way. This year Higgins signed a jersey and stick and donated a pair of Canucks' tickets which garnered more than $1,000 in the live auction.
"Hockey players have a deserved reputation of being supportive, humble and accessible to fans and charity events (and this shows that)," said Don Taylor, who co-ordinated the hockey portion of the event. "Jason has been out to many of our tournaments and is a quality guy who has always supported his local hockey community."
Noah's friends and former teammates from Richmond and Seafair minor hockey days are all now around the age of 30 and still play adult hockey with others from around the Lower Mainland. Taylor said the tournament's unique three-on-three format, and 15-minute games, provide a fast-paced, offensive style that attracts players from all over—a few, apparently, from as far afield as Switzerland on the weekend.
In its 10-year history, the tournament has raised nearly $200,000 for B.C. Children's Hospital, Canuck Place, Blessings in a Backpack, and Richmond School District's Feed-U-Cate program.