For the sixth year in a row, the family of the late Nicholas Paul is hosting a hockey tournament in his honour at the outdoor rink at Esket, an hour southwest of Williams Lake.
Nicholas died at the age of 16 in 2012 from cancer, after being diagnosed when he was 13 and a half.
In 2011 while his family was making trips to Vancouver for his treatments, his grandfather, Frankie Robbins, and wife, held the first Thee Mc Nick Classic to help the family with travel costs.
Mc Nick was the nickname Robbins gave his grandson.
“Ever since then, we have kept it going,” Nicholas’s mom Zena Chelsea told the Tribune Friday. “Nicholas loved hockey so much and it’s the kind of tournament where if you are five years old and just starting out on skates or an elder you can participate.”
The one-day tournament will be held Saturday, Dec. 30 beginning at 10 a.m.
Chelsea sorts all the participants’ names into piles and then picks teams made up of players of all ages.
It’s all about having fun, she said, adding the numbers of teams will depend on how many people sign up.
“We have people come from Williams Lake, from Sugar Cane and Dog Creek, and even one person from Vancouver, for the tournament. It used to be over two days, but then if it was really cold people didn’t come back for the second day so we decided to hold it for one day.”
Last year there were six teams with nine to 12 players on each team.
A $10-entry fee per player, goes to a good cause.
In the past the proceeds have been donated to Children’s Hospital or Canucks Place, but this year the family decided they will give the money to a minor hockey player from Esket to help with costs.
Chelsea said their family skates and plays hockey and Nicholas was no exception.
He spent hours and hours skating at the rink during the winter months while he was growing up.
“Sometimes he was out there from morning until 1 or 2 a.m. just skating. There’s always a small fire by the rink for people to warm themselves, but I’d bring him warm soup sometimes too.”
Recently Chelsea’s cousin told her he’d gone down to the rink and didn’t see a puck on the ice.
“I didn’t realize this, but he told me there’s always got to be a puck on the ice for Nick and people in the community know that. It was one of those moments that reminded me of how he affected the community. It was such a blessing for me to hear that.”
Nicholas was only part of Williams Lake Minor Hockey for a few years, yet Chelsea said his experience was very positive.
He would have started when he was younger, but he always had ear infections that made it hard for him to hear properly, Chelsea explained.
“When he started with minor hockey finally, he played for about two years before he got ill,” she said, noting his last coach, Owen Thomas, even brought along a jersey in honour of Nicholas when his team travelled to Cranbrook for the provincials and won. “They put Nicholas’s name on the banner that hangs in the rink, and as the boys on that team grew older, they always did something to help us while we were down in Vancouver.”
As his illness progressed, Nicholas continued to teach his family so much, his mom insisted.
“He never gave up. He struggled to put his skates on to go skating and that was tough on him, but he pushed and pushed to be able to continue.”
Through all his struggles, Nicholas left his family members messages and Chelsea said one time he told her no matter what she goes through in life to promise him that she would skate as long as she could.
“We went through so much with Nicholas and I think that is why we carry on with the tournament, because it is helping us to heal,” she added. “And I think it helps, not just our family, but other people in the community because he was such an inspiration to a lot of people.”
During the tournament there will be coffee, tea and snacks and at the end, Chelsea will feed everyone stew and bannock.
The games will go on no matter what, she said, noting someone donated a huge pile of firewood to keep the bonfire at the rink going all day.