On Easter morning North Toronto lost one of its many great volunteer coaches. Kelly was my first cousin, but he has always been more like a little brother to me.
There is a lot of talk about Kelly’s London Knights hockey days and his coaching success with the London Nationals. I get it, London is a town that loves their hockey. But I want the North Toronto hockey family to know that there was more to him than being an enforcer on the ice and him reaching the peak of his hockey career on that now famous London Knights OHL Team of the Century.
I had the privilege of watching Kelly grow up from a young AAA player all the way to his OHL days in London and Oshawa. I saw him play against Jeff Carter as a twelve-year-old in the minor leagues system and play with NHL sensations like Corey Perry and John Tavares in the OHL. To him, it was a privilege and an honour to skate on the same ice as some of the best hockey players of his era. Kelly was very proud of that accomplishment and he worked incredibly hard to earn that opportunity.
The true tragedy in Kelly’s story is that it was cut short before he could write the ending. I believe in the last year of his life he drew just as much pleasure and inspiration from being part of a leadership team that helped take a rag tag group of 2005 AA players from a team that nearly folded to first round play-off competitors – a record not unlike our beloved Leafs.
In a city where minor league AA hockey coaches make more money than professional coaches in London, Ontario – Kelly took on a non-paid coaching role at NT. Kelly coached the way he played. He preached about the importance and value of team first, he turned that group of boys into an on and off-ice family. He taught them about the need to stand up for one another – to have each other’s back.
Kelly saw raw talent in a bunch of kids that many of the paid coaches in our league did not. He was willing to put the time and effort into each of them because he saw what they are just beginning to believe in themselves. Hopefully they are mature enough to look back on the last 1-2 years they had with him and see that Kelly was not trying to make them NHL players. He was trying to teach them to be well-rounded young men, to grow their passion for the game with a sense that hard work pays off in the game and in life; and that being a part of a team is far more important than any one individual performance.
Kelly came over to our house after a heart-breaking loss in a first-round play-off game and said to me, “you know they don’t always do everything I ask them to do or the way I want it done, but man it’s really hard to stay mad at them because they work so hard for me.” If that’s not success to a coach, what is?
Kelly had a vision for what this team could become and I think one of the greatest gifts of his hockey coaching ability is that the vision can live on even in his absence through the character and values he instilled in that rowdy bunch of 13-year old’s.
I want to thank the NT Association, the coaches and families we have met throughout the years for the tremendous outpouring of support they have given to not only our family but the young boys who are experiencing and processing this loss.