Earlier this week, players from the U18AA Airdrie Lightning hockey team received awards for their accomplishments on and off the ice. While the recipients and their fellow teammates had much to celebrate, one award struck a deeply emotional chord with the players and coaches alike.
The RC8 (Ryan Couling) Memorial Award was meant to be awarded to the player that embodied the same valiant characteristics that the late Ryan Couling was best known for. Couling passed away last fall at the age of 21 after a long battle with a rare form of liver cancer.
17-year-old Tariq Khan a forward on the team was voted by his team as that person. Khan who has played his last year with the minor hockey team said an award such as this was incredibly moving.
"It is a huge honour to receive an award of that calibre, especially [because of] Ryan. [It was also an honour] to have his dad there when I was being presented the award," Khan said.
Ryan Couling's father, Gary, who had indeed presented Khan with the award didn't know the hockey club would be making such a gesture to honour his late son. He said it was difficult to put into words the overwhelming gratitude he had for the club and for the boys.
"It means so much to us...Ryan was a true leader on and off the ice. I don't know what else I can say, but this was so rewarding," Couling said. "This award will continue for many years to come."
Couling, like Khan, underscored that it wasn't just the award that is building and keeping alive the legacy that Ryan left to steward. Earlier this year, the very first Ryan Couling Memorial U18AA Tournament was held. Though the tournament was organized in a very short timeframe, Couling's father said that the team and its staff not only honoured his son's memory but solidified his living legacy.
"[Ryan] was very dedicated to his team [and] his teammates, people on and off the ice, and he would be so overwhelmed with this," Couling added.
Head coach of the Airdrie Lightning, Mark Kulynych said that Khan has set an example both on and off the ice with not only his positive attitude but the way he inspires his teammates to do the same. Kulynych added that the lessons that are learned in the locker room and on the ice, are life lessons.
"I think that with Tariq's leadership skills and the way he bonded with some of his teammates this year, those guys have memories forever," he said. "Just based on his attitude, his willingness, his competitiveness; that's exactly what Ryan did - he battled hard till the end; Tariq is the same. He never gave up on his team and was always positive; whether we were up by three or down by eight, it didn't matter. He had the same work ethic and he was battling for his brothers out there."
Kulynych underlined that the season was not without its challenges, especially with multiple players missing for a variety of reasons.
"The first game of the year was [I think] the only game we had with the full roster until our second last game and that was tough. That was a hard thing to get over right away when you're you're trying to create a small family," he said. "But we battled through it."
Despite the trials and tribulations, he said that there are two very memorable moments for him that will stand out. The first was when the team beat the Calgary NWCAA U18 AA Stamps.
"Just the kids' faces after the game and the excitement; we went into their barn and really played well for the entire 60 and had some really good help from Hudson and Matt. The look on the kids' faces after that will stick [with me] for a long time."
The win was all the more significant as Gary Couling was in the position of assistant coach at the time. The second memory, a memory that is also shared by Khan was the Ryan Couling Memorial Tournament. Khan, like Kulynych, agreed that the tournament was a career highlight.
"I could speak for a lot of people on our team in saying that we had so much fun; so much of the community came out all the other teams were showing their love and compassion for the game as well as for Ryan," Khan added.
Ryan's mom, Lisa Gilling, said honouring her son's memory is invaluable to her.
"I don't want anybody to forget about Ryan; being the wonderful kid he was and he would absolutely love this," she said. "It's just a great feeling to know that your son is being honoured like that and will be remembered."
However, Khan's teammates were also recognized for their outstanding work. The Most Valuable Player (MVP) award was handed to Hudson (also known affectionately as 'Huddy') Davies.
"The MVP award is given to the player that was consistently the best player on the ice while at practices or games. Huddy was always competing for pucks and never stopped battling all season long. He never missed a day with his team and was always focused on the task at hand. Huddy’s work ethic and dedication was his best attribute and is the reason he was a top goalie in this league. Huddy will go on to have a great career in the game of hockey. Thanks, Huddy and congratulations," a social media post on the team's Facebook group stated.
The Rookie of the Year & Most Popular Amongst the Team went to Landyn Scribner, also known by the nickname 'Scribsie'.
"Scribsie was chosen based on his work ethic, tenacity and his size. Scribsie was the biggest surprise I think our team had, he was one of the top defensive players in the lineup and came up with some really timely goals for the group, he was a pleasure to have around the team and always had a smile on his face, you came a long way from day one," Kulynych stated on social media.
The Most Dedicated Player award was given to Ty Brander, who as per the award's description never missed a day and was always on time. The Team Pro award was handed to Alex Gidluck, who, 'had the most serious attitude while in prep for a game, dryland and practice.' The Team Muscle award went to Zach Hardy, as he was seen as the, 'most physical player that threw the most or biggest checks or liked to rough it up out there.'
Top Scorer & The Team Comedian was awarded to Hunter Jaman, while the Top Defencemen award went to Eric Dunford.
As both Ryan's parents reflect on who their son was and who he continues to be for his fellow hockey club, both mother and father agreed that their son was not only a great leader in the rink, but he was a young man with an enormous heart and endless compassion.
"He just wanted to make the world a better place," his father said.
Ryan's mom vividly remembers his selflessness even as Ryan battled cancer.
"Ryan [when] he was in the hospital, if there was someone else who was frailer or just needed some more attention, he would tell the nurse to go to them and not worry about him at that moment. That's who Ryan truly was."
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