Less than two months have passed since 21-year-old Airdrie hockey player, Ryan Couling passed away in November after battling a rare form of liver cancer. Although right after his passing the local hockey community in Airdrie came together to honour Couling in various ways, tonight is a monumental moment for the community and one that promises to be an annual event.
The Ryan Couling Memorial U18AA Tournament begins tonight (January 5) and will run until Sunday, January 8. The tournament was organized by several individuals, including the Airdrie Lightning's Head Coach Mark Kulynych, as well as Cameron Davies, the father of goaltender for the Lightning, Hudson Davies. Davies also had a hand in organizing this tournament, especially since he and Couling's father, Gary, are close friends.
"[Ryan's death] definitely impacted his family the most, but as friends and people in the hockey community; you make sure you hug your kids a little bit tighter," Davies said. "You [are also reminded] to enjoy what hockey does and brings out; that family atmosphere and that's why this tournament is extremely important to me."
Davies said that the hope was to start the tournament next year, but he underlined that because community support was so overwhelming, the tournament was able to begin this year. The tournament which begins at the Rob Ebbesen arena at 5 p.m. will also feature a tribute to Couling. All four teams that are participating in the games tonight will be on the ice for the tribute that will occur in between the two first games, between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.
"We'd like to have as many supporters out. We're extremely happy and honoured to have Ryan's family in attendance with Gary, Lisa, his brother, Zach, and [Ryan's] girlfriend," Davies said. " I encourage everybody to come out to watch both games, but if all they can do is come out for the tribute ceremony, that's all I can ask for."
Davies also mentioned that all the teams will be given a very special memorial gift, which was made possible in part by Cam Clark Ford Airdrie. However, since this is meant to be a surprise, Davies would not elaborate further on this, only saying that the colour green will be involved in some way or another.
But the tournament is not the only feature of carrying on the legacy of a much-loved hockey player, son, and fierce friend. A 50/50 online raffle has also been set up as part of the annual tournament going forward. Davies underlined that the desire is for the tournament to be a not-for-profit tournament in order to draw attention to the deadly disease of cancer. However, he also stressed that the tournament this year, and each year following is meant to be a not-for-profit event, with all proceeds, including the fees that teams pay to enter the tournament going towards cancer research at the Tom Baker Center.
"We came up with the idea of doing a virtual online raffle box 50/50 Draw in Ryan Couling's Memorial tournament banner name. We wanted to proceed from the 50/50 to go toward raising funds and awareness in Ryan's name," he said. "The proceeds are going to go to the Tom Baker Cancer Center as directed by Ryan's parents."
Davies, a father himself, said that Couling's passing was a shock for the entire community, and though he never met the young man, he believes Ryan would be pleased with what Airdrie's hockey teams and other local teams are doing.
"I would hope that he would be smiling and enjoying the competitive spirit that these teams are going to bring. But also at the same time, it's an opportunity for learning and awareness around the disease," Davies said. "[We should remember] life is short and enjoy the time that you have."
Davies noted that he is proud of the community in Airdrie and that the tournament has become a serious commitment for him, but also something that he foresees becoming a prestigious event to keep Couling's legacy alive.
"I think it's just great to be a part of a community that cares. We're going to be there for the family, and we mean it," he said. "This isn't just a one-year thing, just because of my kids on the team. The long-term goal of the tournament is to become a prestigious U18 AA tournament for kids across all of Western Canada."
The 50/50 raffle, which began on Wednesday, December 28, 2022, will end on Sunday, January 8, at the conclusion of the tournament.
Couling played for Airdrie Minor Hockey Association teams growing up and was a member of the Airdrie Lightning U18 AA boys’ hockey team for three seasons. He was diagnosed with Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma (FHC) – a rare form of liver cancer in April 2021. He fought the disease for 19 months before passing away.
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