University sport can often form strong bonds and friendships between athletes, but as time moves forward you can lose touch with the people you shared that experience with.
For a group of University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas alumni, a chance encounter while signing up their kids for initiation hockey three years ago has brought them back together again.
Gavin and Tawana McLeod (Wardlaw), Jesse Douglas and Karin Lechuk (Schmidt) never played the same sport together at the University of Alberta, but now they’re all teammates as hockey parents for their kids who play for the SWAT 639 Novice Devils.
Their children, Layne McLeod, Finn Lechuk and Keiran Douglas took part in their first Quikcard Edmonton Minor Hockey tournament this past week.
“It stirs up so many great memories for us. We talk about those times a lot. Not even the on-field or on-ice stuff. It’s about the things we did together from away from our respective sports,” said Douglas, who played safety for the Golden Bears. “It’s nice to see that the kids care about the rest of the team and how they perform and learning how to be a team and relying on others.
“The connection we have between us as Bears and Pandas will always be there. The university has always done an amazing job of making sure we always supported each other.”
The McLeod’s played Bears hockey and Pandas volleyball, while Lechuk played soccer for the Pandas.
All four have played in big games during their university days, now they getting the full experience as hockey parents, cheering on from the stands.
It may not generate the same nerves as playing in a University Cup or a Canada West Final Four, but it brings forward a different kind of excitement for them.
“The nerves aren’t much different, but as a dad, they mean more. It’s neat to see the passion come out of the kids,” said Douglas who’s an assistant coach on the Devils. “It feels really neat to be coaching, and to be able to share this experience with people that you knew through university and played university sport with.”
The Red Devils had a strong debut in their first Minor Hockey Week experience. They made it all the way to the semifinal game on Friday, but were eliminated after a hard-fought 3-2 loss.
This was the team’s biggest tournament they’ve played in, and as their kids continue to play the game, they’ll go through more experiences of big wins and losses.
Having parents who have gone through experiences of winning and losing big games will help them down the road.
“I hope it gives us a bit of framework and make sure you have the proper baromter to make sure you’re saying the right things to them in wins and losses,” said Tawana. “With my sports experience behind me, it’s allowed me to set that barometer as a parent.”
The SWAT minor hockey organization has an even larger connection to Bears and Pandas alumni.
Kelsey Kelemen (Bears cross-country and track team) Dave Bennell, Doug Bruce and Clayton Miles (Bears volleyball) all have children who play different levels of novice hockey for SWAT.
“That group of four expands to a group of eight. Last spring, (our kids) all played soccer together,” said Tawana. “It’s like we’ve found our people. We all think alike. We have that same value of having multi-sport experience and it’s not just that tunnel vision of one sport. We know it’s important to try new things.
“It’s been great to experience this together. Even though we didn’t play together and in some cases came from different areas at the U of A, we’ve come together.
“We trust each other and there’s that level of commonality and respect for one another. We often reminisce about all the fun times and about coaches and former teammates and we’re connecting the dots and it’s fun to re-live it through a different lense.”