Playing in the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) hockey tournament earlier this month gave the Penticton Upper Dek Vees many great, memories.
Coach Jay Bungay said it was absolutely amazing.
“All of them worked really hard all year long,” he said. “Being able to go on a road trip down to Surrey for a Canucks Autism Network tournament was pretty awesome. It’s a highlight we build up to.”
Making the trip was the Fresh Start program, a younger group of kids that Bungay said have lower cognitive understanding and ability, and the older group, which are higher functioning adults.
The way the players performed on the ice impressed the coach.
“A lot of them just surprise you. They rise to a level that you just never thought they had,” said Bungay.
Along with the Upper Dek Vees, the tournament featured the Kamloops Jr. Blazers, Vernon ScoreHawks, Central Okanagan Wildcats, the South Island Ravens, Vancouver Island Vision, Vancouver Orcas and the Surrey Stingrays. Each team was scheduled to play three games. One team was forced to quit and the Upper Dek Vees were asked if they wanted to play again.
“Most of the players wanted to play. It was pretty cool,” he said. “It was a lot to ask of them. A bit challenging the last game.”
The Fresh Start group finished the tournament winning all their games.
“It was amazing, honestly,” he said laughing. “We got more out of them than I ever thought we would. The kids team I did not think was going to perform the way they did. All year long I did not think they were listening to me. All of a sudden we get out there, where it matters to them and they made passes, plays, skated and I was like, what is going on? I love being part of this. It’s a beautiful thing. I feel very lucky, very blessed.”
The older group won one of its three games.
THE UPPER DEK VEES travelled to Vancouver to play in the Canucks Autism Network hockey tournament in early April. The team is as follows from left to right: standing Robert Watson, Tony Aiken, Jake Huff, Lynden Hicks, Chris Kocsis, Scott Stephenson, Justin Zinz, Anton Evans, Tyler Zanatta, David Sawicki, Deven Fraser, Craig Walker, Tim Sanders, Bruce Nierop and Greyfox Bigeagle. Left to right, not standing: Austin Mclellan, Steven Folden, Darryl Hagel, Sarah Francis, Rob Lee, Amanda Lamb, Troy Schattenkirk, Shannon Baker, Barnabas Laflamme, Curtis Mclellan, Teneesha Coulson and Andrew Stenhouse. Missing from the photo are David Mcpherson and Haley Beggs.
The players were so appreciative of what was done for them that one organized a big coach hug. The entire team jumped and mauled Bungay.
“When they do gestures like that, that’s genuine,” he said.
Bungay said CAN put on a stellar show. They made T-shirts with names and numbers with sponsors from CAN. The dressing rooms had laminated name bars for the players, which they took home. Bungay said it was done to create an authentic hockey program. He said the support was “second to none.”
Bungay thanked the community for the players experiencing this. He was very happy with the response in helping the team earn more than $9,000 to help make the trip happen. The expenses totalled nearly $11,000, with a big chunk going towards the bus and hotel accommodations.
“It wouldn’t have been possible to bring a group like that without the generosity,” he said.
There won’t be any traveling for the Upper Dek Vees next year, however, for the season-ending tournament. Penticton hosts on April 1, 2017.
“They can’t wait to show their hometown pride,” said Bungay.