With the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing, Red Deer Minor Hockey Commission celebrated the conclusion of another season.
The Annual Year-End BBQ filled the Pidhereney Curling Centre Tuesday, to celebrate the accomplishments of young players just starting out their hockey career all the way to players who played their final game in a Chiefs uniform this season.
“The years seem to go faster and faster all the time. It seems like we were just in tryouts. Then Christmas time comes and now it’s over,” said Red Deer Minor Hockey GM Dallas Gaume.
“It’s great to see so many people come to this event, it means an awful lot to us, that the kids and the parents come.”
There’s always a special nod to coaches and volunteers and this year, they also welcomed one of their own to speak to the young players at the gathering.
Red Deer native Ryan Vandervlis spoke to the crowd with passion about the determination it takes to persevere against the odds. If anyone knows about overcoming the odds, it’s Vandervlis. The 20-year-old former WHLer suffered a life-altering injury this summer, after being burned in a campfire accident.
He burned 50-60 per cent of his body and was in the hospital for 11 weeks. At times he wasn’t sure what the future would hold, but he was sure he wanted to keep playing hockey.
His goal all along was to rejoin the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. Although that didn’t happen, Vandervlis did step on the ice again this season, watching his hockey career come full circle when he joined the Red Deer Vipers of the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.
“I believe that if you have a goal and you apply yourself to that goal and do everything you possibly can to achieve that goal, I believe that goal is achievable,” said Vandervlis, who added stepping in the Vipers dressing room was like joining a group of old friends again.
He told the crowd of young players that he was overlooked at almost every level of hockey, then went undrafted in WHL and earned his way onto the Hurricanes. He said he almost never had more than 25 points in a season and didn’t have a hat trick from Bantam on until his 19-year-old WHL season.
“But I stayed persistent,” Vandervlis said.
Gaume added it was special to have Vandervlis address the group.
“I think it was outstanding. He’s one of the best players to come through our system in a long time,” Gaume said.
“It’s a great story of perseverance and courage with all he’s been through. I think it meant a lot to all of our kids here.”
Bantam AAA Rebels coach Justin Jarmolicz was the RDMHC Coach of the Year and Michelle Ellertson-Skinner was the Manager of the Year. A first-time award was also given out, in honour of Ryan McBeath. The former Red Deer Optimist Chiefs player died in a tragic car accident last year. Josh Zinger, a member of the Optimist Chiefs this season, was the first recipient.
The final act of the night was handing out the 21 Chief Award winners, selected by their coaches and then picked by a minor hockey selection committee. The players selected were Darcee Hall, Brian Baskier, Tristan Baumung, Kaiden Ellertson, Ben House, Taylor Baumbach, Kai Klass, Josh Tettmar, Madison Deminchuk, Jaymin Wolgemuth, Keaton Matwychuk, Owen House, Hunter Lewis, Cooper Honeker, Max Jeans, Lucas Moore, Blake Weinkauf, Brody McGowan, Kohen Osachoff, Gavin Bacho and Cayslie Perkins.