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NICHOLAS MERCER: Gander teen forms bond with young hockey player over a stick

Alex Stares, right, poses for a photo with Liam Bennett during the midget A provincial tournament held in St. John's at Easter.
Alex Stares, right, poses for a photo with Liam Bennett during the midget A provincial tournament held in St. John's at Easter. - Contributed

The black Sherwood T1000 hockey stick almost didn't make into the hands of Liam Bennett. 

Gander Collegiate's Alex Stares had just finished his team's portion of the Beaumont Hamel Centennial Cup, and perhaps his high school career, with a 4-2 playoff loss to Ascension Collegiate of Bay Roberts and it wasn't sitting well with the 18-year-old.

Skating off the ice at the Paradise Double Ice Complex last month, Stares contemplated smashing his stick on the ice in disgust. He had others at home to take its place.

That is when he noticed young Bennett watching him from behind the glass.

Stares instantly recognized him. The kid in the Paradise Warriors minor hockey had been at Gander's games all weekend.

When the Concordes would leave the ice, Bennett always made sure to stick his hand out looking for a high five from one of his new favourites.

Being the last one to leave the ice this afternoon, Stares made sure to give his Bennett a slap on the hand.

Then, he gave him something a bit better. That is when Stares gave his new fan the Sherwood T100 stick he almost decimated on the ice a few minutes before.

"It was a spur of the moment decision," he said.

Liam Bennett poses with the stick given to him by Alex Stares.
Liam Bennett poses with the stick given to him by Alex Stares.

The gesture is something you see at the professional level, but it isn't something foreign to rinks around this province. As athletes grow in a particular association or organization, they become heroes to the players that follow them.

It happens in minor hockey, AAA hockey and senior hockey. I'm sure if you asked fans of senior hockey in Grand Falls-Windsor, Greg Hoffe would rank high amongst their all-time favourite players.

In Gander, there are people who would still side with Scott Young.

Growing up in Harbour Grace, I remember waiting (im)patiently outside the dressing room for autographs after an exhibition game featuring Danny Cleary.

The dressing room door open a shade and I handed the man who opened it a small piece of paper. The guys in the room — most of them junior stars in the area — crammed their signatures on the square parchment.

The one everyone wanted was Cleary's. He was tearing things up in Belleville and had people back home proud as can be.

Also on the paper were the likes of Corey Crocker, Kerry Maher and others. Maher's mom and my mother were friends and he babysat me a couple of times in those days.

I always thought he was the coolest.

Stares didn't think much of the exchange after it was done.

But, it meant the world to Bennett.

Shortly after the exchange, Stares got a message from Bennett's mother.

She told him her son thought immensely of the gift. She told him on the day he received it, Bennett couldn't keep the smile off his face.

The stick that is two times taller than he is still stands in his room. Anytime a friend visits, he shows them the stick.

A couple of weeks after the Beaumont Hamel tournament, Stares returned to St. John's for his midget provincial tournament.

He arranged with Bennett's family to connect again. This time, they grabbed some photos with each other.

Bennett even had a hockey puck and a hockey card for Stares to sign.

"It is amazing how hockey can bring people together," said Stares.

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