An athlete who sets an example

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I don’t watch a lot of hockey any more. Almost none during the regular season, come to think of it. But I follow the playoffs a little more closely, especially when the games involve Canadian teams. In my admittedly wildest dreams, I want to see a Canadian team play a small-market team like Nashville in the Stanley Cup finals, just to see the American television viewership dry up like a Gary Bettman smile.

Having grown up listening to more sports of all sorts on the radio, and reading about them in newspapers, though, I’m still a stats guy, and I always check out box scores and summaries of all the major sports. They are, usually, more interesting that the reporting of the games, as a rule, and certainly more entertaining than the idiocy that passes for comments on Internet web sites.

The great thing about sports, though, is that there are always compelling stories and anyone with a heart would have enjoyed one I came across the other evening. The Ottawa Senators are not a team I follow closely, but I do love to watch defenseman Erik Karlsson play, and I have been amazed by the team’s resiliency this year, particularly in the playoffs. They simply never seem like they can be counted out.

The story that caught my eye was on the TSN web site and it was written by Ian Mendes. In the feature, Mendes wrote about Kyle Turris, one of the better Senators’ players. Turris, at the request of a former teammate, took on the role of honorary captain of the Capital City Condors five years ago. The Condors are a team of special needs kids, and Turris hasn’t just been a figurehead who shows up once a year to sign autographs. He and his wife, Julie, have become active supporters, attending events and getting to know the players and their families.

Consider the following: At his first meeting with Condors co-founder (Jim) Perkins in the fall of 2012 in a tiny Italian deli in Kanata, Turris asked a lot of questions about the relatively small organization. As the meeting concluded, Turris asked to take a copy of the team yearbook, which featured headshot photos of all the kids.

The following week, Kyle and Julie showed up to the Condors first practice of the season. To the amazement of everybody, the couple was greeting each player by name – even though they had never met the kids in person before that date.

Condors organizers were baffled by their knowledge of the kids and approached them to ask how they could possibly know the names of children they had never met before.

Julie explained that after Kyle brought the yearbook home after the initial meeting with Perkins, the couple decided to spend several hours learning and memorizing the names and faces of each child in the book. They felt it would make the kids more comfortable if they were greeted individually. It’s a story that is still passed around the Condors circles with disbelief five years later.

In all honesty, I teared up reading that. I had done the same memorization thing with Angela’s family photo when we were dating, wanting to be able to recognize her many siblings when I met them. I had a vested interest because I wanted to make some sort of positive impression. Kyle and Julie Turris did so because they knew how much it would mean to those players.

Fast forward to last Saturday evening. The Condors were holding their season-ending banquet and the Senators were playing game five of their playoff series against the New York Rangers.

According to Mendes, Perkins announced that Turris would not be attending. “He kind of has something else going on,” he said, and the room filled with laughter.

Some of the Condors watched the game on a laptop, and started a “Go Sens Go!” chant as the regulation time drew nearer, with Ottawa down 4-3. The resilient Senators tied the game with their goalie pulled and, shortly after overtime started, Kyle Turris scored the game winner.

Turris did his post-game interviews, showered and dressed, and then he and Julie headed straight to the Condors’ banquet, surprising everyone in the room.

I’ve never been in an environment like that,” Perkins told on Sunday. “The place just exploded. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

So here was a guy who makes a lot of money, having just scored the goal that every player dreams of, and he rushes away from his team and the post-game celebration so he and his wife can attend a banquet for special needs hockey players.

Win or lose this series or the next, the Ottawa Senators, and all of Canadian hockey for that matter, have a genuine champion in their midst. Good on Kyle and Julie Turris, and good on Ian Mendes for telling the story so well.



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