Skip to content

St. Albert Flyers win for 'Woody' at provincials

Losing assistant coach Darin Wood took a toll on St. Albert's U17 AAA hockey team, but the camaraderie Wood instilled in the team helped them secure a provincial championship
The St. Albert Flyers U17 AAA hockey team celebrate their 2024 provincials win with a photograph of former assistant coach Darin Wood. SUPPLIED/Photo

This season, the St. Albert U17 AAA Flyers hockey team kept photographs of former assistant coach Darin Wood on the bench and in the team’s locker room.

They placed the photos there after Wood, affectionately known by the team as “coach Woody,” passed away in January.

Earlier this month, the team took a photo of Wood, captioned with the words “Woody’s Way,” out on the ice as they celebrated a provincial championship victory that team members say they “won for Woody.”

“It definitely gave us a bit of fire,” said centre and team captain Cohen Tuttle. “We knew that our coach would want us to win, so we always had that with us.”

Wood had a unique perspective on the game, Tuttle said, and not only because Wood, a quadriplegic, viewed matches from the stands rather than the bench.

“He taught us how much you should cherish your friendships with your teammates and how important being with a team is, because he didn't get to play hockey for as long as he wanted,” Tuttle said. “Coach Woody never saw loss as something bad. Rather, he saw it as a learning opportunity, a teaching moment.”

Wood’s career as a player was cut short when, at 17, he was paralyzed in a car accident. He got back into the game as a coach in 2014. He was 35 when he died.

Goalie Finn Werner said Wood’s death “was a really tough” period for the team.

“He always loved being at the rink with us, always had a smile on his face,” Werner said. “He was always the most excited guy at the rink … So, we just thought we’d play for him for the rest of the year.”

Head coach Ryan Campbell said the Flyers took some time this season to ask themselves what kind of team they would like to be.

Wood was “a fighter,” said Campbell, who coached alongside Wood for seven years with various teams in the region.

“We always talked about as a group just to be a fighter — fighting, and never giving up, working hard and being resilient and driven. That’s the kind of team we tried to build,” Campbell said.

That attitude paid off at provincials, where the team won four of their five games and became 2024’s U17 AAA provincial champions.

Tense championship game

The Flyers faced off against the Airdrie Avalanche, the Calgary Flames, the Leduc Oil Kings and the Sherwood Park Squires.

In their first game, which they played against Airdrie, the team was down 4-1 halfway through the second period. They scored two goals before the start of the third period and ultimately won 6-4.

“That got us started into the provincials on a pretty high note,” Campbell said.

They won against Airdrie and Calgary but lost their fourth game against Sherwood Park.

The team’s victories scored them a spot in the championship game against Calgary.

Calgary lost only three games all year, Campbell said.

“We knew they were a really good team,” Campbell said. “But having success against them early in the week, I think gave us some confidence that we could beat them.”

The Flyers were down 2-0 in the third period of the final game against Calgary, but managed to score two goals, setting the stage for a tense double overtime. Flyers player Macklen Popke scored the game-winning goal.

“It was really impressive to see how the group was still confident, no panic, they stuck together,” Campbell said. “Winning double overtime like that, that was the most exciting game I've been a part of, and I know a lot of our players too.”

“I’ve never played in an atmosphere like that,” Werner said. “All the fans that showed up from St. Albert to support us was pretty special.”

The Flyers won by wearing the competition down and playing as a unit, Werner said. “It happened a lot throughout the year, we've been down and just came back.”

Tuttle credited the team’s victory to their close bonds as a group. “We couldn't have done it without our full team,” he said.

It’s a camaraderie coach Wood helped to instill, Tuttle said.

“He exemplified the importance of playing with your heart, and loving your teammates.”

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks