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'Such a big heart': Raiders hockey coach remembered

Darin Wood died suddenly this month, aged 35
Darin Wood, 35, died suddenly earlier this month. SUPPLIED/Photo

Darin Wood, the first-year St. Albert Raiders hockey coach who died suddenly earlier this month at the age of 35, will be remembered for his passion for life and for the game, his long-time coaching partner says.

Ryan Campbell, first-year head coach of the U17 AAA St. Albert Flyers, said he and Wood coached together for the past seven years, starting with the South Side Athletic Club before spending four years with the Leduc Junior Athletic Club, and landing in St. Albert for the 2023-24 season.

“Darin was looking for a place to coach, so I did an interview with him and we decided it was a really good fit,” Campbell said, when asked how the two came to work together. “The very first thing we kind of talked about was, ‘What is your role as a coach and what do you want to contribute? What are your strengths?’ and the first thing he said was, ‘I'm not here just to be like a mascot, I'm here to be a coach.’”

A car accident left Wood paralyzed in 2006 at the age of 17. Prior to the accident, he played youth hockey for Edmonton's South Side Athletic Club.

In 2014, Wood told the Edmonton Journal that after being paralyzed, it took a few years for him “to be able to stomach watching a hockey game” again, but when he could, he took up coaching.

“He didn't want people to look at him any different, and we never did, he was just another coach on our team.”

Campbell said the pair had the same philosophy when it came to coaching, which made working together a natural fit.

“I learned a lot from him about how to build relationships with your players and how important it is — he was a master at that,” Campbell said. “He was such a caring guy and he had such a big heart, and he always had time for our team.”

“He spent a lot of time always texting with kids back and forth away from the rink just to see how they're doing, let them know they're doing well — just a very good support system.”

Wood's impact on hockey players and organizations throughout the Edmonton region was highlighted by tributes posted on social media after the Flyers announced his death on Jan. 10.

“Woody was an [assistant coach] with our organization from 2016-2022 and during that time, he played an integral role in the development of all players,” the Leduc Junior Athletic Club said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Fair, honest, but most of all respected, he will forever be remembered.”

Craig Simpson, former Edmonton Oiler and current hockey broadcaster for Sportsnet, said on that Wood “was such an inspiring young man.”

“He met his life challenges head-on and continued to make a difference in the sport he loved,” Simpson wrote.

A funeral was held on Jan. 17, with the St. Albert Flyers team serving as honorary pallbearers. 

“It really meant a lot to the family and the coaching staff,” Campbell said. “It was really good to see how so many of our parents and players all showed up to give thanks and memory to Darin. I know his family is very appreciative of that.”

Campbell also said the team was able to meet with the Edmonton Oilers sports psychologist, Dr. Martin Mrazik, last week to talk about coping with loss. Dr. Mrazik's University of Alberta colleague, Dr. Dhiren Naidu (the Oilers' and Edmonton Elks' head physician) was a friend of Wood, Campbell said, as Naidu's son Theo, was one of the players Wood and Campbell coached in their first year together.

“Darin actually still kept in touch with Dr. Naidu; he'd go to the University of Alberta and do presentations with him,” Campbell said. “It kind of all wrapped around to when we started coaching together.”

Campbell said one thing he wished everybody knew about Wood is just how passionate he was.

“Especially how much Darin cared about his family,” he said. “His mom, they had such a good bond together and spent so much time together, and he always talked about his brothers.”

“Hockey was such a huge part of his life, and he put so much into it. He loved hanging out at the rink.”

St. Albert Minor Hockey Association's executive director Jane Sedo said in an email Wood had a profound impact on the team this year.

“Players, coaches, and staff will forever be impacted by his contribution,” Sedo said. 

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and the entire hockey community.”

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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