Good Deeds Cup: East Van peewee hockey team rallies for ailing coach

Voting for the Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup ends on Saturday at 9 p.m. Money would go to BC & Yukon branch of Kidney Foundation of Canada

Coach Stephen Gillis and Vancouver Minor Hockey peewee A2 The Spirit at Sunshine Coast Blues. Lindsay Kelly / for PNG

The A2 Spirit, an east Vancouver peewee hockey team of 11- and 12-year-olds, has gained a lot from their coach Stephen Gillis.

The Vancouver Minor Hockey Association players would love to return the favour with a $100,000 gift to the B.C. & Yukon branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, since they recently found out Gillis is in urgent need of a kidney transplant.

“How could you not be proud of these kids?” Gillis said. “Not just for what they’re doing for me, but what they’re doing for the community, for awareness for organ donation, kidney disease, kidney transplants.”

Gillis, 38, discovered he has a rare kidney disease in July. The team he coaches, the Spirit, he’s been with most of them for three years. He adores them.

In the fall, they decided to enter the Good Deeds Cup contest, one of 300 minor hockey league peewee teams across Canada to do so.

They are one of 10 semifinalists.

Coach Stephen Gillis runs 6 a.m. practice, less than 24 hours after having a dialysis line inserted into his chest. Lindsay Kelly / for PNG

The team on Wednesday was on the ferry for a game on the Sunshine Coast, tapping on car windows, asking folks to watch the video they made, the video that counts as a vote for them if you watch it in its one-minute entirety, hoping for the $100,000 championship prize, hoping to send the money to the Kidney Foundation.

“We have a deep connection, but some of the kids are pretty quiet and they were out there, ‘Hey, we’ve got this video we want you to watch, we’re trying to win $100,000 for the Kidney Foundation, then going up to everyone on the ferry,” Gillis said.

“Just going up to everybody, no fear.”

The Spirit are about 25,000 votes shy at the moment of making the final three. That means they need, say, 25,000 people to watch the video, twice perhaps. Voting from separate devices is OK.

Voting ends at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Gillis and assistant coach Cody Dobson remember what it was like for them to be 11 and 12 years old and playing hockey; it guides their coaching philosophy. Dobson’s son Ryder, a 12-year-old right winger, does a beautiful job narrating the Good Deeds video.

The team saw the video broadcast during an intermission at the recent NHL all-star tournament. The kids’ faces lit up like it was Christmas morning, Gillis said.

“As the only B.C. team, if B.C. could get behind us, and Vancouver. It’s a minute, it’s not that much of your time.

“I think we have a really good chance of winning $100,000 for the Kidney Foundation.”

The players knocked on doors, stood outside shops, held a bottle drive, sold pizza dough they’d made themselves. They raised $1,400 in five days so a single mom and her two young kids could have presents and a nice turkey dinner at Christmas. The leftover money will also go to the Kidney Foundation.

“We recognize how fortunate we all are, so we wanted to work together to give a family in need a special Christmas,” video narrator Riley Dobbs says.

Gillis was feeling horrible last spring. In July he was admitted to hospital, was told his kidneys were functioning at nine per cent, that he had a rare disease and needed a transplant and, in the meantime, dialysis.

“I was peeing vinegar, basically.”

Assistant captain Isaac Cheng raises the Good Deeds Cup during the World Junior Championship and wants to bring the cup back to B.C. with a big win. Lindsay Kelly / PNG

He’s still playing with his ASHL (Adult Safe Hockey League) team, is second in team scoring. He’s still coaching, dialysis be damned.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. For himself and for the Good Deeds Cup.

“I think we can win this.”

The $100,000 is the grand prize in the Good Deeds Cup contest. Three finalists getting the most votes for their video will get $5,000 apiece for charity and await the announcement of the eventual champion.

All 10 semifinalists have received $2,000 for charity already.

The Good Deeds Cup, now in its third year, is a partnership between Hockey Canada and Chrevolet Hockey. Besides the $100,000 for charity, the winning team gets profiled on a nationally broadcast hockey game, a ceremony in its hometown, a banner and its name engraved on the Cup.

The Spirit are up against teams from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba.

Assistant captain Isaac Cheng, assistant coach Connor Aylwin, captain Jordan Stewart, assistant captain Waylon Hope, head coach Stephen Gillis and assistant captain Paige Stanley. Lindsay Kelly / for PNG

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