Coach's battle, love for hockey uplifting

Published on March 7, 2014

By Lyle Carter
It was during the spring of 2013, only weeks after his peewee AAA Truro Pyes Chevrolet Bearcats hockey club had returned from Atlantics, that Mike Schmitt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Beginning chemotherapy treatments late last summer, Schmitt was determined to get back behind the team's bench for the 2013-14 season.

It is truly a touching story and Schmitt, undergoing chemo treatments every second Wednesday, has done just that.

"Mike is a very serious, passionate man and a wonderful coach," said Bearcats manager Ellie Shipley. "No one really talks very openly about his sickness. Maybe quietly, one on one, that's all. It's quite private but our players all wear purple ribbons on their helmets in support of the battle against pancreatic cancer and in support of Mike. Players and other teams who Mike coached in the past also wear the purple ribbons to support Mike."

Shipley, who has managed minor hockey teams for nine years, thoroughly enjoys working with Schmitt.

"Mike really knows his hockey," she said. "It's amazing. Mike is so organized. He has things so well thought out that he could very easily be coach, manager and water boy. I also enjoy his friendliness. Mike has no mean part to him. Everyone thinks very highly of Mike."

The uplifting hockey story, a display of hockey communities supporting Schmitt in his cancer battle, received a positive boost recently when the Pyes Chevrolet Bearcats rose to the occasion at the provincial peewee AAA qualifying tournament in Antigonish.

"We struggled at times during our regular season," Schmitt told me. "We played much better as a tournament team. In the provincial qualifier, we defeated the number one- and number three-seeded teams to go 2-1 in round-robin play. Advancing to the semifinals, we defeated Acadia 1-0 on a goal by Luke Fielding with three minutes left to play in the game. That win assured us a trip to the peewee AAA provincial championship.

"This year was truly a testament to an underdog team coming through when the going got tough. It is especially special as four of our players, Fielding, Keegan Grady, Randy Milliea and Matt Murphy, have never been to a provincial tournament before."

Besides Brody, who plays on the peewee AAA team, Mike and his wife Karyn have a daughter, Julia, playing bantam AA hockey and another son, Braden, playing atom AAA hockey.

The three young players grandfather, Jim MacKinnon, was a local hockey star during the 1950s and 1960s.

The peewee AAA provincial championship tournament will be played in Dartmouth March 14 to 16. Between practices at the Colchester Legion Stadium this week, here's what some members of the team had to say:

Mathew Melanson, 12, defenceman, Bible Hill: "Our players are all about our team. No player tries to do it by himself. Off the ice we get together and do things. Sometimes we go to junior A games together."

Ben Gibbon, 13, goaltender, Truro, and first star in a 1-0 win over Acadia: "We have really good team spirit. We'll be practicing every day next week to prepare for provincials. We'll be drinking lots of water and eating good food."

Seth Slater, 12, goaltender, Debert: "It's pretty nice to earn the right to go to provincials. This is what we worked for all year. I'm really happy for the players who haven't been there before."

Keegan Grady, 13, defenceman, Truro: "We're all excited and happy to be going to provincials. We've had a lot of challenges this year. This should help us out when we get to provincials."

Randy Milliea: 12, forward, Millbrook: "This is my first year in peewee AAA. Things have gone great. Highlights for me were winning a gold medal at a tournament in Antigonish just after Christmas and then coming second in the provincial qualifying tournament."

Mathew Murphy, 12, forward, Valley: "I found the players a lot bigger this year in peewee than last year in atom. At the first of the year they were a lot faster in speed. But Mike and the coaches helped me with my skating skills and things have kept getting better. This is my first time going to provincials. I'm very happy and it's a very exciting time. We will have a lot of fun."

Lyle Carter's column appears every Saturday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a story idea, contact him at 673-2857.