Suffering from pancreatic cancer, Schmitt was nearing the end of his fight at just 44 years of age. Ten days later, the longtime minor hockey coach passed away in the hospital after a long, hard road.
After years of volunteering his time for the Truro and Area Minor Hockey Association and coaching his three kids, those final games in late December were the last he’d watch. Little did anyone know at the time, it would also be the end of the KFC Tournament in Truro after 35 years.
Next month, the 36th running of the 50-plus-team mega tournament will be the first Mike Schmitt Memorial Tournament.
Sitting in the stands at the stadium on Wednesday night, Schmitt’s wife, Karyn MacKinnon, couldn’t help but note how fitting it was.
“Mike volunteered a lot here,” she said with a glance out on the ice. “He coached all three of the kids coming up through. It’s perfect.”
The idea was kicked around early in the year, spearheaded by association members Frank Carroll and Raj Makkar. When it was first discussed at a board meeting, it was met with unanimous praise. The positivity was matched by KFC, which was happy to give up the title and will remain on as a major sponsor.
Carroll, the first vice-president of the association, described Schmitt as more than just a coach or a parent.
“He was a great friend, too,” he said. “It was touching to work with him. Whenever you called upon him for anything… he was so supportive.”
MacKinnon, who serves as the association’s second vice-president, was kept out of the discussions initially, until Makkar asked what she would think of the idea.
“I loved it,” she said. “We were very excited.”
While registration is still open for several divisions in the tournament, Carroll said they are expecting as many or more teams than last year. The tournament regularly features A, AA and AAA teams from around the province in atom and peewee, as well as bantam and midget A and AA teams. This year’s event will draw in more than 50 clubs between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.
Along with the new name, the tournament will take on a new cause. A percentage of proceeds will go towards the We Care About Cancer Fund – an initiative by the Colchester East Hants Health Centre Foundation to “help those diagnosed with cancer worry less about the financial burden so they can focus on healing,” according to their website.
For Schmitt’s family, the biggest help was hockey itself. It’s been less than a year since his passing, but the kids – Julia, Brody and Brayden – are keeping busy with the game they love.
“We’re doing good,” their mother said. “Hockey is fabulous... The week after his funeral, the kids were right back into their schedules. I can’t say enough about how much the kids’ friends in hockey and the parents in hockey have helped us in the past year. No question. The people you meet in hockey are fabulous.”
It’s only fitting the area’s biggest and most consistent tournament be named in Schmitt’s honour. Through all his years of service to the game, Schmitt’s commitment never wavered.
“It was hockey,” MacKinnon said. “Mike loves hockey.”