Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte
It has been over 13 years now since Elijah Cole passed away at the tender age of 16, but his love for sports – hockey in particular – will never be forgotten.
Hockey was his favourite, by far. In addition to playing soccer, Elijah also played ice hockey, ball hockey and roller hockey. Even some summer hockey on the ice. “Anything that was related to hockey, he was participating in,” said his mom Tracy Steen.
That included street hockey in the family’s neighbourhood. Pickup games were often initiated by Elijah. “As soon as he’d go out there, all the kids started coming out with their sticks and they all played,” Tracy said, adding that she and other family members often joined in as well.
Elijah began skating at two years old out on the pond with a hockey stick and a puck, joined by his dad Paul Cole. Hockey was a father-son activity and bonding opportunity that continued for many years while Elijah played in the Prince Edward County Minor Hockey Association’s house league program and Paul helped coach his teams. “That was a huge thing having his dad there at all times,” Tracy said. “That was a lot of time spent with him. Having his dad on the bench meant more to him because it was time spent with him.”
On the ice, Elijah started out as a centre before transitioning to defence for most of his playing years. His favourite number to wear was 9 after listening to his dad talk about Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard. They cheered for the Montreal Canadiens together. “Elijah would fly on the ice like a rocket,” Tracy said, noting he also liked that it was Gordie Howe’s number.
One memory that certainly stands out for Tracy was a game when Elijah – likely from nerves – got sick on the bench. It was a big mess, she said. His coach suggested he not return to the ice, but Elijah insisted that he was fine to continue. He certainly was. “He went right back out and that boy scored nine goals,” Tracy said.
Elijah enjoyed participating in the Wellington Dukes hockey school when he was young and his favourite player was Tony Rizzi. He just loved being on the ice. So much so that Tracy thinks he might have started refereeing ice hockey. He was gaining experience as a ball hockey referee, which also provided him the opportunity to make $10 every game he officiated. “He was pretty good at it. A lot of running,” Tracy said. “He was a very active boy.”
Sports, though, were a family activity and many hours were spent at the rink. That meant early mornings, late suppers, coffee on the go, Tracy said.
It wasn’t just for hockey. Elijah’s sister Kaylea, who is now 28 and has a daughter Ezrah who turns three in April, was a figure skater.
The family was usually in an arena somewhere. “That was like our second home,” Tracy said.
They loved it.
“Just being together as a family,” Paul said. “We all tended to be at the rink at the same time, all four of us, and although me and Elijah were generally either on the ice or on the other side of the rink, we were still there as a family. It was a big family thing.”
Friends were a big part of Elijah’s sports experience as well and Tracy said Kaylea fondly remembers her brother providing comic relief and making everyone laugh. Especially his teammates.
Since his passing in 2008, the Prince Edward County Minor Hockey Association has handed out the Elijah Cole Memorial Award. It is awarded annually to the U18 (formerly midget level) house league player who exemplifies love for the game and bringing enjoyment to their teammates.
Win or lose, Elijah was always quick to give a pat on the back to his teammates. “He was very encouraging to his teammates,” Tracy said.
“Elijah was also the type of kid that was fearless,” she added. “Nothing scared him. He would always have your back. Elijah loved his family and friends very much. He was a very caring person on and off the ice.”
Elijah’s family will cherish those memories forever.