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Oliver Smith leaves lasting legacy

The St. F.X. X-Men and X-Women hockey teams have a special logo on their jerseys this season, one in honour of the late Oliver Smith. His teammates and friends with the Antigonish Peewee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs are wearing decals on their helmets. Here, Oliver’s sisters’ Emma (left) and Megan, join his teammates and co-captains Brady Peddle and Trent Stewart, along with St. F.X. captains Lydia Schurman and Mark Tremaine, for a photo. Corey LeBlanc
The St. F.X. X-Men and X-Women hockey teams have a special logo on their jerseys this season, one in honour of the late Oliver Smith. His teammates and friends with the Antigonish Peewee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs are wearing decals on their helmets. Here, Oliver’s sisters’ Emma (left) and Megan, join his teammates and co-captains Brady Peddle and Trent Stewart, along with St. F.X. captains Lydia Schurman and Mark Tremaine, for a photo. Corey LeBlanc - Corey LeBlanc

Teams donning logos in honour of young player, OllieBots fundraiser to continue

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

Three hockey teams based in Antigonish will have an extra attacker each time they hit the ice this season.    

No, it is not the player flying off the bench during a delayed penalty call, or one who replaces the goaltender late in a game in an effort to score the tying goal.    

It will be the spirit of a young man who touched the lives of everyone involved with the programs; one who left an indelible mark on each, despite passing away at the tender age of 12.    

“It helps keep his memory alive and we are proud to wear it,” St. F.X. X-Men captain Mark Tremaine said of the logo that will be on each jersey donned by players with the varsity program.    

“It is pretty special,” X-Women hockey captain Lydia Schurman added.    

The logo has three dimensions; a black ‘O’ that circles a bright red heart emblazoned with the number 2.    

The logo honouring Oliver Smith, which appears on the jerseys of the St. F.X. X-Men and X-Women hockey teams this season, along with the helmets of the Antigonish Peewee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs. Contributed
The logo honouring Oliver Smith, which appears on the jerseys of the St. F.X. X-Men and X-Women hockey teams this season, along with the helmets of the Antigonish Peewee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs. Contributed

The emblem – one designed by Oliver’s uncle, Brad Smith – may be in a new location, but it is already a familiar one to countless people.    

The introduction to the signature, for most, came over the past couple years, when they saw their first OllieBot – the wooden robots Oliver and his family created as a fundraiser for the rare childhood bone cancer – Ewing Sarcoma – that took his life in late June.    

As for the number, it is the one Oliver wore as a minor hockey player with the Antigonish Bulldogs, which he selected in honour of his maternal grandfather, Alex Grant, who often selected it during his playing days.    

Grant also wore number 4, one which his granddaughter and Oliver’s sister, Megan, donned while playing for her teams, including the Northern Subway Selects of the Nova Scotia Female Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League.    

This season, in honour of her younger brother, she has made the switch to number 2.    

The symbol, one the youngster crafted on each OllieBot as his personal touch, was placed in the general area where a person’s left hip would be, the spot where doctors found his cancer.                

With that in mind, the logos have been stitched in that same space on the X jerseys.    

As for the Antigonish Peewee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs, decals of the logo will adorn the helmets of Oliver’s friends and teammates throughout the season.

“It feels really good to represent him,” Brady Peddle said of his friend.    

Trent Stewart agreed.    

“He is with us every game, which is really inspiring,” Trent said.    

The co-captains said their friend is missed, both on and off the ice, while adding Oliver was “very kind” and had a “great sense of humour.”    

And, they pointed out, those enviable attributes never faded during his illness.

The mini-stick    

Oliver shared those same traits with his X-Men and X-Women friends.    

“He was a big part of our team, especially last season,” Tremaine said of their relationship with Oliver and his family, one that only deepened in recent years.    

The fifth-year forward added that Oliver became the “good luck charm” for the X-Men last March, when he travelled with them to the 2019 national championship tournament in Lethbridge, Alberta.

“It was pretty special,” Tremaine said of the youngster’s contribution to their run to the bronze medals.    

Oliver’s inspirational pre-game speeches in the X-Men locker room, as he read the starting line-up for each match-up in the U Sports tournament, caught the attention of thousands, including Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, who featured the youngster in one Coach’s Corner segment during  the NHL playoffs.    

“It was an amazing experience,” Tremaine said.    

One of those many magical moments at nationals now has a significant place in the X-Men locker room – a photo of Oliver sitting on top of a net while surrounded by the team.    

And, after each game, the X-Man deemed by his coaches as deserving of special recognition now gets possession of a beloved mini-stick owned by Oliver.    

“It is really impactful,” Tremaine said of the change from the traditional approaches taken by teams, such as presenting a hard hat to the player.

‘Be the hardest worker’    

Oliver and his words of advice and encouragement – ones that belied his chronological age – continue to touch both programs.    

“Be the hardest worker,” Schurman said, repeating the mantra that occupies a prominent location on the wall of the X-Women’s locker room.

Oliver Smith displays some of the first OllieBots his family crafted as part of their effort to raise awareness and funds for Ewing Sarcoma, the cancer that took the youngster’s life at the age of 12. Corey LeBlanc
Oliver Smith displays some of the first OllieBots his family crafted as part of their effort to raise awareness and funds for Ewing Sarcoma, the cancer that took the youngster’s life at the age of 12. Corey LeBlanc

The phrase not only inspires the team, but also reminds them of their friend and fan.    

“He is always with us and it certainly reminds us of the importance of continuing to work hard,” she added.    

The origin of that simple, yet powerful, advice is Oliver’s father, Bryan, who delivered the same message to his son before he took the ice to play.    

Oliver not only listened to those words while playing his favourite sport, but also during his fight against cancer, one that included two recurrences since his initial diagnosis; not to mention  the cocktails of medications and surgical procedures.    

“When he was getting his treatments and was getting scared, his father encouraged him to tackle cancer in the same way,” Schurman explained.    

She noted the Smith family has been a “big part of our program,” dating back long before her arrival.    

Bryan, now in his first season as an assistant coach, has also served for several seasons as power skating coach for the X-Women, while Oliver’s mother – Shauna Grant-Smith – has been a health advisor for the program.    

“They will always be part of our family,” Schurman said.    

As Tremaine nodded in agreement, both fifth-year players said their teams are “thankful” for their deep and meaningful relationship with Oliver and his family.

‘Unfinished work’    

Members of the St. F.X. hockey programs are just some of the myriad people who have been and will continue to be affected by Oliver’s legacy, including the children – and their families – waging a battle against Ewing Sarcoma.    

Since the father-son duo fashioned those first OllieBots in the family’s garage – six blocks of wood forming a head, torso, arms and legs, tied together by hockey skate laces and adorned with googly eyes, decals and Oliver’s signature – more than 2,500 have come off the family assembly line.    

“I think we see it as unfinished work,” Bryan said, when asked about the family’s decision to continue the fundraising and awareness effort.    

“There are people still going through it and we want to keep helping them in some way.”    

OllieBot sales, coupled with donations made in his memory when he passed away, have topped more than $50,000 in support of Ewing Sarcoma research.    

To mark that donation to the Ewing Sarcoma Endowment Fund at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, also known as SickKids, Oliver will be one of those recognized during an honour wall ceremony in November.    

“He is leaving an incredible legacy,” the proud mother said.    

Moving forward, the OllieBots initiative will continue to be the consummate    team effort.    

Along with Oliver’s parents and older sisters – Emma and Megan – numerous others will continue to contribute, including the hockey teams – local and professional – who provide decals and hockey laces; schools that provide wood and those who helped build the keepsakes.    

“They want to help so it is a way to help keep them involved,” Bryan said of the recently-formed Ollie’s Buddies.    

Created by Smith and family friend, Jerome Stewart, the Saint Andrew Junior School educators meet weekly with friends and former teammates of Oliver.    

The young men and women are handwriting letters to their favourite NHL teams, which will include some of Oliver’s story and their connection to him, along with a donation request for team decals and laces.    

“We are really proud of what they are doing,” Bryan said.    

For more about Ollie Bots, visit the fundraiser’s Facebook page – Facebook.com/olliebots – and for more information, including how to purchase an Ollie Bot, email olliebots02@gmail.com

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