Dillon McCowan is a Mooretown Junior Flag on his hometown roster, but he’s an honorary Toronto Colt for life.
The Corunna boy, who turns 11 next month, was a ‘runner’ for the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s AAA Juvenile team when Mooretown hosted the International Silverstick Tournament earlier this year. He filled water bottles, unlocked dressing rooms and did other tasks for the players aged 16 to 20.
But a surprising bond was formed unlike anything head coach Bruce Sturley has seen in nearly 20 years of hockey.
“He just had this infectious smile — almost like a cartoon character — just full of life and positive energy. Our guys just loved him,” said Sturley, who let McCowan announce the lineup before each game, to rousing dressing room cheers.
It turns out the Grade 5 St. Joseph’s Corunna student was a good luck charm.
“The only tournament in Ontario we hadn’t won in the last ten years was the Silverstick,” said Sturley. “And we won the whole thing. The first thing my players said while they were celebrating was, ‘We want to bring Dillon to the Ontario Championships in April.’”
Mom Cheryl McCowan didn’t want Dillon getting his hopes up. After all, the players were on cloud nine after the big win, and a trip to Toronto was a lot to ask.
But a few weeks later the McCowans — including dad Hugh and big brother Owen, 15 — got an official invite to the OHF Championships April 12-14.
The players had pooled their own money to pay for the family to stay in Toronto so Dillon could help the team skate for gold.
The Colts covered the family’s hotel, parking, and even tickets to the boys’ first-ever Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre. They were greeted with Colts’ signed hats, sticks and jerseys, and even joined team dinners. They became part of the Colts family.
“The whole thing was just incredible, they were so wonderful and welcoming to our whole family,” said Cheryl McCowan. “You just don’t see this kind of thing in hockey.”
Dillon got ready for duty each game bright and early, Sturley said. He bonded with all the players, especially #98, Ethan Salter.
“He’s a smaller kid but a really talented player, and these two were inseparable,” he said. “When Ethan got a penalty, we looked over and there was Dillon right there against the glass — if he could have gotten in the penalty box with him, he would have.”
The Colts lost in the finals — for the third year in a row — in what was a bittersweet end to the season.
“This is actually the last year of our program,” said Sturley, noting the GTHL’s U21 division, which he’s coached for the past 11 years, is folding. “So we’re finished after this year. For a lot of the boys it’s their last year of organized hockey.
“So there were a lot of tears,” he added. “And Dillon was right there with them. I mean, he was all welled up, he was crying. He didn’t want to leave at the end of the game; he was sitting on the bench with the boys in the room… It was a special weekend, and having him here made it that much more special.”
Being a runner is a prestigious job for a youngster in minor hockey, Sturley noted, and his players know how much it means to them.
“It’s one of the reasons I coach them and it’s one of the reasons I’m proud of them. They just get it.”
Dillon joined the team for photos, got a silver medal, exchanged cards, emails, secured secret handshakes and lasting memories.
“Just hanging out with the guys was the best part,” said Dillon, who played defence for the Mooretown Jr. Flags atom rep team this past season.
He called it the best weekend of his life.
“It was just the perfect hockey experience for a 10-year-old boy,” said Cheryl. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see something that amazing ever again.”