OTTAWA — The words are thrown around loosely these days, diminishing their true meaning.
Hockey teams talk about going to war, winning battles in the trenches and fighting for their lives.
But today, as we honour those that know the real definition of combat, those terms ring hollow when referenced to professional sports.
For Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Stone, Remembrance Day hits close to home. His grandfather Murray Copot served in the Second World War.
“His ship got torpedoed and he was in the ocean with another guy,” said Stone. “They grabbed onto a big piece of wood and held on to it until they were rescued. There weren’t too many people that survived that day.”
Copot was on the HMCS Alberni on Aug. 21, 1944, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of France. Of the 91 crew members on board, Copot, was one of 31 to survive.
The 20-year-old at the time had to wait in the water for several hours before being rescued.
“I’m sure I heard the story when I was young, but it didn’t really sink in until I was about 18,” Stone said.
“That’s when I started really thinking about it and how I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that piece of wood. It’s kind of almost surreal thinking about it.
“You definitely think about everything that they did for us. I know my brother went over and visited the beaches of Normandy where everyone stormed on D-Day. He was telling me that it was pretty special. If those guys didn’t do that, and my grandfather didn’t do what he did, then it could be a totally different world today.”
Since then, Copot, 85, has gone to achieve legendary status in the Calgary minor hockey community.
A longtime hockey administrator, Copot’s name is synonymous with the Mac’s Midget tournament.
“He’s getting a little older now, so he’s had to back off his schedule a little bit, but he still makes it out to kids hockey games and when the Mac’s Midget tournament rolls around, he’s around the rink all the time,” Stone said. “He’s done a lot for Calgary minor hockey. They’ve named a hockey rink after him there, so it’s pretty special.
“Pretty much everyone down there in the minor hockey community knows him. He has a tournament named after him, too. He’s a pretty big deal.”
One of the highlights for Stone coming up through the system was getting a chance to play in the annual Midget AAA showcase event as a 15-year-old in front of his grandfather. Now as an NHLer, he knows Copot still keeps close tabs on him.
“He watches every game I play on TV,” Stone said. “I think he might have been at an exhibition game against Calgary earlier this year. But other than that, he’s had some health complications in the last year or so, so he can’t be staying up too late or getting real excited or things like that. But I know that he’s always going to be there to support me and things like that.”
He always has, not only for Stone, but for all nine of his grandkids.
“He was always there,” Stone said. “After games he would wait around and when he would shake my hand, he always had a $20 in his palm that would end up in my hand. That was always pretty special.
“He was always supportive. He had nine grandkids and six of us played hockey and he was pretty much at everyone’s games. He didn’t miss too many hockey games.”