Courageous spirit lives on

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

It was midway through the second period at the Gateway Rec Centre on Sunday.

The AAA midget Winnipeg Thrashers, a 16-2 powerhouse and the defending provincial champs, were a lost, listless bunch.

Clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Southwest Cougars, a team with just five wins, the Thrashers didn't look like themselves at all.

Little wonder.

A day earlier they'd learned their assistant coach, Todd Davison, had lost his battle with cancer.

Davison was just 20. A friend as much as a coach. An ultra-positive, fun-loving, determined guy whose motto, No Regrets, is engraved on the inside of the championship rings the players have worn since last season.

Davison had been an inspiration during that championship run. The way he'd battled through surgeries and chemotherapy treatments and continued to show up at the rink.

But on this day, playing a hockey game just didn't seem important. Not without Davison on the bench.

"He always used to stand behind us, the defencemen, so it was hard not seeing him there," Thrashers assistant captain Derek Gagnon was saying yesterday.

That's when head coach Kevin Benson called a time out, and reminded everybody who they were letting down.

"You know what guys, I know this is really tough," Benson told his players. "If it doesn't work out, everybody will understand. But you know how Todd was. You know what Todd would say."

No regrets. Play every game like it's your last. Like Davison did after being diagnosed with cancer at 17, two years into his junior hockey career.

So what did the Thrashers do?

They scored nine goals over the next period and a half, winning 11-1.

"We pretty much played for him, every shift," captain Johnny Lazo said.

Today, at a church in North Kildonan, the Thrashers will pay tribute to their friend again, at a memorial service.

They'll be the ones wearing their home jerseys, in what is sure to be a standing-room only crowd, many from the hockey community, people who were touched by Davison during his all-too-short life.

Truth is, Davison provided more inspiration in his 20 years than most of us could do in 70.

Benson, who coached him as a 15-year-old, describes him as "the toughest little bugger I ever met. For a guy as small as he was, he never backed down from anything."

Never was Davison more courageous, though, than during his last days.

Knowing he was nearing the final buzzer, he continued to show up at Thrashers practice last week.

Benson still remembers what the medical experts were saying about that.

"Had that been anybody else, he would have been on oxygen and morphine in the hospital," the Thrashers head coach said. "He was in a ton of pain, but you would never know it. He never winced. Never said a word. And he could barely walk."

Wednesday, Davison addressed the players for the last time, telling them how much he cared about them. He said he probably wouldn't be around much, anymore.

"And with that he walked out," Benson said. "He and I said goodbye, and I knew the odds were I wouldn't see him again."

Benson did see Davison again, two days later. By then, he was unconscious. He died the next day.

But if you think Benson will never see his buddy again, you're wrong.

He'll see him every time one of his players comes up with that little extra effort to make a play.

He'll see him in his own coaching, too, like when he picks just the right time to say something to loosen everybody up, the way Davison always did.

He'll certainly see him when the Thrashers hang a banner honouring Davison in their home rink later this month.

"Every time we come to the rink, he'll always be there in spirit," Gagnon said.

With Davison, spirit, after all, was everything.


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