Ontario junior B hockey player dies during tournament
Flags at the community complex in Ayr, Ont. have been lowered to half-mast after the sudden death of a 20-year-old hockey player during a game.
In an emailed statement, the Ayr Centennials said they were devastated to announce their captain Eli Palfreyman died on Tuesday.
Palfreyman was a three-year veteran of junior hockey, about to enter his fourth year.
“Our Centennial’s organization and the community of Ayr are in mourning,” the team said.
The Centennials were playing the Boston Jr. Bruins as part of an invitational pre-season tournament on Tuesday evening.
According to a member of the Ayr Centennials organization, Palfreyman collapsed in the dressing room during the second intermission.
Township of North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton was watching the game at the North Dumfries Community Complex.
She said multiple people jumped to action when the call for medical assistance came, including a doctor who was the father of one of the Boston Jr. Bruins.
“Thank God he was there, he went right down to assist,” she said.
“You couldn’t breathe waiting to see if the boy would be alright. When the word came through, it was just devastating.”
VOTED CAPTAIN BY TEAMMATES
Everyone knows each other in a small community like Ayr, said Foxton.
“The Cens are part of that family, and to lose one is devastating,” she said. “But to lose one on the ice at such a young age is just heartbreaking.”
Foxton described Palfreyman as a very well-liked and outgoing young man who was honoured to be voted team captain by his peers.
“[He was] respected by staff and his teammates,” she said. “But the heart of this is, this is a son. This is a son that parents have lost.”
A HOCKEY COMMUNITY IN MOURNING
The Centennials organization held a closed door meeting on Wednesday for the team, family and friends.
Team officials have asked for privacy and respect. The cause of death has not been released.
"Medical doctors will have more answers for us in the coming days,” the team said in a statement, asking people not to speculate and allow time to come to terms with the loss.
Grief counsellors have been brought in to speak with the team and arena staff.
For many, the Centennials is the lifeblood of the small community.
“It’s just really tragic,” Ayr resident Chris McMillan said. “I take my kids to Cens games. I think we went to eight to ten last year. The players are amazing. I can’t say I knew the young man personally, but I saw him at the games. They took my son into the dressing room.”
Hockey fans and community members are sending their love to the Palfreyman family.
“I was really shocked and really feel for the mom and dad and the extended family,” Ayr resident Elizabeth Kovacs said.
“There is a profound sorrow and that’s what the community’s feeling right now,” Foxton said. “Everything in the community shut down. We had Music in the Park tonight, that’s been cancelled. The tournament has been cancelled. There was an outdoor picnic, that’s been cancelled. Everyone is mourning, flags will be at half-mast."
Palfreyman was a former student of Victus Academy in Kitchener.
Victus President Matthew Schmidt said Palfreyman attended Grade 11 at the private hockey school and played for their U18 Prep team.
“He served as a mentor for our younger students around the school, was a great teammate, and he played with energy, hard work, and a true passion for the game,” Schmidt said in an emailed statement. “Our hearts go out to his family, friends, teammates, and those that knew him and he will certainly be missed by our staff, students, families, and alumni.”
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League has postponed all exhibition games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
“This is an unexplainable tragedy, and no words can ease the pain everyone involved is feeling,” the GOJHL said in a statement Thursday.
“As Eli’s relationships and friendships run deep throughout the GOJHL, the league is assisting with providing grief and mental health professionals to support the Centennials organization as well as other teams and their players."
The league said it is discussing ways to remember Palfreyman as the 2022-23 season.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported Eli Palfreyman's age as 19. Palfreyman was 20.