- Category: Local News
- Written by Cory Knutt
With graduation ceremonies approaching, six members of the Morris Mavericks high school hockey team will be preparing for the special day with a heavy heart. It was a trying year for the team, as they lost a beloved teammate to cancer. Dylan Berard was a Grade 12 student who attended school in St. Jean, and played hockey for the Morris Mavericks organization. The team is made up of players from Morris, St. Jean, and Rosenort.
Two years ago at Christmas, Dylan was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He battled through the disease and was healthy enough to participate in this year’s hockey season.
Issues started to rise again in December and January, and there were concerns that the cancer would return. While the team was at provincials in March, Dylan began to feel ill. It was about a week after returning from provincials that Dylan was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He lost his battle with cancer on May 17, 2016.
“It was a very special situation for Dylan because the first couple years he had come and he tried out and didn’t make the team,” said Assistant Coach Dale Lehmann. “As a Grade 12, coming to try out, you don’t see that very often after being cut a couple times. Him coming out was special in itself after finding out that he was sick.” Lehmann said Dylan played with his heart on his jersey every game and every shift, something that started to rub off on the rest of the team as the season unfolded.
It was at provincials in March that a lot of the players started to realize this might be the last time they had the chance to play hockey with Dylan. Some of the leaders on the team approached Lehmann wanting to know how they could help.
“For [Dylan], hockey was such a big thing for him and the guys really just rallied around him and always wanted him to succeed in every shift that he had and every chance that he had, they always wanted to get him the puck or help him,” said Lehmann. While Dylan was loved by his teammates on the ice, it was off the ice where he made a lasting impression.
“When I first met him, he was somewhat quiet, a little shy and as you got to know him, he just got comfortable,” explained Lehmann. “He joked around with you, he had fun with you, he always tried to find a way to lighten up the mood. Even if it was after a game in the room where the guys lose a tough one, he’d find a way to lighten the guys up. He always made them laugh, he always had great insight and he always loved being around the guys and they loved being around him. He showed what it was like to enjoy life and it rubbed off on all the guys and the guys just loved being around him.”
Morris Principal Kevin Clace, who also managed the team, said the players took a huge step forward in their personal lives as they tried to figure out how to deal with the situation. “I think our guys really learned this year what it means to rally around and be men,” he said. “Our program’s really about developing men, we use hockey to do that and we’re really proud of our boys, how they rallied around Dylan.”
In 2015 the team brought home the gold medal at the AA Provincials, and this year they captured bronze. Clace says with all the team went through this season, the bronze medal means a whole lot more to the players.
“[Dylan] left a legacy and a true example of what we are looking for in young men as a part of the Morris Mavericks organization,” he said. “We are going to miss him a great deal. He meant a lot to our organization and we’re proud of the way that our boys rallied and supported around him.”
The Morris Mavericks hosted an alumni game in April that raised over $22,000 to support the family. The Mavs organization is 9 years old and Clace said they had representation at the game from all 9 of those teams, rallying around the Berard family. The team is looking at retiring Dylan’s jersey next season and hanging it up at the Morris Arena in honour of his memory.
“He meant a lot to our program, even though it was one year he was with us,” said Lehmann. “He left a big impact on a lot of guys and we feel that retiring his jersey is best way to honour him.” École régionale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is also planning to honour Dylan’s memory at the school’s graduation ceremony.