The first thing on everyone’s mind when the Coy Cup hockey tournament started was Morton Johnston.
The final thing on everyone’s mind when the Coy Cup hockey tournament ended was Morton Johnston.
The 25-year-old was a sparkplug of a person, and that’s also the kind of hockey player and coach he was.
Johnston was killed in a car crash the day before the Coy festivities were set to begin. It was such a crushing blow to his team, the Penticton Silver Bullets, that they couldn’t muster the wherewithal to travel up to Quesnel as scheduled to compete for the coveted trophy. They had earned the spot in the four-team event, but Johnston had earned a spot too dear to their hearts to get past the sudden grief. The loss of the Silver Bullets caused schedules to be redesigned, volunteers to be redeployed, all kinds of ripple effects, but it was taken care of in about 24 hours. The tournament was reformatted for three teams and the show went on, the Kangaroos prevailing in the end to win their 12th Coy Cup in team history.
One of the Silver Bullets leadership core, goaltender Connor Potter, wanted to focus on some work in among the hockey activities, so he came a day early. He was the only Bullet in Quesnel when the news hit. He was, by that twist of fate, able to represent the team at centre ice during the opening ceremonies, including the dropping of the commemorative first puck in Johnston’s honour, after a moment of silence to remember the fallen player.
“He’s probably pissed that we’re not here playing, to be honest,” said Potter, after the first game began. “He would be very pissed. He was just electric, brought a smile to everybody around him, we all loved him very much, and we just couldn’t imagine coming up here and trying to act like everything was okay. Hockey wasn’t really important, right then, with no time to process it.”
The hockey world is a small world, and it’s also a familial one. The connections between Johnston and the Quesnel Kangaroos show just how emotional the incident was, and why so much was done about it here even though he lived a seven-hour drive away.
Johnston played four seasons for his hometown Princeton (close to Penticton) Posse of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, the team he was coaching the day of the crash. Three of those seasons he shared with Quesnel’s Chad Kimmie, including sharing his house, as Kimmie billeted with Johnston – hockey brothers if ever there were any.
A few years later, when Kimmie was back in Quesnel playing for his hometown Kangaroos, Johnston was still only a phone call or a car-ride away. He proved it in a way that still makes Potter marvel. Kimmie and Johnston were in Princeton last year just as the Roos needed players for a two-game set against the Prince Rupert Rampage – in Prince Rupert! – and both of them suited up for those matchups. Yes, Mort Johnston was also a Quesnel Kangaroo, officially and authentically. That’s why his No. 18 jersey was hanging at the Roos bench throughout the Coy Cup drive.
“They drove all the way from Princeton to Prince Rupert to play two hockey games,” Potter said, shaking his head at the hockey commitment. It’s a 15-hour drive, each way, on a good day, without stops factored in.
Now the trip is going the other way with heavier heart, as Kimmie is heading down to Princeton to be with the Johnston family, both blood and ice. There was a memorial game set up between Posse and Silver Bullet alumni on Apr. 9.
Kimmie also had an envelope to courier, special delivery from the community of Quesnel. The town rallied throughout the tournament to support the grieving family.
“We sent the cheque down with Chad to give to the Johnston family this weekend,” said Riley Tomassetti, one of the business organizers for the Roos. “We raised a total of $4,010 and that came mostly from the Penticton game refunds where we gave people the option to donate their refund to the family. We also split our share of the 50/50 one night which was over $600, as well as one night’s worth of Roos jersey raffle money, and then a volunteer made Roos towels and sold them at the final game and gave a portion of her profits to the Johnston family.”
There’s a final buzzer for all of us, and then another game to follow, in the great universe of hockey. That’s why everyone who ever plays is a star, and Mort Johnston did more than just play. His memory is shining particularly bright in the skies between Quesnel, Penticton and Princeton as he is fondly remembered by those who knew him, no matter what the uniform.