They died decades apart, but two young hockey players were honoured together in Gander tournament

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They died decades apart, but two young hockey players were honoured together in Gander tournament

Matthew Sargent was always the first to make friends.

So it was fitting, his dad says, that he had a new friend alongside him on Saturday afternoon when his number was raised to the rafters of the Steele Community Centre in Gander.

Sargent, who died last year at 14, was recognized at a hockey tournament in his honour. 

The opening ceremonies of the Matthew Sargent Memorial Midget Tournament included a banner-raising ceremony for Sargent and Glen Furey, another young hockey player the community lost.

Furey died of cancer in 1979, when he was just 16 years old.

"It's so fitting of how Matthew lived this life," said Gord Sargent, Matthew's father. 

"That was his gift, to make friends and to create bonds."

Sargent gave a speech at the ceremony, and was front and centre to see his son's name and number unveiled at centre ice.

"That emotion could never be described in words. You'd have to, you know, cut me open to see it," he said.

Sargent said he and his family felt "blessed," but it was a bittersweet day.

"His hockey gear still hangs there at home, and all of his peers are here playing. So there's a tremendous sadness that he wasn't one of the kids suiting up. That was him, that was the boy that died that day, my son never came home."

Matthew Sargent drowned last May following a canoeing accident. He was fishing with friends, and was not wearing a life jacket.

'Extremely honoured'

Glen Furey's family have been coping with his death for decades. But his sister, Suzette, said Saturday that watching the banner ceremony and seeing old friends brought back a rush of emotions.

"We were extremely honoured, and we felt as emotional today as we did 38 years ago," she said, when his hockey coach presented her parents with Glen's hockey sweater to mark the retirement of his number.

Suzette Furey said her brother was modest, but would have been very proud to see the ceremony in his honour, and to see his teammates, old coaches and friends come back to remember him after almost 40 years.

Since Furey's death, Gander's minor hockey association has been presenting a trophy for sportsmanship in his memory.

"It's incredible how good the Gander Minor Hockey Association has been to our family over the years," Suzette Furey said.

The connections between the two boys and their families stretch back much longer than Saturday's tournament.

Furey told the crowd that her brother played hockey with Mathew's uncle. The two competed in a tournament in Ottawa, winning a gold medal, just before Glen received his cancer diagnosis.

"It's a very special connection. We grew up in Gander," she said.

Furey said it meant a lot that Matthew Sargent's family decided to share their ceremony with Glen.

"The Sargent family, who are going through this … they opened their arms, they welcomed it with open arms, and we are so thankful for that."

Young players mourn teammate 

Eight teams, including teams from Bay d'Espoir and Grand Falls-Windsor, competed in the weekend's tournament.

For Matthew Sargent's former teammates, it was an opportunity to reflect and share stories.

"It's almost been a year, and every time I close my eyes I just picture him," said Nick Murray, who played with Sargent for two years.

"I just still can't believe he's gone," he said. 

"I can picture him so clear in my head … Even on the ice, too. Every time I look at a player, I just picture him."

Mathieu Tiller, another one of Sargent's teammates, said he was a generous person — always willing to lend you his gear, or stick up for you in a scrum.

Tiller's already imagining how much Sargent's banner hanging in the stadium will mean for him throughout his life.

"I don't know, if it comes to the fact that this place is still up when I have kids and they'll be looking up at the banners and you can say, 'That's my buddy, I grew up with him.'"