Funeral for Ontario junior hockey captain who died after collapsing at tourney is set for Tuesday

·3 min read
People wanting to honour Ayr Centennials captain Eli Palfreyman, left, the 20-year-old hockey player who died after collapsing Tuesday in the dressing room at a pre-season tournament, have been leaving flowers and hockey sticks, right, in front of the North Dumfries Community Complex in the southern Ontario community. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)
People wanting to honour Ayr Centennials captain Eli Palfreyman, left, the 20-year-old hockey player who died after collapsing Tuesday in the dressing room at a pre-season tournament, have been leaving flowers and hockey sticks, right, in front of the North Dumfries Community Complex in the southern Ontario community. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)

A funeral will be held on Tuesday for Eli Palfreyman, the Ayr Centennials captain who died this week during a pre-season junior hockey tournament in the southern Ontario community.

Palfreyman, 20, of Cambridge was named captain of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) team last week. But on Tuesday night, he collapsed in the Cens' dressing room during the second intermission of a game against the Boston Jr. Bruins. He was rushed to hospital and later pronounced dead.

A cause of death has not been released.

An obituary for Palfreyman on the Wm. Kipp Funeral Home website says the young athlete died "doing what he loved most." It says visitation will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET at the North Dumfries Community Complex in Ayr on Tuesday. The service in the arena will begin at 2 p.m.

Flowers and hockey sticks

Tributes have continued to pour in for Palfreyman. Flowers and hockey sticks have been left in front of the community complex in Ayr, where the teams were playing Tuesday night. Other people have shown their support for the team by placing hockey sticks on their front porches and yards.

Brian Shantz, the Centennials' vice president, said they were grateful for all the messages from the local and hockey communities.

The Centennials hosted the pre-season tournament with St. Andrew's College in Aurora, a boarding school with a focus on athletics. It was a chance for the players to get seen by scouts from other leagues, including the Ontario Hockey League and the National Hockey League.

Shantz said St. Andrew's had also experienced a student death, earlier this year. Young soccer player Ali Gharib died in May following a car accident, and the school's hockey coach, David Manning, has offered the Centennials some guidance.

Kate Bueckert/CBC
Kate Bueckert/CBC

"David has reached out to us and we're very, very grateful, not only for his leadership in doing this tournament together, but for his reaching out to us in this time of need," Shantz said.

Team working through grief

Shantz said it's been a difficult week for the Centennials. A grief session for players and staff was held Wednesday. Grief counsellors have been made available to the team and players in the GOJHL.

"They're affected because, you know, most traumas don't happen in the middle of a dressing room with all the team watching and they're terrified, you know, that they're losing their captain and they did lose them. So the boys are kind of quiet," Shantz said.

"They stayed quite a while, just hanging out with each other and feeling the the love from each team member."

Kate Bueckert/CBC
Kate Bueckert/CBC

Shantz noted the team was purchased from the Kitchener Dutchmen, and Centennials general manager Jeff Grimwood, who was with the Dutchmen, had started working with Palfreyman in 2015.

"It's a long time ago and [they're] more like family," he said.

Palfreyman's parents addressed the team during that session.

Shantz  said Palfreyman's mother told the team: "Hockey is a game. Life is bigger than hockey and do your best and remember, Eli will be there with you."