Junior hockey team's captain dies during tournament in southern Ontario

·3 min read
Eli Palfreyman was named captain of the Ayr Centennials last week. On Tuesday, he died during a pre-season tourney at the North Dumfries Community Centre, the team confirmed Wednesday. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/gojhl.ca - image credit)
Eli Palfreyman was named captain of the Ayr Centennials last week. On Tuesday, he died during a pre-season tourney at the North Dumfries Community Centre, the team confirmed Wednesday. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/gojhl.ca - image credit)

Eli Palfreyman, who was recently named captain of the Ayr Centennials of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, died during a pre-season tournament this week in the small town, the team said Wednesday.

The team is "devastated" by the death of the 19-year-old, a statement from Centennials vice-president Brian Shantz said.

"We are asking for your prayers and support for Eli's family and each of our players. Our Centennials organization and the community of Ayr are in mourning," the statement said.

"Eli had the best of care from our medical staff and quick response from the ambulatory staff. Medical doctors will have more answers for us in the coming days."

"Out of respect for the family's right for privacy, we will not speculate on anything at this very difficult time. Cens nation also needs time to heal during this devastating time."

The team is providing mental health and grief support to players and staff.

A Centennials tweet Wednesday afternoon included photos of Palfreyman's jersey:

In a video posted to the Centennials' Instagram page five days ago, and with credit to local media outlet 519 Sports Online, Palfreyman, of Cambridge, Ont., said it was an honour to be named captain.

"Ever since I moved to Cambridge, I've been coming to see games in Ayr," he said. "To be part of the organization last year as an assistant captain was an honour and to be coming back this year, my final year, as the captain, words don't explain how honoured I am to be in this position."

The website Elite Prospects said Palfreyman had played for the Cambridge Hawks and Kitchener Dutchmen, and joined the Centennials in 2021. He also played for the Atlanta Mad Hatters in the United States Premier Hockey League.

The Centennials were taking part this week in a tournament in southern Ontario at the North Dumfries Community Complex in Ayr, 100 kilometres southwest of Toronto, that included teams from Ontario, the U.S. and Germany.

In a tweet, the Township of North Dumfries said the Centennials "suffered the tragic loss of one of their players" during a game.

Flags at the arena have been lowered to half-mast.

Mayor says community 'saddened' by death

North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton, who was at the Tuesday game, called Palfreyman's death "heartbreaking."

"As a community we are saddened and mourn the loss along with our Cens family and the family of this young man. There are no right words, just sorrow," she said in an email to CBC News.

The Waterloo Regional Police Service confirmed officers were called to a medical emergency at the North Dumfries Community Centre hockey arena on Tuesday.

"Members of the community assisted the individual until emergency services attended. The individual was transported to Cambridge Memorial Hospital where he was, unfortunately, pronounced deceased," police told CBC News.

The GOJHL said in an emailed statement that all exhibition games planned for Wednesday and Thursday have been postponed.

"Due to the circumstances surrounding the incident, the GOJHL will not be releasing any further information at this time. We will provide more information at a later date," the statement said.

In a tweet on Aug. 29, the team said the tournament was a "great opportunity for these young players to be seen by so many scouts," including from colleges, universities, the Ontario Hockey League and teams in the National Hockey League.The tournament schedule said the Centennials were playing the Boston Jr. Bruins on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.

The GOJHL has over two dozen teams split into three conferences: Western, Midwestern and Golden Horseshoe.

'Everyone's friend'

Many people offered tributes to Palfreyman on social media.