NL Soccer Association award winners announced
The Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association (NLSA) has recognized outstanding players, coaches and volunteers for 2016.
Members of Newfoundland’s Canada Summer Games soccer team gather around Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban near the Canadiens’ locker room following Montreal’s game against the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night. The meeting and game tickets were made possible by Mark Smith, to the left of Subban, following a chance meeting at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
The Newfoundland boys’ soccer team slated to play in next summer’s Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg is getting some pre-season training and competition this week in Montreal and Toronto, but when it’s all said and done, it’s not the soccer the kids will remember but a hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre.
And how they managed to get there.
Through what’s being dubbed on social media as “one man’s act of kindness,” the Newfoundland soccer players watched the Canadiens slip past the Red Wings 4-3 Tuesday night thanks to a chance meeting at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
The soccer team, whose flight from St. John’s to Montreal, via Toronto, was delayed by four hours, was waiting to board their plane when the team’s manager, Gonzo Bennett of Mount Pearl, and a fellow traveller struck up a conversation.
The traveller turned out to be Mark Smith, well known in the Montreal financial community, a former Quebec finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and a member of the International Advisory Board for McGill’s School of Business.
“He asked about the boys, who they were, where they were from … that sort of thing,” Bennett recounted. “He was quite impressed with the way they carried themselves, how they spoke and acted, how they looked.
“He said he’d like to do something special for them, and asked me for my number. I said to myself, ‘Sure … right.’”
Turns out the something special was free hockey tickets — in the Bell Centre’s expensive red seats, no less — for the soccer team’s players, coaches and support staff for the Habs-Wings game. On top of that, the obviously connected Smith took the kids down to ice level where they met P.K. Subban outside the Canadiens’ locker room, and Montreal executive vice-president and chief operating officer, Kevin Gilmore.
“He has four seats behind the Canadiens’ bench, and he asked three of the boys to join him,” Bennett said of Smith.
“It’s funny, but I hadn’t heard from him all day, and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, another scam.’ But he called, and said he was also trying to arrange some other things.”
The other thing turned out to be a meet and greet with Subban.
Earlier in the day, the Newfoundlanders dropped a 4-1 decision to Quebec’s under-16 team in Laval. Following the game, the Newfoundland coaching staff told the players to hustle up and get ready, that they were off to see a movie.
“It was a surprise,” Bennett said. “And you know, we must have passed six movie theatres on the way into Montreal and nobody picked up on it.
“When we got to the Bell Centre, Mark came aboard the bus, shook everybody’s hand and told the kids that he had played a bit of soccer. He told them he came from a single parent family, that he worked hard to get what he had and that he was only too happy to do something nice for what looked like a great group of kids.
“Goes without saying the kids were in shock. You couldn’t wipe the smile from their faces.”
On Wednesday, Newfoundland finished up the Quebec portion of their trip with a 4-0 loss to the Montreal Impact Academy’s U16 team. They’re in Toronto Friday through Sunday with games against the Ontario Canada Games team and Toronto FC, before meeting a team from Vaughan, Ont., Sunday.
“As one of the coaches said, ‘It’s nice to know there are some good people in the world,’” Bennett noted.