The coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) has meant limited attendance at wakes and funerals, but it did not stop a large number of West Prince hockey players from paying their respects to a beloved coach.
Tyler Ellis, who coached West Prince teams at all different levels for close to 30 years, died earlier this month at age 49.
To illustrate the impact Ellis had on people, an estimated 300 players from all levels and ages from the Evangeline, Tyne Valley, O’Leary, Alberton and Tignish minor hockey associations recently formed a roadside honour guard as the funeral possession went down the Marchbank Road near the family home in Woodvale.
“It was the saddest day of our lives,” said Tyler’s wife, Gerri Ellis.
“When we turned around the corner, because they started right at our house, we were so touched and (it) gave us the courage to go on the final journey.
“It meant a lot, probably much more than your traditional wake where you are shaking hands and thanking people for coming. It was very moving, and I don’t know if I can put it into words.”
Gerri said Tyler, who was diagnosed with cancer May 1, loved coaching and working with kids. She added his favourite gig was coaching his three children, Alexa, Kelton and Martina.
Gerri relayed a story that Martina told at the funeral about Tyler’s famous line “to forget everything your parents told you on the way here” as soon as he walked into his team’s dressing room.
Gerri added her husband coached boys and girls with the same mentality and, regardless of the score, he expected his players to play their hardest.
“I know from living with him and driving to the rink with him many times, he really believed in each kid and pushed them beyond their potential in a positive way, although he may have kicked a few garbage cans along the way,” said Gerri with a chuckle.
“He was a little old school.”
"He really believed in each kid and pushed them beyond their potential in a positive way, although he may have kicked a few garbage cans along the way. He was a little old school.”
- Gerri Ellis
Nicole Corcoran, Logan Smallman and Sadie Knox played for Tyler at different levels and were part of the roadside honour guard.
Corcoran played for Ellis in under-9, under-11 and under-13. Smallman was a member of the Tyler-coached West Prince under-13 team and he played under him the last three years with the Alberton Regals of the West Prince Senior Hockey League (WPSHL). Knox played five years of AAA hockey under Tyler in the under-13, under-15 and under-18 divisions.
Corcoran, who attended with her mother, Nancy Corcoran, described the experience as “powerful”.
Smallman and the Regals’ senior team attended as a team. Knox and the Western Wind, the Tignish-based squad she captained and concluded her minor hockey career with, paid their respects as a team. Tyler’s daughter, Martina, was a member of that club.
“It was very emotional, and we were a very close team,” said Knox. “We pretty well had the same team for four years, and Tyler was always our coach, so it was pretty hard.”
Smallman described Tyler as an excellent motivator who knew how to get his players going.
“He wasn’t going to get right cross with you, and if you had a bad shift he was like, ‘Come on, you know you are better than that,’” said Smallman, who is 25. “It was always positive.
“Thinking about him, no one ever had a bad word to say about Tyler. He was a highly-looked upon man.”
The Senior Regals won back-to-back WPSHL titles in 2018 and 2019. Smallman pointed out the league has donated the championship trophy to the Ellis family.
“Tyler always said no one was going to take the trophy from him,” said Smallman.
That almost happened as the Regals were eliminated in the 2020 semifinals, but because of COVID-19 the season was not completed and, technically, the Regals are still defending champions.
Corcoran, who teaches and coaches hockey at Rothesay-Netherwood Prep School in New Brunswick, said Tyler never made his players feel bad and made coming to the rink fun. She stressed one thing that sticks out to her is that Tyler wanted his team members to not only be good players but quality people.
Even after Corcoran went on to play five years of Atlantic University Sport women’s hockey with the St. Francis Xavier X-Women, Tyler continued to follow her career and provide feedback.
“He’d be saying, ‘I hope you are taking shots from the point, I hope you are rushing the puck,’ ” recalled Corcoran, 25. "He believed in me long before I believed in myself. I always appreciated that from him."
Knox pointed out the Wind struggled to win only a couple of regular-season games during her final year of minor hockey. Tyler, however, refused to get discouraged and come playoff time the Wind pushed first-place Kings County to a fifth and deciding game in the semifinals.
“(Our playoff success) was all because of him,” said Knox, 21. “He always had a smile on his face and a positive outlook in every situation.
“He made every player feel valued and important.”