Magic unlocked in kids at Canucks Autism Network hockey tourney in Surrey (photos, video)

Event at Surrey rink last Saturday gets kids dreaming about NHL

Brandon Carinha

SURREY — Talk to Yousuf Zafar and chances are you’ll come away a fan.

If his bright eyes and energy don’t win you over, then his matter-of-fact conversation will. The nine-year-old seems incapable of braggadocio or stretching the truth, and he does what a lot of us don’t do – he listens.

On Saturday at the Surrey Sports and Leisure Complex in Fleetwood, Yousuf was one happy little dude. He was playing – for the first time in his young life – in a hockey tournament. The Grade 3 Cambridge Elementary student had prepared for this day for a long time. Twenty-two weeks to be exact – practising, scrimmaging and learning as much as possible.

At the rink in Fleetwood, Yousuf’s team, the Surrey Stingrays, would play three games. Between games two and three, he talked about the experience and about all the friends he’d made, including his “best” friend, a young boy sitting nearby.

(Pictured: Brandon Carinha prepping in the dressing room with hs dad John.)

He also talked about his shot at glory during one of the morning’s games.

“I’m shocked. I almost scored today!”

And he talked about one day playing in the NHL.

There were nine teams in the tournament, each rostered with players as keen as Yousuf. Some were younger, some were older, some were bigger and some were smaller.

But they all shared one similar trait – each and every one of them was autistic.

This was the second annual CAN (Canucks Autism Network) Hockey Tournament.

CAN director of programming Stephanie Jull explained how it all came to be – how Vancouver Canucks’ co-owner Paulo Aqualini has a son who, at 19 months, was diagnosed with autism, how he wanted to support other families living with the condition, and how he had a vision of making hockey more accessible.

“These kids don’t have the same opportunities in sports,” Jull said. “This gives our kids the same type of experiences their peers have. To play on a team, to score goals, to get a team T-shirt, to hang out with new friends.”

Just a few feet from Yousuf sat teammate Brandon Carinha, an 11-year-old Grade 6 student who was busy chowing down on popcorn. Like every member of the Stingrays, a team that didn’t exist until a year ago, Brandon had never played hockey before the team was formed.

Brandon also plays soccer, but he said he prefers hockey because he “likes face-offs and scoring goals.” He rattled off the names of current Canuck players faster than a seasoned sports writer, and he said his biggest thrill of the day was meeting Fin, the Canucks mascot.

(Pictured: Yousuf Zafar prepping in the dressing room with his mom.)

Carinha’s dad John is the team manager, and he had a lot of great things to say about the Canucks Autism Network (online at Canucksautism.ca).

“What CAN offers is opportunity. And that opportunity allows their staff to unlock the magic that each of these kids have… through sport and recreation, these kids are able to really exude their strengths.”

Currently, you don’t need to be a resident of Surrey to be a part of the Stingrays. Moreover, because the tournament is still in its infancy, age restrictions are somewhat lax. Kids as young as eight and as old as 20-something play on the same team, according to Jull.

All of that is expected to change in time, as the tournament grows and more players, more parents, more supporters, and more sponsors come on board.

But on this day, the big game – the game that would pit the two Lower Mainland forces against one another in a battle of local supremacy – was about to begin. It was the Surrey Stingrays versus the Vancouver Orcas, and everyone was ready.

Yousuf’s “best friend” Ryan Laface sounded like a WWE wrestler.

“We’re off to an O-and-two start, but that doesn’t mean we can’t win a medal. I’ll be there, you’ll be there…tonight!”

Yousuf said he knew his team would win, adding, somewhat cryptically, “I’ve beaten Orcas before.”

In the end, the 8-8 final was a fitting conclusion. Lots of kids played, lots of kids scored, and lots of kids had some amazing memories to take home with them on World Autism Awareness Day.

Goble@shaw.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Five Surrey schools reporting COVID-19 exposures, including another at Panorama Ridge

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

This Crescent Beach home, located at 12505 22 Ave., was subject of a police search warrant June 18. (Google image)
Civil Forfeiture Office alleges Crescent Beach home used to launder money

Court documents request the home, and $85,000 to be turned over to the government

Surrey firefighters battle a house fire near the 70A Avenue and 126A Street intersection early Sunday morning. According to a witness, it appears that the occupants were able to get out without injury. (Shane MacKichan photos)
PHOTOS: Fire causes extensive damage to Surrey home

Occupants able to escape without injury: witness

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Mounties looking for teen boy ‘unlawfully at large’ from Riverview psychiatric hospital

Nolan Godron left the hospital, located at 2721 Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam, without consent on Saturday

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read