Ty Bartel had been writing poems with his Kidston Elementary School classmates Tuesday morning when his dad, Nathan, surprised him at school.
Dad was taking Ty, 7, down to Spirit Square where he could meet Vernon Vipers captain David Robinson and the rest of the players as the city honoured the B.C. Hockey League champions for reaching a third consecutive Royal Bank Cup championship game during a civic reception at lunchtime.
It was the Bartels way of saying thanks to Robinson and the team after Robinson arranged for Ty to receive Vipers playing cards, a stick, T-shirt and tickets to a game as he recovered in hospital from surgery on a brain tumour.
“David got me a whole bunch of stuff while I was having surgery,” smiled Ty, holding onto the Vipers’ player cards. “I like David and I like all of the players.”
A couple of hundred people showed up to congratulate the Vipers on another successful season which ended with Sunday’s 2-0 loss in the gold-medal game to the Pembroke Lumber Kings, denying the Vipers the chance to become the first team to ever win three straight RBC titles.
“Obviously we’re disappointed we came up a little bit short, but we know the fans will be behind us,” said the classy Robinson, who spent several minutes with Ty and Nathan Bartel during the reception. “We’re proud to be able to play in front of a fan base like that. I won’t forget my time here.”
Neither will graduating forward Dylan Walchuk, an RBC tournament all-star.
“The fans are unbelievable,” he said. “The support they show is awesome and it makes being a Viper an unbelievable experience.”
Among the earliest to arrive at Spirit Square was George Paterson, 83, a season ticket holder for 10 years.
“I just wanted to see the boys before they leave,” said Paterson, who attended the last two receptions in 2009 and 2010. “The Vipers play an exciting brand of hockey. Their hockey is better than the NHL as far as I’m concerned.”
Also paying respects were Denise Fransbergen, a game-night volunteer and anthem singer, and Norma Skinner, hockey fan. The two friends disagreed on how successful they thought the Vipers might be this year.
“I said they’d go all the way,” said Fransbergen.
“At the beginning of the year I said ‘no way,’” laughed Norma. “I’m going to miss the ones that move on. You get so attached then they move on to another city.”
Upon receiving the Freedom of the City an hour before the reception, Vipers owner Duncan Wray vowed that his club would be back at the 2012 RBC in Humboldt, Sask. Which is fine with head coach Mark Ferner.
“Along with pressure comes expectation. We expect to be in Humboldt,” said a confident Ferner. “We’re not shy about talking about it. We talked about going this year, right from day one behind closed doors, we knew we were going to get there.Nobody else did.”