Their medals were silver, their hearts filled with purple.
Right to the very end, the motto of the Ottawa Senators bantam girls' hockey team was simple and singular — Do it for Daron.
"We dedicated our season to her. It was all about her," coach Bruce MacDonald said of his team's ultimate goal of winning a provincial gold medal for Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old former teammate who took her own life last November.
Daron wasn't just a teammate to them all. The daughter of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson and his wife, Stephanie, was an integral part of the mix and, most important, a friend to them all.
"Daron was an important piece of the puzzle for us," said MacDonald. "The first month (after her death) was very, very difficult for the girls. But through the help of private counselling, group counselling, counselling at the school and parent support, we were able to get through it.
"Remarkably, the girls did phenomenally well. I think the ice was kind of like a santuary for them. They could get away from their thoughts, just do what they do best and enjoy something that Daron enjoyed as well."
The under-14 girls' team had a hugely successful season indeed, claiming four tournament gold medals — including one in Burlington, Vt., against an under-19 team, which MacDonald called "the highlight of our year" — and four silvers. The latter total included the Ontario championships last weekend at York University in Toronto, where the Senators were edged by Thunder Bay 2-1 in the final after reeling off five straight wins to get there.
While the colour of their medals suggested the Senators fell short of their biggest goal, MacDonald wouldn't let them think that for even a moment. In his mind, it was a season of tremendous achievement.
"There was a lot of emotion after it was over ... the fact it was over and they hadn’t totally completed their goal of winning gold for Daron," he said. "But I told them they were champions in their own minds and their parents’ minds and you should be very proud of your accomplishments. They had nothing to hang their heads about. They put everything they had into it and remarkably, they did extremely well.
"There was a lot of emotion after it was over ... the fact it was over and they hadn’t totally completed their goal of winning gold for Daron. But I told them they were champions in their own minds and their parents’ minds and you should be very proud of your accomplishments. They had nothing to hang their heads about. They put everything they had into it and remarkably, they did extremely well. They should be proud of themselves. As a coach and a parent, I haven’t have been prouder of a group of girls in my life." - Bruce MacDonald
"They should be proud of themselves. As a coach and a parent, I haven’t have been prouder of a group of girls in my life."
Richardson couldn't have been prouder himself.
"It was definitely emotional and very tough,” he told the Ottawa Sun
. “We’re just so proud of what this group was able to accomplish. After what they’ve gone through in the last few months, I know they were a little disappointed because they wanted gold, but these kids have just been unbelievable through all of this.”
All season long, they kept Daron close to their hearts. Players on the team wore a decal on the back of their helmets. Purple — Daron's favourite colour — was everywhere. In the ribbons in their hair, in the pins on the jackets, in the D.I.F.D. bracelets around their wrists.
"They really wanted that gold medal (at provincials) for Daron and for Luke and Stephanie," said MacDonald. "When Luke and Stephanie were at our semifinal (a 4-0 victory over Toronto Leaside), the girls ... there was no way they were going to lose that game."
There weren't many losses all season — only four in all against bantam-aged teams. Their season consisted of a series of tournaments, the rationale being, MacDonald said, that it would make them "tournament tough" for the big one at the end. It meant a lot of weekends on the road.
"it’s a better way to prepare for the provincials," said MacDonald. "It’s very demanding. They also learn how to multi-task. School is obviously No. 1. These girls learn very quickly the importance of school and a lot of these girls are aspiring to play in college. We tell them that you have to have good marks (to get there)."
Some also aspire to represent their country someday as well, with MacDonald saying "Hockey Canada has already talked with me about some of my girls."
Given the heart they showed this season, no doubt they'll be able to handle whatever comes next.