Officially, the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL are limited to 21 players on their roster on game day.
Unofficially, this year they have 22. The extra player is seven year old Brendan, who since the start of the season has been an honorary team member. Brendan has Idiopathic Pulmonary Hypertension, which in the short term means he can’t exert himself. In the long term, it is life threatening. While Brendan is aware of what he has and that he can’t exert himself, his parents haven’t told him how serious it is, as they just want him to have fun and not worry.
That’s where the Warriors come in. Defenseman Rylan Yaremko was visiting his grandparents over the summer, and happened to meet Brendan’s grandparents. They began talking about hockey and then Brendan’s condition, and Yaremko instantly knew he had to do something. Fast forward to mid November, and Brendan is almost always hanging out with the players in the locker room prior to games.
“He’s been great, he comes in the room after a game and even if we lost everyone goes from being disappointed to having a big grin on their faces,” Yaremko described. “He’s a special kid, we love seeing him wearing our jersey and it gives us a little sense of pride.”
Brendan’s role with the team isn’t restricted just to visiting before and after games. He also gets to go skating with them, and his favourite activity takes place during games.
“I actually get to pick up the frisbees on the frisbee toss,” Brendan said with a large grin spreading across his face.
That smile has proven infectious on the team, leading to a relationship everyone benefits from. Brendan reminds the players that life is bigger than hockey, provides them with a tremendous motivational boost, and reminds them they’re fortunate for what they have. For Brendan, he gets to be involved with his favourite team in his favourite sport.
Brendan attends most of the games, and as long as they don’t go past his bedtime, he gets to stay to the end and hang out with the team after.
“I spot him out in the stands most of the time, I know where he sits,” Yaremko said. “We look at each other, and it’s good to see him. I like looking at him throughout the game, he gets me going a little more.”
While Brendan ins’t able to travel to road games with the Warriors, he is always with the team in the form of wristbands they all wear during games, which read ‘Phenomal Hope.’ When he is with the team Brendan is always smiling, and the players are always making him laugh, which Yaremko noted isn’t difficult to do as he’s a very funny and happy kid.
What started out as a gesture to Brendan has grown into much, much more for everyone involved. He may be an honorary team member in title, but Brendan has truly become the 22nd member of the West Kelowna Warriors roster.