By GENE PEREIRA
Duane Eldridge could hear the music coming from the Barrie Jr. Sharks dressing room. As he walked in, there was first-year forward Avery Andrew dancing away.
“I didn’t realize how much music and dancing meant to her,” the Sharks head coach said, recalling a memory from three years ago he now holds so dearly.
Andrew had her back to the coach. Her teammates stopped, but Andrew, totally unaware he was there, kept on dancing. Laughter started to fill the room.
“They were going to stop her and I just told them no, just watch her dance,” Eldridge recalls.
It didn’t take long before Andrew figured out what was going on. Some people would have been embarrassed. Not Andrew, she was having too much fun. She just kind of turned around, smiled, and said, “Hey coach, what’s up?”
“It really broke up the room,” Eldridge remembered of the 18-year-old Everett teen, who died in a car crash, just north of Alliston, on New Year’s Day. “That’s one of my early memories and that really let me know who she is. I always understood (after that) when the players talked about how important she was, keeping things light and having fun. My own experience was, ‘Yep, I get it. I see it.'”
A funeral service was held Jan. 9 at the Tottenham Community Centre.
The Barrie Sharks just didn’t lose their captain, the loss of the young teen is one that is being felt by many in the community.
“Everybody in Alliston knew her, everybody in Banting knew her,” said Eldridge. “It’s not just the hockey people that are struggling with this. I think everybody she touched has struggled with it, because she was one of those very rare, unique people that other people just love to be around.”
Eldridge says he is heartbroken for her parents, John and Kim Andrew, sister Jade and twin sisters Emma and Paige, who also play on a Barrie Sharks team.
A fill-in player the first year with the Sharks, Andrew was a regular the last two seasons. Her competitive nature and work ethic immediately stood out to the Barrie coaching staff. She took important faceoffs and killed penalties, but it was her intensity and persistence that really made people notice. Especially her opponents, who found her tough to play against.
“Anytime there was a puck battle, she might not win it but you were going to know you were in one with her,” Eldridge said.
Off the ice, it was a different story.
“It was amazing how, when you took the helmet off, she became one of the most likeable people you can meet,” he said. “She really cared for her teammates. When they were down, she was the one bringing them up with quirky things and making things fun. She had a great ability to recognize when it was time to go to work and when it was time to have fun.”
Andrew set a great example on and off the ice for her teammates. At the end of last season, when Eldridge and his coaching staff found out that Andrew would return this season, they knew they had their captain.
“We knew that was the role she was suited for, that she would do what you expect from a captain,” the coach explained. “The one comment we’ve heard from the girls was, ‘We lost our leader.’
Eldridge says the team has been together several times since her passing. They’ve talked to a grief counsellor and skated together. The team did some trampolining and got together to watch Canada defeat Sweden in the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey championships. They delivered food to the Andrew family and even went bowling.
“They just want to be together,” Eldridge said. “There’s just nobody here they want to leave behind. They’re going to go through this whole thing together.”
Eldridge says the team is also comforted by the outpouring of support from those in and outside the community. A Go Fund Me Page has been set up for the family. The girls on the team even designed their own jersey patch and helmet sticker and those stickers will go out to all the Sharks teams. The Jr. Sharks have dedicated the rest of the season to Andrew.
“I’m confident enough that with the people that are there and the legacy she leaves behind that they’ll figure out a way through this,” he said. “They’ve already talked about it. We need to pick it up for her. That’s a tribute to her.”
Photo courtesy of the Barrie Sharks