Meet Nick Tupper: a special kind of hockey player
Special to the Record
One of my favourite quotes is, "You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
These exact words ran through my head a couple of weeks ago.
The Comox Valley Glacier Kings had just suffered a tough 3-2 loss to Campbell River. As the players walked down the rubber-floored hallways of the Sports Centre with heads hung low, I was a little worried. One of my favourite people, Elijah Lund-Carlson, was at the game and was about to go into the dressing room.
Elijah is 11 and has cerebral palsy. Elijah’s biggest passion in life is hockey. He didn’t care what the score was, he was just excited to meet the Yetis and be a part of their dressing room for a few moments. As Elijah and his mom Joanne Lund were leaving the dressing room, a voice asked them to stop.
Meet Nick Tupper.
Tupper stopped Elijah and his mom Joanne as he was frantically looking for a Sharpie and some white hockey tape so he could autograph his game stick and give it to Elijah. Joanne has since told me that Elijah sleeps with that stick and it doesn’t leave his sight.
As this unfolded, I couldn’t help but wonder: what would possess a 19-year-old junior hockey player to give up equipment he has to buy to a kid he may never see again?
Born and raised in Calgary, Alta., Nick didn’t always play an elite level of hockey. “Last year in Port Alberni that was the first time I’ve ever played top level hockey. I was always the guy that was looked over, passed up, my skating wasn’t my strongest point, and that made it easy for me to be put on lower teams.”
As Nick remembered his first adventure on hockey skates, a big smile broke across his face. “Originally, my dad thought I was going to be a golfer because I had this little plastic set of golf clubs I’d always swing around, then I saw hockey and I started using [the club] as a hockey stick and I think later that week he went to Canadian Tire and bought me some little starter skates and I would run around in those.”
Nick struggled through minor hockey. “When I first started, I don’t think anyone really believed in me, and I started to have my doubts too, around the Bantam age. I got cut from my rep team in Calgary, twice, and it was really hard for me," Nick recalled.
"Going into Midget next year, I cracked the rep team, and I didn’t play a lot and it was really tough. I didn’t understand what was going on, I hadn’t played at that high of a level before, and everywhere I played it was equal ice time rolling through the lines. When you’re playing rep, it’s different ... sometimes
I’d get one shift a game and it was tough for me. I started to second guess myself; I started to think, what’s the point now? That summer I took a couple of weeks off and considered quitting. Then I went to the gym and I got the drive back. It makes you mentally tough for sure.”
Nick uses his struggles as an example of how to rise above your situation. “For everybody else out there that doesn’t make your rep team or doesn’t make the level you want, you just have to keep going, it makes you mentally tough and in the end your work ethic will be that much stronger.”
Mark McNaughton is an assistant coach with the Glacier Kings. One of the promises made to Tupper when he signed with the team at the beginning of the season was NCAA opportunities. McNaughton said that one phone call generated plenty of interest.
"He will play NCAA hockey at either a division three or a division one level whichever one he wants, really, and see how far he wants to go.” McNaughton went on to talk about what Nick brings to the team.
“There’s been a number of times on the ice where he’s stepped up, whether it was taking physical action, or even just stepping up his game and helping his defence partner, it’s a big part of being a leader on a team and it’s something that he not only wants to do, but he naturally drifts towards. I think something like that gift for Elijah isn’t something he even thought twice about. It’s just something that naturally just comes to him, it’s his character, and his desire to make everyone feel comfortable and feel good.”
Head coach Bill Rotheisler has known Tupper for the majority of the young player's hockey career. “He’s successful on a team because he puts his teammates before he puts himself, and that’s all I’ve ever known from the kid.”
Tupper’s willingness to help his team has seen the ‘A’ on the front of his jersey ugraded to a ‘C’. Rotheisler says leadership comes naturally to Nick. “There are certain things you look for to bring out in your leaders, he’s already got them. He would do anything for any one of his teammates.”
So, back to the inspiration behind this story, what prompted Nick Tupper to hand over his game stick to
Elijah? “Here I am blessed with a fully capable body, a working body and it’s hard to see someone like that, who didn’t get a fair shake in life. Anything you can do to brighten someone else’s day, it just makes you feel good about yourself and you know you made the kid's night.”
Upbringing seems to have a lot to do with the core to Tupper’s personality. “I’ve always been raised to be humble about everything. I’ve come from a good family, a good background; we’ve had to work for everything we’ve had. Both my parents have taught me, just be thankful for everyday. Be thankful for
everything you have.”
Robyn Nicholson is the public relations director of the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.