Tuesday, October 12th, 2010


Honouring a friend and teammate

On Friday, the Norwich Merchants and their fans remembered.

They remembered a player who "played for the love of the game."

They remembered a friend and teammate who inspired.

On Friday, the Norwich Merchants and their fans remembered Ben Pearson.

In a poignant ceremony before their regular season game against the New Hamburg Firebirds, the Merchants paid tribute to a player who was both a fierce competitor and a dedicated friend by permanently retiring his jersey number.

"Ben will forever live in our hearts," announcer Colin Percy said during the ceremony. "We love you No. 7."

The ceremony began with the dimming of the arena's lights before a group of parents and siblings of past and present Merchants took to the ice carrying lit red candles. The final people to step onto the ice were Ben's friends and family, including his grieving parents, Stephen and Robin Pearson.

After a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace" by two pipers from the Ingersoll Pipe Band, two of Ben's teammates, Norwich captain Aaron Wirth and assistant captain Brett Green carried their friend's jersey across the ice for a raising ceremony. Lit by a spotlight, the two young men -- who, like their teammates, were wearing lack armbands inscribed with a No. 7 -- quietly honoured their friend before helping present Ben's parents with a Norwich jersey and a framed photograph.

The Firebirds, who were all wearing No. 7 on their jerseys in tribute, also presented the Pearsons with a floral arrangement.

"The outpouring of love ... has been a real source of strength for our family," Robin said. "We are very proud to have the honour of being his parents."

Known as a team leader, the big defenceman encouraged his teammates with his physical play and his sense of humour. An aspiring police officer, he often brought that serve-and-protect approach to the ice.

Towards the end of the ceremony, Stephen read some words written by his son that reflected both his love of hockey and his dedication to his teammates.

"We play because, once we take the ice, nothing else exists. We play for the glory of the best game on earth.

"I play for the Norwich Merchants."

After the emotion of the memorial ceremony, the actual game -- a 2-1 shootout win for the Firebirds -- was almost anticlimactic.

Regardless, New Hamburg goalie Corey Moore definitely deserved some plaudits after turning away 40 shots from the Merchants. Only Todd Poirier managed to get past Moore, scoring with only three seconds left on the clock to force overtime.

Daniel Percuklijevic opened the scoring for the Firebirds early in the first period.

The Merchants rebounded from their tumultuous Friday night with a 6-4 win against the Paris Mounties.

Mike Brilhante and Addison Fisher both scored twice for the Merchants while Drake Morrell and Mike Rebry (pp) rounded things out. Merrit Crimback had two for the improved Mounties while Nick Brimmer and Drew Priestap (pp) added singles.

With the weekend split, the Merchants are tied with the Firebirds for first place in the Niagara Junior C league's west division with a 5-0-1 record. The Merchants next home game is Friday at 8 p.m. against the Aylmer Spitfires