Hockey runs in the blood of Northern Selects forward Megan Smith. Both of
her grandfathers played the game; her father, Bryan, played and is the
coach of St. Francis Xavier University women’s hockey team.
With a love of the game generations deep in her family, Megan knew she
wanted follow in their footsteps and laced up her skates at five years old.
“It’s like a legacy,” the now 18-year-old says. “My family has played
hockey and my brother [Oliver] just loved the sport so much.”
Megan’s younger brother, Oliver, would tag along to watch her games when
she began her hockey journey. Soon enough, he followed his sister and began
playing hockey when he turned five years old.
“He was so antsy in the stands. He just wanted to be on the ice,” Megan
says. “He was so eager to get on the ice and the minute you could put
skates on his feet, he was off, he was going. He had so much energy.”
Together with their older sister Emma, all three Smith siblings were very
close growing up in Antigonish, N.S.
“We were so competitive,” Megan says. “We were always playing mini-sticks
together, shooting basketballs outside, going hiking and fishing and
camping. We’ve always been so close. So even when Oliver got sick, we were
there to support him. We couldn’t be as active, but we made up for it
playing video games, watching movies and playing board games.”
When Oliver began his first year playing U11, his father Bryan noticed that
something seemed off while he was on the ice.
“He wasn’t as fast,” Bryan says. “He was very quick, very agile. Then when
the fall came for tryouts, he just didn’t have that same flexibility,
Oliver was complaining about his leg and groin being sore, so he began
physiotherapy to try to strengthen his leg. Along with the pain, he started
to feel unwell. That brought Oliver back to his doctor in February of 2017,
when he was officially diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in his left hip, a rare
type of cancer that occurs in bones or soft tissue.
With his mobility limited and Oliver spending more time at home as he
underwent treatment, the Smiths brainstormed what activities he could do to
pass the time. Bryan had some woodworking experience, so he thought of
creating a robot out of wood and hockey laces. Nicknamed the “Olliebot,”
Oliver worked with his family to make more of the wooden robots to give to
It wasn’t until Bruce MacPherson, the father of Megan’s teammates Bree
MacPherson and Mairead MacPherson, asked to buy an Olliebot that they
realized this fun family activity would be a great way to give back to the
“We were like, ‘Wow, we could sell these,’” Bryan says. “We knew that
Oliver’s cancer, Ewings cancer, there wasn’t a lot of fundraising for it.
It’s very rare, and there isn’t a lot of fundraising for childhood cancer
in general. … We knew we had to direct it to that.”
The Smiths launched Olliebots for public sales in the middle of November
2017. By Dec. 23 of that year, they had sold 273 unique Olliebots. Proceeds
go to the Ewings Cancer Foundation of Canada and support other families in
Nova Scotia who have been affected by childhood cancer.
“Each one comes with a little tag and then hockey laces and wooden blocks,
and then there’s customizable stickers and googly eyes,” Megan explains.
“Each Olliebot is actually signed with a heart inside an O. It’s on the
left hip, which is where Oliver’s cancer was.”
There are quite a few notable members of the hockey community that own an
Olliebot. Pittsburgh Penguins captain and Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby
has one, plus he signed an Olliebot for Oliver to keep. Toronto Maple Leafs
star Mitch Marner, Mike Babcock, Darryl Sittler, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry
each have an Olliebot. Blayre Turnbull, Jill Saulnier and Troy Ryan of
Canada’s National Women’s Team also have their own.
With time, the Olliebot project became a community fundraising effort.
Schools in Antigonish have helped to prepare wood for the Smiths or host
Olliebot nights where teachers and students help to create the wooden
robots. Megan’s teammates on the Selects also helped in gathering supplies.
“The girls that are playing on my current team, I played with them all the
way up in Selects. Some years, we get to the end of the season and the
coaches will be like, ‘OK girls, untie your skates, take the laces out and
pass them to the Smiths,’ and we make Olliebots out of skate laces right
from my teammates’ skates,” Megan says. “I mean, I’m watching people undo
their skates to give to my family so we can give money to research for
cancer. It’s just unbelievable the support that you can get from a group of
Unfortunately, Oliver lost his battle with cancer in June 2019, one day
after his 12th birthday. Just as the hockey community rallied around the
Smith family when Oliver was diagnosed, the community continues to provide
them with support and love since his passing.
“I’ve been with [my teammates] since Oliver got diagnosed all the way up
until he died in 2019, and they all came to his funeral, they were in the
front row at his funeral,” Megan says. “They were all around, and even the
There are good days and bad days when grieving the loss of a loved one, but
Megan has shown resilience and perseverance. Her love of the game has also
helped her over the past few years.
“Hockey has been the one place where I feel I can go and that [it’s] just a
positive outlet,” she says. “Nobody meets you with a frown face, everyone
meets you with a smile and they ask you how you’re doing, and they talk
about Oliver in the most positive ways. They tell you just how great of a
sister or mother or father you are to him and how proud you should be just
to carry on his legacy.”
Almost three years later, there continues to be signs and tributes to
Oliver in the Nova Scotia hockey community. Megan switched her jersey to
Oliver’s No. 2 to continue to carry on his legacy—plus Oliver’s two best
friends wear No. 2 and No. 22 to remember him. The Selects also have decals
on the back of their helmets that feature an O, a heart and a No. 2.
In honour of Oliver, the Smith family continues to make Olliebots and
donate their proceeds to the Ewings Cancer Foundation of Canada. While
Oliver used to sign each Olliebot with his signature O and heart, Megan now
continues that tradition. Each member of the Selects has their own Olliebot
that sits in their dressing room stalls. There’s even an Olliebot sitting
outside on their local arena sign.
“It’s not glued there, it just sits there and it has sat there for like
three years,” Megan says. “Nobody takes it. Everyone knows what it is and
it’s totally amazing.”
Overall, the Smiths have made over 4,500 Olliebots and have raised more
“With Oliver losing his battle, you never want to see another kid go
through what he has went through,” Megan says. “Just with the lack of
fundraising and research for pediatric cancer, I think it’s important that
we keep up his legacy.
“I think Oliver would be really honoured to know that we carried on his
legacy and that there’s still hope for other children.”
Something Oliver would always say is, “Be the hardest worker.” It’s a motto
the Smith family used throughout Oliver’s life and after his death. With
Olliebots tucked into their suitcases for the Esso Cup, Megan and the
Selects plan to embody that motto on the ice in Okotoks.
“Whenever I play, I try to be the hardest worker and it brings me so much
joy to be able to do that and honour his legacy,” she says. “Everyone on my
team knows the ‘Be the hardest worker,’ and we truly live by it. We are the
hardest workers in practice, off ice, during games. We live by it, and it
means so much that the girls support me and my family.”