2022 esso cup may 15 selects megan smith

Carrying on Oliver’s legacy

With her family’s Olliebot fundraising campaign, Northern Selects forward Megan Smith is carrying on her brother Oliver’s legacy and raising money for Ewing sarcoma

Shannon Coulter
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May 20, 2022
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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, agility.”

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 friends.

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 community.

“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 20 girls.”

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 coaches too.”

  

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 than $100,000.

“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.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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