Heart and hustle

Laurie Pilson Memorial Award developed to remember a past Cougars player and support those currently on the ice

Laurie Pilson with Gordie Howe and Laurie's friend Mike Dambrough.

Pilson (far right) with Gordie Howe (middle) and Pilson's friend Mike Dambrough (left).

Words provided by Ty Pilson, Laurie Pilson’s nephew, director of Digital Content and Social Media at Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and former assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun.

Laurie Pilson had a lifelong love affair with hockey.

It was forged at rinks and on ponds across Canada as he moved around the country as an Air Force brat and culminated with his playing career with the Mount Royal Cougars’ men’s hockey team from 1967 to 1969. In his last year, the Cougars were the Alberta Collegiate Athletic Conference and Big-6 Services League champions.

The school and program occupied a special place in Pilson’s heart from that time forward. He passed away in 2018, and through wanting to honour his commitment to the sport and Mount Royal, Pilson’s wife Valerie has established the Laurie Pilson Memorial Award.

The honour ― and accompanying $1,000 — will go to a "full-time student who will be enrolled in any year of any program who is a member of the Cougars men’s hockey team and demonstrates dedication through hard work, passion, perseverance and commitment to the team."

The 2020/2021 season marks the first year for this scholarship. The award winner will be chosen by a selection committee within Mount Royal University and comprised of Cougars Athletics and Recreation department staff. The plan to present the award with the Pilson family at a Canada West conference game is on hold due to the current pandemic and government restrictions, meaning this year’s recipient will be announced virtually in the coming months.

"I know Laurie would be pleased to be part of this award," Valerie says. "Not only did Mount Royal allow him the chance to play with the Cougars, but also the opportunity to establish and maintain lifelong friendships."

Laurie Pilson with Terry Sawchuk and Mike Dambrough.

Pilson (left) with Terry Sawchuk (middle) and Mike Dambrough (right).

Nathan Higgins, director of hockey operations for the Cougars men’s program, says the award will have a lasting impact on student-athletes.

"The players themselves really value these awards," Higgins says. "It’s super important to them, and what we’re going through right now (with COVID-19) makes it even more important."

Higgins met Pilson in 2014 when the Cougars were reaching out to former alumni and subsequently got to know him well. They often chatted by text about the team, with Pilson attending many games and watching from the Long Blue Line alumni room.

"Val shared with me that what was really important to Laurie was that this award be meaningful for someone who otherwise might not have the opportunity to play or might be stretched financially. It was an opportunity to help provide a means for someone to get this experience."

When Pilson’s eyesight started to decline amid other health issues, he often watched the team play via CanadaWest.tv.

"The Cougars, he said, really meant a lot to him," Higgins explains. "The time that he spent here, but also reflecting back on the people that he played with and who coached him."

From the moment Pilson laced up his first pair of skates at the tender age of four, he was ― like many fellow Canadian kids still to this day ― hooked by the game.

The grace, the skill, the skating, the elegance and the occasional rough stuff ― it was poetry on ice to him.

Laurie Pilson on the ice for the Ottawa Furies.

Pilson for the Ottawa Furie.

He was a gifted athlete growing up, also taking part in football, basketball and swimming (he once held an Alberta record for his age in the front crawl).

But hockey was his true passion.

Pilson began minor hockey at the age of six in Calgary’s Lincoln Park as a goalie, but found out quickly he didn’t really enjoy that position, so he switched to right wing.

Later on after moving to Ottawa, he started to excel at the game.

Pilson had the good fortune to attend a Detroit Red Wings hockey camp where he learned the game from legends such as Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk, memories he cherished for a lifetime.

He played Junior A hockey with the Ottawa Montagnards and Ottawa Furies, and got to share the ice for some pre-season play with Bobby Orr and the Oshawa Generals as a call-up.

When his playing career was over, he stayed close to the game, at one time owning a small hockey shop named Blueline Sports on Macleod Trail. He also volunteered as a game official in the penalty box for the 1988 Winter Olympics hockey competition.

The Laurie Pilson Memorial Award is a tribute to Pilson’s love of hockey and his character as a person. To learn more about honouring a loved one with a named scholarship or bursary as a memorial, email giving@mtroyal.ca.

Our student-athletes and coaches aren't playing their usual season, but that doesn't mean they've stopped training or learning. Show your support for the grit and determination of our student athletes through the Campaign for the Cougars happening now.

Jan. 11, 2021