This past weekend was the inaugural Ryan Couling Memorial U18AA Hockey Tournament, hosted by the Airdrie Lightning U18AA boys’ hockey team.

Since Thursday, Airdrie's Rob Ebbesen arena has seen four teams play hard to try and claim first place in the tournament, but these past four days have been about more than just hockey; they have been about Ryan Couling.

Ryan Couling played for Airdrie Minor Hockey Association teams growing up and was a member of the Airdrie Lightning U18 AA boys’ hockey team for three seasons. He was diagnosed with Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma (FHC) – a rare form of liver cancer in April 2021. He fought the disease for 19 months before passing away. 

The goal was to have this tournament in Ryan's name next year, but with all the support Airdronians and Airdrie's hockey community offered, it was able to happen this year.

"The support has been overwhelming. For us, to put it together in three weeks like we did and get support, it has been awesome," stated Airdrie Lightning's Head Coach Mark Kulynych.

According to Kulynych, when it comes to next year's tournament he has had Saskatchewan teams reach out and want to be involved in the tournament. For Ryan's dad, Garry Couling, this tournament is something he is very thankful for.

"It's been overwhelming, the support from the community, all the teams, the guys that have put this together, it's unbelievable. Ryan would be so proud."

Couling hopes to see the tournament keep growing. He mentioned he would like to see it eventually grow to 32 teams, but for now, he can't wait to see where it goes next year.

"He [Ryan] was a warrior. He battled hard, and he competed in life, especially in the latter half. The message to my team is in everything you do in life, you've got to work hard, and you got to earn it. You got to battle and don't take little things for granted," stated Kulynych.

Couling wanted to thank everybody that has helped out with this tournament, including Cameron Davies who is a close friend of Couling's and who has a son that plays for the Lightning.

"There have been so many people involved, too many to name them all but it's so appreciated, and I look forward to next year," stated Couling.

On the hockey side of the tournament, it did not go the Lightning's way as they ended up playing in the third-place game against the CNHA U18AA Black Northstars, while the gold medal game featured the Wheatland U18 Chiefs and Foothills Bisons U18AA.

In the end, the Lightning took home the bronze while the CNHA U18AA Black Northstars claimed fourth. The Wheatland U18 Chiefs took home gold while the Foothills Bisons U18AA left Airdrie with a silver.

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