Cave will be missed

Brad Brown, his daughter Ashley and Colby Cave in January 2014.

Like a whole lot of people, as seen in hundreds upon hundreds of tributes Saturday, my favourite memory of Colby Cave has nothing to do with anything he accomplished on the ice.

Not his game-winning overtime goal against the Calgary Hitmen in the 2013 playoffs. Not his dominant four-point night the next season on a Remembrance Day to forget for the Moose Jaw Warriors. Not even his first NHL goal (for the Boston Bruins, beating Carey Price), or his last one (scored for my beloved Oilers, Cave looking on the play a little more like Connor McDavid than a checking line centre).

No, my favourite memory of Colby Cave goes back to a community event held by the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos in January of 2014.

My wife and I decided to take in the festivities along with our daughter Ashley, who was not yet two years old but already a big fan.

She'd come with me to several Broncos games already that season while I covered them for the Prairie Post and, without fail, her three stars each game (in no particular order) were the iplex popcorn, the Zambonis, and Colby Cave.

Ashley would have barely known a hockey stick from a stick of butter at the time but she knew Cave was the Broncos' captain ("cappa Bronco" she called him for the longest time), so he was an easy choice for her favourite player. She'd watch intently any time No. 10 was on the ice for Swift Current, then go back to whatever toys or books we'd brought along to entertain her for the rest of the game.

So back to that January 2014 event, after the crowd had thinned out a bit Ashley finally got to meet her hockey hero.

Even after an hour and a half of pictures and autographs with other fans, Cave was all smiles and made Ashley feel like the most important person in the room. He wanted to know her name and how old she was and who her favourite team was. My wife took a picture of the three of us, Ashley completely star struck with Cave, and possibly unaware I was even in the same area code (even though I was holding her for the photo).

On our way out, I chatted for a few more minutes with Cave about hockey and life and nothing in particular. He said he'd miss my newspaper coverage of the team and wished me well in the new job I'd recently started in Regina.

For all the times we'd talked at the rink and all the highlight-reel moments he'd created over the past few seasons, those few minutes defined Colby Cave to me more than any goal, hit or championship ever could have. Off the ice as on it, he never failed to go above and beyond the call of duty, and was as genuine a person as anyone could hope to meet.

The next time I talked to him was also the last time we spoke. It was by phone for a preview story on the Broncos' 2014-15 season, and we had a good laugh as he tried explaining to me what a "rubby" was. (Cave described himself for years in his Twitter bio as an "NB rubby" — the "NB" standing for his hometown of North Battleford.)

 The answer? I still have no idea. I think it was something self-deprecating, but also a bit of an inside joke between Cave and his friends back home.

Whatever it meant, it couldn't have been negative because in the nine years since I first saw him play, I never heard a single bad word said about him.

Until last Tuesday that is, when the bad words felt like they would never stop. That was the day the news broke that Cave was in a medically-induced coma at a Toronto hospital after suffering a brain bleed caused by something called a colloid cyst.

Saturday morning, the condition took his life.

For a guy who had earned every last opportunity he'd been given in hockey, loved and respected by so many people, this was about as undeserved an ending as anyone could have written.

Former Broncos head coach Mark Lamb had told me during the 2013-14 season that Cave's combination of sincerity and work ethic had made him one of the more popular and well-respected captains he'd been around in his own lengthy career.

t was more than just talk, as Cave received the exceedingly rare honour the next season of captaining the Broncos for a second straight year.

In a Saturday afternoon email, Lamb doubled down on that sentiment.

 "My heart is broken that's for sure," he said. "Caver was an unreal player and a superstar person."

 A few of his former Broncos teammates weighed in on Twitter as well.

"I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for Caver," wrote Glenn Gawdin. "He showed me what hard work looked like and the true meaning of being a leader. Gone too soon."

From Zac Mackay: "The ultimate person was Colby Cave, rest in peace my friend. You will be so loved and missed every day."

 And from Dakota Odgers: "This one hits (too) close to home. RIP Caver. Good old Sasky boy and ultimate teammate.

  Rest easy, Captain. The pleasure was all ours.

Brad Brown is the owner and publisher of the award-winning Quad Town Forum in Vibank, Sask. He covered the Broncos for the Prairie Post from 2012-14.

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