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The Legacy of Michael Van Ooteghem Lives on at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games

February 28, 2024

The 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games paid a touching tribute to the late Michael Van Ooteghem through a ceremonial puck drop to kick off the floor hockey tournament, which is being held in memory of Michael whose life tragically ended one year ago when he was struck and killed a train after watching a Calgary Flames game.

Michael had shared his hopes and dreams to one day support the floor hockey team by volunteering at the Special Olympics along with his partner and close friend from Guelph, Ont. – Martin Kudla – who has a brother with special needs.

In Michael’s memory, friends, family and Games Organizers have been raising money in support of the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary where they have also sponsored the Floor Hockey Competition to honour his competitive spirit.

On Wednesday, the hockey community including 12 members of the Calgary Flames united at Seven Chiefs Sportsplex to drop the ceremonial first puck to not only mark the beginning of the tournament, but also a celebration of Michael's life and contributions to the community.

Mikael Backlund from the Calgary Flames Foundation, Tsuut’ina Leader - Minor Chief Tyson Heavenfire, Andrew Van Ooteghem (Michael’s Brother), Martin Kudla (Michael’s Friend), and Calgary Games Ambassadors presented by Pembina, Darby Taylor and Leonka Kaluha, came together to drop the puck to formally kick off the competition and take a moment to honour Michael’s enduring legacy. Their collective presence on the rink symbolized a union of community, sportsmanship, and personal remembrance.

Andrew Van Ooteghem shared Michael's passion for sport with the crowds at the Seven Nations Sportsplex. "Michael had intended to volunteer for the Special Olympic Games this year as it was an opportunity to share his love for sports and passion for competition."

Following the ceremony, the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex came alive with the excitement of a mini-floor hockey match between the 12 representatives from the Calgary Flames Foundation and the Special Olympics Calgary Hurricanes.

The game was a vibrant display of skill, determination, and joy, embodying the spirit of inclusion and camaraderie that defines the Special Olympics. Players from both teams competed with a level of enthusiasm and dedication that captivated the audience, turning the match into a significant highlight of the day's events.

"On behalf of my teammates and the Calgary Flames Organization, we are very happy to parter with the Special Olympics for over 40 years," said Flames Captain Mikael Backlund.

The ceremony and the ensuing match was a testament to the powerful role sport plays in building community, celebrating individual and collective achievements, and, most importantly, honour the memory of those who have left a lasting impact on Canada’s sporting landscape.

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