It's been ten years since Jeff Yungblut passed away, leaving a hockey-shaped void in the Thorold community.
To honour and commemorate his legacy, the Yungblut family is putting on the fifth annual Jeff Yungblut Memorial Tournament between Friday, March 24, and Sunday, March 26.
“We’re very excited to be having the tournament again,” says Jeff’s mother Nancy Yungblut, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “We really missed the community and the support that we get from the teams.”
Jeff Yungblut was a local hockey player, coach, and volunteer firefighter. In 2013, he suddenly passed away, at the age of 41, due to an undiagnosed heart condition.
To keep his memory alive, Jeff’s cousin Kory came up with the idea of a hockey tournament.
“[Jeff and Kory] were not only related but they were firefighters together as well,” says Yungblut. “Kory came to us and he said: ‘Why don’t we do a tournament? Just to honour Jeff and his legacy, and his love of the game.’”
Throughout the years the tournament has become an annual family tradition.
“The first couple of years it was really tough because it was still pretty raw,” Yungblut says. “Now ten years later, it’s easier maybe. We all as a family enjoy the stories and hearing the different tales. It’s a wonderful heartwarming event.”
It was difficult not being able to hold the tournament during the pandemic, but Yungblut is certain that this year’s edition will be bigger and better than ever.
Taking to the ice will be players of all ages, who all have one thing in common: their memories of Jeff Yungblut.
There are firefighters and first responders, kids that were coached by Jeff, people that used to work with him, and of course family and friends.
“He was very well loved,” Yungblut says. “He reached so many people in so many different areas throughout the community. It is overwhelming. People want to honour him and they want to help us give back.”
During the tournament, there will be a raffle table and the Yungblut family will also be selling commemorative apparel.
All proceeds will go to different projects in the community, like the Jeff Yungblut Memorial Agricultural Scholarship the family recently started with the Niagara Federation of Agriculture.
“We want to give back and pay it forward,” Yungblut says. “Anybody within our community we try to take care of if we’re aware of what the need is.”
That drive to give back is what made Jeff Yungblut who he was, and it’s that legacy that his family wants to continue.
“It makes us feel good,” says Yungblut. “To be able to realize he touched so many people’s lives, and now they want to continue to honour Jeff and his memory. It’s a wonderful tribute to him and the man that he was.”
The Jeff Yungblut Memorial Tournament will take place between Friday, March 24, and Sunday, March 26 at the Frank Doherty Arena and the Walker Sports and Abilities Centre. For the complete tournament schedule, head over to the tournament's Facebook page.