Roy Pejcinovski was his name and he was more than just a goaltender for the Don Mills Flyers; he was family. So were his mother, Krissy, and sister Vana. Just over a year ago, the three were murdered in their home, allegedly by Krissy’s boyfriend, who is currently going through the court system just east of Toronto on three murder charges.
The case made national headlines in Canada and left a hockey team to mourn the loss of a beloved teammate.
“Roy played for me for six years and I trained him for eight,” said Flyers coach Marc Slawson. “It moved well beyond player-coach; Roy was one of my best friends. Someone we had in our hearts. To lose a person like him, forget hockey – it was one of those things that makes you take a step back. It changes you for the rest of your life.”
With Pejcinovski still on their minds, that 2003-birth year Flyers team ended up winning the Greater Toronto League (GTHL) championship and the Ontario Hockey Federation’s provincial title. This season, much of the same group has formed one of the most dominant teams in the history of minor midget hockey – and they’re keeping Roy in their memories.
Don Mills is currently playing in the OHL Cup, where they are favored to win the tournament (which features the best teams from across the province, plus several American entries such as Detroit Little Caesar’s, featuring Quinn and Jack Hughes’ younger brother Luke). In their first game of the tourney, the Flyers all wore special warm-up jerseys adorned with Pejcinovski’s No. 74 on the back.
“We miss him so much,” said star defenseman Brandt Clarke. “It’s hard, but we think about him every day. He was a huge part of this organization and every game we go out and play for him.”
What the Flyers have accomplished this season is nothing short of incredible. While playing in the most competitive minor midget circuit in the world, plus tournaments, they have won 70 games and counting, with a couple of ties and just one loss – in overtime, in the final of the Silver Stick tournament to Detroit Compuware.
Led by 2004-born center Shane Wright, who was just awarded Exceptional Status to join the OHL a year early, the Flyers have a dizzying array of talent at their disposal. While Wright will go first overall in the OHL draft this April, the next two selections could be his left winger, Brennan Othmann, and blueliner Clarke. Another defenseman, 6-foot-5, 210-pound Roman Schmidt, is a top-five talent as well, but he’s trying out for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which will likely cause him to get drafted later. Schmidt is new to the team this season, as is Pejcinovski’s replacement in net, Russian-born goalie Sergei Litvinov, whose Lokomotiv Yaroslav-adorned mask recalls another hockey tragedy, the 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of nearly an entire KHL team.
But many of the kids returned from last year’s title team and they were all very much touched by the loss of Pejcinovski in ways that seem cruel for teenagers to be faced with.
“We all grew as people,” Clarke said. “Maybe it was too early, but it was a good learning lesson for all of us. Not many people go through that.”
Several times a month this season, the Flyers have been visited by Roy’s father, Vas. Roy is also survived by an older sister, Victoria, who was not home at the time of the attack. Recently, the team got together for a one-year anniversary service for the Pejcinovskis and lunch with Vas afterward.
“The family was invested in the team and those bonds don’t disappear,” Slawson said. “They’ve been supporting us and we give that love back. We’ll never forget Roy, that’s for sure. He was loved by us, he was family. The way he left was so sudden. You want to make sure you don’t take it for granted. The memories and bonds we’ve created here, you can’t take away. Keeping Roy’s memory alive speaks to that. It’s something we value very importantly.”
If the Flyers win the OHL Cup, it’s going to be because they are extremely deep and talented at all positions. They play fast, they play hard and they have more skill than any other team around. In the Disney version, perhaps they would have been a scrappy bunch of underdogs who came together after a tragedy. But that narrative would diminish the fact that this team was great with Roy Pejcinovski in the lineup last year, as well. These boys play for Roy, they play for his family and they play for each other.