Noah Austin, far right, the 2019 Travis Roy Award winner, takes in the Hockey East championship game in Boston with Travis Roy in 2019. Also pictured are, from left, Austin’s father Tony, brother Ryley, and friends Nick Lerette and Devin Libby. Submitted photo

Brian Toussaint was, fittingly, driving through Boston when he heard the news of Travis Roy’s death.

If the sound of the sad news ringing through his ears seemed unbelievable, the giant display on the side of TD Garden announcing the news was unavoidable.

“The way I found out was, in a way, appropriate,” Toussaint said. “I was in Boston, dropping my dad off at the hospital so he could visit my mother who had just had surgery. My dad, who was completely invested in my hockey career, said he had just heard of the news. … (The sign at TD Garden) was lit up, so anyone driving on the highway could see it. My heart sank. However, I couldn’t think of a better way to hear the tragic news, since (Travis and I) went to Sweden for hockey in our younger years and played together at the Hockey Night in Boston tournaments.”

Toussaint, a 1996 graduate of Saint Dominic Academy, was the first recipient of the Travis Roy Award, presented to the most outstanding Class A boys hockey player in Maine, that same year, just a few months after Roy’s own hockey career ended tragically due to a spinal-cord injury in his first shift playing for Boston University.

While no other winner of the award since has had such an intertwined connection to Roy, the other recipients from the Lewiston-Auburn area all received the same vicious, emotional blow from the news nearly a month ago, on Oct. 29.

“I was at work at the fire department with another friend who I grew up playing with and it hit us pretty hard,” 2009 winner Richard Paradis of St. Dom’s said.

“At the moment when I saw it, I definitely stopped for a second, and I didn’t really know if it was real,” 2017 winner Jeromey Rancourt of Lewiston said. “My buddy sent me a text and I was like, ‘No way.’ I didn’t really have many words. Even now, still, I can’t really put it together. But he did a lot of good things for the hockey community, and being a role model for a lot of athletes. And even people that aren’t even athletes, going through difficult times. He faced an unfortunate circumstance, obviously ending his hockey career, and how he just used that and turned that around into a positive. That’s just incredible.”

Kyle Lemelin of Lewiston High School was presented with the 19th annual Travis Roy Award, given each year to the outstanding senior schoolboy hockey player in the state, at the Maine Class A Coaches’ Association banquet held at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston in 2014. Sun Journal file photo

“When I heard the news of Travis’s passing I was at a loss of words, because he was such an inspiration and role model to so many people,” 2019 winner Noah Austin of Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse said.

The sentiments from others were all nearly the same.

It was “a big shock” for 2014 winner Kyle Lemelin of Lewiston. Edward Little winners Josh Benson (2002) and Kyle Smith (2004), as well as 2001 winner Joe Dumais of St. Dom’s all called it a sad day for the hockey community.

The 10 local winners, including 2020 winner Ryan Pomerleau of Lewiston, all know Roy’s story well, either from hearing it while growing up playing hockey or at the very least by going through the process of winning the award that since 1996 has bared his name.

“It is truly an honor to be named a Travis Roy recipient. It is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” said Pomerleau, whose award ceremony, done via Zoom, included a pre-recorded video from Roy. “He is a true inspiration not only for the hockey community but also for anyone who had gotten to hear him speak and who knows his story.”

“I have his book (Eleven Seconds), I’ve read that,” said Rancourt, who wakes up to his Travis Roy Award trophy every day when he is home from college. “And just hearing his stories more, and having that more of a meaning to it being actually a recipient (of the award).”

“It was an honor to win the Travis Roy award my senior year,” Dumais said. “He was always such an inspiration to me and still is to this day.”

Brian Toussaint won the Travis Roy Player of the Year Award in 1996, the year he graduated from St. Dominic Academy. In this March 2018 photo, He is pictured with then-4-year-old daughter, Kennedy. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

The award was not only something that the players coveted, but also the hockey career path that Roy was on — from growing up playing in Yarmouth, to starring at North Yarmouth Academy (where the arena bears his name), and after prep years at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts getting the chance to suit up for a top-level college program like Jack Parker‘s defending national champion Terriers.

“I think from a hockey perspective, he was a local guy who went on to … he realized his dreams in the hockey world and played at a high level, so it was an inspiration from that sense,” Smith said. “He obviously had that drive with hockey itself, to get him to that level, and then when his life took a different path, that same skill set that he had and had developed applied and he continued to put one foot in front of the other, in a sense.”

It’s what Roy did after his fateful slam into the boards at Walter Brown Arena (four miles away from TD Garden, which opened just weeks before Roy’s injury) that provides some of the honor to the award.

“I knew Travis on a personal level. I remember when he first got injured,” Toussaint said. “It seemed so frightening, saddening and defeating to be in his position. As I remember, we compared him to Superman (Christopher Reeves), because they had both succumbed to the same injury. As it turns out, he definitely was a Superman, with the power he put into motion, building (the Travis Roy Foundation) to help others that suffered from spinal injuries. He was an inspiration to so many, including myself.”

“The award could not have been named after a better person,” Cam Poussard, the 2011 winner from Lewiston, said. “I remember one of Travis’ core messages was to always ‘Do the best with what you have and don’t dwell on your misfortune.’ What I love about that is how anyone can relate to that message. Everyone has gone through tough times in their life whether they are big or small. Travis had to deal with one of the worst injuries a person can endure and still managed to change the world for the better and touch thousands of lives in a positive way. We should all aspire to make the type of positive change Travis made during his time here.”

Cam Poussard gets a kiss from his grandmother Janice Connors of Lewiston after Poussard won the Travis Roy Award at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston in 2011. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

“Turning his accident into his life’s work to further spinal cord research speaks volumes to the type of person he was,” Benson said.

Not all of the winners were able to meet Roy personally, something Rancourt called unfortunate. Paradis also didn’t get to meet Roy in person, but did exchange emails after winning the award.

Austin got to experience one of Roy’s speeches at Lisbon’s graduation the year before he won the award, then reached out to Travis after winning it, which led to watching the Hockey East championship game together at TD Garden in 2019.

“It was a great experience to get to watch hockey and get to get to know such a remarkable man,” Austin said. “His presence is still felt in Maine high school hockey because of how talented he was as a hockey player and the fact that he still went around New England to give motivational speeches after the injury, and in my opinion it gave kids and players the drive to want to be great like he is and win that award.”

“I think (hope) today’s hockey community is even more in touch with his story because of the advance in social media and all that he has done for New England hockey the past two decades,” Paradis said. “He did a tremendous job getting his story out in communities and speaking at as many events that he could. I was and will always be proud of what he accomplished before and after his injury and it was an honor to win an award named after a phenomenal role model.”

The inaugural winner, Toussaint, said seeing the news of Roy’s death emblazoned on the side of TD Garden “brought back both positive memories (of playing hockey growing up) and extreme sadness for such a significant loss.”

Lewiston High School varsity boys hockey head coach Jamie Belleau, right, holds the state championship trophy after presenting his player, Ryan Pomerleau, left, with the Travis Roy Award at his home in Lewiston in May 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“It is definitely a devastating loss for not just the Maine hockey community but for the nationwide hockey community as well,” Poussard said.

Roy is no longer here in person, but according to the winners of the award that will now memorialize his name, his spirit and influence aren’t going anywhere.

“I’m sure he’s going to continue to impact many players like me for years to come,” Lemelin said.

“His legacy will undoubtedly live on and continue to inspire those well outside the hockey community,” Benson said.

“His legacy will forever live on,” Toussaint said.

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