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Honouring 'Sharpie': Hockey players set up fund in memory of West Van couple killed in tree fall accident

Michael Sharp played goaltender with the same group of senior men's hockey players every week for more than 20 years
Sharpie Memorial Game WEB
Teammates of Michael Sharp, known as "Sharpie," gather for a memorial game on Jan. 29, 2022. Sharp and his wife, Caroline Helbig, were killed Jan. 2 when a tree fell through their Gleneagles home during a windstorm.

Their goalie is gone, but these North Shore senior men's hockey players are making sure that their friend “Sharpie” is never forgotten.

Michael Sharp and his wife, Caroline Helbig, were killed in a tragic accident Jan. 2 when a tree fell through their West Vancouver home during a windstorm. The deaths of the two civic-minded citizens hit the community hard, including a group of hockey players who had been gathering for a game nearly every single Wednesday for the past 25 years (aside from a few COVID-19 hiatuses).

Known to his hockey buddies simply as Sharpie, Michael Sharp was a regular at the games right up until his death, despite being the oldest member of the group at age 69. A former major junior player with the Regina Pats back in the day, Sharpie still had skills, said Wayne Feyer, who shared the ice with him for more than two decades.

“Very solid goalie,” he said. “The irony is he could have played with my dad’s group at his age level, but he played with a much younger group and still consistently played a good game.”

Sharpie’s impact, however, was felt even more off the ice, said Feyer.

“He was a cornerstone of the dressing room,” he said. “He kept an eye out and watched out for everyone. If anyone was struggling, he'd come over to me and say, ‘Hey, make sure you get some time with this guy – sounds like he's having a tough time at work or whatever.’ He really read the temperature in the room.”

Following the tragic accident that killed Sharp and Helbig, Feyer and fellow hockey player Perry Braun decided to set up a memorial fund to honour both of them. They brought on Caroline’s sister Monika and friend Shannon Stewart to help get the fund going, and together they recently launched the Caroline Helbig and Michael Sharp Memorial Fund, with the assistance of the West Vancouver Foundation.

The fund will feed two memorial scholarships, one for environmental stewardship in honour of Helbig’s passion for the outdoors, and another to support a hockey player, in honour of Sharp’s devotion to the sport.

“Both of them were such great people, so tied to the community, so giving – we really wanted to honour them with a legacy, something in their name to carry forward,” said Feyer, adding that he is learning more each day about all the impacts that both Sharp and Helbig had in the community.

Sharp was a former coach and president of the West Vancouver Minor Hockey Association, and recently volunteered to help raise money for the West Vancouver Foundation’s Feed the Need Fund, which was created in 2020 to help support the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre’s food security program for vulnerable seniors during the pandemic.

Helbig was an avid travel writer and photographer, and a founding member of West Vancouver’s Coalition to Save Eagleridge Bluffs. She also taught English to new Canadians on the North Shore, working hard to make them feel welcome.

“I’m learning so many more dimensions about them, because I only saw one dimension, which was hockey,” said Feyer. “The best part is talking to people who knew them in other capacities. … The legacy that Mike and Caroline built with the community is super strong, and everyone feels the same way.”

The organizers of the memorial fund are hoping to raise $100,000, and are already well on their way, with more than $30,000 raised.

“It’s great to see the support,” said Feyer.

And the game will go on for the hockey players who suited up beside Sharp every week, but they will honour their goalkeeper in a number of ways, including renaming their group Sharpie Hockey. They also recently held a memorial game in his honour. It was an emotional event with a large turnout, including Sharp and Helbig's adult son Alex, who showed up with a group of friends. 

"He came on the bench on both teams and said hello to everyone," said Feyer. "Given what he's gone through ...  it really just showed the foundation that his parents built, to do that, because that couldn't have been easy."

A number of Sharpie's current and former teammates showed up as well, along with many others from the North Shore hockey community and community at large.

“It was really nice because some guys we hadn't seen in years, who are no longer playing, came,” said Feyer, adding that the bonds forged inside a dressing room are strong.

“We're all different walks of life, we're all in different industries, but we all see each other once a week,” he said. “We’re very much like a family. … There's a time on the ice and there's time in the room, and I'd argue they're both equally important.”

And the dressing room is now united in remembering two pillars of the community.

“Both of them lived life to the fullest,” said Feyer. “It’s a tragic accident, but it’s done. All we can do is honour them.”

Donations can be made on the West Vancouver Foundation's memorial fund page.

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