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Former Alberni Valley Bulldog Eric Margo shows heart on and off ice

Queen’s University Gaels forward blends hockey with humanitarianism
Former Alberni Valley Bulldog Eric Margo will graduate from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. with some hockey honours and great memories. (ROBIN KASEM/Queen’s Gaels)

When Eric Margo joined the Queen’s University men’s hockey team in 2016, he never imagined he would become one of the greatest contributors athletically, academically, and in the community of Kingston, Ont.

Coming in, the Applied Economics student and North Vancouver, B.C. native wasn’t a top recruit. He was told he wouldn’t be guaranteed much ice time. The coaching staff were bringing in a slew of talented players, so Margo’s odds were slim. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity.

“If I was going to show up, I was going to try my hardest,” says Margo. “I ended up playing 28 games that year, and was a starter in the USports Men’s National Quarter-Finals, which was an incredibly rewarding accomplishment.”

According to Gaels head coach Brett Gibson, Margo feels he wasn’t a top recruit because he did not play in the Canadian Hockey League prior to Queen’s like the majority of his teammates. Instead, Margo played for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior ‘A’ team.

Despite this, “he was exactly what we were lacking,” says Gibson. “We targeted a player like him who had a drive that could not be measured on the score sheet at the end of a game.”

Former Alberni Valley head coach Kevin Willison agrees, quoting Margo’s hustle as a factor that enabled him to make an instant impact. “When Eric was given the opportunity to play for Alberni it didn’t take long for him to show how hard he worked each and every shift he was on the ice,” says Willison. “His teammates had respect for him as a person and a player. Every team would want a player who plays with the passion Eric does.”

His hard work paid off, but Margo’s true strength lies in his positivity, selflessness, and desire to make a difference.

One program he is passionate about is Autism Mentorship. Since 2017, this not-for-profit organization has connected young people on the autism spectrum with student-athletes. Through one-on-one meetings, youth are able to interact with new environments, people, and activities aimed at improving their motor and social skills, as well as forging long-lasting and meaningful friendships with their mentee.

Margo has also volunteered with the New Canadian Youth Group, where he and fellow team members provide leadership and guidance to children in Kingston who come from Middle Eastern countries.

“I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in. It’s important to go out and support others if you have the means to do so,” explains Margo. “The personal relationships I have formed with the youth in Kingston are so special and dear to me.”

At Queen’s, Margo is one of the team liaisons for the Varsity Leadership Council. His role is to act as a point of contact between the Council and the men’s hockey team, rallying players to get involved in community initiatives. “If you have the privilege to represent your school, your sport, or your family, and are looked at as a role model, you should always give back to your community,” explains Gibson. “We do not force this - it is a choice, and Eric steps up every time…other players gravitate to him.”

During his time with the Bulldogs, Margo was part of the “Bulldogs in Schools” program. For four hours a day, two days a week, he provided leadership and support to students at the École Alberni Elementary School. The goal was to positively influence youth through fun activities or individual academic help.

“Eric was always the first to sign up for community appearances. He was easy to talk to and the kids looked up to him,” says Willison. “Other players wanted to be like Eric because he was fun to be around and made others feel comfortable and safe.”

Margo believes “Bulldogs in Schools” was where his passion for programs like Autism Mentorship came from.

“To be a grounding, inspiring figure in someone’s life is truly fulfilling,” he says. “To be considered a role model to someone, and seeing how I can make a difference is truly humbling.”

He’s also inspiring academically, being recognized as an Academic All-Canadian for having over an 80 percent average while playing a varsity sport. Margo also finds the time to be an active member of the Economics department school council at Queen’s, a group that aims to foster camaraderie and provide students with resources to further their education and reach their goals. This year, he acts as the Events Chair, helping to plan social nights and alumni outreach events.

“It was a personal choice to get involved with the council,” explains Margo. “I wanted the opportunity to build a support network outside of athletics and become more involved within the Queen’s community. Having the ability to improve and impact the student experience of other undergraduates was very attractive.”

In January, he was honoured as this year’s recipient of the Douglas Murray Scholarship , established by Murray and Donna Douglas to recognize academic and athletic excellence from a varsity hockey player at Queen’s.

“It was extremely humbling [to win the award],” says Margo. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have past role models and mentors within our organization who have laid the foundation for me to follow. It’s nice to be recognized for how far I’ve come and where I am now.”

The award also acknowledges someone who leads by example, and is a role model for his teammates.

Gaels captain Patrick Sanvido says, “Eric has been the most important leader on this team. He has made my job [as captain] easier, and at times when I’ve been trying to find my way, Eric has stepped up and been the leader this team needs.”

“Eric earned this award by the way he matured and grew over his time at Queen’s,” says Gibson. “He is now mentioned in the same sentence as some of the top people to come through our program.”

In March, Margo was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from the BCHL, Vancouver Canucks National Hockey League team and LNG Canada. He was one of seven BCHL alumni to receive a scholarship for the 2019-20 season. Recipients are selected by a BCHL committee and are based on the individual’s academics, hockey and community service.

“Not only are our current players important to us, but so are the young men that graduate from our league and go on to do great things in life, whether it’s hockey or elsewhere,” BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb said. “This scholarship program is an essential part of us recognizing those former players in the league and helping them achieve their education goals.”

The Canucks have been providing scholarships to former BCHL players for the past 33 years.

Despite these successes, it hasn’t always been easy for Margo. Finding the balance between schoolwork, sleep, social life and athletics has been a challenge, as well as fighting a digestive disorder, requiring multiple emergency medical visits and a complete lifestyle change. In addition, Eric is not afraid to speak on his continuous journey establishing self-confidence.

Moreover, at five-foot-nine he’s smaller than most competitors. There is nothing physically imposing about him, but he adapts his game to his smaller size. He’s a playmaker, whose speed and aggression make him a dominant force on the ice.

Willison says, “Eric was not a big player, but was a team player.”

Yet, what is most striking about Margo is his passion and commitment to being a Gael. When asked what being a Gael meant to him, he quotes a standard of responsibility, academics and character - a tripartite he’s elegantly mastered.

“In the men’s hockey program we live by the motto, ‘Karma.’ For us, this is defined as the habits and actions you do when no one is looking, and how those actions will have a direct effect on the outcomes you desire in academics, athletics, and life,” says Gibson. “Eric’s actions off the ice have a direct effect on his breakout season [this year], and it shows current players the path to success.”

“What has been inspirational to me about Eric is how good of a human he is. The example he sets both on and off the ice is something I try to accomplish myself and has pushed me to be a better person,” says Sanvido. “He is the heartbeat of our team.”

After this season Margo will graduate, leaving his career as a varsity athlete behind. When reflecting on his time at Queen’s there are many memories that stand out, such as winning last year’s OUA championship . But what Margo will remember the most isn’t his awards or medals. Instead, it’s his teammates, with whom he spent countless hours on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community.

“I’ll miss the team and the culture we have created,” Margo says. “I’ll never forget the bond we built up over the past four years.”

Margo is uncertain where his future will take him. But if one thing is clear, his impact on the program will continue to be felt, even after he’s gone. His legacy of perseverance, determination, and humility, as well as being a good student and member of the community, will surely not be forgotten.

“Eric is a prime example that if you are willing to grow and be coached, you can develop into something you could never have imagined. Without [him] we would not be in a playoff spot,” says Gibson. “The trust and relationship Eric and I grew over his four years is something I will cherish.”

Julia Ranney is a journalist for the Queen’s Journal and Master’s student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Eric Margo spent two years playing with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs during his B.C. Hockey League career. He is set to graduate from Queen’s University this year. (PHOTO COURTESY ERIC MARGO)
Eric Margo receives the Douglas Murray Scholarship on Jan. 10, 2020 prior to a Queen’s Gaels university hockey game. The award honours a varsity hockey player at Queen’s University for athletic and academic excellence. (ROBIN KASEM/ Queen’s Gaels)