Towel power: Vancouver Canucks pay tribute to minor hockey player

Prior to puck drop on Sunday, a single hockey player stood at centre ice in Rogers Arena, his stick held high with a white towel draped over the end.

Ahead of Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks took the opportunity to pay tribute to Timur Gabbassov, the team’s towel kid for the night, and his father, who, prior to his untimely death, showed unwavering support for the sport his son played.

“Tonight’s towel kid is 14-year-old Timur Gabbassov from the New Westminster Royals U15A1 team,” the Canucks said on X.

“Timur, your courage and tenacity are an inspiration. We know your father, who never missed a hockey game, would be tremendously proud of you today.”

What’s come to be known as “towel power” is a playoff tradition in tribute to former Vancouver Canucks coach Roger Neilson. In Game 2 of the 1982 conference final against the Chicago Blackhawks, Neilson famously waved a white towel in mock surrender, expressing frustration with the officiating in the game. The coach would be ejected from the game, but the Canucks rallied, winning games three and four at home. The team ended up going to the finals that year.

In the last several months, Timur has had to overcome the loss of his father, Ravil, who was killed in a crash earlier this year. The father and son had been travelling home from a hockey tournament in Kelowna when their pickup truck collided with semi on the Coquihalla. Timur was left with minor injuries.

“Timur scored the goal that tied up the game and New Westminster ended up winning gold at the tournament,” a fundraiser for the Gabbassov family explained.

“The game ended late and Ravil decided to get a hotel for the night and drive during daylight hours on Monday. Tragedy struck as Timur and Ravil faced a car crash on the Coquihalla Highway.”

Despite the tragedy, Timur’s team voted to play its next game.

“When we reached out to the league about the incident initially, they offered to postpone the game if the team wanted to. But, last night, the team voted unanimously that they wanted to play the game,” New Westminster Minor Hockey Association President Justin Bourne explained on Jan. 9.

“Timur has been injured for much of the season but he and his father, Ravil, were at almost every game, or possibly every single game, showing their support, even though he wasn’t able to play. The team, as I understand, said, ‘Ravil wouldn’t miss a game, so why should we?’”

Ravil Gabbassov kisses his wife in this photo. The man was killed in a crash on the Coquihalla on Jan. 8, 2024, while his son, Timur, survived. The New Westminster minor hockey community is mourning the father's loss, and rallying around the man's family.
Ravil Gabbassov (right) was killed in a crash on the Coquihalla on Jan. 8, 2024, while his son, Timur, survived. The New Westminster minor hockey community is mourning the father’s loss, and rallying around the man’s family. (Courtesy GoFundMe)

More than $50,000 was raised for the family.

Rogers Arena erupted with excitement as the Canucks opened their first game of the series against the Nashville Predators at home — the first time the team has hosted the playoffs at the arena since 2015.

The Canucks went on to win 4-2.