The father of a Nunavut teen who was recently the victim of a brazen hotel-room robbery is hoping to one day shake the hand of the Sault police officer who went above and beyond the call of duty to give his son shelter.
Last month, Russell Akeeagok was at home in Nunavut when he received a 7 a.m. call from his son Tyler, who was staying at a Great Northern Road hotel while trying out for the Soo Thunderbirds junior hockey team.
The teen told his father he had been robbed the night before.
“I could honestly say it was one of the scariest phone calls I have ever received,” said Russell.
He could hear the fear in his son’s voice and felt helpless, being so far away.
Russell told his son to call the police, then began making arrangements to find his son another hotel room.
Beau Neveau, a constable with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, received the call from dispatch and spoke to the teen at the scene.
“When he told me where he was from I was obviously like, ‘What are you doing in Sault Ste. Marie?’ He said he was trying out for the Thunderbirds,” said Neveau.
A former Thunderbird himself, Neveau thinks it was fate or luck that brought them together.
“I know what it’s like to travel out of town to tryout for junior teams. I could put myself right in his shoes,” said Neveau.
“The chances of him getting the call and for him to be an ex-Thunderbird are one-in-a-million,” said Tyler.
The hotel-room robbery had occurred the night before, said Neveau.
“He [Tyler] was just minding his business. He bought a new laptop and came back to the hotel for the night and was sleeping when two unknown guys barged in and ordered him under the covers and to give them all of his ID, laptop, cell phone and the PIN number from his bank card,” said Neveau.
He added, “They threatened that if he called police, they know where his family lives and know where he lives and (would) go after him and his family.”
The invaders cut the phone line in the room before they left.
“The poor kid sat in his room until it was daylight, he was too scared to leave,” said Neveau.
“Most of the time we have these invasions and robberies, it’s not a random act of violence, it’s people known to each other. This was unfortunately one of the rare occurrences and it was just a random thing that happened. I felt really terrible for him that he went through this,” said Neveau.
Neveau, who is from Batchewana First Nation, decided he didn’t want this incident to be a black eye for the city.
The officer took the teen to the police station to file a report, then to the bank and finally back to his own house for lunch.
He was about to give the teen a ride to the new hotel room when he offered another alternative.
“It didn’t take me long to offer him my home, to spend time with my family,” said Neveau.
Tyler said the offer was extraordinary and took him by surprise.
“He seemed like a really nice guy, was in a good neighbourhood with a good family. I just kinda went for it,” Tyler said.
The teen spent the next week with Neveau, his wife and three kids.
Neveau’s children, who all play tournament hockey, took immediately to Tyler.
“We had a quick bond with him. We have a similar background and same kinds of interests in hockey,” said Neveau.
Back in Nunavut, Russell received a second call from his son, this one much different than the first.
“I could hear Tyler’s voice was completely different. He didn’t sound scared anymore, he was back to his normal self,” said Russell.
Soon after, Russell spoke to Neveau by phone.
“(Neveau) sounds like an amazing guy. He took on a stranger and we were so thankful (Tyler) was in good hands. I don’t think ‘Thank you’ is enough,” said Russell.
Although Tyler didn’t end up making the Thunderbirds team, he was offered a successful tryout with the Elliot Lake Wildcats.
Being from a small community in remote Nunavut, Russell says his son has had to work harder to get noticed in the sport.
“We sent him to a couple of hockey camps, but he did it all on his own with the help of his coaches.”
One coach in particular, RCMP Cpl. Dennis Lamb, has been mentoring Tyler in Nunavut for years in his off-time.
“Dennis is the one pushing me and taking his time away from his family and work and everything so I could have a good hockey career. Dennis is the best,” said Tyler.
He said it was the similarities between Lamb and Neveau, specifically hockey and policing, that helped Tyler to not be scared and trust the Sault officer.
“Dennis, Beau, my dad — they are all so close to me,” said Tyler.
Russell said the Neveaus treated his son like family.
“After all the tryouts were done and Tyler came home, he couldn’t stop talking about Beau and his family and how amazing they are. He definitely took a liking to them,” said Russell.
Neveau and his family are pleased Tyler made a team in the same league as the Thunderbirds.
“They have already asked, ‘When will he be in town?’ so they can go watch him,” said Neveau.
He added, “We have plans to go and watch him play against the Thunderbirds and against the Soo Eagles.”
Tyler is looking forward to having the Neveau family as his own personal cheering section during those upcoming games in the Sault.
“It’s going to feel better. It’s going to bring my confidence level up, for sure. I would love to see them there,” he said.
Russell hopes to be at one of those games, also.
“One of these days we will hopefully meet him [Neveau] in person. I know I have chatted with him over the phone, but I’m hoping to go down, catch a game and meet Beau and his family in person,” said Russell.
He has been wrestling with the thought of how best to thank the officer.
“You get to a point where you’re at a loss for words — thank you isn’t enough. How else can I thank the police officer that attended? I was so glad he was in good hands. It was a relief,” said Russell.
“Even though what happened was quite serious and scary, things happen for a reason and Tyler has met some amazing people along the way.”