VANCOUVER -- A Vancouver minor hockey coach is back behind the bench, only days after receiving a life-changing kidney transplant.

On Sunday morning, Stephen Gillis hobbled up the stairs at Britannia Community Centre to cheers from his nine- and 10-year-old players.

“They mean so much to me that I have to be here,” Gillis said after making it to the important playoff game just hours after leaving the hospital.

His Vancouver MHA Atom A1 team lost 6-1 to Bunaby MHA Atom A1, but the mood at the rink was one of joy and inspiration.

“The hockey is really secondary,” said Sam Goldman, a parent of one of the players on the team. “He's here to teach these kids how to be better human beings, how to carry themselves and give back to the community. That has been the main focus of this season."

Being back on the bench means Gillis’ much longer road to recovery has come full circle.

It was his players who one year ago made a heart breaking plea for a donor, creating a viral video that reached thousands, including the eventual donor, Gillis’ old friend Michael Teigen.

"I wouldn't have a kidney right now if it wasn't for my team last year and what they did," Gillis said.

Team captain Henry Goldman spoke on behalf of his entire team and said they are all proud of their coach.

"He works hard to try and make us better people and better hockey players too," the young hockey player said.