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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Looking back at the past twelve months
by Randy Pascal

Tis the season of the year-end reviews, and the local sports scene is no exception.

In fairness, however, I forego the option of christening this collection of stories as necessarily the "Top Sudbury Sports Stories of 2016", but rather, a listing of ten stories that have proven to be particularly memorable for me.

The pebbling had barely frozen on local curling rinks when the sport provided not one, but two reasons to celebrate local success. The Copper Cliff Curling Club junior men's rink welcomed newcomer Nicholas Bissonnette to the fold, joining the trio of Tanner Horgan, Jacob Horgan and Maxime Blais in representing Northern Ontario in Stratford.

But the local rink did more than just carry the local banner, advancing all the way to the Canadian finals before settling for silver with a loss to Matt Dunstone of Manitoba. Just over a month later, it was time for the Krista McCarville rink, with Sudbury native Kendra Lilly curling vice, to journey the same path.

Representing Northern Ontario at the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie (Alberta), the Thunder Bay based quartet also made it through to the big stage, dropping a 7-6 decision to Albertan Chelsea Carey in the grand finale.

The first quarter of 2016 would also produce another pair of worthy international accomplishments for Sudbury athletes, both within the world of nordic skiing. A graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School who now does the bulk of her training in Thunder Bay, Alannah MacLean earned a spot both on the Canadian team that would compete at the U23 World Championships in Romania, but also enjoyed the unique experience that was Ski Tour Canada.

Moving the world's nordic ski elite from Europe over to Canadian soil in early March, MacLean would join 25 other members of the national program in hosting an eight race event that would work its way from Gatineau (PQ), finishing off in Canmore (Alberta) with a star studded field of former Olympic medal winners and world champions.

Sudbury sit-ski sensation Collin Cameron would enjoy a similar thrill for the very first time, tapped to represent Canada at a para-nordic World Cup race in Germany this past February.

A native of Bracebridge who moved to Sudbury some four years ago, Cameron quickly became involved with some of the adaptive sports opportunities that exist locally. Before long, he would be introduced to coach Patti Kitler, a nationally recognized mentor in the world of para-nordic skiing.

Cameron's rapid ascension in the sport was noted as he competed at the U.S. National Championships in Vermont last January, after which time he became more fully immersed with the national team program.

OFSAA medals in wrestling for local athletes are somewhat rare, with Sudbury-based athletes typically mounting the podium perhaps every second or third year. And while the names of local gold medal winners are certainly not unfamiliar, it was clear last March that Jasmine Tessier was treading on somewhat uncharted territory in Windsor.

Tessier represented Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier at the competition, a school that has produced a solid portion of all medals obtained at provincial championships in the past several decades. Yet her silver medal performance in the 83kg weight class was the best showing ever by a grade nine ESMC wrestler, giving rise to plenty of optimism for what might lie ahead.

Hope for the future was equally as abundant less than two weeks later as the Sudbury area minor hockey community enjoyed one of the most productive OHL draft days in recent memory.

Leading the way in a solid selection of 2000-born talent were Billy Moskal (2nd rd - London Knights), Damien Giroux (3rd rd - Saginaw Spirit) and goaltender Cameron Lamour (3rd rd - Saginaw Spirit).

Rounding out the local crew were Ethan Lavallee (4th rd - Sarnia Sting), Christian Gaudreau (9th rd - Sudbury Wolves), Jordan Spadafore (9th rd - North Bay Battalion), Brett Jacklin (10th rd - Soo Greyhounds) and Chris Clark (13th rd - Soo Greyhounds).

Ironically, hockey also produced the biggest story of the summer sports season, with the news that Mark Burgess and family had sold the Sudbury Wolves, bringing a 30-year ownership era to an end.

New owner Dario Zulich inherits a team that had finished dead last in 2014-2015, recording just 12 wins during the year, and moved up just one slot in the twenty-team Ontario Hockey League the next season.

Also involved heavily with the True North Strong group which has proposed a new arena site for Sudbury, one that is part of a larger entertainment centre desitination at the east end of the Kingsway, Zulich has made it clear he wishes to keep the Wolves in Sudbury, regardless of where city council might ultimately opt to build a new arena.

The local basketball scene received a shot in the arm when 6'0" presence Sophia Zulich, having just completed her first year of high school at Lo-Ellen, was named to Team Ontario, representing the province at the national championships in Regina.

Zulich would become the latest local female basketball talent to follow in the tradition of the likes of Samantha Cooper, Tiye Traore, Kristine Lalonde, as well as both Lisa (Furchner) Carruthers and Katie Goggins before them, an impressive list which had run a little dry in recent years.

After being on the verge of possibly folding the varsity team completely before the start of the 2016 season of Ontario Football Conference (OFC) competition, the most recent edition of the Sudbury Gladiators established a new standard of excellence, advancing all the way to the way final before succumbing to the powerhouse Hamilton Tiger Cats.

Coach Aaron Rehel and company followed up a 4-4 regular season showing with upset playoff wins over both the Toronto Jr Argos (15-6) and Peterborough Wolverines (21-19), recording their first post-season victories that did not come by virtue of a forfeit.

Also capping off a summer of sporting excellence, local rower Curtis Halladay and teammates earned a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro, competing in the LTA Mixed Coxed Fours at the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic medal came only two years or so after Halladay first became involved in the sport, transitioning very quickly to some weight room training that he had been doing, to surging his way to the national team under the watch of Laurentian rowing coach Amanda Schweinbenz.

Other stories that also fought for a berth in our "top ten that isn't really a top ten" included:

Swimmer Nina Kucheran of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, enjoying a season to remember that included a berth at Olympic Trials last spring

Back to back OCAA women's individual cross-country championships for Cambrian College, as Mary Strain followed, quite literally, in the footsteps of Sudbury native Emily Marcolini this past November

The Cambrian Golden Shield also feted the performance of their soccer programs, with both teams advancing to the post-season, as the women earned their second bronze medal in the past four years

Other OFSAA medal performances included the College Notre-Dame girls hockey team, finishing second at the A/AA Championships in Stratford, as well as a more recent bronze medal showing from the Lo-Ellen Knights girls basketball team in Timmins at the provincial "A" playdowns

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