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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018
A perfect week to catch-up on local sports
2018-06-18
by Randy Pascal

For someone as involved in the complete spectrum of local sports as I am, there might not be a week throughout the year that I look forward to with more anticipation than the past seven days. It's at that time that, generally speaking, when Hall of Fame dinners are held both in Sudbury and Valley East, with other standard athletic activities added to the mix, just for good measure.

The beauty of the Hall of Fame celebrations lie in the ability to catch up with sports personalities, both current and from eras gone-by, all at one time. Following is a cross-section of some of the wonderful conversations that I enjoyed this week:

Dave Hannan: A Levack native and veteran of 841 NHL games, Dave Hannan would earn an Stanley Cup ring (Edmonton Oilers – 1988) and cement his career through his willingness to adapt. “From atom through peewee and bantam, I put up big numbers,” he said. “Then you get to junior and I started off slowly, but the numbers eventually came back.”

“What I did learn was that there's a point in your career where you learn that there are better offensive players than you. What I did then was learn to play on the defensive side of the puck. I knew that I could skate and my skills were good. I could still make plays, I could still score goals, but if I learned the defensive game, it would give me more opportunities to stay at the National Hockey League level.”

While the birth of his children would eventually see Hannan and family making fewer visits to the homefront, moreso as the youngsters aged, the 56 year-old member of the 1992 Canadian Olympic team suggested there always remained a strong tie to the area.

"We spent a ton of summers here, me and my wife," said Hannan. "I trained here, did a lot of camps here. But as time goes on and you have a family and kids, and they get older, we weren't up quite as much. People from this area are very humble and work really hard, and I think that's one thing I always took with me in my hockey career."

Amber Konikow: A former Canadian boxing champion turned ultra-marathon runner, Amber Konikow is the first to suggest that each of these journeys begins with a very small step. “A lot of people have these ideas that they should do this or do that,” she said. “Those are opportunities and the only way you know if you're going to like it is just to try it out.”

“To me, that's the most important step, trying to find the motivation to actually do something and then go ahead and do it. After that, it just becomes part of your life.” Though her sporting passions might seem like unusual bedfellows, but Konikow insists there are some synergies to be gained.

"It seems a little strange, going from boxing to ultra marathon running, two completely unelated sports, but the mental capacity is there and that's a huge advantage," she said. "I have good mental strength and I know how to deal with tough situations."

Neil Phipps: A long-time participant in the Sudbury Fitness Challenge dating back to his high-school days, Bill Roman Award winner Neil Phipps would lead an energetic group of volunteers in keeping the Sudbury summer tradition alive in recent years. “Sudbury is definitely in need of a fitness culture,” said Phipps.

“I think in this day and age, in particular, when you see kids on their devices and indoors so much, the Fitness Challenge has taken on a new meaning in the past ten years or so, as a venue to start pulling the kids out of the house, having fun outdoors and getting fit.”

While he is quick to note that he is certainly not irreplaceable, Phipps does acknowledge to possessing a certain skill set that seems quite helpful as he guides his group forward. "I seem to be able to facilitate the process fairly well," he said.

"I have a lot of event experience, so I can step in and assist. And I also participate in all of the events, so I'm able to move easily within all of those different groups and bring athletes from some groups to others."

Samantha Cooper/Stephanie Pascal: The post-secondary varsity tandem of Samantha Cooper (Fairfield University – basketball) and Stephanie Pascal (Queen's University – hockey) were in the mood to share this week. Not only are both young women graduates of Lockerby Composite and co-winners of the Amateur Female Athlete of the Year award, but both would also overcome injuries that would cost them an entire season of competition, returning to action with a vengeance that would see the former Vikings emerge among the elite in their respective conferences.

“I do feel a lot more mature being here now and I think that I am even more grateful, especially being a co-winner with Steph, knowing that we both worked hard and pushed through adversity,” noted Cooper, reflecting as well on her prior success at the event as a two-time Female High Athlete of the Year recipient. “It makes it even better for both of us to win.”

"It would have been easy to not rehab as hard as I did. I'm really super proud of my senior season." Though the academically inclined Sudbury native is eyeing a career in optometry somewhere down the road, her next life adventure will take her to Luxembourg, where she has just signed her first professional basketball contract.

"I Skyped with the coach and it just felt right," said Cooper. "He coaches the German senior national team. It (Luxembourg) is a beautiful country and I like the atmosphere that it's a smaller country, being from Sudbury. It's got some proximity to France and Germany, so it's a great spot for travelling, and the people speak french and I want to work on my french" (she minored in French at Fairfield).

With the twin towers sitting at the same table, it might have been convenient for Cooper and Pascal to share notes over supper. “We didn't really talk about it a lot, at the table, but I think just the fact that you overcome adversity, you kind of have a little bit more of you that wants to push even harder to succeed, as if you want to prove something, that you can come back from this,” noted Pascal.

Understandably, there is a sense of pride in play, one that the former Sudbury Lady Wolves' netminder is quick to share with her teammates. "For me, it's more about the team things that we did," said Pascal. "Making it to nationals this year, seeing all of the seniors on the team and how excited they were."

"That was huge for me. The fact that I played a part in helping them get there in their last year meant a lot to me."

Dean Henze: With some ten years or so under his belt at the helm of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, Dean Henze was selected as one of the coaches who will join the Canadian team at the Junior Pan-Pacific Championships in August in Fiji, a competition that will include SLSC sensation Nina Kucheran.

“To be honest, I don't think about Nina so much as I do the entire program,” said Henze, after capturing the Joe Drago Coach of the Year award. “I don't base my coaching success on my best kids, because they're easy. I always base it on whether I am closing the gap with my weakest kids, and I think I do a decent enough job with that. That's why this means a lot to me.”

Like most successful coaches, Henze acknowledged a gradual change in his method over the years, an evolution that is borne, in part, by his constant interplay with his athletes. "You always learn from all of your kids," he said. "If you're not, then you're not paying attention, and hopefully, I'm paying attention to my kids. I would like to be known for that, anyways."

Calum Passi: Coming off an injury riddled spring that would see him enter his first OFSAA track and field championships with relatively modest goals, Lasalle Secondary freshman Calum Passi was ecstatic to be able to recall his performance at the provincial cross-country championships last November, a setting that would see Passi become the first local runner since Devon Kershaw in the late nineties to medal at the OFSAA race.

"My coach (Darren Jermyn) said to me just to try and stick with the top guys and see what you can do," said Passi. "It's grade nine and senior (year) is what matters. I remember coming in with about 400m to go, and there's this hill and I'm top three and there's a guy about ten meters behind me."

"My brother is running up along the side of the course and everybody from Sudbury is yelling at me to push and keep going. It was a big surprise, but a really good one."

Just two days after the Sudbury ceremonies, it was time for organizers Ron Dupuis, Hubert Moncion, Conrad Larocque and the Valley East crew to welcome their Class of 2018. Joining the Valley Sports Hall of Fame, this year, were: Aaron Logan (founder and president of Heritage Stick Company, supplier to countless NHL teams for commemorative hockey sticks), Tyler Beskorowany (2nd round pick of Dallas Stars and currently playing in Europe), Chris Vitello (proud local sponsor and owner of Cousin Vinny's), the 1981-1982 Valley East Tassé Midget hockey team, and yours truly (hockey scorekeeper - 2010/2018 Winter Olympics).

Come Saturday morning, it was time for the Legion District H Track & Field Championships, a gathering of many of the northern Ontario talent that showed well at the recent OFSAA Championships in Toronto.

Callum Bruser: Improving from a jump of 12.86m to 13.20m in capturing the city and NOSSA championships, Lo-Ellen Park senior Callum Bruser suspected a monster jump could be unleashed at OFSAA. “It's really been the same thing for the past three years,” he said. “I've always felt that I've under-performed in competition.”

"From time to time, during the practices, we would pull out the measuring tape, and I'm around what I'm doing in competition. Usually, when I'm competing, I always seem to have one small factor that brings me back, whether it's an elbow dragging, or I'm losing speed."

“This year, going in, I had a poor city performance, which really lit the fire for NOSSA. At NOSSA, I went 13.20m, which I felt was an alright jump, but I knew I had a mid to high thirteen (meters) somewhere. Going into OFSAA, I prepared myself the best I have ever prepared, both mentally and physically, and came out with that 13.69m. (good enough for 8th place in Ontario).”

Logan Spicer: Overcoming a mid-winter injury (fractured growth plate), Lo-Ellen freshman Logan Spicer ran a heat time of 11.54 in the 100m dash. Unfortunately, the uncertainty regarding his ability to compete this spring would leave him racing against juniors, though his time would have finalled in the midget age bracket.

Still, Spicer is more than a little pleased with the fine-tuning of his running style since the time that he dominated the field at the elementary level. “Almost everything about my form was wrong,” he said with a laugh.

“Over the years, I've slowly but surely ended up developing my technique. I went from my arms being terrible to being a little bit better, and now, I sort of run like Andre De Grasse, where my arms are straight at the end. They do bend, but it's a running form I am happy with.”

With a solid showing at OFSAA under his belt, the 15 year-old Lively native showcased a mid-season fitness level on Saturday, soaring 6.15 meters in the long jump, in capturing first place. "That's an insance PB," said Spicer.

"I haven't competed in the long jump since grade six, so I didn't really have a PB going into it, but I had jumped 5.40m, 5.50m in practice. My main focus today was my approach. I have a large vertical, so jumping wasn't a huge deal for me. I just had to get my approach right. I needed to be able to run fast on my approach and not fault, pretty much."

Kristen Mrozewski: Competing at OFSAA for the very first time, Kristen Mrozewski did have the advantage of tapping into the knowledge that has been gleaned by her older brother, LUcas, a mainstay at the all-Ontario meet since his arrival at Lo-Ellen Park three years ago.

"I was going in pretty nervous, but I had seen the seed times and they weren't crazy, crazy fast, and I knew that I was going to be able to push myself more than what my seed time was," said Mrozewski, who eclipsed her personal record in the 300m hurdles, in back to back races, fighting through to finish fourth at OFSAA.

"I was hoping, in my heat, that I would post a pretty fast time to final me, and that ended up happening. I wasn't as nervous for the final as I was for the heat." Somewhat more relaxed, Mrozewski was able to streamline her thought process in the big race, while registering the third best placement of any SDSSAA athlete this year at OFSAA.

"I was focusing mainly on my hurdling," she said. "I wanted to start off fast and keep my speed, but my main thing was not to mess up on the hurdles. I made sure to go over the hurdles smoothly and try not to stutter-step, which would take lots of time off for me."

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