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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018
Vande Weghe spending summer Chilling in Thunder Bay
by Randy Pascal

Sudbury has grown accustomed to seeing its soccer talent migrate south in search of upgraded game and practice competition.

Connor Vande Weghe turned that around 180 degrees this summer.

The 20 year old graduate of St Benedict Catholic Secondary School and reigning MVP of the Laurentian Voyageurs men's soccer team three years running has taken his game to northwestern Ontario in preparation for what might be his final season of university action.

The talented keeper cracked the roster of the Thunder Bay Chill of the Premier Development League, joining a division that also includes the Des Moines Menace, Kaw Valley FC, Chicago FC United, St Louis Lions and WSA Winnipeg as part of the 70-team loop that features team ranging from Long Island to San Francisco.

There were certainly some compelling reasons, both on the field and off, that drew Vande Weghe to his destination of choice for a four month stretch. "Well, for starters, I have made a lot of friends in my years at Laurentian who live in Thunder Bay, and I have an uncle that lives here, so it's familiar territory," he said.

"Soccer-wise, (Laurentian coach) Carlo Castrechino had mentioned to me that Scott Cliff had come here in 2008." A native of Valley East and also a goaltender, Cliff was recognized as an all-Canadian (second all-star team) during his final year with the Voyageurs in 2009.

"I wanted to see how I stacked up against some of the top talent," said Vande Weghe. "I would say this is a very good test for me to play here all summer." In many ways, it is with an eye on the fall OUA schedule that 6'5" ball stopper undertakes this summer challenge.

"It will be fun to see how our team (Laurentian) will do," he stated. "We've been right on the brink of being up there with the top four of the conference. Hopefully, with a little more experience and a lot of training this summer, we can get there."

Though his playing time is limited, backing up starter Matthew Mozynski of Campbell University (Buies Creek, North Carolina), Vande Weghe can already see areas of his game that will benefit from his northern sojourn.

"Everything is just so fast," he said. "Without an indoor center in Sudbury, it made it hard to keep my speed up in the off-season. When I got here, I was maybe a step or two behind. But every day, I get a chance to work on specific goalkeeper training, my reaction times, stuff like that."

"I'm really focused on the speed it takes to get across the net and get set before these shots come at you." While he was certainly no shoe-in to work his way into the Thunder Bay lineup back in May, Vande Weghe was confident he had something to offer Chill head coach Giovanni Petraglia.

"Every coach has some sort of bias for a tall goalkeeper," suggested the long-time member of the GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club). "It's certainly benefitted me so far. It helps, the length of my arms, when you're in the net."

"And there's my attitude and mentality," Vande Weghe continued. "Playing here is not something that you can take lightly. Every day, you have to be ready to work, ready to help the team any way that you can. I tried to show, even talking on the phone with him, the type of attitude that I had, to come in and work as hard as I can."

Though the upcoming OUA season remains his number one priority, Vande Weghe cannot help but contemplate his future in soccer. Returning to Thunder Bay and the PDL, next year, is obviously an option.

But the soon-to-be-launched Canadian Premier League, the north of the border initiative that is hoping to mirror the MLS (Major League Soccer) in the United States, may open up some avenues, as might USL Pro.

In the end, Connor Vande Weghe is not particularly concerned if his path, in the summer of 2019, finds him travelling north, south, east or west. As long as there is a soccer pitch at the final destination, he will be happy.

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