It seems hard to believe that it was less than a decade ago, September of 2012, to be specific, that coaches Stacey Colarossi and Craig Duncanson were introduced to the Sudbury media.
Optimism filled the lobby of the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex on news that not only was the Laurentian Voyageurs men’s hockey team being reinstated after an absence of 13 years, but that the squad would be joined by an L.U. women’s OUA entry at the same time.
Though there has yet to be an official statement released from the university confirming the news, multiple sources have confirmed that both hockey programs will join the Laurentian swim team as victims of the massive restructuring cuts that were announced on Monday in Sudbury.
To be sure, there is no lack of finger pointing taking place at the moment. Many are asking for answers about how exactly the entire financial mess at the local post-secondary institution could have been allowed to escalate to a point of near no return, a point where the option of seeking creditor protection became the necessary one favoured by decision makers.
There is much to dissect from the devastation that came from cut after cut, early this week, the impact being felt quite literally by thousands of lives locally. That said, I do not profess to have the answers many are seeking. Much of this falls well outside my areas of expertise, with access to key information hard to come by.
Let me talk of the world that I know, the world of local sports, the world in which the sun seemingly shone so brightly back in 2012. It is that world that is dealing with the consequences of a men’s hockey program being cut for the second time in twenty years or so.
Ironically, the news comes just days after I enjoyed a lovely hour long conversation with Jim Ferguson. Stationed in Bermuda for the better part of the last half century, Ferguson had reached out with information regarding the 1966-1967 Laurentian men’s hockey team that had advanced to the national final, coming up short against the powerful University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
Pictures were forthcoming, from both Ferguson and some of his surviving teammates, photos of programs and jerseys, of original team shots and reunions decades later. If there was any doubt at all about just how deep the ties to Laurentian hockey could run, they were dispelled in a matter of days.
The truth is that Ferguson and those from the fabled L.U. teams of the 1960s can still revisit those wonderful memories. That won’t be the case for the five dozen or so current players, recruits and staff of the 2020-2021 Voyageurs, both men and women - at least not to the extent that all involved would have wished.
The list of those affected by the varsity sports cuts alone and the stories that accompany each and every one of these individuals could fill this sports section for months on end. There is no appropriate pecking order to the scope of the challenges being thrown their way.
For the likes of Duncanson, Colarossi, swim coach Phil Parker and the hundred or so remaining LU faculty and staff who saw their jobs disappear in one fell swoop, there is only limited comfort to come from the words of support of an entire community.
For the student athletes, the disappointment and pain likely runs deeper than the worst of the overtime losses that has ever befallen them. For those of us who have the pleasure of witnessing the drama that is varsity athletics, it’s a void that will extend well beyond a global pandemic.
As I’ve been prone to doing on some many instances in these crazy times, I’m forced to look back instead of gazing forward. I am taken back to a pair of exceptional first round playoff series in which a pair of very resilient Laurentian women’s hockey teams would take the powerhouse Guelph Gryphons and Nipissing Lakers to the brink of elimination in back to back years.
For the time being, these postseason encounters will go down as the closest that the Voyageur women would come to recording a historic first ever playoff series victory. For coach Duncanson and company, the most recent highlight undoubtedly came in February of 2015, as Laurentian battled through three wickedly intense outings before falling, in overtime, to the Queen’s Gaels.
A late goal by Dylan Fitze in game one had allowed the Voyageurs to prevail on the road and with local product Alain Valiquette providing the heroics between the pipes, the northern lads were keeping things close, eventually losing by scores of 3-1 and 2-1.
Yet, as so many noted at the time of the revival of men’s hockey, the stories of L.U. lore go back many, many years. Plenty are those who will recall the days of match-ups taking place at Sudbury Arena, with the likes of Jack Porter, Billy Harris, Moe Bartoli and Stu Duncan patrolling the bench, trainer Gary (Satch) Costello always at their side.
The legacy of Laurentian swimming is equally elite, able to list the likes of Alex Baumann and Nancy Sweetman as program graduates. Under the guidance of coach Phil Parker, Voyageurs swimmers would claim L.U. Athlete of the Year honours with a degree of regularity, with Serge Loiselle, Stephanie Kuhn, Marshall Bonner, Ryan Smith, Brittany Maltais, Blair Smith, Matthew Schouten and Riley Konrad all turning the trick in the new millennium.
I could go on, for quite a while, listing one accomplishment after another. But today feels far more about the people.
I think of all of the individuals with whom I have crossed paths, at the Jeno Tihanyi Pool, outside the dressing rooms of Countryside Arena. I think of those who have sat close by, spending time at my side in the penalty boxes of that same venue. I think of those who I have come to know through a good number of interviews.
I think of all of this and feel sad - and more than all else combined, that is my takeaway from the news this past Monday at Laurentian University.