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Nickel City Nostalgia: Adding some historical perspective to memories of June
2020-06-26

Like so many, the pandemic has deprived me of many of those simple pleasures to which I had grown accustomed to, pleasures which were all too easy to take for granted.

As an avid fan of local sports history, treating myself, every month or two, to a couple of hours in the confines of the Sudbury Public Library, simply perusing the offerings of the sports scribes of thirty, forty, fifty years ago always unveiled an entertaining voyage of discovery (also known as scrolling through the Sudbury Star microfilms).

Over the years, the very nature of the way in which local events are captured has changed, quite dramatically. There is a romantic brush by which the canvas is filled to create the imaginary needed to convey the snapshot of a Wolves' game in the 1940s, or a diamond lined with thousands cheering ardently for their favourite baseball lads a decade later, that is unlike most of what we read today.

There is also the wonderful perspective of time, the fact that as we reminisce of the early days of many a local athlete, we do so with the benefit of knowing what they would ultimately become. In that sense, I found it interesting to spend some time reviewing some of my "This Week in Sports" compilations of the past twenty years, flashbacks to a stretch of time running from 1970 to the turn of the millennium.

With the advantage of knowing what the future would hold, please enjoy this leisurely stroll back in time:

June 1970: The Sudbury Arena commission confirmed that the venue would play host to a pair of NHL exhibition games that fall, with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins set to faceoff on September 22nd, and the St Louis Blues and Oakland Seals doing battle just three days later. These days, our best hope for a similar engagement likely lies with a Kraft Hockeyville submission.

June 1973: As current fans of the Sudbury Wolves ponder whether a draft that nabbed David Goyette and Kocha Delic in the first two rounds paves the way to future success, consider the very creation of the mid-seventies local junior powerhouse, much of which can be traced back to the 1973 OHL draft.

After selecting future 70-goal sniper Rod Schutt with the fourth overall pick that year, the Wolves added second round reinforcements in the form of long retired NHLers Ron Duguay and Dave Farrish.

While this troika would single-handedly constitute a very successful day at the draft table, the team management of the time supplemented their haul by securing Gord McTavish (34 goals in 73-74) in later rounds, and trading for Randy Carlyle that summer, originally a fifth round pick of the Kitchener Rangers.

June 1979: In 2019, the Sudbury Laurels celebrated their 50th anniversary, assembling for a wonderfully nostalgic evening at the new home of the Sudbury Steelworkers' Hall. Yet forty years earlier, in the summer of 1979, Heather Shaw, one of the key contributors to the establishment of the local gymnastics club, was already being honored by the provincial governing body.

Though her involvement in the sport dated back to the early 1950s, it was a move to Sudbury in 1967 with spouse and former Ottawa Rough Riders lineman Len Shaw that signaled a quantum leap forward for gymnastic in northern Ontario.

Working with young athletes at both Laurentian University and Centre des Jeunes, Shaw would lead a team into battle that produced early signs of progress with the likes of Michelle Jaksic and Wendy Shaw, both of whom cracked the Team Ontario roster.

June 1983: The summer of 2020 is not the first time that Sudbury football fans have had to adjust to life without the storied Spartans - but it certainly makes one appreciate the special memories from the majority of the remaining years. In a game that featured no less than six interceptions, including four by the Sudbury quartet of Scott Spurgeon, Mike Bede, Walter Milani and Sam Cuomo, coach Sid Forster and company escaped with a 7-6 win, in 1983, over the rival Oakville Longhorns.

Dave Favot scored the only major for the locals, hauling in a ten-yard pass from Paul Gauthier, with kicker Dale Van Zandt producing what would stand as the game-winning point with the convert. From 1982 to 1988, only Oakville or Sudbury would lay claim to Northern Football Conference championships, the Spartans turning the trick five times in that stretch.

June 1986: Sudbury native Gilles Lafrance would capture four gold medals at the Michigan Cerebral Palsy Regional Games, placing first in the 100m, 400m, 800m and long jump as he prepared for the World Cerebral Palsy Games in Belgium later that summer.

In fact, the summer of 1986 was still relatively early into a string of three appearances at the Paralympics for Lafrance (1984 - New York; 1988 - Seoul; 1992 - Barcelona), though it wasn't until the Asian stop in this international troika that the term "Paralympics" actually garnered accepted usage.

June 1990: Just two years after the event was hosted in Sudbury, local sprinter Robert Esmie would crack the qualifying standard for the the 1990 World Junior Track & Field Championships, slated for Bulgaria that summer. Esmie clocked a time of 10.68 seconds in the 100m dash, slightly faster than the standard of 10.74 seconds.

This would come some six years prior to the Jamaican-born product rising to national prominence in Canada as the lead runner on the Olympic gold medal winning 4 X 100m team in Atlanta. In just the past two years, Esmie has re-emerged locally on the track & field circuit, bringing Air Blastoff to the northern Ontario track community.

June 1989: Jumping back one year, to wrap things up, the summer of 1989 featured a little local soccer history in the making as 14 year-old Brian Ashton becomes the first northern Ontario player ever to be named to a provincial all-star squad consisting of bantam-aged talent.

Ashton would go on to enjoy a successful career in professional soccer, primarily as a midfielder and eventual team captain of the Toronto Lynx before returning home to his roots. Last fall, the St Charles College graduate was named as only the second head coach in the twenty year history of the Laurentian Voyageurs women's soccer team.

This fall, he and his team will sit idly on the sidelines, victims of the OUA decision to cancel the fall varsity sports schedule, due to the pandemic.

Add one more thing to the list of simple pleasures that I will miss.

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