‘Hardware’ put wraps on an exciting year

Even though it won’t officially be a year as the sports reporter at the Fort Frances Times for me until the end of January, I’ve already covered a smorgasbord of activities during the course of 2011.
So with many things taking place here, what has stood out from all of the rest over the past 11 months?
Well, I’ll get to that in a little bit. But leading into that, it’s time to hand out some year-end hardware to the rest of the sporting world in the first-annual “Nosebleed Awards,” which are replicas of the old Avco Cup trophy from the erstwhile WHA.
2011 likely will go down as a year that will be remembered for stories that were unfortunate (the concussion epidemic that is running rampant through the NHL), revolting (the Penn State sexual abuse scandal), and gut-wrenching (the death of Indy Car champ Dan Wheldon).
However, in between all of the bad news stories, there were some exciting games that should be duly rewarded, and will be in the words that follow:
•The Best Game That Everyone Saw: Game 6 of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals.
This game had it all. Lead changes, go-ahead homers, comebacks aplenty, and then a walk-off home run in extra innings by David Freese to keep the Cardinals alive, and eventually win the Series in Game 7.
If you didn’t like watching this game, then you’re probably not a baseball fan.
•The Best Game That Everyone in Canada Saw: the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship final between Russia and Canada.
Sure, most Canadian hockey fans want to forget this game ever happened, but this was another one that will live long in the memory.
Having jumped out to a 3-0 lead, the Canadians only could look on as the Russians roared back to life in the final 20 minutes to steal a 5-3 victory.
With two losses in the last two finals, you can bet those wearing the Maple Leaf on their chest will have an extra jump in the step on their quest for gold at this year’s tournament, which currently is in progress.
•The Best Game That Only I Watched: the Pac-10 basketball final between Washington and Arizona.
I bet many of you are wondering why I would mention this game that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. But thanks to the announcing skills of “Screaming” Gus Johnson, this makes my list.
In the game itself, Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas drained a buzzer-beater in overtime to give the Huskies a ticket into “March Madness.” But what would put it over the top was the sight of the always-excitable Johnson fist pumping on the sidelines and shouting out loud that Thomas was “cold-blooded.”
•Most Underrated Game: the Vanier Cup between McMaster and Laval.
While a game a couple of days later at BC Place in Vancouver (i.e., the Grey Cup) would garner more eyeballs, the best game of that weekend took place on the Friday night as opposed to Sunday’s big clash.
Having fallen behind by a huge deficit early, the juggernaut Rouge et Or came roaring back to force overtime. But the scrappy Marauders were able to hold on long enough to take the win and clinch their first national crown.
•Play of the Year: Bobby Ryan’s goal for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarter-finals versus the Nashville Predators.
While not totally certain on this, I’m pretty sure that David Legwand’s jock-strap is still up in the rafters at the Honda Centre after being undressed not once but twice on the same play.
•Most Memorable Moment of 2011: Dan Wheldon wins the Indianapolis 500 on the final lap.
This is a highly personal moment for me as a racing fan, and with Wheldon’s tragic death in an accident in October in Las Vegas, this becomes an even bigger and more special memory to look back on.
It’s not often that a huge race is decided on the final lap, but to have the leader at the time (J.R. Hildebrand) crash into the wall coming off the final corner and be passed coming to the line is completely improbable.
Added to the fact it was the 100th anniversary event at the Brickyard, along with this proving to be Wheldon’s final win, this was, without a doubt, that lasting memory I will have from the sporting world in 2011.
But what was the memorable thing I covered here in Fort Frances? Well, I can now tell you what that was.
•Most Memorable Local Event of 2011: the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
This year’s event had it all—changing weather patterns, big fish, celebrity anglers (e.g., Winnipeg Jets’ defender Dustin Byfuglien), and a local team (Darren Ward and Sean Good) leading going into the final day.’
And to top it all off, a tie at the top of the standings for the title between Jon Austin/Richard Rud and Glenn Leroux/Trevor Zimak.
The 2012 edition of the FFCBC might have a hard time trying to live up to that craziness, but I have a strong feeling it will come quite close, along with the other sporting events that will take place here over the next 52 weeks.

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