Two events leaves one eye-opener

This is a tale of one Friday evening and two different events, which gave me a sense of how thoughtful this community can be.
Unfortunately, the night didn’t start out that way. It began with me getting so charged up over getting enough photos and stories in this week to the point I started to forget scheduled engagements.
Your friendly Times editorial staff was shorthanded this week undergoing personnel changes and were extremely busy as a result.
Yeah, I know. Boo-hoo.
Firstly, I hung around the office too long and missed the ceremonial face-off of the first-annual Mark Hopkins Memorial liniment league tournament at the Memorial Sports Centre.
But I ended up staying for the opening game and watched as North Air and the Hopper’s Bruins battled right down to the wire. The Bruins’ winning goal came from former Muskie star and Border-land Thunder assistant coach Shane Bliss’ drive to the net to snap a 2-2 tie with under 30 seconds to play.
The tournament drew 12 teams from the region, and there was talk of extending the registration deadline as a handful of squads had hoped to play.
“It brought a lot of the old players who used to play back together. [The weekend] was a great tribute to a great guy,” said Thunder head coach Wayne Strachan, who got two assists in Friday’s game with the Bruins—Hopkins’ old team.
“Mark was a very happy guy and he had a talent for making others happy around him,” Strachan said.
It was a kick to see some of these older guys, most of whom I had met covering golf tournaments in the summer, acting like kids on the ice again that night. But I knew I was forgetting something.
What was it? Tape that episode of “Mr. Bean” I’ve seen about 800 times? No. Try and call that girl in Ottawa who shot me down before I left town last spring? Lord, no.
The Special Olympics athletes’ appreciation dinner and dance that started about two hours ago at the Elk’s Hall?
We have a winner.
As I drove the three-and-a-half blocks between venues, I was, in my head, counting the events that might have taken place at the ceremony and the possible chance I would still be able to squeeze off a photo.
Unfortunately, the official awards reception was just ending as I walked through the door, with close to half of the 42 athletes having already left.
But the spirits of the remaining athletes was still very much alive as they sought coaches to dance with for a number of old-time hits such as “The Monster Mash” (fitting, as it was a Hallowe’en costume party).
“Everyone just had a wonderful time,” said Gaby Hanzuk, co-ordinator of Fort Frances Special Olympics and Northwestern Ontario region. “We try to do one of these in the spring and the fall as a way to recognize our athletes.”
The big news being announced on this night was that longtime track and field competitors Ray Bedard and Dave Ducasse had qualified for Team Ontario at the upcoming National Special Olympic Summer Games in July, 2002.
Bedard will compete in the 50m and 200m running events and the running long jump and shot put, while Ducasse will try his hand at the 400m and 1,500 m running events.
Hanzuk also said the banquet marked the end of one season and the beginning of another. Five- and10-pin bowling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, floor hockey, and curling will soon be in full swing for many of the same athletes who ran track or picked up a glove for softball.
Even on a night of enjoyment, they were genuinely excited to get the winter season started.
“These athletes work all year-round,” said Hanzuk. “For many of them, practising and competing is what they dedicated the majority of their life to.”
Both the Hopkins tourney and the Special Olympics appreciation dinner weren’t about winning and losing, about who still skated fast at age 40, or who had qualified for a chance to perform on a national stage. For me, it was a small but effective reminder of how sports is one of the best ways to express thanks and reflection.
• • •
Alas, things aren’t looking good in the early going for coach Dave Allison’s Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. The Fort Frances native finds his team dead last in the Western Confer-ence with a 3-7 record.
But recovering from slow starts isn’t new for Allison. Last year, he guided the Admirals, then in the International Hockey League, from an under .500 record at mid-season to nine more wins than losses when the playoffs began.
• • •
Dustin Tkachyk and Bryce Witherspoon, both of Fort Frances, and Cody Mosbeck of Emo all have seen some ice time with the Kenora Stars of the Manitoba Midget ‘AAA’ League.
Tkachyk is playing in his third year in Kenora, spending his other two seasons with the Bantam league up there, while Wither-spoon and Mosbeck are making their Stars’ debut.
Witherspoon played with the Muskies last year while Mosbeck skated for the local Tagg’s ‘AA’ Bantam team.
If you are planning any upcoming sporting events or have any sports-related information, feel free to call me at 274-5373 or drop by the office.
You also can e-mail me at rvillagracia@fortfrances.com

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