By CURTIS J. PHILLIPS, Connect Contributor
- On January 31, the seal from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is affixed to a proclamation announcing “The Year of Sport” for our region. Mayor Melissa Blake adds her signature to the document and comments; “Wood Buffalo has a history of hosting sporting events, but this year is looking very exciting. We have provincial, national and international events coming up in 2015. The eyes of the sporting world will be on us throughout the year. Our state of the art facilities will be on display, but more importantly our tremendous community spirit will be in the spotlight.”
- Randy Bennett, Canada’s Olympic swim coach, dies at the age of 51. Bennett was introduced to the coaching side of the sport when he took a position as a lifeguard at Fort McMurray’s Centennial Pool in 1982. “I had no competitive swimming background experience but they (Fort McMurray Manta Swim Club) needed a warm body and I was there,” said Bennett, who left town in the 1980s. “Don Wilson (head coach) bailed me out a million times as I made so many mistakes as it was a pretty steep learning curve for me. Fort McMurray was where it all started for me.”
- The sound of squeaking sneakers and bouncing basketballs echo throughout the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre with the Keyano Huskies hosting of the 2015 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) Men’s Basketball Championships March 5 to March 7. A fourth place finish is the best the Huskies may do, losing to the Olds College Broncos 94-76.
- Fifth-year Huskies student/athlete Lance Wesolowski, in his final year, is honoured with tournament first team all-star status. He would go on to be named Keyano Huskies Male Athlete of the Year 2014-2015.
- Staying downtown – only a few weeks later, Manitoba’s Team McEwen sweeps past Team Edin from Sweden to claim $26,000 at the inaugural Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Syncrude Elite 10 held March 19 to March 22 at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre’s CNRL Arena 2.
- With daily coverage on Sportsnet; quarter-finals and finals televised by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the event was a Who’s Who of curling with 2014 Olympics gold and bronze finishers Team Jacobs and Team Edin respectively and Team Gushue, who struck Olympic gold in 2006.
- Keyano Huskies men’s futsal team, for the third year in a row, wins the ACAC men’s futsal banner defeating the Lakeland Rustlers 5-3. Huskies’ Pedro Bianchi is named ACAC Futsal Player of the Year.
- The catch phrase for the 2015 Tim Hortons Canadian Ringette Championships March 29 to April 4, was: “Put a Ring on It!” With a total of 37 teams entered within three categories, the region was able to showcase our world-class multi-sport facilities in not only Fort McMurray but also in Fort McKay and Anzac. Nepean Ravens held Team Alberta off the scoreboard 3-0 for the Under 19 banner, while Under 16 gold went to Team Manitoba nipping Team Ontario 6-4. The National Ringette League’s professionals saw the Cambridge Turbos blast the Richmond Hill Lightning 6-2 in the Elite Eight.
- The 2015 Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup, held April 25 to May 3 at the Casman Centre, proved exciting for Fort McMurray Oil Barons faithful; the underdog Alberta Junior Hockey League team coming close to being a giant killer at the 13-game five-team tournament which would decide which team(s) would advance to the 2015 Royal Bank Cup (RBC) to be hosted May 9 to May 17 in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Melfort Mustangs defeated the host Oil Barons 4-2 in the semi-finals. In the end, it was the Penticton Vees, winners of the British Columbia Hockey League, needing overtime to edge the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champ Portage Terriers 4-3. Terriers would go on to claim the RBC on home ice.
- The Northern Kickoff, billed as: “The most Northern game in the history of the CFL”, is held at SMS Equipment Stadium (SMS) at Shell Place with the Edmonton Eskimos hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2015 exhibition pre-season action on June 13. An additional 10,000 seats were erected to compliment the 4,354 permanent seats as 11,825 fans watch the Eskimos defeat the Roughriders 31-24.
- Due to the hosting of the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto, the Toronto Argonauts play their season opener at SMS, defeating the Eskimos 26-11. Attendance is down from the previous CFL hosting as only 4,900 fans squeeze into the seats. It is the smallest crowd to see a regular season game on Canadian soil, attendance having been kept since 1958.
- The Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Society Class of 2015 inducts four individuals: the late Chuck Knight in the builder category and in the athlete category, triathlete/runner Sonja (Frank) Blanchard along with hockey’s Colin Murphy and Nolan Pratt, a two time Stanley Cup champion as a stand-up defenseman.
- The 5th Syncrude Boreal Open, presented by Aecon, hits the greens at Fort McMurray Golf Course from June 22-28 with a purse of $175,000. Vancouver, B.C. native Kevin Spooner wins.
- Tom Kecca is named head coach and general manager of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
- FC Edmonton hosts the first of two North American Soccer League regular season games on July 5 when they beat defending champion San Antonio Scorpions 4-0 at SMS. In what was called the Wood Buffalo Cup, a new record low in attendance for a NASL game is announced at 1,112.
- Shane Dawson Jr. becomes the first local athlete to ever have a gold medal placed around his neck at a Pan Am, Olympic or Commonwealth Games when Team Canada beat Team USA in baseball at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Dawson is a pitcher.
- FC Edmonton returns to the Fort McMurray pitch on August 2 losing out to the Ottawa Fury 1-0.
- The largest sporting event in Fort McMurray annals kicks off with the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games from August 7 to August 16. Phase 1 August 7-11 will highlight the sports of artistic gymnastics, athletics, basketball, beach volleyball, canoeing/kayaking, cycling road, cycling cross country, tennis and wrestling. Phase II on August 12 to August 16 will showcase the sports of badminton, baseball, golf, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming, triathlon and volleyball. More than 2,500 athletes in attendance from Canada’s four western provinces and three northern territories.
- The Fort McMurray Knights Rugby Club come up short in the Edmonton Rugby Union Division II Championship to Leduc Crude 34-12.
- Local firefighters Dan Hnatiu and Fraser O’Neill establish a world record in the X3 event.
- On October 8, former Fort McMurray Oil Baron (2010-2012) Colton Parayko plays his first game for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
- Keyano Huskies men’s soccer team, ranked No. 1 in the country majority of the season, wins its first ACAC soccer title defeating the Lethbridge Kodiaks 1-0 at SMS. Defenceman Angel Goldson is named Tournament MVP.
- On November 2, the announcement is made that the Western Major Baseball League will be adding to their summer collegiate baseball ranks the Fort McMurray Giants. Playing out of SMS, the first home game is May 27, 2016 against defending champion Lethbridge Bulls.
- For a third time in five years, local firefighter and MMA fighter Bo “The Unbreakable” Cooper is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The best options for survival point to the USA for experimental treatment called CAR T-Cell therapy which carries a hefty tag of half-a-million dollars plus. The community rally around Cooper with numerous fundraisers.
- Playing out of SMS, the first home game is May 27, 2016 against defending champion Lethbridge Bulls.
- The Fort McMurray Oil Barons sit one point out of a playoff spot with only six wins in 39 games.
Catch you on the rebound.
– Connect Weekly –