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YEAR IN REVIEW: The most compelling Surrey sports stories of 2021, another pandemic year

Profiled were Surrey track masters, a Stanley Cup winner, one crash victim and one survivor who skated again
Surrey’s Cindy O’Brien Hugh, 62, hurdles with Greyhounds Masters Track & Field Club at North Surrey Secondary in April. (File photo: Tom Zillich)

• Surrey’s Grant Armstrong won a second Stanley Cup in July, but got to lift the silver mug for the very first time. As a second-season amateur scout for repeat NHL champs Tampa Bay Lightning, the North Delta-raised Armstrong celebrated with the team after a last-minute flight to the Florida city. After the Lightning’s win the previous season, he wasn’t able to celebrate in Edmonton, where playoff games were played in a pandemic-triggered “bubble.”

Two women who coach in Surrey were among three of B.C.’s viaSport Coach of the Year award winners in April. Thunderbirds Track and Field’s Iuliana Kroeger was named top Competition Coach for 2020, while Ari Adams of Surrey United soccer club was the year’s best High Performance Coach. A third award recognized B.C.’s top Community Coach, Luba Sadovska of North Shore Table Tennis Club.

• Despite the pandemic, members of Greyhounds Masters Track & Field Club stayed active on the track at North Surrey Secondary in April. The 22-year-old club counts some record holders among its nearly 100 members, which range in age from 35 to 90 and are among the most inspirational athletes you’ll ever meet. Newton-area resident Renate Cheetham, 83, was among Greyhound athletes given a 2020 Outstanding Athletic Performance award by BC Athletics, for her Canadian record-breaking W80 one-mile racewalk performance at Bear Creek Park the previous September, in a time of 12:26.55 in smoky conditions.

• I caught up with North Delta-raised Davis Sanchez, the former football pro who now works as an analyst for TSN in Toronto. Sanchez, who won three Grey Cup championships in the CFL and also saw action in the NFL, didn’t play football until age 16. “Basketball was my passion… and it was soccer before that,” Sanchez recalled in January. “I just played football because my buddies played it and I was decently athletic, so football was just a fun thing to do on the side.”

• At Surrey’s Excellent Ice arena in November, former Humboldt Broncos hockey player Layne Matechuk, 21, skated again, and loved every minute of it. He and his parents travelled here from Colonsay, Sask., for his neuro-rehabilitation at Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic. Layne, a right-shot defenceman, was seriously injured in the catastrophic Broncos bus crash of April 2018, when 10 players with the Saskatchewan junior team were killed, along with two coaches, a statistician, broadcaster, bus driver and athletic therapist.

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A virtual Surrey Sports Hall of Fame is in the works, as “a highly accessible” and “contemporary” venue to honour Surrey residents for outstanding achievements in sport. The “one-time cost” to establish an online hall of fame is estimated at $400,000, according to a November report to city council, and the content “almost limitless.”

• In a February phone interview, Caleb Reimer talked to me about being quarantined for a week in the basement of his Fraser Heights home, prior to his trip to Edmonton and the delayed start of the Western Hockey League (WHL) season. The six-foot-three centre was headed to Oil Kings training camp nearly two years after the team made him the first Surrey-area player selected in WHL Bantam Draft in the spring of 2019, in the first round, 18th overall. Sadly, just six months later, Reimer was killed Aug. 21 in a car crash that also claimed the lives of two fellow hockey players, Ronin Sharma and Parker Magnuson.

• Last winter, Surrey’s Emma de Boer aimed for new heights after being recruited to an Ivy League school. The champion high jumper planned to train and study at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) in the fall, following her Grade 12 year at Holy Cross Regional High School. De Boer was the top U18 female high jumper in Canada, with a jump of 1.72 metres during the B.C. high school track championships in 2019, when she was in Grade 10. Years earlier, the Cloverdale-area resident was introduced to high jump by a teacher at A.J. McLellan Elementary.

• Surrey-raised goaltender Laurent Brossoit really likes playing his hometown Vancouver Canucks, apparently. In February, the Winnipeg Jets backup (at the time) earned his second career NHL shutout in Vancouver, a city where he recorded his first no-goal game, back in December 2018. “I like being here, it’s home for me, and I guess I just have that extra little bit of energy to give,” he said post-game. Brossiot, 28, now plays for Vegas Golden Knights.

• RELATED STORY, from 2017: Surrey’s Laurent Brossoit takes over the Edmonton Oilers’ crease.

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• In the spring months, Cloverdale’s Museum of Surrey showcased a few pieces of John Tenta memorabilia as part of a “Shake Up: Preserving What We Value” exhibit, including an “Earthquake” action figure, a magazine and a deck of trading cards. The Surrey-born pro wrestler died 15 years earlier, of bladder cancer, at age 42. Friends and family reflected on the wrestling career of “Earthquake,” as Tenta was known in the ring. Fellow wrestler Mark “Gorgeous Michelle Starr” Vellios knew Tenta as a “gentle giant” who once feuded with World Wrestling Federation legend Hulk Hogan and won the company’s tag-team championship with partner Typhoon – big stuff for a guy who grew up in Port Kells and had roamed the halls of North Surrey Secondary.

• Before she travelled to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Surrey-raised gymnast Shallon Olsen entered the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame. Olsen grew up in the Fraser Heights area but trained in Coquitlam and attended Centennial Secondary in the city across the river. Upon graduation, she left to compete with the gymnastics team at the University Alabama. Olsen was the youngest member of Team Canada when she made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016.

• Whalley’s Little League baseball team again won the provincial championship, this time on home turf at Orest Springenatic Field on July 30, but that is where the road ended for the squad of 11- and 12-year-olds. The pandemic cancelled plans for the Canadian Little League championships for 2021 and, ultimately, a potential return for Whalley to the Little League World Series. Whalley last earned a trip to Williamsport, PA, in the summer of 2018.

• A studio in rural Surrey became the hub for one broadcaster’s quick return to the local sports scene. Evening call-in show host Rob Fai was among those let go when Vancouver’s TSN 1040 sports radio station pulled the plug on Feb. 9. Days later, Fai found a home hosting Canucks post-game analysis at Hubcast’s studio, located in a converted barn in the Port Kells area.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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