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2012-12-30 at 11:02

Top Sports 2012

By Leith Dunick,
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Hockey is Canada’s game and Thunder Bay is a hockey town.

And Joel Scherban is a hockey icon in the city, a five-year captain with the Lakehead Thunderwolves, a former national MVP, and most recently a coach who led them to nationals in his rookie campaign behind the bench.

While there were plenty of naysayers about his ability to lead the Wolves to a CIS title, Scherban always managed to keep the team in contention, even if playoff success alluded them under his guidance the past couple of years.

So when Scherban was turfed, it got sports fans and non-sports fans alike talking in Thunder Bay. It became the most-commented on sports story in history and divided the hockey community.

It was a no-brainer No. 1 sports story of the year.

Here are the top 10 of 2012:

1. Joel Scherban led Lakehead to an 81-49 record in three-plus seasons coaching the Wolves, but a player mutiny in late October forced the hands of the athletic department and the team’s board of directors. Scherban, whose team was 3-1-0 at the time, was let go and replaced by assistant coach and former NHLer Mike Busniuk. The team later parted company with forward Thomas Frazee.

2. Robbi Weldon is a two-sport Paralympic star and was after another gold medal in 2012, this time in tandem cycling with long-time partner Lyn Bessette. It was a tense few days after she failed to find the podium in their first two races, but in their final attempt, they brought home the gold in the 80-kilometre event.

3. Emma Brightwell and Preston Mikulasik won national wrestling gold medals within 15 seconds of each other at the Thunderdome in February, the highlight of a second-consecutive successful hosting by the Lakehead Thunderwolves of the CIS national men’s and women’s championships.

4. The Thunder Bay North Stars turned to Harold Ballard-style theatrics when new owner Doug Gunsinger – who saved the team from extinction at the last minute – waited until the team’s third game of the season to officially name Kevin Kahoot the new coach, replacing the departed Lonny Bohonos. Then, with little fanfare, Kahoot was fired mid-season and Todd Howarth was brought back, after he had been summarily dismissed midway through the 2011-12 season.

5. Jordan Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes upstaged a June wedding that brought the likes of Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury to Thunder Bay in June. Staal was dealt by Pittsburgh to Carolina, where he’ll play alongside older brother Eric – and possibly younger brother Jared – if and when the NHL lockout ends.

6. The Lakehead Thunderwolves basketball team squeaked into nationals for the third straight year, but injuries to Ryan Thomson and Yoosrie Salhia left them on the outside looking in in Halifax once again. The Wolves, boasting CIS defensive player of the year Greg Carter, dropped their opener to Fraser Valley and will have one more kick at the can this season with the core group that made them a national contender under coach Scott Morrison.

7. The Thunder Bay Queen’s came up just short in their hunt for a second Esso Cup triumph in thee years, falling 4-2 to the Pembina Valley Hawks in the 2012 national female midget hockey championship final in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

8.  The Thunder Bay Chill wrapped up yet another Heartland Division crown, cruising through most of the regular season and tying the team’s all-time best finish in the Premier Development League, one point behind top spot in the entire circuit. But the Chill were upset in their playoff opener by eventual PDL champion London, despite the re-emergence of unretired veterans Wilson Neto and Gustavo Oliveira.

9. Golfer Barry Caland went out in style. Caland outlasted frequent partner Joe Scharf in a playoff to take the District Amateur over the Labour Day weekend, his 13th major title of his career. That bettered Trevor Jones mark by one. Caland then promptly announced his retirement from competitive golf.

10. Thunder Bay’s Matt Murray was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round of the NHL draft, and earned an invite to the Canadian junior evaluation camp in Calgary, though the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds netminder did not make the cut for the December tryout camp

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