Power: A shining light on N.L. athletes

Sporting accomplishments show Newfoundland and Labrador athletes can compete on a national and international stage.
Brad Gushue will be back in the game when his team competes at the 2014 Tim Horton’s Brier men’s curling championship in Kamloops, B.C. this weekend. (CBC Sports)

Later this afternoon, Brad Gushue takes his annual spot in the provincial sports limelight, as he and his team play their first game at the 2014 Tim Horton’s Brier men’s curling championship.

Gushue, Brett Gallant, Adam Casey and Geoff Walker will wear Newfoundland and Labrador’s familiar black and red in Kamloops, B.C. as Gushue chases that elusive Brier win in his 11th — and eighth consecutive — appearance representing the province.

It seems every March, Gushue gets plenty of face time as he tries to shed the Brier monkey and take the Canadian men’s curling title for the province for the first time since Jack MacDuff claimed it in a shock to the country back in 1976.

Aside from that sojourn to Torino, Italy to win Olympic gold in 2006, Gushue has spent the first week of every March at the Brier. (He actually did in 2006, too, but not as a player.)

Last month, Newfoundland and Labrador watched another local young athlete compete in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Marystown’s Katelyn Osmond figure skated her way into the hearts of fans not only in this province, but across the country.

Those astounding talents, not to mention her captivating eyes and smile, will serve this teenager well as she really just starts her international skating career. And although she was forced to move to Edmonton with her family to pursue her skating dream, she is first, and foremost, a Newfoundlander and Labradorian.
Kaetlyn Osmond stole the hearts of people across Canada when she took the ice for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Her Olympic performances — one of which helped to earned her, and the rest of Team Canada, a silver medal in the team skate event — helped shine the sporting spotlight on Newfoundland athletes and their accomplishments.

And Osmond isn’t the only athlete accomplishing large things on the national or international stage. At home and across the country, Newfoundlanders continue to make inroads.

Taking the field by storm

Aside from Osmond’s ascension to the ranks of an Olympian, there were other newsworthy stories last month.

At the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Montreal, St. John’s curler Heather Strong – the female Brad Gushue, minus Olympic gold, and best women’s skip in the province for the past decade or more – showed the country she can compete with the tops in Canada by winning the Ford Hot Shots competition at the Canadian women’s championship. Strong’s performance, an individual skills event in a purely team competition, earned her the use of a 2014 Ford Focus for two years.

Unfortunately, that success only parlayed itself through the first few days of the bonspiel, as Strong’s team fell from a solid 4-1 record to six consecutive losses and a 4-7 finish. But it showed she can compete with the best in the country.

Away from the playing field, but in a ceremony dedicated to it, St. John’s native John Slaney was inducted into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame. A former first round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, Slaney parlayed his great skating and offensive instincts into a long rewarding career.

He played 268 NHL games with — and against — some of the greats (I watched him with the LA Kings of the Wayne Gretzky era), but will be best remembered as one of the best AHL defencemen of all time.
St. John's native John Slaney was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame. (CBC)

Slaney was really the first of the new generation of Newfoundland and Labrador hockey players who were able to play pro. He was followed by many, including the six player who toil in the NHL today.

We have a number of young athletes at American universities on athletic scholarships, and more playing hockey at the major junior level. Our young athletes are competitive in rugby, softball, soccer, swimming and handball at the national level.

The doors for the young athlete who wants to take his or her athletics to the next level have long been opened, but this past month really let the light shine on this province, showing the country that we can compete and be among the best.

Hockey nation

Canada’s hockey performance at the recent Olympics was something to see, indeed.

The way the women refused to lay down and quit, despite trailing for 56 minutes in the gold medal game, was inspiring. Scoring twice in four minutes in regulation, and adding that golden goal in overtime gave Canada the win, and a place in hockey history as one of the most epic hockey games of all time.

Meanwhile, the men dominated the USA and Sweden on their road to gold. As someone who coaches minor hockey, their performance was beautiful to watch, a total game by a full team, all buying into one goal.

However, there was one small moment during that broadcast that made me cringe.

During his monologue, Don Cherry talked about several Canadian Olympians and having watched them in minor midget. He said they never imagined being on Canada’s Olympic team. And then he set parents all across Canada, no doubt, into hysterics:

“You kids playing,” Cherry said. “Keep going. You can make it. You can be as good as these guys!”

Suddenly, thousands of hockey parents across the country looked at each other and glanced at their eight-year-old, envisioning Olympic rings and a Canadian flag draped across his back.

Telling all the kids — and worse, the parents — that “you can make it,” doesn’t help. Far too many parents are far too obsessed with the goal of getting their children to the pros.

Cherry’s message doesn’t help any coach in minor hockey who’s trying to get parents off his/her back because their child is not a first line centre.

It’s great for kids to have that goal. It’s not great for the parents to be egged on by Canada’s hockey mouthpiece.

It was the only part of the entire game I didn’t like. But, hey, what do I know?

Follow Don on Twitter at @PowerPlay27