These eyes have seen a lot of Canada Games — 10 to be exact — and a lot of changes since we first starting spinning yarns way back in 1991 in Charlottetown. P.E.I.
All of those changes, however, might not be for the better.
The noticeable difference might be in the athletes themselves. They’re younger. A lot younger.
Whereas once the Canada Games were for young adults — say, 18 and under, depending on the sport — now they’re for the 16- and 15-year-olds. In sports such as gymnastics and figure skating, younger still.
I recall the hockey competition at the 1995 Games in Grande Prairie, Alta. That Newfoundland team had a couple of major junior players — Daniel Cleary and Richard Goudie (remember him?). Another three — Harold Druken, Keith Delaney and Jeff Sullivan — would go on to play major junior the next season.
At the Halifax Games, the hockey age group has dropped from under-17 to under-16. Because 15-year-olds cannot play major junior, there will no Cleary or Sidney Crosby (Campbellton, 2003) or Steven Stamkos (Whitehorse, 2007) in Halifax.
Then there’s the whole perception of the Games. Used to be it was a big deal across Canada. The TV networks (CBC, specifically) were all over them. Today, they’re but a blip on the national sporting radar outside the host city/community.
Still, though, the Games remain a wonderful Canadian sporting event, moreso to provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador than Ontario or Alberta.
For its in the smaller places that the Games remain a carrot for young athletes. For every Cleary, Carl English and Mark Nichols, who will go on to bigger and better things, the Canada Games will be the pinnacle of a Newfoundland athlete’s career.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So as we gear up for the start of competition today in Halifax, we look back on past Canada Games:
• There’s nothing quite like the boxing competition at Canada Games. Sadly, and for whatever reason, the Halifax Games will be the last for boxing. It may re-emerge, but who knows.
Boxing has always been a fan favourite at the Games, routinely drawing sellout crowds for the finals.
And there’s nothing quite like the boxers, compared to, say, the skiers. They’re usually a little rough around the edges, but almost always great kids. And they’re good for a quote.
• I recall my first Games, in P.E.I., and there was a weightlifter who was considered a medal hopeful for Newfoundland (his name escapes me). I had an interview lined up where the weightlifting competition was being held. When I arrived, the athlete was outside having a smoke. He didn’t medal.
• There’s a bit of a security concern in Halifax. A local cop resigned as the co-chair of security for what he said are concerns over a lack of security in Halifax. No problem in that regard at the 1999 Corner Brook Winter Games. I’ve covered two Olympic Games, a Stanley Cup Final, a couple of NHL Drafts, a Brier, and I’ve never, ever had to show my pass as often as I did in Corner Brook. It became somewhat of a standing joke with Tely colleagues Brendan McCarthy and photog Keith Gosse. Making it worse was the fact TSN was given free reign of the place, and the Corner Brook crowd, with some kind of man-crush for the broadcaster, made no apologies. It wasn’t just us. Affable CP photographer Jacques Boissinot finally flipped out one day.
• London, Ont., was definitely the nicest city I’ve been to a Canada Games. Worst? None of them, really, though the Brandon, Man. ‘media’ hotel left a lot to be desired. The room was the size of closet, the lone chair was a metal fold-down version and the curtain in the shower was three inches too short, meaning the bathroom was routinely flooded. Just outside my three foot-by-three foot window was the lovely view of a lumber yard. The topper? The hotel’s lounge was the town’s local peeler joint. Needless to say, we got our stories done quickly in Brandon.
• Tough to say what’s been a Canada Games highlight. I’ve forgotten most of them, but Iain Tennant was dominant in the pool in 1993 (Kamloops, B.C.), Lee Churchill on the cross-country skis in 1999 (Corner Brook) and you knew a 15-year-old Carl English (1997, Brandon) was special, playing against 17-year-olds. We won’t dwell on the poor, little Newfoundland kid wearing hockey skates on the speedskating oval.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org