Former competitor Neil Shute back in Games in different role
Neil Shute (right) and his son Riley, display the two Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games ball hockey gold medals Shute has won in his lifetime. Riley has the gold his father won Tuesday as coach of the Avalon team while Shute displays the one he picked up playing for the host team at the 1992 Games in Harbour Grace and Carbonear.
— Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram
Above the little cot inside the classroom he called home for four days this week, Harbour Grace native Neil Shute proudly displayed a little piece of Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games history.
There, hanging between charts and chalkboards, was his 1992 Summer Games ball hockey jersey and the gold medal he won as part of the host team.
Twenty years after the fact, Shute is back at the Games, coaching not the host team, but the Avalon entry from Upper Island Cove.
“All the guys were admiring it,” he says of the medal, which today looks more bronze than gold. “I told them, ‘This is what it’s all about, this is what you’re playing for.’”
Tuesday morning inside S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium, the very rink where Shute claimed his gold, the Hawks struck their own gold, shutting out the Eastern team 2-0 in a spirited match.
“I would have liked to see us and the host in the gold-medal game,” says Shute, whose unit dispatched the host team in the semifinals, “but the chips fell where they did and when it came down to it, I just wanted my boys to win and they did, so it’s great.”
Shute lives in Upper Island Cove, where he is the town manager.
When he heard about the possibility of a team being put together for the Games, he threw his hat into the ring to coach, partly for a love of ball hockey and partly to ensure kids had a positive Games experience.
“I stressed to my guys that this is a once in a lifetime experience, you only fit the age category once, so try to make the most of it,” explains Shute.
In 1992, even though they could have slept in their own beds, Shute and the rest of the host team stayed in the athletes’ village at St. Francis Elementary and doing everything as a team.
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“For the kid, it’s the best part, it’s like a mini-Olympics,” he says. “For those four days, you stay together, eat together, and travel together, all as a team. We stressed that to the boys from the start this week.”
That plan and a talented roster, which included a young Danny Cleary — “he was feisty, that’s for sure,” recalls Shute — resulted in an overtime win over Labrador in the championship game.
“I remember being here in this Stadium and it was full to capacity. As a kid of 15, it was amazing,” Shute says. “For me playing sports, it was one of the highlights, no doubt.”
Shute, who wore his ’92 gold during Tuesday’s game, says he felt more pressure as a coach than he did as a player.
“The pressure is on to have the right kids on the floor at the right time and you have to try to be as fair as you possibly can to everybody, hoping you don’t make a mistake,” says Shute, who could be seen pacing the bench and rubbing his head anxiously throughout the game, relaxing only when the final buzzer sounded.
“At 15, you don’t really know what’s going on, you know you’re playing for a medal and you’re hoping to win.”
Labrador defeated the hosts 4-3 in overtime to claim Bronze. Central defeated St. John’s/North to finish in fifth, and Mount Pearl/South wrapped up Monday evening, closing out the rankings in seventh.