Where are they now?
Okay, I know this may seem like a bit of nepotism here, but my brother Wade Leblanc is the epitome of an athlete. I can remember him interrupting our fuzzy “TFC” (Two F’n Channels) with his hand-eye coordination drills. He would be constantly throwing a tennis ball up against our rough fireplace mantle to keep his cat-like reflexes in top shape or he would be juggling three tennis balls in front of iconic and groundbreaking television programs such as Three’s Company and Rockford Files.
From my Dad’s amazing memory, Wade’s story can be properly told: He was skating on the backyard rink when he was three and four years old. In his fifth year he strapped on the goalie pads for the first time. Some 20 years later he took those pads off for the last time and packed his goalie skates away for the last time ever. A fall from a bike landed him on a large spruce root growing above the ground and he would soon have a hip replacement at the age of 30. Between the beginning and the fall he loved his net as much as anything else. Wade began with the Mindemoya tykes, atoms and peewees. When the erstwhile Manitoulin/North Shore League was formed he joined the Manitoulin Dolomite bantams that contained players from most of the Island. Wiikwemkoong had their own entry in the league. Three years in a row they led the league during the regular season. An important and integral part of that success was due to Wade and his fellow goaltender, Sean Gjos of Little Current. In their final year in the League the Dolomites won every game but the last on the schedule, in which they tied.
It was during these bantam years that this group began to have great success in B, A and AA tournaments. These were the years that they began to challenge AAA minor bantam teams from North Bay and Sault St. Marie. In a two-game set with the Soo they surprised the city lads with two consecutive 5-2 victories making the opposition coach loudly furious with his own players. During those years they won tournament in Elliot Lake, Sault Ste. Marie, Blind River, Durham, Espanola and others. The confidence of the Island skaters grew by leaps and bounds. They also won consolation tourneys on three occasions.
During those three years, they were also in the Region 7 Silver Stick Tournaments in Sudbury. Each time they were off to the North America Silver Stick Finals in Port Huron and Sarnia and all great experiences. Since the Island boys had achieved this level of on-ice success they applied to join the much more difficult Nickel District League. Once this happened the Wiiky boys joined our rep squad.
After much contentious “negotiations,” the Panthers (albeit with a new association formed) won a spot in the league by a single vote! Unfortunately, the fight to get into the league was approved so close to the season opening our midget Panthers had time to have only one exhibition game prior to starting the season, and on the road, in Rayside-Balfour. By a strange coincidence, Rayside had formed a AAA team that year but declined to enter the newly-founded Great North AAA Midget League. The NDHL finally gave Rayside permission to play in the AA league for one season only.
Talk about walking into the lion’s den. The Rayside team had been on the ice early and had recruited players far and wide (Oshawa, Oro and even two players from BC).
Needless to say they got trampled. Veteran Manitoulin defenceman Dale Harper, when asked what was happening out there uttered, “Coach, I swear they are multiplying out there.” Indeed, they seemed to be as their play, cycling and passing had “our lads taking a ton of penalties in trying to stop or slow them down. Sadly the final score was 19 to one!”
But they “never said die” and after only two months later the Panthers gave the Canadiens their first and only league loss that year. The game, held in Wiiky, drew a large crowd “as our boys toughed out a win, a five to three victory. The team continued to improve quickly, so much so that the next year the Panthers won the league championship over Valley East right in Sudbury.
That year Wade also won the top goalie award at the Valley East shootout competition beating out a dozen opponents. During their first two years in the NDHL, goalies Sean and Wade were voted to the league All-Star team. Also receiving All-Star honours were Mike Cheecho-baa, Trevor and Trace Aljoe while Harper was named to the 2nd team.
This was the final year of midget for half these champs and some moved on to a higher level. Wade was invited to try out by seven southern Ontario junior teams. He chose the Collingwood Blues, spending some time with the Stayner Siskins also.
Sean was recruited by the Ivy League and went to Providence, R.I. to play for Brown University. Dale ended up with the Welland Jr Bs . The Aljoe twins suited up with the Walkerton Jrs. The next year, Wade transferred from Georgian College to Canadore College in North Bay. The Canadore team was also known as the Panthers. In his first year there he played back-up but in his second year became the starter for Canadore in a very tough OCAA ranks. Facing 40 + shots a game he was recognized for his success and work effort by being recognized with the most improved player award.
In addition to this accolade, he earned himself an invite to the rookie camp of the Chatham Pro team of what would become the ECHL. He had an outstanding camp, lasting to the final two goalies, only losing out to a former WHL major junior veteran. He had an opportunity to go to camp with the Pensacola (FL) Ice Pilots but declined as he had just been hired by the city of Barrie. Wade rose in the Barrie ranks from the Eastview Recreation Complex, then supervisor of all Barrie arenas and now works out of city hall as manager of operations and facilities of all city buildings. Hard work leads to success.
Here is the latest on anticipated spring sports. The Mindemoya Youth Ball Tournament, thanks to organizer Greg Lockyer, was able to release: “June 26-28 organizing committee is holding out hope (as faint as it might be) that things will change and we will be able to host our youth ball tournament. We realize our decision might be made for us if this pandemic continues. We just don’t want to give kids more bad news at this point. A decision will be made in the next couple of weeks. Maybe the end of June can be a celebration for all the youth. Stay safe…”
A good sport is good for sports.