Islanders curl, shoot, ski, skate to podium at Winter Games

by Stacey Lavallie

MANITOULIN—It was a pretty fantastic week for the Manitoulin athletes who travelled to Collingwood to compete in the Ontario Winter Games and came home with medals of all three metals around their necks.

Manitowaning’s Deidre Debassige, Mindemoya’s Kennedy Lanktree, Gore Bay’s Mackenzie Turner and Mindemoya’s Owen Sheppard came home with medals. Parker Dickinson, also from Gore Bay, who competed in hockey, was unfortunately eliminated in the round-robin boys’ hockey tournament.

The best youth athletes from across Ontario gather to take part in the Ontario Seasonal Games every four years. Two years ago, the Ontario Summer Games were held in Sudbury. The Winter games, held this year in Collingwood, saw Islanders compete in biathlon, curling, and hockey.

Kennedy and Deidre, two Manitoulin girls who play both for the high school team, the Manitoulin Mustangs, as well as the Sudbury Lady Wolves, made the cut earlier this year to play at the games. They both ended up on the same team, Team Irwin, to Kennedy’s joy.

“It was really nice to be on the same team,” she noted. “We know how each other play and we could set up passes knowing each other. And it would have been weird to play against each other.”

Team Irwin scraped its way into the finals with a fourth place finish in their ‘B’ pool. This pitted them against the ‘A’ pool’s first-place team, Team Piper.

“Team Irwin went through the round-robin with one tie, two losses and three wins,” Kyra Lanktree, Kennedy’s mother, explained. “We were a major underdog going in.”

Underdog or not, the girls managed to tie up the game in the third to go into overtime with a score of 2-2.

“Oh my god, it was nail-biting,” Ms. Lanktree recalled.

Team Irwin scored, ending the game in their favour, and the fourth-seed team moved on while first place Team Piper was eliminated.

The win pitted the Irwins against Team Apps, which had finished third place in the ‘A’ pool.

“That game was very intense,” Ms. Lanktree said. “It went into double-overtime.”

Kennedy won the game for Team Irwin, scoring the winning goal.

“We were so excited,” her mother said.

This brought the girls to the championship game against Team Agosta, the second-place pool ‘A’ team. Throughout the finals, all of the pool ‘B’ teams were eliminated except for Team Irwin.

“It was nothing-nothing heading into the third,” Ms. Lanktree explained. “Agosta scored. With about five minutes left, we tied the game up and it went into overtime. The third straight overtime game.”

About four minutes into overtime, Deidre got a hold of the puck and passed it over to one of her teammates, who in turn passed it up to Kennedy.

“She broke through the Agosta defence and scored the championship goal,” Ms. Lanktree cheered. “I cried. You better believe it.”

Kennedy said she was thrilled. “I felt pretty awesome,” she told The Expositor. “It’s a once in a lifetime chance. I’m not from Toronto. I’m from Manitoulin! And we had a chance to show those other players that we won’t give up and we can come back from behind.”

She said the entire experience was “pretty good.”

“(My team) was really nice. No fights, no bullying.”

The hockey girls weren’t the only ones to represent the Island. Mackenzie Turner represented Manitoulin well, too.

“The weather was wild,” recalls Mackenzie’s mother, Heather Turner. “On Thursday (March 8) it was pouring rain. On Friday, it was a blizzard.”

Mackenzie competed both days in the biathlon event, which consists of cross-country skiing and target shooting. She trains with the Walden Biathlon Club.

“This is her first year competing,” Ms. Turner explains. “She competed in a few events and qualified. She was pretty nervous, but she trains hard.”

Mackenzie was unavailable for comment as she had already left with family for a March Break vacation, but Ms. Turner noted her daughter, “learned a lot. The athletes all stay together and the event was so focused on the kids.”

She said her 13-year-old daughter called the experience “amazing.”

On the first day of competition, Mackenzie took part in the sprint event. The quicker of the two events had the athletes ski three times and shoot twice. Each time they shoot at the target, they fire five times, Ms. Turner explained.

“She got a bronze in that event,” despite the delays and pouring rain, Ms. Turner said.

The next day’s event, the pursuit, was also delayed, this time due to gusting winds and blowing snow. The longer event has the athletes ski four times and shoot targets three times, each time firing five shots.

“The organizers delayed the event about 20 minutes, because they didn’t want to lose any kids in the snow,” she noted. “Mackenzie won a silver.”

It was either silver or bronze for Owen Sheppard in curling. The Horgan rink out of Sudbury, made up of Owen as vice, brothers Tanner and Jordan Horgan as skip and lead respectively, and Connor Lawes as second, won a berth at the Winter Games following a third-place finish in the Northern Ontario championships earlier in the season.

“It was pretty nice to compete at the top level,” Owen said. “People were really going for it.”

Their final game was a do-or-die for Owen and his rink. If they lost, the rink they were playing would win gold. If they won, Owen and his rinkmates would win either silver or bronze.

“What we won would be determined by another game going on,” Owen explained. “If one of the other teams won, they’d have more points and would win silver, and we’d get bronze.”

That team won, giving Owen a bronze, but he said he was happy with the medal.

“It’s pretty good,” he said. The 16-year-old has been curling since he was around 10-years-old, he explained. It was his first year as part of the rink.

Parker Dickinson made the cut to participate in the boys’ hockey tournament. Unfortunately, the team was eliminated during round-robin play.