Driven Performance Fitness instructor Katie Diaz leads participants through a zumba class. (Photo submitted)

Driven Performance Fitness instructor Katie Diaz leads participants through a zumba class. (Photo submitted)

Nanaimo News Bulletin’s top 10 most-read sports stories of 2020

Readers were interested in ways to keep moving during the pandemic

1. Nanaimo’s fit folks won’t let social distancing keep them from their workouts, March 23.

Sports seasons were called off early or cancelled altogether in 2020, but some athletes found a way to keep moving.

An article about fitness groups persevering during quarantine was the News Bulletin’s most-read sports story of the year.

Owners of fitness businesses were interviewed about their decisions to close their doors and the ways they were continuing to help clients keep up with their fitness.

“It’s going to cause us to be creative, but that’s what us as performance coaches have to do anyways. There’s always interruptions, always injuries that we have to work around, so this is just another obstacle and hurdle that we have to be creative to work around,” said Clayton Smith, owner of Prime Sport Performance and Therapy.

2. Former Nanaimo Clippers defenceman signs NHL contract, April 15.

A benefit of having a junior hockey team is finding out where players’ hockey careers go from there.

So readers were interested to hear about former Nanaimo Clippers defenceman Will Reilly signing a two-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

In 2019-20, his final season at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Reilly served as team captain and was second in goals (eight) and fifth in points (22) among defenceman in his conference.

“Will had an impressive year in 2019-20 after continuing to improve during his four years at RPI. His commitment to working hard and improving his conditioning has paid off,” said Jim Rutherford, Penguins general manager, in a press release. “We are happy to add another young player, increasing our organizational depth on defence.”

Reilly posted on social media that he was “very happy and proud.”

Reilly played for the Clippers in 2015-16.

3. Nanaimo Buccaneers’ first-ever coach returning to the hockey team’s bench, May 8.

The return of Brad Knight to the Nanaimo Buccaneers had Bucs fans intrigued.

The city’s junior B hockey club announced that Knight had been hired as the team’s new coach, general manager and director of hockey operations. He was the Buccaneers’ first-ever coach as he was behind the bench for the team’s inaugural 2012-13 season, as well as the following season.

“When you start something, you always keep an eye on it,” he said. “The opportunity arose that there was a spot for someone to help guide it along.”

The story was a short-lived one, as a change in team ownership led to a change in coaching plans, too.

4. Nanaimo Buccaneers have a new owner, June 18.

The Bucs’ busy off-season saw Carl Ollech, a longtime Nanaimo resident, buy the junior B hockey team.

Former Buccaneers owner Clayton Robinson was successful in his bid for a Pacific Junior Hockey League expansion franchise in his hometown of Chilliwack. That put the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League club on the market, and Robinson found that his friend Ollech was interested.

Ollech said he wants the Bucs to be a home team with a lot of local Nanaimo kids, and he wants the organization to help them reach their goals and be good citizens.

5. Nanaimo’s newest skatepark now open for use in Harewood, July 2.

An article about a new extreme-sports venue rounded out this year’s top five.

Skateboarders have a new place to ride, try tricks and hang out after the opening of the skatepark at Harewood Centennial Park.

The park includes a kidney-shaped bowl and a “street-style plaza,” according to the City of Nanaimo website. First Nations artists collaborated to create artwork that was painted onto the park’s concrete surface.

6. Clippers’ playoff run comes to an end as hockey championships cancelled, March 12.

The Island final playoff series everyone wanted to see didn’t happen. Neither did the rest of the playoffs.

The Canadian Junior A Hockey League announced in mid March that it was cancelling the remainder of hockey season, including all playoffs and championship tournaments.

The Nanaimo Clippers and the Cowichan Valley Capitals were set to start a second-round series.

“This news is devastating to our organization,” the Clippers posted on social media, and coach Darren Naylor said it felt like the season ended with a question that will never get answered.

7. Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards to celebrate the best in local sports, Feb. 18.

The announcement of Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards finalists is always one of the most-read sports stories of the year, and that was the case again this past winter.

Leading up to the 15th annual gala event, a panel of judges made up of media members and local sport directors determined finalists in awards categories such as Team of the Year, Individual Athlete of the Year and Team Athlete of the Year.

8. Clippers will play for Nanaimo, Snuneymuxw on special night at the arena, Feb. 3.

The Nanaimo Clippers play their home games on the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, and they recognized that on a special night last season.

The junior A hockey club announced that it would host Snuneymuxw First Nation Night on Feb. 15 when the Nanaimo Clippers hosted the Powell River Kings at Frank Crane Arena.

The Clippers wore special jerseys with Coast Salish artwork by Noel Brown, and the jerseys were auctioned off afterward with proceeds donated for sports equipment for the Snuneymuxw.

“Snuneymuxw is appreciative of our partnership with the Nanaimo Clippers that supports the advancement of reconciliation in Nanaimo,” said Chief Mike Wyse.

The Clippers went on to win the game 2-1 in overtime.

9. Nanaimo Clippers looking for new GM as Campbell moving on, Sept. 3.

The BCHL’s youngest general manager moved on to a new opportunity on the eve of the 2020-21 season.

The Clippers announced in a press release that GM Tali Campbell would be leaving the club, as Campbell became vice-president and general manager of the Coquitlam Express.

The lifelong Clippers fan said he’s proud of the Clippers’ on- and off-ice success the past two seasons, pointing to sold-out arenas and the team’s continued involvement in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campbell thanked team owners Wes and Penny Mussio as well as other team staff members, fans, billets, volunteers and sponsors.

10. Nanaimo sports standouts celebrated for their achievements, Feb. 21.

Outstanding achievements in sports were celebrated in Nanaimo again in 2020.

The 15th Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards were held Feb. 20 at the Coast Bastion Hotel, with champions, star athletes and others recognized for their 2019 accomplishments.

The Sports Story of the Year was the Vancouver Island University Mariners’ court sports teams sweeping the PacWest provincial championships with the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams all winning gold in 2018-19.

Male Team Athlete of the Year was Thomas Vaesen of the junior A Nanaimo Timbermen and Female Team Athlete of the Year was soccer player Shea Battie of the VIU Mariners and the Nanaimo United premier team. Junior Male Team Athlete of the Year was Barsby Bulldogs football player Kaden Browne and Junior Female Team Athlete of the Year was baseball player Isabella Bortolotto.

This year’s winner of the Michael Rhode Memorial Award for longtime commitment was lacrosse trainer Crawford Seward.

“Coaches and athletes respect him because he has such a wealth of experience from being so close to the game for so long,” said Evan Rhode, who presented the award. “He’s well-liked for his good nature and he’s trusted because he’s reliable and the things he’s responsible for get done.”

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