THORPE REPORT: Sports heroes inducted into hall of fame

NANAIMO – Athletes who accomplished feats on national and international stage recognized.

There was a packed house at the Nanaimo Museum this past Saturday afternoon, as four new inductees were added to the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame.

First to be honoured was local hockey player Wayne Bianchin. Born and raised in Nanaimo, Bianchin is one of the few local players to achieve a successful professional career in the National Hockey League. The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted him 23rd in the 1973 NHL Draft, out of the 211 player picks from across the country. Wayne – nicknamed Wayner – scored 25 points in his rookie year and showed tremendous promise. But an off-season body surfing accident in 1974 left him with a broken neck and needing a fusion of vertebrae.

Determined to continue his career, Bianchin spent a year in the minors recovering his strength and abilities. The 1976-77 season found him feeling fit again, and back on the ice with the Penguins. In a triumphant return to the big leagues, he scored 28 goals and was honoured with the Penguins’ Unsung Hero Award. In 1980 Bianchin was taken by the Edmonton Oilers in their entrance draft, and he played with such stars as Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.

Leaving the NHL after seven seasons, Bianchin in 1980-81 opted to play hockey in Italy, and was chosen to captain the Italian National team at the Group B World Championships. He led the tournament in scoring, and was named to the first all-star team.

Back concerns forced Bianchin to retire from professional hockey shortly afterwards. He returned to Nanaimo and contributed many years as a youth coach. Bianchin also coached the Nanaimo Clippers in the B.C. Junior Hockey League in the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons.

Legendary lacrosse goalie Fred Fulla was the second of this year’s inductees. Active in many sports, Fulla gained fame playing goal for the Nanaimo Timbermen when they joined the Senior A league in 1951. The team won only four games that first season, but Fulla in goal was spectacular, and earned Rookie of the Year honours.

The following year he set a record that still stands by facing 1,492 shots on net. In 1954 and 1955, Fulla was the winner of the Leo Nicholson Trophy as the best goalkeeper in B.C. Senior A lacrosse.

His nickname was Fabulous Fred and he seemed unbeatable.

The Timbermen gradually built a competitive team around Fulla and in 1956 he backstopped Nanaimo to the ultimate goal of winning the Mann Cup national title.

Fulla was the hero of the city, and a special Fred Fulla Night was held at Civic Arena.

Fulla retired from Senior A lacrosse in 1962. His 11-year career boasted 332 games played with an amazing shot-saved percentage of nearly 71 per cent. In 1982, he was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Fabulous Fred died in 2001. I was fortunate to have known him as a personal friend and it was an honour for me to present his induction plaque to his brother Norm.

Soccer referee Ed Johnson and soccer player Harry Manson were also inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame. Please see next Thursday’s edition of the News Bulletin for their stories.