Williams Lake's Roberto McLellan stands proudly with the Canadian Professional Boxing Council's Light Middleweight title. McLellan won the title back in March.

Sports Year in Review 2011: part one

The Williams Lake Tribune takes a look back at the year of sports in 2011. Here is part one, from Jan. 1 to June. 30.

The nature of a saint, the will of a lion (Jan. 20)

It wasn’t all that long ago when Gurdarshan Gary ‘Saint Lion’ Mangat recalls roaming the halls of Columneetza Secondary School with aspirations of becoming a certified general accountant.

During the summer of 2005, Mangat’s high school graduating year, he headed off to Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver to begin his studies — the thought never even entering his mind he’d be where he’s at today.

“When I was in high school I was kind of the geeky kid,” said Mangat, now 23 years old, looking back on his high school days. “It was more like my whole life I was kind of the follower.”

Today, he’s a mixed martial arts champion.

Mangat won the vacant 145-pound featherweight title on Saturday, Jan. 15 at Battlefield Fight League’s Battlefield 5 event at Richmond’s River Rock Casino and Resort, beating Kelowna’s Cam Deleurme in a unanimous decision for the belt.

“Basically, I lived my whole life in Williams Lake,” he said. “When I moved up to the big city I wanted to do something less ordinary but never knew that MMA would be the thing I’d get into. In high school, I was the kind of kid that whenever there was a fight I would run.”

With no fighting background or mixed martial arts background, Mangat discovered the sport while watching an Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view at a bar.

“I haven’t turned back since,” Mangat said.

“I started training in 2007 in January. They said I was kind of a natural at picking it up. I always absorbed everything when I was in high school and I was a good observer and I would be able to apply all the things I learned to my everyday life.

“I just became obsessed with it and just kept going up the ranks of the charts and here I am now.”

Mangat’s nickname, Saint Lion, also speaks volumes about his character.

“I was at a west coast Sikh youth camp about four years ago in Kelowna and when I arrived there I was still stuck in that mindset of being a follower,” he said.

“My self esteem wasn’t very high — mentally I wasn’t very strong.

“I met these martial artists from the United Kingdom and they started saying how I conducted myself around them was kind of a real nice guy, a saint kind of guy. Later on we did some martial arts and they were like, ‘Wow, you turned into a lion and took out the whole competition.’ When I came back after that camp is when I discovered MMA and all the time it stuck.”

Everything he’s been through, he said, has made him a better person.

“I just want to show what kind of inspiration MMA can be,” he said. “There’s a lot of discipline behind it and it’s made me a better person.

“I’m much nicer and more a complete person and that’s all through the journey while still remembering where I came from in Williams Lake.”

Locals qualify for Crashed Ice worlds (Feb. 3)

Picture this: take 64 of the toughest hockey players in the world, put them on a bobsled track on skates and watch as they descend battling bumps, jumps, obstacles and each other at speeds of 70 kilometres per hour in a race to the finish line.

This is precisely the scenario two Williams Lake residents will find themselves in on March 19 in Quebec City when they compete at the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship Finale.

Trevor Mack, an 18-year-old Columneetza secondary graduate, and Lucas Gray — a returning competitor from last year’s world championships — earned berths in the Quebec City event after qualifying Jan. 29 at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Arena in Vancouver.

Both finished among the top 10 qualifiers, beating out a field of some 250 competitors from around B.C. to reach the world championships.

Mack finished seventh with a time of 13.19 seconds, while Gray finished one spot behind in eighth with a time of 13.41 seconds.

At last year’s world championship Gray placed 17th overall, and will be looking to improve his position at this year’s event.

The event is held in a classic knockout format with heats consisting of four racers each. The top two from each race advance to the next round until the original 64 competitors are whittled down and the final four are standing.

Blue Fins nab 12 medals at championship (Feb. 17)

Select members of the Williams Lake Blue Fins Swim Club were at the B.C. “AA” short course championships in Chilliwack at the Landing Leisure Centre from Feb. 11-13.

The Blue Fins came away from the meet with an impressive 12 medals over the three-day event while reaching the finals a total of 35 times.

Friday, there were three medals captured by the Blue Fins.

First, Patrick Verbeeck took gold in the boys’ open 200-metre butterfly.

Ashley Beauchamp followed that up with another gold-medal swim in the girls’ 13 and under 200-metre individual medley.

To bring Friday’s medal count to three, Coral Choi took silver in the girls’ 11 and under 50-metre freestyle.

Saturday, the Blue Fins continued their winning ways with four swimmers reaching the podium.

Beauchamp claimed another gold medal in the girls’ 13 and under 200-metre breaststroke, Choi took gold in the girls’ 11 and under 200-metre breaststroke and Janna Kovacs took silver in the girls 11 and under 400-metre freestyle.

Verbeeck also added to his medal count with a bronze medal in the boys’ open 100-metre butterfly.

On Sunday, five more medals were tallied by the Blue Fins. Verbeeck took gold in the boys’ open 400-metre individual medley, Beauchamp claimed gold in the girls’ 13 and under 100-metre breaststroke and Choi took gold in the girls’ 11 and under 100-metre breaststroke.

Winning silver was David Russell in the boys’ 11 and under 100-metre breaststroke, while Kovacs brought her medal count to two by finishing with a bronze medal in the girls’ 11 and under 200-metre freestyle.

Stamps two-peat as CIHL champs (March 1)

The Kitimat Ice Demons stared blankly at the ice, the thought of what slipped through their fingers likely on their minds.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gagnon and his Williams Lake Stampeders linemates Curtis Gassoff and Paul Girodat joined a chorus of cheers in celebration from hundreds of boisterous fans at the Cariboo Memorial Complex as Gagnon lit the lamp near the midway point of the third period to score what held up as the game-winner in Sunday’s Central Interior Hockey League Playoff Final.

Gagnon’s goal broke a 6-6 tie for Williams Lake, who pulled off a heroic comeback after falling behind 5-2 after one period.

Facing elimination after a game one loss last weekend in Kitimat, Williams Lake put its best foot forward on Saturday night taking game two of the best-of-three series with a 5-3 win to setup Sunday’s clash for the Rio Tinto Alcan Cup championship.

Following the trophy presentation Stampeder goaltender Justin Foote was named playoff MVP.

“It feels great,” said Stampeders general manger Don Hanson. “Our guys worked hard all year long and this is what they work for.”

Youth Hockey tourney a success (March 17)

The Fourth Annual Central B.C. Aboriginal Youth Hockey Tournament will be a weekend to remember for hundreds of players, parents, spectators and coaches.

About 200 players spread across 15 teams in various teams and divisions including atom, bantam, novice and peewee converged at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex over the weekend for the event.

Saturday, an elaborate opening ceremonies saw all players, coaches and First Nations leaders flood the ice in celebration as drumming, dancing and singing welcomed participants to the tournament.

Sunday, finals were played to determine winners who received first-place medals, a trophy and CBCAYHT hoodies.

In the novice final, the Williams Lake Mustangs edged out the Cariboo Colts for first place in the division.

The atom division final saw the Good Fish Lake Selects take first after defeating the Prince George Warriors 8-2. Third place went to the Three Nation Warriors.

In the peewee division, the Williams Lake CC Raiders beat the Williams Lake Longhorns 7-3 for the title, while the bantam final saw the Prince George Warriors knock off the Kamloops Blackhawks, 6-2.

Local wins Canadian boxing title (March 17)

Thirteen years of hard work paid off for Williams Lake’s Roberto McLellan on Thursday, March 10 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Calgary, when the lakecity pro boxer became the first Canadian Professional Boxing Council’s Light Middleweight Champion.

McLellan scored a sixth-round TKO victory over Edmonton’s Anthony Lessard to capture the title.

“After 13 and a half years, it feels good,” said McLellan, who started as an amateur boxer in 1997. “Finally.”

McLellan also becomes the first boxer from Williams Lake to win a Canadian title which, he added, means a lot to him.

“When we woke up in the morning [after the fight] we just rushed back home as quick as we could,” he said. “We wanted to get the title home.”

Recalling the events from the fight, McLellan said it was an excellent fight for him.

“I hit him with a body shot [in the sixth round], a right to the body, a right to the head and a left uppercut and he went down hard,” McLellan said. “He got up after that but I hit him again with a right hook to the body and he stayed down for the 10 count.”

McLellan said he spent 12 weeks preparing for the fight and, with the win, improves his record to 6-1-1 (3 KOs) while claiming the 154-pound title.

“I wanted that fight,” he said. “I wanted the belt to come back here, to Williams Lake.”

The sold-out event of near 500 spectators was hosted by Teofista Boxing Promotions, who put on the event as a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Calgary.

Mt. Timothy says farewell to Thompson (March 29)

When Noel Thompson arrived at Mt. Timothy Ski Area back in 2001 to take on the general managership, with already 30 years of experience in the ski industry under his belt, he saw a ski hill with loads of untapped potential.

At the time, all that stood was a t-bar and a cable tow.

Since, the hill has acquired a chair lift, two magic carpet lifts, a platter lift, a new lodge, new groomers, snowmobiles and snow-making equipment — along with a new ski rental, rest room and administration building.

In addition, Thompson has been instrumental in securing grants and funding for the hill, which operates as a non-profit society.

“We’ve come a long, long ways,” Thompson said.

“When I started we were at around 8,800 visits — now we’re at 16,000.”

On Sunday, the last day of the season at the hill, Mt. Timothy guests and staff bid farewell to Thompson, who is stepping down from his position as general manager.

“It’s been a good 10 years,” Thompson said. “It’s been fun.”

Thompson’s modest remarks were heightened by Mt. Timothy Ski Society president Gernot Zemanek, who described Thompson as a “visionary.”

“We’ve been extremely lucky to have him,” Zemanek said.

“I think the hill as it is today is a result of Noel’s vision. I feel what he’s created there is a really nice family hill.

“We have all the components you have at a larger facility in a more compact venue.”

Zemanek said he’s confident the hill will continue to grow and thrive in the coming years due to Thompson’s work in mentoring the staff currently at the hill.

“Moving on and having Noel available in transition in training up and mentoring the next manager, we are extremely lucky.

“I feel pretty solid about the whole thing. It’s going to be challenging, but I think we’re ready for it.”

Flinton, Hounds win national title (April 26)

It was the “cherry on top” of a perfect season — one Williams Lake’s Julia Flinton will likely never forget.

Flinton, an 18-year-old defenceman for the Notre Dame Midget AAA Female Hounds (Wilcox, Sask.), made good on becoming a Midget AAA National Champion when the Hounds defeated the Edmonton Thunder, 5-2, in front of a national audience in St. Albert, Alta. in April.

Flinton, an assistant captain on the team, contributed six goals and 14 assists for a 20-point campaign.

Locals to play at World Youth Cup (June 16)

Saibo Talic, head coach of the European Football School, a soccer school of excellence based out of Vancouver, likes to reward his players.

For five young Williams Lake soccer players that reward will come as the experience of a lifetime this summer.

Two university players — Laura Smylie and Emily Robertson — and three Williams Lake Youth Soccer rep players — Isabella Ruby, Meagan Cook and Vanessa Hansen — will be travelling to Gothenburg, Sweden in July.

They will play for Talic’s EFS teams in the 2011 Gothia Cup, the World Youth Cup of soccer.

“This is the first time I’m taking teams to this tournament [the Gothia Cup],” Talic said. “This is big.

“The opening ceremony will have 60,000 people and the tournament will have 1,200 teams from all over the world.”

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