In March, Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers celebrate their semi-final win at the 4A boys basketball provincials, at Langley Events Centre. The team then defeated the Kelowna Owls to capture a B.C. quad-A basketball title. (Paul Yates/Vancouver Sports Pictures photo)

YEAR IN REVIEW: Memorable Surrey-area athletes, teams and events of 2019

A look back at the year’s sports highlights in Surrey

JANUARY

• Surrey’s Jennifer Gardiner was among Team Canada’s golden girls after they won the International Ice Hockey Federation’s U18 Women’s World Championships in Japan. Gardiner, a five-foot-five forward with the Greater Vancouver Comets of the B.C. Female Major Midget League, played four games during the tourney. A Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary grad, Gardiner now plays for the University of Ohio hockey team.

• Victory was three times as sweet for Semiahmoo Totems when the South Surrey school’s boys basketball team won the Surrey RCMP Classic senior division title for a third straight year, after an 89-82 triumph over the higher-ranked Lord Tweedsmuir squad. With the Cloverdale-based team pushing late in the game, Semiahmoo’s Tajin Rai, a Grade 10 player, nailed a key three-point shot from the corner of the court that first hit the rim, bounced five feet toward the ceiling, fell, and put a dagger in the Panthers’ hearts.

• Surrey played host to some 800 young female hockey players during the Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival, better known as Wickfest, at Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex and Newton Arena. It’s all put together with the leadership of Hayley Wickenheiser, the multiple gold-medalist with Canada’s national women’s hockey team.

FEBRUARY

• Tessa Beauchamp’s love of the colour purple made the gym at Holy Cross Regional High School look a little like a Prince concert. The Fleetwood-area school’s basketball star was remembered at another Tessa’s Tournament, a two-day competition involving 44 teams. The competition is organized by Tessa Beauchamp Foundation (tessabeauchamp.org), created in the wake of her death in 2012. At the age of 18, a rare type of cancer claimed the popular athlete, and each year the foundation works to give scholarships to deserving young girls and boys.

• South Surrey’s Trent Carroll, chief operating officer (COO) of the Vancouver Canucks, could be found behind the bench as a coach of Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association’s Bantam A2 rep team. Carroll’s son Jett plays on the squad of 13- and 14-year-olds, some of whom have been coached by Carroll since they were aged five. “If you’re going to live in a community, you’ve got to be part of the community,” Carroll said.

• The Surrey Knights’ 2018-19 year ended on a low note, but the junior hockey franchise had high hopes the following season as a tenant at the new North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex. Starting in the fall of 2019, the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) team would play home games in the three-sheet arena, in Bridgeview. The Knights were happy to have a new home after playing games at the aging North Surrey Recreation Centre since the start of the 2016-17 season.

• Surrey-based wrestler Brad Hildenbrandt earned historic honours at the Canada West championships held in Abbotsford. The fourth-year grappler with University of the Fraser Valley claimed his third consecutive heavyweight (120kg) men’s title, and won the conference’s male wrestler of the year award – a UFV first for the prize, voted on by the head coaches. Days later, Hildenbrandt was named the Canada West men’s first star of the week across all sports, and then added the U SPORTS male athlete of the week award.

MARCH

• Dozens of athletes from Canada, the U.S. and Israel were in Surrey for the 2019 Vancouver Goalball Grand Slam, at Guildford Recreation Centre. Goalball is a Paralympic team sport designed for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. Using their hands only, the goal is for players to throw the ball into the opposing team’s net across a volleyball-sized court. Players track the ball, which makes a bell sound, though noise and vibration.

• In front of more than 4,000 people at Langley Events Centre on a Saturday night, Cloverdale’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers pulled off a comeback for the ages. The senior boys basketball team erased an 18-point second-half deficit to edge the Kelowna Owls 91-86 in the final game of the B.C. Senior Boys 4A Basketball Championships.

• A pair of Surrey Falcons female hockey teams were medal-winners during provincial-championship games. The association’s Bantam team won the B.C. title with a 4-2 victory over the tournament host Tri Cities team in Coquitlam. The Falcons’ Peewee squad, meanwhile, was edged 3-2 by Kelowna in their provincial final game, played in Trail, resulting in a silver medal.

• In the world of karate, Don Owens has earned more black belts than most others who are alive and kicking. The Surrey resident, a master of the martial art, has practised karate for more than five decades, and still teaches at a dojo in Langley. “I’ve been at it since 1965, so we’re looking at around 54 years now,” Owens recalled, a rare ninth-degree black belt, or dan, with World JKA karate association and others.

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APRIL

• After three seasons at SFU, Fraser Heights-raised midfielder Jenna-lee Baxter capped her soccer career at the university by winning the Lorne Davies Female Athlete of the Year for a team sport. Baxter became the program’s first ever All-American after leading the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) in points, with a career-high 11 goals and 21 assists in 17 games, helping the team secure their second-ever conference championship berth.

Nicho Prasad’s soccer journey took him from Surrey to Germany and also to Fiji for a pair of “friendlies” with that country’s national team. The six-foot-two defender, an Enver Creek Secondary grad, jumped at the chance to attend the Fijian national team’s training camp, following an invitation from head coach Christophe Gamel and ahead of exhibition matches against New Caledonia and Mauritius.

Volleyball player Kiera Van Ryk, a Surrey Christian school grad, was named the female winner of the inaugural Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award as U SPORTS Athlete of the Year for the 2018-19 season. The national award was given to Van Ryk, a standout with UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver, during a ceremony in Calgary. Van Ryk later signed to play with a pro team in Italy.

MAY

• Caleb Reimer, a right-shot centre, was the first Surrey-area player selected in the WHL Bantam Draft, in the first round, 18th overall, by Edmonton Oil Kings. With Delta Hockey Academy’s Bantam Prep Green team, the six-foot-two Reimer netted 18 goals and 27 assists in 30 games during the 2018-19 season. “Caleb is a big forward with a lot of upside,” said Oil Kings director of scouting, Jamie Porter. “Caleb possesses excellent puck skills and is a highly coveted power forward for our future.”

JUNE

• The Dave Dryden-coached badminton team at Fraser Heights Secondary won its sixth consecutive provincial championship in Victoria. The title placed Fraser Heights second all-time with seven provincial wins in badminton – an impressive tally, given the school’s opening date in 1999 and existence of competitive badminton in B.C. schools since 1974. The 2019 banner marked the school’s seventh-ever provincial championship, in any sport, to go along with the badminton program’s first six, in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

• Bruins forward Danton Heinen, a Langley-raised NHLer and former Surrey Eagle, had a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the final, but St. Louis Blues won it in Boston. The 23-year-old scored twice and added six assists during the Bruins’ playoff run. In Surrey during the 2013-14 season, Heinen captained the Eagles and was named the BCHL’s Rookie of the Year.

• As much as anyone, Malcolm Curtis was relieved to see lower prices at Metro Vancouver-area gas pumps. The BMW 325i he races at Mission Raceway Park is frequently filled with premium-grade fuel, meaning more expensive weekends when gas prices are sky-high, like they were in this region in May. “We use close to 100 litres in a weekend, so that’s just $200 in gas when prices are as high as they’ve been,” he said. “The entry fee is almost $300, and tires are about $1,000 for a set, and they last about half a season, so that’s three weekends of racing.” Such costs come with the fun of racing for Curtis, a South Surrey resident who currently sits first in the Sports Car Club of B.C. Grand Touring Championship.

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Surrey’s Jamel Lyles, picked by the B.C. Lions in the eighth round (69th overall) of the 2019 CFL Draft, said it was “almost like déjà vu” being a rookie at the team’s training facility. The gridiron in Whalley isn’t far from Fleetwood, where Lyles grew up and where his “brother,” close friend Jaylen Sandhu, was stabbed to death in December 2014. Turns out, much of Lyles’ motivation to make it as a pro football player has much to do with the death of Sandhu, who was 17. “He’s still with me on the daily,” Lyles said. “At the end of the day, when I’m down and out and having a hard day and thinking football might not work out, he’s there, he’s in the back of my head saying, ‘You’re not giving up, you’ve been wanting this since you were a little kid at North Surrey.’”

• It took a year longer than he wanted, but Surrey’s Luka Burzan was elected in the NHL Entry Draft. At Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, in the sixth round of the draft, the Guildford-raised forward was picked 171st overall by Colorado Avalanche.

JULY

A Kabaddi World Cup in Surrey was organized to help keep South Asian youth away from drugs, gangs and a life of crime. The second annual event attracted hundreds of players and spectators to Sullivan Heights Park on a Sunday afternoon. Teams from Canada, the U.S., India, U.K., Australia and India came to compete at the U25 tournament, hosted by Kids Play Foundation, a non-profit organization.

AUGUST

• At the MJT Odlum Brown Classic, held at Northview Golf and Country Club, Surrey’s Justin Bjornson, 13, won the Bantam Boys title in a playoff over Vernon’s Ryan Vest. It was a comeback win for Bjornson, who scored rounds of 71, 70 and 71 to tie with Vest at 212, after being down by six shots heading into the final round. In the playoff, he chipped in for birdie to take the trophy. “I was grinding all day in the third round, and it feels amazing to be able to finish it off, especially in such dramatic fashion,” Bjornson said.

• Kids as young as two years of age competed in Surrey during the first Strider Cup event ever held in Canada. A day of “balance bike” races took place on the plaza outside Surrey City Hall, as part of a series organized by American bike manufacturer Strider Bikes. Similar races in U.S. cities have involved hundreds of kids who use their feet to push their bikes along, as Striders are not equipped with pedals.

• It wasn’t the golden experience Justin Sourdif hoped for during his very first trip to Europe, but there was a silver lining for him and his teammates in the Czech Republic. With Team Canada, the Surrey-raised player scored a silver medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup hockey tournament after the squad fell 3-2 to Team Russia in the gold-medal game. Sourdif was given first-line minutes by coach Michael Dyck, his bench boss with Vancouver Giants during the WHL season.

• At Bear Creek Park, the North Surrey Minor Football season kicked off with the 50th edition of the club’s Bronze Boot tournament, planned by Joe Connelly, Jean McPherson and others. “The winner gets to take one of our boot trophies home,” Connelly said, before clarifying. “Actually, we don’t let ‘em take the trophies home, just get their pictures with it, because they’re so old now, we don’t want them broken, you know. Some of them, there are 50 plaques on those suckers. That’s a lot of history on there.”

• Four players from Surrey were national champs with Team B.C. after winning the 2019 16U Girls Invitational Baseball Championships in Bedford, Nova Scotia. The Team B.C. roster includes Surrey-based players Katelyn Foubert, Kamryn Grayson, Ashley Losin and Cheyenne Simicak, plus head coach Marty Van der loos and assistant coach Andres Losin. The team went undefeated at the tourney.

• Surrey’s Marlon Hicks aimed to out-muscle competition from around the globe in Romania, after earning a trip to the World Armwrestling Federation championships with three division wins at the Canadian nationals in Edmonton.

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SEPTEMBER

Elias Pettersson, rookie Quinn Hughes and other Vancouver Canucks players, management and alumni were at Surrey’s Northview course to play golf during the 36th edition of the Jake Milford Charity Invitational, better known as “The Jake.” Teams of three paid $4,500 to play in the event, a fundraiser for the Canucks for Kids Fund and Canucks Alumni Foundation. The tournament is played in honour of Jake Milford, the Canucks’ general manager in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1984.

• As kids and parents in Cloverdale geared up for another hockey season, they remembered a coach whose voice is no longer heard on the bench. The area’s minor hockey association announced a number of initiatives to honour Paul Bennett, who was shot to death outside his 67A Avenue home on June 23, 2018, in what police consider a case of mistaken identity. Special “P.B.” helmet stickers have been worn by hundreds of local hockey players, and donations were collected for the Paul Bennett Love of Hockey Bursary, among other initiatives.

• Surrey-raised Glen Foll, 56, talked about his hockey path to Australia after he became an honoured member of the country’s fledgling Hockey Hall of Fame. He’s a hockey legend Down Under, having captained the national team a record 15 times in the years from 1988 to 2006. “I got to play in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect to have hockey,” Foll said. At North Surrey Arena, now slated for demolition, Foll first began skating at age five. “My first year of hockey was the first year the rec centre opened,” he added.

OCTOBER

The creation of a Surrey Sports Hall of Fame gained traction, after the subject was raised at a recent meeting of Surrey’s Parks, Recreation & Culture Committee. Other communities in Metro Vancouver have such halls to honour athletes, builders and organizers, and Councillor Doug Elford is among those who think it’s time Surrey does, too. “We have a rich sports history in Surrey, and there’s generational activity happening in a lot of different sports,” Elford said.

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• In St. John’s at the 2019 Toyota National Soccer Championships, Surrey’s Central City Breakers won the Challenge Trophy for Brandon Bassi, killed in a single-vehicle crash in Newton last spring. During the trophy presentation, jubilant players held up the #5 jersey Bassi last wore with the team. “It meant the world to us to win it for him,” said Ted Hans, team manager and coach. “We have dedicated everything we do as a team to him and his memory.”

• Special pink jerseys filled Sullivan Heights Park and a rugby clubhouse in another year of Ruck for the Cure games and fundraising. The eighth-annual event, hosted by the Surrey Beavers club, was another fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society and a local family in need. This year’s event raised more than $15,000, for a grand total of around $127,000 in eight years.

Several Surrey-area field hockey players are looking to book a trip to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as members of the men’s national team. The squad earned a ticket to Japan next summer with a dramatic win over Ireland in a two-game aggregate played in West Vancouver. The current roster boasts several athletes who either live or play in Surrey, including brothers Sukhi and Balraj Panesar, Brandon Pereira, Adam Froese, Ontario native Keegan Pereira (no relation to Brandon) and goalkeeper David Carter.

NOVEMBER

• Surrey’s Hjorth Road Park played host to Quidditch Canada’s Western Regional Championship, in a seven-team tournament for a sport based on the fictional game played in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and movies. Quidditch Canada is the umbrella organization for 600 players on 22 teams across the country. “We’d really like to get a team started in Surrey,” said Jessica Pickering, tournament director.

• Surrey newcomer Harsimran Singh took the local bodybuilding world by storm after winning eight trophies at the Popeye’s Fall Bodybuilding Classic in Coquitlam. Earlier this year Singh, 26, moved to Canada from India, where he’d competed in more than 60 bodybuilding events and won several titles. “This was his first event in Canada,” said Dawn Alison, his trainer and coach. “Everybody was like, ‘Where did this guy come from?,’” she added with a laugh.

• In an all-Surrey battle for the AAA Boys high school soccer championship, Panorama Ridge Thunder earned a 3-0 victory over LA Matheson. In Burnaby, the victory was a sweet one for Panorama Ridge, who placed second at provincials last year.

• Surrey’s Jaiveer Tiwana became the fastest cross-country runner in the nation among U18 Men, after the Fleetwood-area teen won the division’s 6KM Canadian cross-country title with a time of 18:42.52 at Abbotsford’s Clearbrook Park. The 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships were held at the same park where Tiwana, 17, won the provincial title on Nov. 2.

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DECEMBER

• Surrey-raised hockey player Carson Latimer scored on his first very shift in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in Edmonton, where the rookie forward poked in a rebound just a few seconds after hitting the ice for the first time with the Oil Kings. “It was probably the best feeling I’ve had in my life, it was just amazing,” Later said later.

• Surrey’s Jonathan Kongbo was released by the CFL’s Grey Cup-winning Winnipeg Blue Bombers so he can pursue NFL opportunities. The defensive lineman, a Holy Cross Regional High School graduate, played as a rookie for the Bombers this season. On Dec. 5, just 11 days after the team’s Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger Cats, the organization announced the move to release Kongbo, 23.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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