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Year in review: Lack of sporting events didn't mean lack of stories in 2020

2020 was a strange year to be a sports reporter, but that didn't mean a lack of stories to write in some cases
2020-01-22 Soo Greyhounds Nick Malik BC (1)
File photo. Soo Greyhounds goaltender Nick Malik. Brad Coccimiglio/SooToday

It’s hard to imagine 12 months taking as long to pass as 2020 did, but still moving along as quickly as it did.

It feels like yesterday that I was getting ready for the second half of the hockey season for many of the local teams.

On the other hand, it feels like forever ago that the Ontario Hockey League regular season as well as the playoffs for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League as well as the Great North Midget League (now known as the Great North Under-18 League) were cancelled because of COVID-19.

As I looked back over the articles I’ve written over the past 12 months, it’s not surprising how many of them had a COVID slant to them.

That’s just the way 2020 was.

Asked to select some of my favourite, memorable, and important stories over the past year, it wasn’t hard to recognize some of the important ones over the course of the year.

Some of those stories, in no particular order, include:

Malik shines as Greyhounds beat Firebirds at home

It’s not very often that a game story for a regular season game on a Wednesday night in March is going to be a story of any major importance.

When that game is one of the last played in the OHL before the cancellation of the remainder of the season, it takes on some added significance.

On March 11, the Soo Greyhounds and Flint Firebirds met at the GFL Memorial Gardens on what turned into the final day of the 2019-20 OHL season and it was one of three games on the league schedule that night.

The following day, the Greyhounds were on the road to Kitchener to begin a road trip that never happened.

OHL regular season officially cancelled

One week after the Greyhounds and Firebirds met, the OHL made the announcement that the remainder of the regular season, which had 56 games remaining across the board.

The three Canadian Hockey League member leagues – the OHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Hockey League – eventually announced the cancellation of playoff action as well as the annual Memorial Cup, which was scheduled for late-May in Kelowna, B.C.

Wheten left a positive mark on football in Sault Ste. Marie

The sporting community locally lost some well-known figures in 2020.

Football player Matthew Wheten died on Oct. 21 in a car accident.

Wheten, who played three seasons with the Sault Sabercats while also competing at the high school level at St. Mary’s, was remembered fondly by those in the local football community.

“He was always smiling and joking around,” said varsity Sabercats coach Matt Premo. “He was one of those guys that you really enjoy being around. I’ll remember that the most.”

Less than a week later, Angelo Bumbacco, one of the most recognizable figures in the local hockey community, died. 

“Once the puck dropped, he lived and breathed the red and white,” Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis said of Bumbacco. “He was very proud of the Greyhounds organization and the players that have come through.”

Hockey and car manufacturing come together, with the help of a Sault native

With the NHL season on hold at the time, Sault native Paul Boyer, who has served as the equipment manager with the Detroit Red Wings since 1994, teamed up with General Motors to help the car manufacturer produce medical-grade facemasks early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

GM began the process of producing personal protective equipment in March but needed more disinfecting machines to sanitize the masks before distribution.

That’s where Boyer and the Red Wings came in.

How a rivet brought Nono’s car home

In one of the few non-sports features I worked on in 2020, I met local car enthusiast Christian Gassi.

The story of his 1969 Mustang is certainly an interesting one.

The car was originally owned by his grandfather, Del Pettenuzzo, who bought it shortly after release from a neighbour who worked at Ford.

Pettenuzzo eventually sold the car but would buy it again years later after seeing what he thought was a similar Mustang in a driveway. After stopping to take a look at the car, Pettenuzzo saw two distinct features that led him to realize it was the car he had sold.

Features are always fun stories to work on.

With a lack of event-driven stories on the local sports scene, 2020 has allowed me to work on longer feature pieces in between my time working the editing desk.

Whether it’s a feature on a local car owner, an extended look back at the Greyhounds season with breakdowns at each position (that can be found here, here, and here), or features on players like Steven Bellini and Tyler Dunbar, and coach Jason Fortier, 2020 was a year of adjustments and finding the interesting stories beyond the traditional ones.





Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at FoxSports.com in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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