The spotlight focused on achievements in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, last February in the selections by the Manitoba sports media of the Athletes and Team of the Year for 2014.
The Jennifer Jones curling team, gold medalists in Sochi, repeated as Manitoba's Team of the Year, coming close to a unanimous first place vote on the final ballot from 36 members of the sports media in the province. The team's undefeated performance in Russia also was chosen as the headline event having the largest impact in 2014 on the Manitoba sports scene.
Sharing the honours with Jones and her team of Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, and Dawn McEwen, were another repeat winner in hockey star Jonathon Toews, who won his fourth Manitoba Male Athlete of the Year award for his leading role in Canada's gold medal victory at the Games, along with Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, whose outstanding defensive play in the women's gold medal triumph for Canada in Sochi earned her the province's Female Athlete of the Year award.
Members of the Manitoba media voted for their choices of five finalists in the three categories, and the winners were announced by the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association at the 59th annual awards dinner (Sunday night) at the Delta Winnipeg Hotel.
Larocque was named to the Canadian women's Olympic team for the first time, and boosted the team to the gold medal in Sochi. She anchored the defensive corps, scored Canada's first goal in the tournament, had more than 25 minutes of ice time in the team's thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the United States in the final, and assisted on the goal that started a late Canadian comeback in the game.
"I was extremely honoured," said Larocque who is in Montreal attending Canada’s National Women’s Team training camp. "Even just to be nominated is a huge honour and to win is a pretty incredible feeling. It's almost overwhelming."
Larocque received 14 first place votes and 132 points, topping Brandon's UBC volleyballer Lisa Barclay with 123, and outstanding Manitoba Bison volleyball player Taylor Pischke at 110 points. It was the second straight year for Barclay, the CIS women's volleyball Player of the Year, to finish second in the Manitoba voting. Jennifer Saunders, who won her eighth national women's singles championship to become the most winning female player in Canadian racquetball history, and rugby's Mandy Marchak, a member of Canada's World Cup runner-up team, were the other finalists for the provincial female athlete award.
Toews won the male athlete award previously for 2007, 2010, and 2013. The Chicago Blackhawk captain scored the winning goal in Canada's 3-0 gold medal victory over Sweden in the Olympic final He became the third player in Blackhawk history to record more than 20 goals and 40 assists in each of his first seven NHL seasons. He had 68 points in 76 regular season games, plus a career-high nine goals and eight assists in last season's playoffs including four game-winning goals.
In the voting, Toews won a narrow decision over Olympic gold medalist curler Ryan Fry, who sparkled at the third position on the Brad Jacobs team, and Manitoba Bison all-Canadian football star Nic Demski. Toews had 12 first place votes and 142 points, Fry had 11 firsts and 136 points, while Demski was third with 13 first choices and 135 points. Other male finalists were William Kohler, who led the Manitoba Under-17 basketball team to the Canadian title, and Manitoba's golfer-of-the-year Bret Thompson.
The Jones foursome had a perfect 9-0 record in cruising to curling's Olympic gold, earning the top of the podium with a 6-3 victory in the final over Margaretha Sigfridsson of Sweden. It was the first unbeaten run to the gold medal for a team in Olympic curling competition.The team was selected first on 34 of the 36 final sports media ballots, and had a runaway total of 173 points on the one-to-five point voting process. The University of Manitoba national champion women's volleyball team received the other two first place votes, and was the runner-up with a distant 129 points. Other finalists for the Maurice Smith Memorial trophy were the Mike McEwen curling team, the Team Manitoba Under-17 national champion basketball team, and the Canadian champion University of Manitoba men's golf team.
The fallout recognition for the Jones team's impressive march to gold in the Olympics continued all year, and was an obvious choice for the 2014 Cactus Jack Wells Memorial Award for major impact on the provincial sports scene.
In other presentation features at the MSSA dinner, Bison football coach Brian Dobie received the Dallis Beck Memorial Good Guy Award for his exceptional multi-year relationship with the Manitoba sports media. Bison volleyball coaches Garth Pischke and Ken Bentley received special recognition for their longtime dedication and commitment, and retired CBC sportscaster Ernie Nairn was saluted for his excellent contributions to sport over many years in Manitoba.
The MSSA also inducted Brandon Wheat King play-by-play voice Bruce Luebke of CKLQ, and former Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun sportswriter Patti Dawn Swansson into the Manitoba Media Roll of Honour for their dedicated service in sports journalism.
The MSSA Jack Matheson Memorial Awards, established to provide financial funding to sports media aspirants, honour the memory of the former Winnipeg Tribune sports editor and CJOB commentator. Two were presented at the dinner to Zach Peters and Scott Billeck, who are students in the Creative Communications program at Red River College.
photo by Nancy Larocque