One of our sports stories of the year is Nelson’s Dryden Hunt making his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images/Submitted

One of our sports stories of the year is Nelson’s Dryden Hunt making his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images/Submitted

Top sports stories of 2017

A baseball controversy and a very, very long hockey game are among the highlights/lowlights

There were some unforgettable sporting events in Nelson in 2017.

Local athletes shined in competition, both here and abroad, while the organizations that support them succeeded and struggled throughout 2017. Here’s our top-five sports stories of the year.

1) Baseball controversy

It started out as what appeared to be a simple request.

In April, the Nelson Baseball Association (NBA) asked the city for a 100-hour increase in baseball played at Lion’s Park to 200 hours. It also asked for the city to take over maintenance of the park’s diamond, and to host no more than two tournaments for players 12 and under.

But city council voted down the request in June, citing letters of complaint from residents living near the park as well as a memorandum of understanding between the two sides agreed to in 2011 that stipulated the hours played.

What neither side could have expected was a tide of public outrage in favour of baseball. Mayor Deb Kozak faced personal attacks over the decision, and city hall was overwhelmed with complaints.

It’s still unclear what the status of baseball is going forward. As the year draws to a close, talks between the two sides have yet to resume.

2) Granite Pointe hosts provincial tournament

Nelson’s biggest golf event in years, maybe ever, was a smashing summer success.

The B.C. Juvenile Championship brought 73 players and plenty of prestige to Granite Pointe, which hosted the tournament with aplomb despite dealing with smoke-filled skies from nearby wildfires and dry August conditions.

Granite Pointe needed a win this year. The golf course has struggled financially, and is planning on downsizing its restaurant to make up for substantial losses.

But the 97-year-old course got a shot in the arm following the arrival of new general manager David Belling in the spring, and more than proved its worth by hosting a tournament that put Nelson golf in the provincial spotlight.

3) Dryden Hunt makes NHL debut

It was only a matter of time.

Nelson hadn’t had an NHL player to call its own since Geoff Kinrade made a single game appearance in 2009, but that changed in November when Dryden Hunt was called up to hockey’s biggest stage by the Florida Panthers.

Hunt had signed an entry-level deal with the Panthers in March 2016 during a sensational junior season. He spent his first pro year with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds before making the jump to the NHL a month into the 2017-18 season.

Hunt later earned his first NHL point, an assist, on Nov. 27.

4) Matti Erickson makes track history

In the 47 years that the B.C. high school cross-country championships has kept records, no Kootenay athlete had ever finished a race on the podium.

That odious drought ended in November when L.V. Rogers student Matti Erickson outran more than 300 runners to win gold at the junior boys 5.2-kilometre race. Erickson was already a rising track star at Trafalgar Middle School, but at provincials he put the rest of B.C. on notice.

Expect many more victories from Erickson in the coming years.

5) Leafs overtime marathon

Playoffs are a grind for any hockey team, but last February’s post-season opener was a special hell for the Nelson Leafs.

Nelson endured four overtimes in Game 1 on the road against the Castlegar Rebels. It was the second longest game in KIJHL history, and ended in Nelson’s favour when Sawyer Hunt’s goal gave the Leafs a 3-2 victory.

The Leafs were just 12.6 seconds away from victory in regulation before the Rebels tied up the game, leading to a 4OT marathon that had the team’s staff scrambling to find sandwiches and Gatorade to fuel the players. The Leafs went on to win the series.

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