Sports

Tkaczuk stays for the people

GENE PEREIRA - Special to The Examiner
SubmittedFormer Colts captain Daniel Tkaczuk now plays with the Nottingham Panthers in Great Britain s Elite Ice Hockey League. He s travelled far and wide, but says what he found in Barrie is  unique and special.

SubmittedFormer Colts captain Daniel Tkaczuk now plays with the Nottingham Panthers in Great Britain s Elite Ice Hockey League. He s travelled far and wide, but says what he found in Barrie is unique and special.

Barrie is home to a wide range of high-profile athletes. But not all of them were born and raised here. In fact, a great number of them came to this city for athletic purposes and simply never left. As part of an ongoing series, The Barrie Examiner will be featuring an array of sports figures who arrived as strangers to the city, fell in love with the area, and then, They Stuck Around.

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When it came time to call out the Barrie Colts' first overall selection in the 1995 OHL Priority Selection, Bert Templeton wanted nothing to do with Joe Thornton.

He was sure Thornton would be a star junior, but the legendary junior hockey coach also knew the tall, rangy centre would end up going high in the NHL Entry Draft and Thornton's OHL career would only last all of two years.

He was right. Thornton played just two seasons with Soo Greyhounds before becoming the first overall pick of the Boston Bruins in 1997.

Instead, the apple of Templeton's eye was centre and Mississauga native Daniel Tkaczuk. Another future OHL star, only Templeton knew Tkaczuk's stay in the league would last longer than Thornton's.

And in Tkaczuk, the Colts' director of hockey operations and head coach knew he had his leader and the franchise player to build his expansion club around.

Tkaczuk would star for four years with the Colts. His stay in Barrie, though, would be way longer than Templeton ever imagined.

Tkaczuk, you see, has never really left. Ever since that talented, bright-eyed 15-year-old donned a Colts jersey on draft day, Barrie has been the place he's called home.

And while his hockey career has taken him literally all over the world, there's nothing like the feeling the former Colts captain gets when he returns to his house in Barrie after the season is over.

"It's always a warming feeling getting back, and even though the snow may be halfway up the door by the time you get there, it's something else," said the 31-year-old, who is playing professional hockey with the Nottingham Panthers in Great Britain's Elite Ice Hockey League.

But recently suffered a knee injury that will sideline him at least the next four weeks.

"I've probably travelled to 30 countries in the last handful of years for hockey, some for travel. There's still something when I go home (to Barrie)," said Tkaczuk, who met his wife, Lyndsey, while attending Innisdale Secondary School. "I love my weekly routine. I always go for my cardio run around the lake. My wife and I go once a week for a walk around (the waterfront), get some ice cream or have a picnic. We'll go downtown and have dinner. It's great."

Tkaczuk admits when he arrived in the city as a 15-year-old, finding a new home was the last thing on his mind. His focus was clearly on his hockey career.

Being an expansion team, there were no players or coaches to call and ask what Barrie was like.

"It was a brand new organization, so you really didn't know what to expect," Tkaczuk said. "They were starting from scratch. There weren't any graduates. You couldn't call up anyone and say, 'Hey, was that a great city to play in? What did you like? What didn't you like?' You had to put your trust in them."

But it didn't take long for Barrie to grow on the young hockey star. The team did several community events and Tkaczuk got a first-hand look.

They had a booth at Kempenfest and then there was the Waterfront Festival.

The Colts even booked a trip on the Serendipity Princess as a team-building exercise.

"It was like, Wow! There's more to do than just tool at the rink, which was my entire life back then," said Tkaczuk, who would go on to become the sixth overall pick of the Calgary Flames in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. "As I started being more frequent there during the summers, it was like a community. Everyone was friendly to one another. You'd go to a coffee shop, restaurant or the movies and it was a small-town atmosphere, but with a lot to do, which was great.

"Coming from Mississauga and the big city of Toronto, everyone just kind of minds their own business. It's not really a community. But I could see in Barrie that, generally, everyone loved being in Barrie. People that grew up here, they loved it."

Now Tkaczuk is hoping to give back to the community he feels has given him so much. Lyndsey runs her own successful architectural design business, Bailey Designs. She helped redesign The Queens Hotel and The Roxx downtown.

Tkaczuk has turned his tutorship and training of young players into his own business, even launching his own website for the program, which can be seen at iHockeyTrainer.com.

He and his wife purchased a building diagonally across the intersection from where the old Barrie Arena used to stand to house their growing businesses.

"Who would have thought that when I was 16, looking across the parking lot, that was the building we were going to own and operate and run our businesses in," Tkaczuk said, adding a chuckle.

"One of the guys that wore those Luch Nasato T-shirts above the penalty box, my wife ended up redesigning their house," Tkaczuk added. "They were Colts fans and now we have dinner. That's the way Barrie is."

Tkaczuk, whose hockey career has included European stops in Finland, Italy, Germany, Austria and now England, is hardly surprised there are several former Colts who are here on a regular basis or now call Barrie home. Former captains Matt Dzieduszycki and Jeremy Swanson now live here, while Erik Reitz is looking to build or buy a home in the city.

Players were treated first class by the organization and the community and they have never forgotten that.

"It was very easy, very comfortable," said Tkaczuk, whose player/coach with Nottingham is former Colts defenceman Corey Neilson. "When you have those kinds of ties, have the memories, that's kind of appealing. Those kinds of people, you're drawn to it, attached to it. And that's what's happened to me and that's what's happened to a lot of guys.

"Our primary residence is Barrie and it's not by accident. This region has something special about it."

Tkaczuk will always be a Colt. He checks the computer every day to see how his old club is doing and reads the Barrie Examiner website to keep up on the team.

He admits there are times he wonders how different his life might have been had Templeton not called out his name, had Templeton not wanted a player for the long haul.

"(Lyndsey and I) talk about it all the time. What if Bert Templeton wasn't the first coach and GM," Tkaczuk said. "It could have been somebody else that didn't see me in the same way and I wouldn't have went first overall. You can say it's fate, you can say it's circumstances, but I look at myself and I was very fortunate to be put into a great situation.

"All those people I met in my first year in Barrie, I'm still in touch with today, from the organization, to the players and even some of the teachers from Innisdale. I still see them at my gym. That's something you don't necessarily get in the big urban areas. I do look back and I do feel really lucky. Rather, fate - or whatever you want to call it -played a role in it, but I'm very fortunate to be part of this."

Once his playing days are done, Tkaczuk is hoping to immerse himself in charitable programs and the development of youth in the city.

"Who knows whether I step into coaching in the minor hockey programs. I love hockey, I love playing it, but I look forward to being (in Barrie) on a full-time basis," he said. "I've travelled far and wide and what we have in Barrie is really unique and special."



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