Blayre, Danky in the limelight

Sports
Pictou Advocate sports

As far as I know, Stellarton’s Blayre Turnbull and New Glasgow’s Frank (Danky) Dorrington never crossed paths. On or off the ice.

Nonetheless, their hockey pursuits have a common denominator.

Both of them took their talents elsewhere — though half a century apart — while the folks back home in Pictou County stood as one, cheering and applauding their outstanding accomplishments wherever they performed.

This weekend, 13 time zones away in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the 24-year-old Turnbull, who has been a star and leader in every place she’s gone, begins her biggest achievement yet — participating in the Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Recently, in much closer Corner Brook, during Hockey Day in Canada festivities — complete with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry — the Newfoundland community paused to honour Dorrington, who died in 2013 at the age of 80. His 13 seasons with the Corner Brook Royals saw him become that province’s greatest scoring machine ever.

I couldn’t let either story pass without comment.

Blayre’s latest chapter in the sport is definitely noteworthy. She’s only the second Pictonian to become an Olympian in the last 100 years, joining boxer Babe Mason who competed in Melbourne, Australia, at the 1956 Games. Like Blayre, Babe grew up in Stellarton. An enormous feather in the cap for the former coal mining town.

Turnbull’s story started in Stellarton Memorial Rink where she played novice hockey with boys and at one time was on the same club as her brother Brent, now a fourth-year forward with the St. Francis Xavier varsity team after playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Rimouski Oceanic, the same franchise Sidney Crosby played for.

Blayre, too, had a connection to Crosby, having attended and played hockey for Shattuck-Saint Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, the same institution where Cole Harbour’s Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon starred on their way to the NHL. Blayre was there at the same time as MacKinnon.

Turnbull has been quite the player.

After learning to skate on a pond not far from her home, she spent her novice, atom, peewee and bantam seasons in the Pictou County Minor Hockey Association before playing high school hockey as a Grade 9 student.

Even then, she had learned that life can have its bad moments as well as good ones. She had just become a teenager when her parents separated. Two years later, her mom, an elementary school teacher, lost a battle with cancer.

I’ve known of her dad, Ron Turnbull, for a number of years, but I have to confess I wasn’t fully aware of Blayre’s fine accomplishments in the United States until she returned to Canada and made the national squad.

South of the border, Blayre was a star wherever she put on her skates.

She helped Shattuck-Saint Mary’s win two U.S. high school titles. From there, it was on to the University of Wisconsin – on a full athletic scholarship — where she was a significant reason why the Badgers captured the NCAA title.

Canadian women’s hockey wanted her.

When she did return, she joined the Calgary Inferno and — no surprise — helped them get a Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship.

Success followed her — maybe not a coincidence as much as a result of her great contributions.

Oh yes, I must mention she was also a leading light with Team Canada that twice won silver medals at world championships.

Now comes her Olympic challenge, something she has been dreaming about since she saw the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

Turnbull has admitted she’s “never been so excited in my life,” proud and honoured to represent her country.

Then there’s the recent tribute to Dorrington.

While the Hockey Day in Canada event was providing exciting moments for people in Corner Brook, as well as fans watching at home, the city’s favourite adopted son was saluted with a two-page article in Hockey Day’s program.

Danky’s daughter Tracy Taylor forwarded a copy.

In 1961, after a career that took him to minor pro teams and the Amherst Ramblers of the Nova Scotia senior loop, he was lured to Corner Brook.

The recent program discussed his acquisition: “Like a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie, three people (from Corner Brook) rode out to the crossroads at the edge of town, to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia to be precise, to meet a 28-year-old gunslinger they had heard about, and offer him the opportunity to come to Corner Brook and be a player and coach for the Royals.”

They got their man.

Under Dorrington’s play and coaching, the Royals won four league championships in seven years and later captured a fifth title when Danky coached only.

Dorrington won three league scoring titles with an amazing 349 goals and 878 points in his 13 years. A phenomenal total.

Corner Brook loved him.

“Danky was one of us,” the program said. “He played softball with you in the summer time. He would chat with you when he delivered home heating fuel during his day job. If he bumped into you, he loved to chat hockey and make you feel part of it.”

The article said Dorrington “became part of the fabric of the city. He and his wife Angie found life-long friendships. People in the community reached out to them, showed kindness, warmth and humour, and welcomed them and their children with open arms.”

Quoting Angie, “He never, ever wanted to go. He wanted to stay right where he was.”

But family circumstances took the Dorringtons back to New Glasgow — “not by choice, but by necessity.”

Danky, the story went, “is an immense part of our hockey history, and it will be impossible to celebrate our hockey legacy without celebrating Danky’s contribution.”

Yes, indeed, Corner Brook loved Frank (Danky) Dorrington as much as he loved the Newfoundland city.

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