TOP STORIES OF 2017: Andreychuk Hall of Fame Induction Caps Memorable Year
It has been a while, maybe ever, that the areas served by our publications have had such a banner year for sports.
In most years, a big event like the Federation Cup being held in Wesley Chapel might be the year’s top highlight. Or the opening of a state-of-the-art ice facility able to lure Olympic teams to town. Or perhaps, the promise of a large indoor sports complex.
Big stories, all.
But for New Tampa, none can top Hunter’s Green resident and former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk finally making the NHL Hall of Fame.
If he had a dime for every time someone in New Tampa bumped into him and told him how unfair it was that he wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame, Andreychuk could buy Hunter’s Green.
The NHL’s all-time leader in power play goals finally got the call on June 26, and was officially inducted on November 13.
Friend Andy Ritter, along with a handful of other Hunter’s Green residents, attended the ceremonies in Toronto, just a short drive from where Andreychuk grew up in Hamilton.
Ritter said that no matter where they went in Toronto, Andreychuk was always the unassuming star.
“He was just the local kid that made good,” Ritter said.
Which sums up the way many in New Tampa feel about him.
But, he wasn’t the only New Tampa sports standout who celebrated a huge success in 2017:
* Ellie Pleune, then an 8th-grader at Benito Middle School, didn’t win just one race at Gasparilla in 2017.
She won two.
Pleune, 13, became the youngest-ever female winner in the 40-year history of the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K on Feb. 25, and then turned around the next day to also win the 8K race, the first time in the event’s history the same person captured both titles.
* Wharton High shortstop Drew Ehrhard won the prestigious Saladino Award, which honors the top senior baseball player in Hillsborough County.
Ehrhard joined past winners like Tino Martinez, Gary Sheffield, José Fernandez and Lance McCullers after hitting .422 with four homers and 24 RBI in 2017 to lead the Wildcats to an 18-9 record and the Regional championship.
* New Tampa resident and left-handed pitcher Brian Lee went 11-3 with a 1.00 ERA, and won four straight playoff games, including the State semifinal, for the Lions. King lost the next day, but Lee’s performance was one for the ages.
“It’s as a good a performance I’ve seen in my 42 years,” King High veteran coach Jim Macaluso said, “and I’m not saying just in King High School … I’ve never seen anyone in the county, around the state, that threw the pressure games he threw, and won.”
* On Sept. 28, Freedom finally beat Wharton in football, after seven straight seasons of lopsided losses. Dominick Vazquez capped a 99-yard drive in the final moments to give the Patriots the 12-7 win in front of the largest Freedom crowd in years.
Coach Floyd Graham said it was one of the best feelings of his coaching career. But, it wasn’t enough to keep him on the sideline, as just two months later, Graham resigned.
* The U.S. Federation Cup played its tennis semifinals at Saddlebrook, exciting the strong tennis communities at Arbor Green, Hunter’s Green, Tampa Palms and others. Hundreds of New Tampa residents were in attendance for the 3-2 win over the Czech Republic. (The U.S., by the way, went on to beat Belarus 3-2 for their first Fed Cup title in 17 years)
*Florida Hospital Center Ice opened near I-75 in Wesley Chapel and hosted the Taste of New Tampa and the U.S. Women’s national hockey team in its preparations for the Winter Olympics.