March 25th, 2019

Games-bound boxers punching at home first

By Sean Rooney on January 11, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO SEAN ROONEY
Janick Lacroix poses in the middle of the boxing ring at the Clarion Hotel Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, as he helps set it up ahead of Saturday's Nieman-Page Memorial card.


srooney@medicinehatnews.com
@MHNRooney

No sooner had the crew of boxers, officials, friends and family finished putting up the boxing ring at the Clarion Hotel Thursday night than Janick Lacroix was ghosting punches in it, dodging and jabbing an invisible opponent.

The 16-year-old has a focus and a love of his sport that’s plain to see, and this weekend he hopes his city comes to see where he’s taking it.

Lacroix, a current Canadian junior champion, will fight in the main event Saturday night at the 15th annual Nieman-Page Memorial, yet another generation in Medicine Hat’s esteemed boxing lineage.

Understandably, he can’t wait.

“It’s a hometown show, hopefully my friends and family will come watch,” said Lacroix, who came to the Gas City two years ago from Ponteix, Sask. “It’ll be a good night.”

The matchup with Regina’s Quinn Neald, the junior champ at a higher 75 kg division (Lacroix won at 70 kg), is a rematch from Lacroix’s unanimous win on Neald’s home turf back in October. A half-dozen or so Medicine Hat pugilists will fight at one point or another during the weekend, which includes both Saturday’s fan-centric evening card and the Alberta Silver Gloves tournament, which starts Saturday and runs all day Sunday as well.

“These crowds are what pay our bills, so we’ll give them the best show we can,” said club coach Kerry Fahlman, adding Neald will be in far better condition this time around, and thus a lot more of a challenge. “If there’s enough competitors we’ll have a Saturday afternoon show, too.”

Fahlman confirmed that while there was never any doubt Lacroix would be the main event, fellow Hatter Tristan Deveau will get to be in the penultimate bout of the Memorial card. His opponent isn’t for sure yet, a decision that will have to take into account the 18-year-old’s shoulder condition and how many fighters show up for Silver Gloves. Local organizers need to balance the desire for an entertaining card with what’s best for the athletes, and Deveau might get to fight twice on the weekend if his health allows.

“I push myself to the limit no matter what, so where my limit’s going to be this weekend may differ depending on my shoulder,” said Deveau, who’s risen in the ranks quickly this past year. “I don’t want to injure myself before (the Canada Winter Games).”

Both Lacroix and Deveau have made Team Alberta, headed for the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer next month. Oddly, nobody with the local boxing club was notified that the Games’ torch relay was heading through the city Saturday as well, with an event at 3 p.m. at the downtown YMCA set to feature — according to the Canada Games’ torchbearer list — not one Medicine Hat athlete, but instead a half-dozen or so area politicians and one 15-year-old speed skater from Lethbridge.

The News is aware of four confirmed Medicine Hat athletes going to the Canada Winter Games: female hockey player Jordan Mortlock and speed skater Josh Hathaway are the others. The Games run Feb. 15 to March 2. But both of those athletes currently live and compete in other cities: Mortlock’s with the Pursuit of Excellence academy in Kelowna, while Hathaway skates long track in Calgary. So the Nieman-Page card is essentially Hatters’ only chance to see Games-bound athletes in action within city limits.

It’ll be Lacroix’s second straight year headlining the event, and after a year including stops all across North America, he’s not one bit nervous.

“You don’t want to be cocky but you want to be confident,” he said.

After finishing his last year as a junior with a national title, he’s also building up to the new youth division, which is only a two-year gap before senior level and, hopefully, national team and even Olympic aspirations.

Given what he’s accomplished so far, nobody would be surprised.

“He’s on his way. I know he’ll be there, because he wants it,” said Fahlman. “That’s why I take him where I do, I take him south, get him better fights.”

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