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Column: Sudbury athletes look to the future

One of the best things (in my opinion) to having covered local sports for the past decade is now having the ability to walk into almost any local sporting venue and know that I am likely to encounter one or more athletes that I have crossed paths wit
Sudbury's Jordan Kilganon gets a little closer to the rim than most people would ever dream. The industrial design student at Humber College is a graduate of Ecole Sacré Coeur. Photo by Brianna Bell.

One of the best things (in my opinion) to having covered local sports for the past decade is now having the ability to walk into almost any local sporting venue and know that I am likely to encounter one or more athletes that I have crossed paths with in the past.

On Friday, a quick stop at Collège Boréal to obtain an update on OCAA news with the Vipères provided just such an opportunity, catching up with a trio of teenagers in training.

Eighteen year-old Sudbury defenceman Tyler Cooper has his sights set on an increased role with the Mississauga Chargers of the OJHL this season. Playing in 51 games last year, the 6-5 SMHA product picked up a goal and seven assists, along with exactly 100 minutes in penalties, as he continues to grow into his frame.

Far more well-known as a stay-at-home blue-liner, the eighth-round pick of the Oshawa Generals in 2012 is now leaning towards pursuing an NCAA scholarship, looking at adding key dimensions to his game during the 2014-2015 campaign.

"I'm planning on playing big minutes there (in Mississauga), to be a top-end defenceman," noted Cooper. "(NCAA) Division I is a little less physical than the OHL, which kind of suits my game a little more.

"Even though I'm a big guy, I'm not as much of a fighter as people might like me to be. This year, with playing bigger minutes, I would like to improve my offensive side a little more, to jump into the rush more often. I've worked all summer on improving my speed and my strength."

An outstanding student dating all the way back to his elementary days at St. Francis, Cooper has received some interest from the Division III ranks, but remains hopeful that as his progress continues, the Division I schools might take notice.

Longtime teammate and 2014 training partner Michael Muzyka is also hoping to open some eyes. The local netminder, drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 OHL draft by the Sudbury Wolves, is one of a handful of candidates vying for a spot alongside Troy Timpano, forming the 2014-2015 goaltending tandem for the local juniors.

"This year is different, because there is a spot wide open," said Muzyka. "I'm going to try and work my best to get there. At the next level, the big thing is reading the play, anticipating what's going to happen next.

"It's a faster game, and it's so important to always be ahead of the play. That, and my rebound control, eliminating the second shot."

The 6-2 puck-stopper endured an up-and-down campaign with the Sudbury Nickel Barons, posting a goals-against average of 4.00 and save percentage of .894 while playing behind a team that surrendered the third most goals in the NOJHL.

"Last year was a bit of a roller coaster," conceded Muzyka, who acknowledged that trying to deal with the mental aspect of the game, especially as a goalie, can often provide the biggest challenge.

"Some times, things are not going to go the way you want it, and you have to learn to deal with that," said Muzyka. "If they score a bad one, move on to the next one."

Not always an easy thing, given the expectations that come part and parcel of being the last line of defence.

"That is your job, just to stop the puck, so there is an issue with credibility every time a goal goes in," noted Muzyka. "But there's only so much you can do."

Like Cooper, the 18-year-old netminder has always excelled in the classroom.
And while he really does not want to think about anything other than his No. 1 goal of making the Wolves, the well-spoken teen is eyeing a career in mechanical engineering at some point in the future.

For basketball dunk specialist Jordan Kilganon, the future is somewhat murkier, at least in immediate terms.

"In the next two weeks, I could still be here (in Sudbury), I could be in L.A., or I could be in London, England," Kilganon stated.

"Everything is still up in the air. I have so many 'maybes.' We'll see what happens."

Taking a break from his studies in industrial design at Humber College, Kilganon is throwing his efforts, short-term, into testing the waters in the world of professional dunk artists.

This past spring, he attended the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown in New Orleans, participating in the amateur division as part of the NBA All-Star Game weekend festivities. Kilganon had earned the berth by finishing first at a qualifying competition in Philadelphia.

He has just returned from doing a show in world famous Rucker Park in Harlem (New York), a venue featured in a TNT film that earned a Sports Emmy award in 2000.

While Kilganon has garnered more of a reputation for the unique combination of his athleticism and creativity in designing dunks that are ground-breaking in nature, he understands that there is a need to "follow the money", to some extent.

"It's to the point where I need to start doing dunk contests, I need to start winning dunk contests," acknowledged the graduate of E.S.C. Sacré-Coeur. "It's something that I don't do very often. I tend to work on all sorts of creative dunks.

"The professional dunkers, they have six dunks that they can do all the time, and they don't switch much from that. I actually need to work on that."

He is soon heading to Detroit, looking to nab one of the coveted spots for the 2015 NBA All-Star dunk competition in New York City.

Randy Pascal is the founder of and a contributing sports writer for Northern Life.