MAKING A GRAND ENTRANCE (Part 2)
By Martin Cleary
When Ottawa’s Mike Evelyn finished his five years at Dalhousie University, he had offers from teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League, which is three levels below the NHL.
The rugged 6-4 forward (22 goals, 14 assists, 127 games) appreciated the interest and gave the proposals careful thought, but decided against entry into the pro ranks in 2019. That was OK. He had another sporting opportunity in his back pocket.
In the spring of 2018, he’d registered for RBC Training Ground and went through a series of physical tests hoping to catch the eye of scouts from various Canadian sport governing bodies. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton liked what they saw.
Evelyn, 27, was sent to Calgary for more testing and training on the Calgary sliding track. It was a successful mission. Almost three years later, the former Central Canada Hockey League player with the Nepean Raiders and Ottawa Jr. Senators is on the World Cup circuit.
Competing on the circuit’s only natural-ice sliding course in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Evelyn served as the brakeman for experienced driver Chris Spring in the two-man sled and was part of his four-man crew, posting a pair of 11th-place results on Jan. 16 and 17.
Evelyn was thrilled to make his World Cup debut on the St. Moritz track, which is the birthplace of the speed sport. He qualified for Canada’s World Cup team by posting faster push times than teammate Mark Mlakar at the Europe Cup in Altenberg, Germany.
“I was over the moon. I was beside myself,” Evelyn said in a phone interview about making his first World Cup team. “Not many people have that opportunity and to debut in St. Moritz is like heaven on earth.”
Unlike the more traditional, refrigerated sliding courses, which are noisy (sleds sound like an on-coming train and can be heard a long way off), the St. Moritz track is quiet and the sleds are heard only when they zip past at 140 km/hour.
“The track is totally different. It’s one of the coolest. The artificial tracks have echoes. At St. Moritz, you can’t hear the sled until it passes, and disappears in silence. You could sing a song and the driver would hear you,” Evelyn added.
Don’t worry. There was no singing in his sled at St. Moritz as he tried to position himself as low as possible, while Spring took care of the driving along the twisty course at speeds faster than most people should travel the Queensway.
Evelyn was understandably nervous before his World Cup debut in the first of two runs in the two-man competition. “It was a healthy dose of nerves that turned to excitement. Sometimes you worry about performance and forget to drink it all in.”
Standing in the start hut at the top of the course, Evelyn could look out and see the Alps, which may also have been seen by his family members, girlfriend and friends who were following his icy adventure through live streaming.
“The runs were good, but tough. It’s hard to set expectations since I’ve only been in the pond and never the ocean. I was thrilled to be a part of it,” said Evelyn, who even got to laugh at his own inexperience with the coaches.
One lesson Evelyn learned from his first World Cup weekend was he didn’t realize he was sitting too high in the sled. The lower the crew members crouch in the sled and embrace the pain the better it is aerodynamically to get a faster time.
“I am notoriously inflexible and it takes a lot for me to get into that position,” continued the tall Evelyn. “I feel the pressure (G forces) coming around the corners and it folds you over more.”
Evelyn, who has been following strict COVID-19 protocols with his teammates and has been tested eight times during his three weeks in Europe, entered his first World Cup weekend with plenty of confidence.
At two Europe Cup races in Altenberg, Spring drove his four-man team of Evelyn, Mlakar and Shaq Murray-Lawrence to victory on Jan. 9, a day after Spring and Evelyn were second in two-man competition.
“We won coming from behind. We watched the last sled. They were ahead, behind, ahead and we won by 2/100s of a second. It was cool to watch it on a big screen. Then we all hugged it out… social distancing, of course,” he smiled.
There are World Cup events in Germany and Austria the next two weekends, followed by the Feb. 5-14 World Championships in Altenberg.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.