Posted on: November 15, 2017
(Posted with Permission of Kamloops This Week)
By Marty Hastings -Editor: Kamloops This Week
Allan Connor’s university soccer career was over, the Kamloops goalkeeper having played his last match for the TRU WolfPack in 2010.
One remaining year of eligibility, after donning gloves for the Pack in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010, was to be left unused.
Then WolfPack bench boss John Antulov, who has coached Connor sporadically since he was 18, got wind the 32-year-old shotstopper — who works in IT for Horizon North — was transferring to TRU from Surrey-based Stenberg College to finish his online schooling.
“We had a few conversations about the possibility of coming back and helping out,” Connor said. “Two months before the season, we finally made the decision — OK, I’m going to come back and play my final year.”
On Sunday, the husky goalkeeper summoned Peter Schmeichel in a penalty-kick shootout, making two jaw-dropping saves to propel his WolfPack to a 3-2 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds in the bronze-medal game at the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship at Hillside Stadium.
It was the first U Sports medal in WolfPack soccer history and only the second in TRU history, with the men’s volleyball squad having won bronze in 2008.
“It’s pretty big for me to be a part of this and to finally bring home some hardware,” said Connor, whose wife and seven-month-old boy were watching from the sidelines.
Connor was part of WolfPack teams that fell short of medals at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Soccer Championship in 2007 and 2008.
In 2007, he helped TRU to a penalty-kick victory over Capilano in the British Columbia Colleges’ Athletic Association title tilt. The Pack placed fourth at nationals in Halifax. TRU hosted the CCAA championship in 2008 and placed fifth.
It seemed Lubo Magdolen of Kamloops was the No. 1 choice keeper heading into the Canada West playoffs, but Connor replaced him in a 3-1 loss to UBC in a conference semifinal and kept the job.
He was protecting the old onion bag when TRU won Canada West bronze with a 2-0 victory over the Alberta Golden Bears of Edmonton in Vancouver on Nov. 4. Alberta is the nation’s third-ranked team.
Connor was between the pipes when the Pack upset the nation’s fifth-ranked team, the York Tigers of Toronto, in a U Sports quarter-final on Thursday at Hillside.
TRU, which qualified for nationals as the host team, held a 2-1 lead on the country’s No. 1-ranked team, the Cape Breton Capers, at halftime in their U Sports semifinal clash in front of about 800 fans on Friday.
The Capers ran away with the WolfPack’s gold-medal dreams, scoring three straight goals, including two in the first half of extra time, to deflate TRU and its orange-and-black clad fans who braved freezing temperatures on a chilly Kamloops night.
“In the room at halftime, we knew the magnitude of it and how close we were,” said Ryan Glanville, a 34-year-old WolfPack forward from Williams Lake.
“It’s going to sting for quite some time knowing we were that close, one half away from being in the national final, and that’s the part that’s going to be tough to digest.”
Cape Breton capped an undefeated season by winning gold on Sunday, knocking off the Montreal Carabins 3-2.
No. 2 Montreal blanked No. 6 UBC 2-0 in semifinal action on Friday, sending the T-Birds into the third-place game against their Canada West rivals from Kamloops.
Regrouping to chase bronze, knowing gold was the goal, was no easy task for the WolfPack, who had never beaten the T-Birds.
“It was a tough turnaround for us,” Connor said. “We were right there.”
UBC, which finished atop the Pacific Division with a record of 10-4-1, scored in the 85th minute to secure a 2-2 tie with TRU at Hillside on Sept. 3.
TRU held a 1-0 lead on UBC in Vancouver heading into the 82nd minute on Oct. 13, but collapsed and surrendered three goals to lose 3-1.
When UBC erased a 2-0 lead on Sunday, an advantage gained on goals by Ryan Glanville and Canada West player of the year Mitch Popadynetz, the WolfPack wondered if history was destined to repeat itself.
“That’s exactly it,” Connor said. “A lot of us were thinking that right then and there. Here we go again.”
After regulation, the match went straight to penalty kicks.
Connor, who was beaten on a penalty kick by Kyle Sohi in the 69th minute, would get another chance at stopping the UBC forward from the spot in the shootout.
The WolfPack goalkeeper guessed correctly in regulation, diving to his right in an attempt to foil Sohi, but couldn’t get his paws on the ball.
“Our guys, when they’re comfortable going to one spot, they don’t really want to change it,” Connor said. “I kind of gambled he’s going to go to the same side again.”
He did. Connor stopped the shot.
Popadynetz and Thomas Lantmeeters scored for TRU. Glanville missed the target.
When Connor dove to his left to parry away Patrick Metcalfe’s attempt, all WolfPack forward James Fraser had to do was score from the spot to send TRU and its fans into euphoria.
The Penticton product shot straight down the middle to beat UBC goalkeeper Chad Bush, who dove left, to incite celebration on the pitch.
“The whole week, the fans and the support we got from the community was amazing,” Connor said. “I can’t say enough about having that many fans and they were so loud. It was definitely a home-field advantage.”
Connor said he may have had some help from above, too.
Errol Wild, a passionate volunteer and well-known figure on the Kamloops soccer scene, died in August 2009.
“Errol was a big part of my life, a father figure to me,” Connor said. “I lived with him throughout pretty much all my college days. He was my coach. He was my mentor. It was a really tough loss to have him pass away.
Connor’s son, Oliver Wild, was given the middle name to honour Errol.
“[University College of the Cariboo/TRU alumnus] Tim Hutton said it, too — Errol was looking down helping us out,” Connor said.
WolfPack players Glanville, Popadynetz of Maple Ridge and Colton Walker of Sicamous were named to the U Sports Men’s Soccer Championship all-star team.
The WolfPack won the Fair Play Award.
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