There may not be a Timmins native on the Ontario roster for the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, but the tournament will still be a homecoming of sorts for goaltender Chris Festarini.
It was in northern Ontario that Festarini kick-started his hockey career, although he started as a defenceman with the Iroquois Falls Junior Esks before making his first foray between the pipes.
“We tried everything to keep him out of the net,” says Festarini’s mom Nancy. “But by the time he was six years old, he was the lone goalie on the team.”
After his first year in Novice, Chris’ parents, Frank and Nancy, packed the family’s bags and moved to the Toronto suburb of Oakville. It was during a summer hockey camp that Festarini had his first encounter with goalie coach Ron Mays, who has helped Chris in his journey to where he is today.
“My husband was standing by the boards, and saw Ron approach Chris,” Nancy says. “When Frank went to see what was up, Ron told him, ‘We might have something here!’ ”
By the time he was nine, Festarini was playing AAA for the Mississauga Rebels and stayed in the Greater Toronto Hockey League until his Minor Midget year, when he suited up for his hometown Oakville Rangers and eventually became the team’s number one goalie.
In May, the Erie Otters selected Festarini in the fifth round of the OHL Priority Draft (90th overall), and after discussion with Otters GM Sherry Bassin, it was decided he would be best served playing a year with the Port Colborne Pirates of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League as the Junior B side’s number one goalie.
Last summer, Festarini survived a regional under-17 camp and earned an invite as one of eight goaltenders to the final selection camp, where 84 of Ontario’s best gathered. It was quite the process, as players were watched not only on, but off the ice, and were asked to answer 15 questions in an essay format.
“As parents, our job was to help him get to the rink, give him guidance and be supportive,” says Nancy. “Once he got there, Chris knew he had to do the work, he had to perform.”
And perform he did, earning a spot on the Ontario roster as the2010 host province goes for three gold medals in a row.
“We’re so proud of him,” says Nancy, the excitement evident in her voice. “It could have been anywhere in Canada, but now we have a huge order of tickets for friends and family.”
While it won’t be Festarini’s first time back to northern Ontario – his family still spends summers at their cottage at Nellie Lake, less than an hour from Timmins, and visits his grandfather, who lives in Iroquois Falls – this trip will be a little different.
This time he will have a maple leaf on his chest as he takes another step in a career that has brought him full circle, back to where it all began.