THE holidays are here and it's the perfect time to find a comfy couch, grab a mug of hot chocolate and relive the excitement of the past 12 months.
Here is part 1 of our look back at the biggest headlines in North Shore sports for 2012. In this issue we'll highlight the stars that shone the brightest from January to June.
? The year in North Shore sports started in the same place it does most every year, the Evergreen Squash Club, with the Comfort Inn Open elite pro squash tournament thrilling the sport's small but fanatical fan-base with world class play.
This year was no exception with Egyptian Amr Shabana, a legendary figure in the sport, claiming the title. A former world No. 1 player, Shabana came into the tournament ranked No. 8 in the world.
"The place was packed, there was a buzz," said tournament director Paul Marley. "The crowds were massive. And not many venues can match ours, apparently, as far as the number of people and the enthusiasm and the knowledge. (The players) love coming here for that reason."
? More world class action hit the North Shore in late January as the B.C. Scotties provincial curling championships came to the North Shore Winter Club with superstar Kelly Scott earning a historic victory.
Scott defeated Marla Mallett 6-5 in the final to become the first female skip to ever win five B.C. championships.
"We really had to work for that win so I'm really proud of my girls - they did fantastic," Scott said moments after her final rock spun to a stop in the four-foot ring, adding that she never imagined she'd skip a team that would become one of the most decorated in B.C. history. "It's fantastic, it's beyond our wildest dreams."
? North Vancouver teen tennis star Filip Peliwo began a historic year with a runner up finish in junior men's singles at the Australian Open. Peliwo made it all the way to the final before losing 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to Australia's Luke Saville who was, at the time, the No. 1-ranked junior in the world.
? The Capilano Blues women's basketball team claimed bronze at the provincial championships in March but one performance in January set a new standard for excellence in the program.
Fifth-year forward Jenna Ralston dropped 10 three pointers en route to 42 points - both school records - as the Blues came back from an early deficit to defeat the Langara Falcons 83-63 in a league game Jan. 27. Shooting 10-15 from three-point range and 16-31 overall in the game, Ralston also chipped in seven rebounds, three assists and six steals.
Ralston described what it felt like to be "in the zone," the place where athletes go when they can do no wrong.
"You just know that no matter what you do it's going to go in," she said. "It's a great feeling. You try to get your shots up as much as you can while you're feeling like that."
The Blues went on to win Pacwest bronze on their home floor with Ralston again playing a starring role with 28 points, five rebounds, three assists and eight steals. Ralston was named the Pacwest player of the year.
? In February West Vancouver native Maëlle Ricker reached the top step of the podium in snowboard cross for the first time since claiming gold at the 2010 Olympics.
Ricker claimed victory in Stoneham, Que. Feb. 21, overcoming a broken hand and injured shoulder that had kept her from her customary spot on top of World Cup podiums.
"It's actually quite a relief, to be honest," she said after the race. "It took a lot longer to get going than I expected. I'm pretty impatient and the whole recovery process was getting very frustrating. But it's been coming along slowly all year and I've been feeling better every time I've put my feet on the board."
While it took more than two years for Ricker to win gold after her Olympic victory, it took less than a month to repeat the feat. Ricker won again on March 14 in Valmalenco, Italy to give her her second gold in as many tries. She is now gearing up for a repeat run at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
? The North Van Wolf Pack junior B hockey team clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history with a 4-1 road win over the Ridge Meadows Flames Feb. 24.
The Wolf Pack, formed in 2008, played three years in Squamish without ever making the playoffs, finally sinking to the depths of a six-win season (out of 44 games) in 2010-11. Following that season, however, the club moved to North Van and reached new heights in the 2011-12 season, finishing with a record of 20-21-1-2 to tie the Grandview Steelers for fourth in the conference with 43 points, advancing to the playoffs based on a better winning percentage.
The Pack went on to win their playoff debut, upsetting top-ranked Richmond 4-3, before dropping their next four to lose the series.
"Getting to the playoffs was the goal," North Van head coach and general manager Matt Samson said after the series. "Right now I'm still a bit bitter about the first-round exit - obviously it still stings a little bit . . . but big picture a success and we're just looking to build on that."
? North Vancouver figure skater Liam Firus spun to dizzying heights in March, cracking the top-10 at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships and setting personal best scores in both of his routines to finish in eighth place at the event held March 1-3 in Minsk, Belarus.
Firus was seventh after the short program and skated well in the free skate, his one major blemish coming when he fell while attempting a triple Axel.
"Other than the triple Axel, I did all my jumps that were planned,'' said Firus. "Everything felt good. I had two solid skates here and couldn't ask for more. My training paid off."
Firus moved up to the senior men's category for the 2012-13 season.
? North Vancouver's Brodie Seger battled tough conditions as well as a pack of the top 15and 16-year-old alpine skiers in the country to win the overall title at the Canadian J1 Championships held March 8-10 on Whistler Mountain.
For his win Seger landed a free round-trip ticket to Amsterdam, courtesy of event sponsor KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
"I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do in Amsterdam, but hopefully the ticket I won will come in handy one day soon," the 16-year-old Seger said.
? The University of British Columbia's women's basketball team, featuring five players from North Vancouver, battled all the way to the CIS championship game before falling 69-53 March 19 to the Windsor Lancers at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium in Calgary.
Handsworth grads Kris Young and Kirsten Hughes joined fifth year senior and Argyle grad Alex Vieweg in the UBC starting lineup while Stephanie Bell and Erika Vieweg, both Argyle grads, rounded out the UBC bench.
Young, a second-year guard and Canada West second-team all-star in 2011-12, led the way for the Thunderbirds in the losing effort, scoring 16 points and adding eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Young was named a first-team all-star at the tournament.
? North Vancouver's Alexis Prokopuik topped Ontario's Gloria Liang, the No. 1-ranked U16 player in Canada, to win the under-16 Rogers Junior Nationals indoor tennis tournament March 31.
"I won the point and I was just, 'Oh my God,' just to myself. In shock," she said about clinching the title, the biggest win in a young career that includes seven consecutive provincial crowns. "I just played my game and it worked for me. I had a strong serve to start off the points and I thought that opened up a lot of great opportunities for me to capitalize on shots and finish off the points quickly or create like an equation, basically, for me to finish it, maybe put it away to the open court. I was really happy with my play as I progressed through the whole tournament."
? West Vancouver windsurfer Nikola Girke sailed her way into the London 2012 Olympic Games with a tenth-place finish at the RSX World Championships held in April in Cadiz, Spain.
Girke needed to finish as the top Canadian at the regatta to earn an Olympic berth and she did so with ease, placing 37 spots ahead of the next highest Canuck surfer.
"I went to the World Championships with two goals: Qualify myself for the Olympics (and) a top 10 finish," Girke said. "I am super happy and proud that I was able to achieve both these goals."
Girke's top-10 finish was her best-ever at a world championships and came in intense racing conditions at what was called one of the windiest windsurfing regattas in history. Three of the seven days of racing were cancelled with wind gusts hitting more than 50 knots.
Fellow West Vancouverite Zac Plavsic also sailed at the World Championships, booking his ticket to the London Olympics with a 16th-place finish.
? The Canadian junior (under-21) national women's field hockey team got a chance to show off their attacking firepower in a four-game sweep of the United States under-19 team in a series held in April at West Vancouver's Rutledge Field.
Canada, featuring 10 players from the North Shore, outscored the U.S. team by a combined total of 15-2 in the sweep.
The series came less than two months after the Canadian senior national team failed in its bid to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. Many of the players who were on the pitch in West Van will lead the way when it comes time to qualify for the 2016 Games, said junior team head coach Peter Milkovich.
"This is the team," he said. "This group, with the senior players that will commit and work with them. We'll expand the squad up to 30 players and that's going to be the group that will move forward for the next four years."
? Two North Shore ringers, defenders Melanie Thomas of West Vancouver and Dani Brass-ington of North Vancouver, suited up for the Lower Mainland Thunder as they claimed the National Ringette League championship in a historic 7-2 win over the Montreal Mission April 14 at Burnaby's Bill Copeland Arena. The Thunder followed an improbable path to become the first British Columbia team in any division to win a national ringette championship.
Three losses early in the tournament pushed the Thunder to the brink of elimination before they turned it all around, ringing up five straight do-or-die victories to claim the title.
"Everyone thought we were done, we were all just devastated," Brassington said about the team's tough start. "It was really an emotional roller coaster, but the highs of scoring and winning were just incredible. We just peaked at the right time. The last four games, our team played the best we've ever played and that was so fun to be a part of."
? West Vancouver super seniors Olga Kotelko and Christa Bortignon combined to win 19 gold medals for Canada and set six age group world records at the 2012 World Masters Indoor Championships held in April in Jyvaskyla, Finland. Canada finished the meet with 22 total gold medals to place seventh overall and Kotelko and Bortignon did almost all of the damage.
Kotelko, who has gained international fame for her athletic prowess as a sporting nonagenarian, set new world records in the women's 90-plus age category for the 800-metre run, high jump, weight throw and pentathlon. Kotelko clocked a time of 8: 49.15 in the 800 m, jumped 0.76 m in the high jump, threw 7.24 m in the weight throw and scored 2,326 points in the pentathlon.
Bortignon, who was inspired to take up track and field after reading about Kotelko's exploits in the North Shore News, is following in her record-setting footsteps. Bortignon's time of 10.04 seconds in the 60 m dash and distance of 3.67 m in the long jump were both new world records in the 75-plus category.
? Capilano Rugby Club's elite men's team claimed the Roun-sefell Cup with a thrilling 22-21 victory over James Bay to win the provincial championship final of the Canadian Direct Insurance B.C. Rugby Premier League May 12 at Klahanie Park.
Carson Graham Grade 12 student Nathan Yanagiya, the youngest player on the pitch, scored the game-winning try on an amazing play. With little time left on the clock Yanagiya chipped the ball past one defender, sprinted by to scoop up his own kick, muscled past another defender and waltzed over the line to put the Caps up for good.
The win capped off a remarkable turnaround for the Capilano men. One year prior they were competing for - and eventually winning - the B.C. Rugby Tier 2 championship after being relegated from premier league play following a string of embarrassing losses. The relegation led to a massive culture change at the club with players called upon to make a much stronger commitment to the club and to each other.
"It's been a long couple of years here but all of it is worth it now," said head coach Tom Larisch. "It's awesome. I think it's the start of something special for a few years to come."
? The Carson Graham girls rugby team continued their utter domination this year, topping G.P. Vanier secondary 10-5 in a tense provincial final May 25 to win their seventh straight B.C. championship.
Carson may be in the middle of a historic dynasty but they had to scratch and claw to earn title No. 7 against a strong and fast Vanier team.
"Our girls tackled unbelievable," said Carson head coach Brad Baker. "The way they competed - just getting run over, beaten up and getting back on their feet to compete - shows a lot of character."
? June began with a historic win for Deep Cove's little Seycove secondary. The senior girl soccer team topped Okanagan Mission 1-0 in the championship final June 2 to win the team's first ever provincial title. It was, in fact, the team's first ever trip to a provincial tournament and it ended in gold.
"It's hard to actually think that it happened," head coach Sam Stackhouse told the North Shore News, adding that it made for a great drive back to North Vancouver. "Every 15 or 20 minutes there was one of us that said, 'We just won provincials! Can you believe it?'"
Tournament MVP and golden boot winner Caitlin Milham scored on a wild scramble early in the second half of the final to register the game's only goal.
"It wasn't pretty by any means but I'm not complaining," said Stackhouse, a young coach just five years removed from her own playing days with the Seyhawks.
? North Vancouver's Jessica Smith had the race of her young life on June 10, meeting the Olympic A qualification standard while winning the 800-m title at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic in front of friends and family at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium.
The 22-year-old raced to a personal best time of 1: 59.86, beating the Olympic standard by four hundredths of a second while becoming just the fourth Canadian woman ever to run an 800-m race in less than two minutes.
A month later Smith went on to lock up a berth in the London Olympics by finishing third at the Canadian championships.
? Four North Vancouver inline hockey stars helped Canada to an improbable and incredible victory at the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championships held in Ingolstadt, Germany June 1-7.
Thomas Woods, Max Grassi, Jeff Lichimo and Matt Hutchinson all got to join in the traditional belting of "O Canada" following a 9-5 win over Germany in the championship final.
"It's a special feeling for sure to hear your anthem and to know you've done something for your country," said Woods, who combined with Grassi to score seven of Canada's nine goals in the final. "It's almost indescribable, really. We were singing our hearts out."
Roller hockey may seem like a fringe sport here in Canada but there was nothing small-time about the scene that greeted the Canadians for the World Championship final against Germany, in Germany.
"It was packed, the place was crazy. It seats around 5,000 people and it was sold out," said Grassi.
The noise, added Woods, was incredible. "It's kind of hard to explain. You can't even hear yourself think. "
? Five players from the North Shore were taken in the NHL entry draft in June, including a pair of former teammates with the Hollyburn Huskies who went back-to-back at the top of the draft board.
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart was taken fourth overall by the New York Islanders and longtime friend and fellow de-fenceman Morgan Rielly went next, fifth overall to the famed Toronto Maple Leafs.
North Vancouver's Colton Sissons and Dalton Thrower followed, again going back-to-back, 50th and 51st overall to Nashville and Montreal. West Vancouver's Alexander Kerfoot, went 150th overall to the New Jersey Devils, making it a complete handful of draft-worthy players from the North Shore.
? Better late than never took on a whole new meaning for North Vancouver basketball star Robert Sacré after he was taken with the final pick of the 2012 NBA draft by the famed Los Angeles Lakers.
"First thing I thought of was, best for last," Sacré said with a laugh in a conference call the following morning.
"I was selected to go to one of the greatest teams in NBA history," he said, adding that it was tough to wait until the final pick. "I knew I wasn't going to be a lottery pick. I was expecting something mid-second, anywhere in the second, maybe even late first. But I just view it as a blessing. I'm going to maybe have a chance to play with one of the greatest players of all time and have a chance to get better and be with a prestigious team and a team that knows how to win."