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Hall of Fame inductee part of 'dying breed' of local athletes

Mike Laycock, who excelled in numerous sports, among athletes being honoured Wednesday

After a lifetime of excelling on the diamond, and on the ice as a hockey goalie, Mike Laycock will take his place in the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame (BSHOF) on Wednesday night.

It is the latest honour for the retired accountant, who was part of provincial championship teams in three sports, achieved All-American status in collegiate hockey in the United States and earned a pro contract from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Laycock, 66, played minor hockey with Bill Stewart and Jim Hamilton, with whom he won an Ontario AA bantam and midget hockey title. Stewart and Hamilton both went on to play in the NHL and Laycock now joins them in the hall. Laycock’s younger brother, Glen, was also part of the 1975 Wrigley midget hockey team that has been honoured by the BSHOF.

Laycock also excelled on the diamond in both baseball and fastball. He was a member of the Barrie Red Sox who represented the province at the 1975 Canadian championships and a standout catcher on local intermediate teams, including an AA Ontario title winner.

He is part of a dying breed: local products who excel in numerous sports. It’s now rare for athletes to stick to more than one sport long enough to enjoy success at the elite level and to do it while developing locally. That trend is on display with recent hall inductees. When it first opened almost 40 years ago, many athletes were honoured for their prowess in various sports and builders were often involved in different capacities as well.

Not so much anymore.

Athletes now specialize much earlier and often leave town at a younger age, and it can be difficult to maintain the community bonds Laycock he so richly enjoyed growing up.

“Barrie is just too big now,” he said, pointing out that when he was a kid growing up, the city had fewer than 30,000 people.

Unlike Stewart and Hamilton, who both were minor hockey stars as kids and somewhat preordained pros, Laycock had to grind every inch of the way.

“Just great memories of (playing) with them,” Laycock remembered of the talented minor hockey teams he played on that were led by Hamilton and Stewart. “They led the way for us … and now to join them (in the hall), it’s just great.”

Laycock got his big break when he enrolled at Brown University. He had caught the Ivy League school’s eye the previous year while playing Jr. B in Barrie. Serving his first two seasons as a backup, he got his feet wet, including helping the Bears make it to the NCAA Frozen Four, where they placed third.

Laycock was then chosen by the Flyers in the 1977 NHL Draft and signed by them after graduation.

A few months after being drafted, he found his sweet spot in his junior year, earning All-American honours. The All-American class that year is especially notable now because a particularly talented group of American players would later form the core of the Miracle on Ice team that won gold in Lake Placid.

“I never really was that interested (in the Olympics that year),” Laycock said of what many considered the sport’s first true breakthrough moment in the U.S. “I had already played against most of them.”

Indeed, he was used to the esteemed company, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. No one did.

Laycock’s All-American class included Mike Johnson, who was generally considered the Americans’ best player in Lake Placid, along with Ken Morrow, their best defenceman, who would later help the New York Islanders win four Stanley Cups. The All-American goalie after Laycock? Jim Craig, the U.S. netminder who backstopped his country to gold. Others in Laycock’s All-American class included Mike Eaves, Curt Giles and Joe Mullen, who all had long NHL careers.

Laycock’s NHL aspirations were always going to be more measured. A 12th-round pick of the Flyers, who would soon settle on the trio of Bob Froese, Pelle Lindbergh and Pete Peters, in goal, the odds were stacked against him playing a position that is always more difficult to make it in the pro ranks. In fact, he was one of 24 goalies selected in the 1977 draft in a league that still had just 16 teams. And it’s worth noting that despite a much longer look, Craig never really established himself as a pro.

Laycock also tried his luck with the Canadian Olympic team, which eventually finished sixth without playing the U.S., but he fell short of making the final roster.

Rather than hang around the fringes of pro hockey, Laycock chose to come home to Barrie and start building his career away from the rink.

“I wanted to put my education to work,” he said.

An accountant, Laycock briefly worked in Toronto and eventually was made partner in BDO’s Barrie office. His return home also allowed him to continue his diamond pursuits and start a family — he has two grown sons, Colin and Aaron. Now retired, he dabbles here and there for work but is otherwise enjoying life on the golf course and on the diamond in slo-pitch. He hung up the pads a few years back after having partial replacement surgery on both knees.

Laycock is part of a class that also includes local basketball duo Marty McCrone and Paul Hopper, who have a long track record of playing and coaching in the area, including their highly regarded Thunderhoops they ran for almost 30 years.

Special Olympian track athlete Kristy Alford is also being honoured.

Brianna Prentice, who played for Canada’s Ultimate team in 2023, is being recognized as the city’s athlete of the year, while Barrie Baycats volunteer Tim Clark is this year’s Jean McCann Unsung Hero Award winner. Don Coulson is being recognized with a lifetime achievement award.