INSTANT REPLAY: The game within the game
The sibling rivalry between two ultra-competitive North Shore sisters will be settled once and for all in a university field hockey game on Monday in Boston, some 4,050 kilometres from home.
For the metrically challenged, that’s 2,512 miles away as the crow – or better still, the Canada goose – flies.
That’s when Nicky Graham, a 5’8”, third-year forward for Northeastern University, and “little” sister Michelle Graham, a 5’8”, first-year forward for Michigan State University, meet on Northeastern’s Sweeney Field in historic Boston.
The field is less than a mile from Fenway Park and, oddly enough, sits just a couple of blocks from a road named Vancouver Street. (I wonder what they called it during the Stanley Cup final?)
The game is not just the home opener for Northeastern, ranked 28th in NCAA Div. 1 field hockey. And it’s not just an opportunity for Michigan State, losers of their first three games, to get on the winning track and show why they have been ranked 13th going into the season. Plus it’s not just that this will be the first time that Nicky, 20, and Michelle, 18, who graduated from West Van Secondary in 2009 and 2011 respectively, have squared off against each other in a game, as noteworthy as that will be for the family scrapbook.
Forget all that because the game is the tiebreaker in a little contest the sisters began in May.
“We are sooooo competitive,” Michelle tells me, while Nicky smiles to acknowledge her agreement, as we met at William Griffin Field to take the photo shown here before they left for their respective campuses.
They then proceed to explain.
On the Victoria Day weekend, they played together in the Vancouver Invitational Tournament in Burnaby on a team called the Blitz, organized by their older sister Kira who played at UBC.
Nicky and Michelle – who Nicky jokes are “Kira’s immature younger sisters” – decided they should conduct a little scoring competition between the two of them during the tournament.
“Originally it started as a friendly little competition,” notes Nicky. “It wasn’t until the final that we realized we were tied 4-4.”
Then the fun began. Nicky scored twice as the Blitz built up a lead during the championship game their team would eventually win 7-0. “That left me two goals down with 10 minutes left in the game,” Michelle offers.
But, while Nicky was on the sidelines, Michelle scored with five minutes to go to narrow their individual competition to 6-5. Nicky admits, “I was freaking out and ran and subbed in for her so there was no way she could score again.”
However, Michelle saw her tactics and subbed in for someone else as time ran down.
“Our team got a short corner right before the final whistle,” continues Michelle, “and Nicky was up to take the shot. It was my last chance to tie her in goals so I ran in as a tipper and ended up getting a touch [on the ball that Nicky shot] and scored. She was not too impressed.”
“I was the hitter from the top,” concurs Nicky. “Michelle tipped my shot up into the netting. I was so upset. I was like, ‘NOOO!’ as soon as she scored.”
Michelle adds, “We aren’t too sure if Nicky’s shot would have gone in because the goalie might have saved it, but there was the possibility of it going in. She likes to think it was. Ha, ha.”
So they’ve agreed the tiebreaker will be the winner of the Northeastern-Michigan State game.
No doubt the game will be a highlight in the Graham family’s field hockey annals that began at least as far back as the girls’ grandparents, Andy and Sheila Graham, who both played for Kenya many years ago.
Despite living in Lynn Valley, all three Graham sisters went to Little Flower Academy in Vancouver where their mom was teaching. When she left to teach at St. Thomas Aquinas and eventually open Footprints on the Shore, a Christian books and gifts shop just off Marine Drive, Nicky enrolled in Grade 11 at West Van Secondary. She applied to four schools and West Van – much to the chagrin of the coaches at Argyle – was the first to respond with space. Michelle joined her a year later.
West Van won the B.C. “AAA” field hockey championships in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Nicky’s Grade 11 and 12 years. Michelle was on the 2008 winner as a Grade 10 as well as the school’s B.C. runners-up in 2009 and 2010.
Amazingly, Northeastern of the Colonial Athletic Association and Michigan State of the Big Ten Conference each play seven games this season against teams that have at least one or two, and as many as three, North Shore players on their roster.
As well, former Sutherland standouts, fourth-year Kaela Barker and third-year Lizzie Priest are the captain-midfielder and goalkeeper respectively on Nicky’s team. One of Michelle’s teammates is Holly Sherman, a fourth-year back who played with Nicky on West Van’s unbeaten ’07 provincial champs.
The sisters’ parents, Ian and Linda Graham, are flying to Boston to see the game. So will they cheer for the underdog Huskies of Northeastern? After all, Nicky is the older of the two. Or will they root for the visiting Spartans of Michigan State? As a rookie, Michelle could use the support.
The problem has already been solved. Ian will wear a Northeastern shirt while Linda wears one from Michigan State. Then they’ll switch shirts at halftime. Parents are so smart, aren’t they?
This is episode 431 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.