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Gazzola receives highest university sports honour

Thorold native captures national team title and prestigious Dr. Randy Gregg award.

For Randy Gazzola, the key to success is simple.

“Whether you’re on the ice or in the library, you have to give 100 per cent," he told the ThoroldNews in a phone interview from his home at the University of New Brunswick (UNB).

And there’s absolutely no doubt Thorold native Gazzola knows about success.

For five years Gazzola has been an important part of the UNB Reds varsity hockey team and last Sunday they captured the national title by defeating Alberta Golden Bears 4-2 in the final match.

Adding to that tremendous national victory, experienced only by select University athletes, Gazzola was named the winner of the prestigious Dr. Randy Gregg Award by U SPORTS last Wednesday.

The Gregg Award is presented annually by U SPORTS to reward excellence in the student-athlete. The Canadian University ice hockey player who receives this award has exhibited outstanding achievement in ice hockey, academics, and community involvement. U SPORTS is the national sport governing body of university sport in Canada.

A press release from the University noted, "Gazzola, named U SPORTS most sportsmanlike player last season, amassed 20 points in 24 games during the regular season, and had a plus/minus rating of +26. Off the ice, Gazzola is a four-time Academic All-Canadian, and is on pace to repeat the accomplishment for a fifth time this season. He completed his undergraduate studies in just three years, and is currently enrolled* in UNB’s MBA program. Despite the heavy demands of being a student and a varsity athlete, he also makes contributions to the university community, and the greater Fredericton community, volunteering in a number of capacities."

It went on to say, "Gazzola makes regular visits to local elementary schools with members of the UNB men's hockey team, and volunteers for UNB's ‘Read with the Reds.’ He is also involved with the Just 4 Ice youth development program. He has represented his team on UNB's athletes' council and as a member of the Reds Phillips Sports Leadership Academy. He also volunteers his time as a youth hockey coach at the AAA Peewee level."

Those are major accomplishments and worthy of the accolades the university has heaped upon him. 

Besides the championship and awards this year, Gazzola has a history of achievement. He's been on three national champion teams. UNB won the bronze medal last year but Gazzola was named the Atlantic top student athlete, and he won the R.W. Pugh Fair Play Award as most sportsmanlike player, and was nominated for the Gregg Award.

"My last year in Junior I won a championship with Val-d'Or. I finished* my masters degree last semester and I knew I'd be heading out of University. I wanted to end it on a high note. Winning the national championship doesn't happen too often. It was something incredible to finish my university career with a national title."

Some pro teams have already approached him from other leagues, including Europe, but as usual, he has specific goals in mind.

"My ultimate goal right now is to play in the American league and I'm waiting to hear back from a few pro teams," he said in the interview.

He's not in a hurry to move on yet, however. "I want to take some time to celebrate," he said.

And Gazzola demonstrates a wisdom usually reserved for more seasoned athletes. He understands the importance of the environment around him.

"I have confidence from the UNB winning culture. If you believe you can do something and set your mind to it, no one ’s going to stop you. I have always taken the hard way, but always found a way to make out all right," he explained.

He went on, "This is the cumulation of being around good people. UNB has so much success because they bring in the right people - people who want to make a difference in each others' lives. School became a big part of my life. I wanted to do well having seen others with success after finishing the program. Only you control how hard you work on and off the ice. It's not a secret formula - put in the time and work hard. I'm not the smartest but I understand what needs to be done and when it needs to be done."

He says it's been a long five years getting his MBA and he needs a mental break. But it's obvious he won't rest long. It's certain he will end up with a pro team later this year and in the meantime he's already enrolled in a Certified Financial Analyst Program.

"That's something very difficult to get but I want to achieve it and play pro hockey at the same time," he said.

Gazzola credits his parent Lou Gazzola and Kelly Lynds for much of his success.

"Both my parents have been so supportive of everything I ever wanted to do," he said. "They let me make my own decisions."

Lou is a well-known figure around the Thorold arena and baseball fields. "He was the one waking me up at 6 a.m. to go skating at the Thorold arena. He had passion for hockey and baseball that helped me develop."

He also credits uncles Rick and Dennis with providing valuable advice and support. "Uncle Rick (Gazzola) has been a big influence as an owner of his own business. And Uncle Dennis ("Skeeter" Gazzola) gave me some advice I never forgot. He said focus on the 4/40 plan: Work hard for four years and set yourself up for the next 40 years. Or goof off for four years and regret it for the next 40."

He and girlfriend, Michelle Nievas, who is from Welland, will be returning to Niagara for the summer.

"I'll take the week and have some fun - but not too much because I will also stay in shape if I'm going to play pro. Winning the championship and the Gregg Award - it's been quite a ride," he concluded with genuine modesty.