From Tillsonburg to Ohio University and back to Tillsonburg, Derek Partlo completed a full circle in hockey.
On Sunday Partlo joined the Tillsonburg Sports Hall of Fame, one of five individuals inducted during the town's 8th hall of fame ceremony at the Tillsonburg Community Centre.
Speaking on behalf of nominators Bob Coyle and his grandfather Sam Lamb (also a hall of fame member), Greg Hayward, who was an assistant coach with Derek's father Max during an OMHA peewee championship season, remembers watching Partlo play in Athens, Ohio, with Derek's family in the mid 1990s.
"Derek had a way of making his presence known by either filling the penalty box or filling the box scores," said Hayward. "And often filling both. Derek quickly and permanently etched his memory into the hearts of his teammates in Ohio through his spirited play and his willingness to go to battle for any and every linemate.
"He managed to compile a regular season and career record for penalty minutes that remains untouched in the history of Ohio University.... but that is not why we're here today," Hayward grinned. "Most impressive, while playing this role of enforcer, was Derek's team and individual performance stats. In 1994, in his first year, he takes a team to the (ACHA) national championships in Iowa... the first time this team had ever medalled at a national level. In 1995, at nationals in Arizona, the team secured their first national title and Derek was named all-American, all-star, and the tournament's MVP. In 1996, the team wins their second national championship. Derek was named to the all-tournament team and won the scoring championship for the entire national tournament. In 1997 at nationals in Michigan, the team wins their third national championship title. Derek won the regular season scoring champion and was the top point-getter at nationals.
"And in a fitting closing to his university hockey career, Derek set up both goals in a 2-1 national championship victory over Iowa. An impressive four years."
Hayward summed up by saying the people who were at Sunday's hall of fame ceremony – the people supporting Derek – are the same people you would see in Ohio, see in Michigan, and in rinks all of over Ontario.
"Who you don't see today here today are Derek's No. 1 fans, his parents (Max and Deb). Both having left us too soon, it was Derek's father Max who often liked to say 'good people come from good people.' So I guess today he was talking about his son."
Congratulating his fellow 2015 inductees – Taylor Campbell, Chris Mabee, Stan Moore, and Ches Sulkowski – Partlo said he was honoured and humbled to be entering the hall of fame with such great people, and noted his connection with each.
"Growing up, all I wanted to do was play hockey and make it to the NHL," said Partlo. "As I got older, I realized this wasn't going to happen...
"This was about two years ago for me," he added, getting a laugh from the 140-plus people in attendance Sunday afternoon. "Although as Mr. (Mel) Getty has said, the Maple Leafs are struggling so I'm not going to close that door just yet."
Partlo, who shared a story about his early days, and his dad, said although he didn't fulfill his NHL dream, hockey provided him with a lot in life.
"It was the starting place for a lot of great friendships and memories, and later on it provided me with an education which parlayed into a teaching job in my hometown. But the success I achieved wouldn't have been possible without the support of my family and friends. And I'd like to thank them now."
Naming – and thanking – his many coaches, closest friends, and family, he concluded with his parents, Max and Deb.
"Lastly, and this is the tough part, there are two people, who are no longer with us, who are more responsible than anyone else for my success. And that's my mom and dad. They both worked long hours to provide everything for us, they made sure we worked and got an education. They didn't try to build athletes, they tried to ensure that we were good people.
"It's times like this where you miss them the most. Not so they can see that I'm here doing this, but that they could see our family name on the wall, and see what we have accomplished."