Tuesday November 20, 2018
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As the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) season approaches the midway mark, it’s become quite clear that the Golden Horseshoe Conference could come down to two local teams.

Both the Niagara Falls Canucks and St. Catharines Falcons are beginning to separate from the rest of the pack in the eight-team division.

The Canucks began the week as the top team with an (18-2-1) record and 37 points, with the Falcons nipping at their heels just six points behind with two games in hand at (15-3-1) at 35.

Hockey stars of Niagara’s north

by Kevin Vallier

Running one of the top AAA hockey organizations in the province can be like a full-time job, but for Niagara North Stars President Paul Allan the success on and off the ice is worth every minute.

The organization recently hosted its first tournament, sponsored by Front Row Sports, for Atom and Peewee divisions. It’s been a long time since St. Catharines has hosted a AAA (the highest level in minor hockey) tournament, so Allan and his board decided to explore the idea of hosting one a couple of years ago.

“The big thing was finding that sweet spot where it was on a weekend with less tournament competition and then working with the city to get enough ice time,” explained Allan. “In order to have enough time to market the tournament properly to other teams, we needed to secure the ice well in advance which meant putting a proposal together and presenting it to city council.” The plan was approved and the result was a very successful first year tournament with 32 teams and over 500 families.

After a rough start to the season, St. Paul has bounced back. After winning the Niagara Catholic championships, St. Paul will be playing in the Niagara regional high school championship this Wednesday evening. After a slow start and losing its first two games, St. Paul was beginning to lose hope for a successful season. The group, however, was able to bounce back with a strong winning streak. The team advanced to the playoffs and won its championship game last Friday night with an impressive 27-7 score.

St. Paul’s opponent, Notre Dame, was heavily favoured to win the game. According to the Canada Football Chat, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were ranked 28th out of all high schools in Canada. After beating the Fighting Irish, St. Paul now has the chance to win the region. It all comes down to Wednesday night’s game, where the last two standing teams will battle it out on Kiwanis Field in St. Catharines.

Women’s Rugby Player earns National Community Service Award

by Niagara Independent Staff

U SPORTS recently presented Brock University women’s rugby player, Katelyn Heyens, with the Student-Athlete Community Service Award during the annual women’s rugby All-Canadian gala in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

“I am honoured to receive this award and am incredibly humbled by it. However, this was a team effort. I would not be here if it wasn’t for the support from all the amazing people in my life,” said Heyens. “I am truly thankful for all the people who have encouraged me to get involved, and for all those who have helped me grow as an athlete and individual over that last few years.”

Last month, the OUA also awarded Heyens the Russell Division Community Service Award.

Seventeen games into their 2018-19 campaign is exactly the quarter-pole for the Niagara IceDogs and their 68 game Ontario Hockey League schedule.
And sitting at (10-5-2-0) – good for first place in the OHL Central Division standings and second overall in the Eastern Conference – head coach Billy Burke is happy with where his team is situated.
Burke is especially pleased, and pleasantly surprised, with three young blueliners, including a pair of rookies who had to step up their games when Liam Ham, Drew Hunter and Elijah Roberts missed a total of 34 man games to injury.

As the playoffs come to a close, championship games begin today at the A.N. Myer football field. The senior boys matchup features the A.N. Myer Marauders who went undefeated, taking on the Westlane Spartans. The Marauders have been the only team to defeat Westlane this season. This has become the Spartans driving force to defeat the Marauders and continue to the provincial championships. As for the juniors, A.N. Myer has also reached the championships. They will take on the Greater Fort Erie squad in Fort Erie.

The Fort Erie Gryphons have a talented group of players that went undefeated this season. The Marauders also had a successful season. The Gryphons were the only team to defeat the Myer boys. The final score of that contest was 34-22 and no doubt will set the tone for tonight’s championship contest. The Marauders are looking to redeem themselves as they may have lost the battle but hope to win the war and hoist the championship trophy. Both teams have worked hard all week in practice in preparation for tonight’s rematch.

The new Intercounty Baseball League team that will call Welland home for the upcoming season officially has a new name and look. The Welland Baseball Club announced the Jackfish as the new name for the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) team. The name represents the city of Welland fishing past time along with the river that is home to the northern pike, also called jackfish.
Team officials also unveiled the colors and uniforms during a news conference at Welland Stadium, which will serve as home field for the new team. Officials on hand for the team announcement included Welland Jackfish Majority Owner and CEO, Ryan Harrison, local Welland Owners Brent Coulombe and Mike Konderka and Intercounty Baseball League Commissioner John Kastner.

Playoff time in high school football

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

As the regular football season comes to a close, teams across the region have begun preparing for the upcoming playoffs. The post-season began last Wednesday at Westlane secondary school. Their senior boys team won their first playoff game of the season against Greater Fort Erie. Westlane will advance and play the winner of the A.N. Myer versus Churchill game. In the junior division, the Myer Marauders have played against the Welland Centennial Cougars while the Westlane juniors played against Fort Erie. Preparation for upcoming games has been intense, both players and coaches are hard at work in hopes that they are victorious in the playoffs. All teams have the same goal in mind; win the championship.

Myers’ Junior boys team have had a solid season, with three wins and one loss in the regular season. The Centennial Cougars have won two games and suffered two losses. The Cougars have been hard at work to prepare for the semi-final game. The team has been putting in lots of effort during practices. They hope they will see their hard work pay off as the season comes to a close. “In our first game against Myer, we had a few blown tackles and those, unfortunately, went for touchdowns,” says Brad Barter coach of the Cougars team. Barter has worked hard to get his troops prepared for the playoffs; practices have become more intense in preparations for big games.

Ham returns to IceDogs lineup

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara IceDogs goalie Stephen Dhillon keeps an eye on the play while wearing his superhero jersey Friday night in front of a sold-out crowd versus the Windsor Spitfires. Not even a stretch of home cooked meals or an arena full of superheroes could help the IceDogs secure the maximum number of points over a rare, […]

Marauders versus Gryphons; A rivalry in the making

by Anne-Marie Iemmolo

Tonight at 7 p.m., the A.N. Myer Marauders senior boys’ football team will travel to Fort Erie to play against the Greater Fort Erie Gryphons. This highly anticipated game will conclude the regular season for both teams with playoff implications at stake. With over 200 points scored and only six points given up, the Marauders are favoured to win this Friday night’s game. However, the Gryphons have defeated the Marauders in the past. Two years ago the Gryphons were able to keep a tight defense and defeat the Marauders, knocking them out of the playoffs. Both teams have had a good week of practice and are ready to play under the Friday night lights.

Head coach and offensive coordinator, Dave Buchanan, has prepared his team to face their rivals. Despite Myer handedly defeating their opponents this year, Buchanan is keeping the team level-headed and focusing on improving their skills on the field. The team is led by senior quarterback Ryan James who credits this year’s success to focusing more on conditioning and strength training. His strong throwing arm gives Myer a formidable passing game. On the receiving end of his throws are wide receivers Winfield Organ and Dallas Bone. The two senior boys give valued experience to the offense and continue to stay focused on the game. Myer also has a strong ground attack lead by running back, Jeremiah Nyambiya. Nyambiya says “play hard, practice hard”, this is how he has remained successful throughout the season.

Friday Night Lights is back in Niagara

by Niagara Independent Staff

Last Friday night at A.N. Myer’s new turf sports field, 300 people braved the cold to sit under the lights and watch a heavily favoured Myer senior football team handily defeat visiting Grimsby Secondary.

It was eight degrees but felt like four. The grandstand was jammed; the cheerleaders were dressed for warmth but braved the elements to cheer on their home team. The home team delivered, ultimately winning handily over an overmatched Grimsby team.

Brock Men’s hockey begin Quest for Queen’s Cup

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Brock Badgers men’s hockey team is looking to build off last season’s impressive playoff run when they open their season at home tonight. The Badgers will host the York Lions at 7:15 p.m. at the Seymour-Hannah Sports and Entertainment Centre.
Brock is coming off a successful season where they posted a record of 14-9-5 and upset Guelph, York and Laurier in the playoffs. They reached the U SPORTS National Championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but were eliminated in the first round.

The City of Welland recently announced a three-year contract that will bring an elite minor league baseball team to Welland. The new franchise, yet to be named, will play in the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) beginning in the 2019 season.
For the first time in Niagara, an IBL team will play at the city’s 2,500 seat Welland Stadium and showcase Minor League Baseball. The official announcement was made last week by Welland Baseball’s Chief Executive Officer, Ryan Harrison who explained that the league’s Burlington team is relocating to the Rose City and calling the Welland Stadium home.

Across the globe female hockey players, coaches, referees and volunteers are celebrating World Girls Hockey Weekend. The female game continues to grow both among young girls as well as adults who are playing the game they love longer along with women who are picking up the game for the first time. Hockey Canada is celebrating girl’s hockey across the country this weekend and here in Niagara, local organizations are as well. Locally, the St. Catharines Female Hockey Association, known as the Jr. Badgers, had several teams represented at last night’s Niagara IceDogs game.

The growth and respect of the female game can be seen on a number of fronts. While most international competitions still come down to a gold medal showdown between Canada and the United States, the round robin games against other nations are far more competitive than they used to be. Added to that are the number of former Canadian national team members who are now respected commentators in the media as well as the recent hiring of the top player in women’s hockey history, Haley Wickenheiser, by the Toronto Maple Leafs as their new assistant director of player development.

IceDogs off to solid start

by Rod Mawhood

The Niagara IceDogs were the fifth ranked major junior team in the country to start the season, and despite a hiccup in Peterborough last Thursday night have lived up to the early hype in the Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference standings.
The IceDogs sit at (3-1) on the season after picking up four of a possible six points this past weekend.
Thursday in Peterborough, Niagara jumped out to a 2-1 first period lead but was shutout the rest of the way.

Friday Football has all the makings of a classic

by Kevin Vallier

Football fans in Niagara Falls will be treated to what is expected to be a competitive and entertaining high school gridiron battle this afternoon between Westlane-Stamford and A.N. Myer. The game will be played at Stamford and is the first football game played there since their football program merged with Westlane. The Junior teams play at 1 p.m. while the Senior squads kickoff at 3 p.m.

While still favored to come out with a victory, Myer knows they are going into a hornet’s nest at the smaller confines of Stamford High.

Quick hockey trivia question.

Name a league with just eight teams, that features a Stanley Cup Champion and two former first round National Hockey League picks as head coaches?

The answer – the Golden Horseshoe Junior B hockey league that consists of six teams from right here in the Niagara Region.

St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie, Thorold and Pelham are the six teams that hail from Niagara, while Hamilton and Lockport, NY round out the eight-team league.

Making the IceDogs feel and look good

by Rod Mawhood

There’s an adage – look good, feel better.

That saying definitely rings true for the Niagara IceDogs hockey club, thanks in large part to two individuals who spend countless hours making sure the IceDog players feel good, and look even better.

Pete Dobbin has been with the Ontario Hockey League franchise for 11 seasons as Athletic Therapist, while Nick Hornby is entering his third season as Equipment Manager.

“My typical day starts with a morning workout with the older boys (players),” said Dobbin a 44-year old Niagara Falls native who has also worked with Baseball Canada in the same capacity.

Life of a Leaf Captain

by Kevin Vallier

As the Toronto Maple Leafs wrapped up their training camp in Niagara Falls and begin the exhibition season and then finally onto the games that matter, Niagara resident and former Leafs captain Rick Vaive reflects on the past and eagerly awaits the future. It’s a roster full of talented young guns with Leafs nation having high expectations.
Vaive took part in the alumni game Saturday night at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls. The game was sold out and the crowd was a sea of blue and white Leafs jerseys. Fans came to see their favourite players from years past including the likes of; Vaive, Darcy Tucker, Brad May, Darryl Sittler, Dan Daoust, Al Iafrate, Nik Antropov and of course Doug Gilmour.

Vaive reflects on training camps now and then

by Kevin Vallier

This is the first in a two-part series discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs with former captian Rick Vaive as the Leafs begin training camp in Niagara Falls this weekend.
The Toronto Maple Leafs begin their training camp in Niagara Falls today at the Gale Centre and according to one former Leaf great, training camps aren’t what they use to be.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and Niagara resident, Rick Vaive says the way training camps are run today is different in many ways then when played but also similar in others. When asked about the often heard comment about players showed up to camp 30 years ago to get into shape whereas today they show up to camp already in shape, Vaive, now 59, says there is some truth to that, but camps were structured differently. “We had two full weeks of two-a-day practices before we played an exhibition game,” said the three-time NHL 50 goal scorer. “Now, guys are playing in exhibition games three days into camp so if you’re not in shape when you arrive, you might get hurt or cut from the team.”

Niagara’s little known elite soccer program

by Kevin Vallier

Heading into its fourth year, the Empire United Niagara soccer program has made a lot of local soccer stakeholders sit up and take notice.
There are four teams, two boys’ teams and two girls’ teams, featuring Canadian kids and Canadian coaches, practicing in Canada but playing their home games in the United States – Buffalo and Rochester. Oh, and the director of the Empire United Niagara is Italian.

The Niagara Catholic Athletic Association’s 2018 high school football season is shaping up to be a highly competitive one. St. Paul Patriot’s head coach Rick Oreskovich has a feeling the 2018 season will feature a lot of parity. “I think all teams will be competitive this year. St. Michael’s will be good, they will be an exciting team to watch; Notre Dame is always good and Blessed Trinity will have a good team,” predicts the veteran coach. “If you take any team lightly it will come back to bite you.”
One thing that has helped with creating good competition throughout the league is good coaching. “There are good coaches all around,” said Oreskovich.

IceDogs need Moore

by Rod Mawhood

The Niagara IceDogs felt lucky that Lleyton Moore was still available when it was time to make their first round selection at the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Priority draft back in April.
A few months later the 12th pick overall is making the most of his first OHL training camp, and more importantly making the Niagara brass happy they selected the former Toronto Marlboro minor midget player.
Moore had a fantastic opening week of training camp, and donned an IceDogs jersey for the first time last Friday night in Thorold in a pre-season game against Barrie.
“It was a great experience, and just a surreal moment,” said the 16-year old, 5’8, 165-pound defenceman.
“Being a part of the IceDogs organization is amazing, and playing my first exhibition game was just a great feeling for me and my family. It was an exciting moment.”

High School Football Season Ready to Kick Off

by Kevin Vallier

A.N. Myer football coach Dave Buchanan knows there will be some stiff competition in this year’s top high school football league, and he’s looking forward to it.

“There’s some good parity this season. Teams like Fort Erie, Grimsby and Stanford/Westlane have strong programs and good coaches,” said Buchanan after putting his troops through the paces Thursday afternoon.

Each team will play five games and then head into the playoffs. The championship team coming out of the public board will then play the championship team from the Niagara Catholic board. The winner of that game goes on to compete at the Southern Ontario (SOSSA) championship and potentially the provincial final (OFSSA).

You won’t find too many OHL coaches with the experience of Jody Hull.
And now the sixteen-year NHL veteran, and former first round pick of the Hartford Whalers is bringing that experience to the Niagara IceDogs.
Hull, a 49-year old Petrolia, Ontario native was recently named Associate Coach of the IceDogs, taking over from the departing Ted Dent who accepted a scouting position with the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes.

Steel Blade Classic brings Brock Badgers back to Meridian Centre

by Niagara Independent Staff

The Brock Badgers are set to take over the Meridian Centre again for one of the biggest shows in Canadian university hockey.
The Badgers men’s hockey team, which made it to the U SPORTS National Championships last season, will open the 2018-19 pre-season with their annual Steel Blade Classic to be held Friday, Sept. 21 in downtown St. Catharines.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the tournament, a single-game, winner-take-all matchup between the Brock Badgers and Guelph Gryphons.

Niagara Olympian training next generation

by Kevin Vallier

Welland resident Kyle Jones has experienced the ultimate highs and the some significant lows throughout his athletic career. Originally from Oakville, the husband and father of two children has been to two Olympic Games and in a very controversial decision was left off a third Canadian Olympic triathlon team.

Jones was a runner early on in his life. As a ten-year-old he raced in some local Kids of Steel races – mini triathlons for youngsters. His performances were impressive.

He credits his introduction to triathlon (swim, bike and run) to his father who would participate in six or seven races a year around Ontario. “We’d go and watch my dad and cheer him on and that was my exposure to the sport early on,” said Jones.

Niagara Spears Prepares Players for Next Steps

by Nicholas Tibollo

For 15 seasons, the Niagara Spears have been successfully fielding high-quality football teams and preparing young prospects for university play.

Formed in 2004 as a non-profit organization, the St.Catharines-based academy is one the region’s most successful sports development programs. Over the years, all three of the program’s age groups have won or played for numerous championships across Ontario’s premier junior football leagues.

St. Catharines Hockey Legend Stan Mikita Remembered

by Niagara Independent Staff

Chicago Black Hawks and St. Catharines Teepees legendary centreman Stan Mikita died last week, he was 78 years old.
Mikita was born in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia in 1940 but moved to St. Catharines as a young boy where he lived with his aunt and uncle and took on their last name of Mikita. He was a star centre for the Teepees from 1956 to 1959. At the end of the 1959 junior season he went up and played three NHL games with the Black Hawks. He would play every season after that with the Hawks until his retirement in 1980. Only three players have played more games while playing their whole careers with the same team.

Henley Regatta takes effort on and off the water

by Kevin Vallier

As Peter Scott, Chairman of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta describes it, there are basically two levels of action taking place at the annual event held in St. Catharines – what’s happing on land and what’s happening on the water.

In fact Scott’s been so busy dealing with issues off the water that he hasn’t had time to see a single race. He arrives at 4:45 a.m. and doesn’t return home until close to 9 p.m. where he walks his dog then settles in to review the results of the day. He’s quick to point out that there is an army of volunteers that make one of the top regattas in the world run as smooth as possible.

Burke hoping IceDogs are top dogs in 2019

by Rod Mawhood

The Niagara IceDogs are one of just two Ontario Hockey League franchises to make the playoffs every year over the past 11 seasons.
Not an easy accomplishment for a team that arrived in St. Catharines from Mississauga back in 2007.
Since then, only the London Knights can claim to have the same success as the IceDogs.

World class rowing set to launch at Henley

by Kevin Vallier

This weekend more than 2,000 athletes and coaches will descend on Port Dalhousie to compete in one of the most historic and prized rowing competitions on the planet – the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.
With crews from all over the world, including the feel good story crew from Zimbabwe, this week-long regatta which gets started Sunday with the Masters competition, is an annual rite of passage for many young rowers. In its 136th year the Henley is, too most crews, the regatta to win.

Brock coach heading to Raptors’ organization

by Niagara Independent Staff

After leading the Brock Badgers men’s basketball team to a record setting season in terms of wins in 2017-18 and mading it to the National Championships for the first time in 10 years, head coach Charles Kissi is taking his development as a coach to the next level.
Kissi has been named an assistant coach for Raptors 905 — the NBA G League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors — by Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela and ownership group Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Jets Soccer Flying High

by Kevin Vallier

Girls soccer in Niagara is taking off like a jet.

The St. Catharines Jets soccer organizations is one of the most well established in the Region and in the province. Founded in 1972 the program has developed hundreds of girls into well rounded soccer players and good kids on and off the field.

Although the structure of the elite travel teams in Niagara for girls soccer has changed, there was a time when the Jets organization was graduating players to NCAA Division One schools on a regular basis. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, 44 girls went on to receive scholarships to play soccer in the United States. But it’s not just about getting to that level. There is a house league division at all age levels where the focus is on exercise and fun.

Canadian Open Tees Off at Glen Abbey

by Niagara Independent Staff

There will be plenty of Canadian content at this week’s RBC Canadian Open being held just down the QEW at Oakville’s Glen Abbey Golf Club.
Five players from Ontario are in the field including; Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., Corey Conners of Listowel,Ont., David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., and former Master champion, Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ontario. They are joined by fellow Canadian PGA players Adam Hadwin (highest ranking Canadian on the PGA Tour) and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C.

He’s still jet-lagged, but Joe Fletcher wouldn’t change his part-time job for anything.

The Niagara Falls native just returned from Russia and the 2018 World Cup where he had the opportunity to work nine games – three on the field – and six in the video room.

It was Fletcher’s second consecutive World Cup appearance after refereeing in Brazil in 2014.

Tomasino Invited to Canada Summer U-18 Selection Camp

by Niagara Independent Staff

Niagara Ice Dogs’ Philip Tomasino is among forty-four of the nation’s top under-18 hockey prospects that will gather in Calgary at the end of July to compete for a chance to wear the Maple Leaf on home ice as part of Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team competing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton and Red Deer this August.
The invitations have been extended to four goaltenders, 14 defencemen, and 26 forwards who are developing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Tomasino previously represented Canada Black at the World U17 Hockey Challenge last fall.

Maple Leafs fly back into Niagara Falls

by Rod Mawhood

For the third straight year the Toronto Maple Leafs are using the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls as part of their training camp.
In 2016 the Leafs held their development camp in the Honeymoon City, while last year their main training camp was in the Falls.
This year, once again, their main camp will consist of three days of on-ice and off-ice events in Niagara Falls.

Jays Rebuild begins in earnest

by Kevin Vallier

In August of 2015, when Mark Shaprio was hired to run the Toronto Blue Jays organization, he was coming off of a successful rebuild of the Cleveland Indians. Shapiro had been with the Indians since 1991, rising through the ranks of player development to the top of the front office.
When he arrived with the Jays, they had a veteran laden team, having traded off prospects to acquire the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and R.A. Dickey. The lineup featured All Star Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Buehrle. Jays fans fretted that Shapiro would immediately tear apart the team and rebuild it in his own vision but having these stars under contract the Cleveland’s front office tandem, now ensconced at the Rogers Centre, decided to give the playoffs another serious run in 2016 and to a certain extent in 2017. But with many of these stars now gone or on the injured reserved list, the Jays are now featuring their future prospects night in and night out in their sub .500 lineup. The rebuild is officially here.

A new chapter in Niagara College athletics began this week as Welland native Michele O’Keefe returned home to take over the role as Associate Director of Athletics and Recreation.

The former President and CEO of Canada Basketball returns to the Rose City after working in the sport of basketball on and off for 24 years.

Leafs and Sabres dominate free agent frenzy headlines

by Niagara Independent Staff

Only in Canada.
Only in our home and native land, on our national birthday, on the hottest weekend in many years, could hockey occupy centre stage.
July 1 is not only Canada’s birthday but also “Free Agent Frenzy” day in the NHL. Every July 1 at noon, all NHL teams can start to sign NHL free agents. Weeks of speculation on which free agent will go where lead into the big day.

Has Ricky Ray played his last CFL game?

by Sandy Annunziata

This past week, CFL fans across the country perhaps witnessed the last snap future Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray might ever take. Slow of foot, scrambling outside the safety of his pocket, he was sandwiched between two Calgary Stampeder defenders. Crumpled to the turf, the Argonaut faithful released a collective sigh of panic and under their breath whispered “oh no, not again”. Oft-injured over the tenure of his Toronto career, watching him fitted with a neck brace, lifted onto the trainers cart, only galvanized the fears of his fans, this one included.

Niagara’s NHL Draft Connections

by Rod Mawhood

Akil Thomas is a darn good player. This past weekend he became a stronger person off the ice.

The projected, all season long, first round NHL pick had to sit through 50 picks before his name was finally called Saturday morning in Dallas, Texas, site of the 2018 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

Bisons Baseball is a Great Catch

by Kevin Vallier

The baseball season is in full swing and most people in this neck of the Ontario woods are focused, frustratingly focused, on the “Canada’s Team”, the Toronto Blue Jays. There is, however, a professional ball club just a baseball throw away, over the bridge that is near the top of the division and playing entertaining ball night in and night out.
The Buffalo Bisons are the Triple A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays and play in the International League. Niagara and Ontario Jays fans, have the unique opportunity of watching future Jays, current Jays who are rehabbing, or sent down to the farm to work out kinks in their swings or pitching mechanics before making it back permanently to Toronto.

By the end of this week Akil Thomas’ life could change.
The 18-year old Niagara IceDogs forward, and Brandon Florida native, will be drafted to the National Hockey League.
The only question – what round and what team will take the talented player that’s called Niagara home for the past two hockey seasons?

There’s a local connection – in fact two of them – at this week’s FIBA U-18 Americas Championship basketball tournament at Meridian Centre in St. Catharines.

The Bediako brothers, who both play for the Ridley College Tigers Prep Team, are suiting up for Team Canada.

Jaden, 17, is a 6-foot-11 centre, while younger brother Charles, who just turned 16, is a 6-foot-9 centre/forward.

Both brothers grew up in Brampton before making the trip down the QEW to join the Tigers.

The Quarterbacks of the East

by Sandy Annunziata

“The late great Sports writer, Jim ‘Shaky’ Hunt, had a great line that perfectly summed up the appearance of apathy and disinterest when it came to Canadian Football. “The CFL is a lot like porn; everyone watches it, but no one will admit to it”. This past November, an average audience of 4.3 million Canadians tuned in to TSN (4.1 million) and RDS (220,000) to watch the Toronto Argonauts defeat the Calgary Stampeders in the championship game. Overall, nearly 10 million unique viewers, or almost 30 per cent of Canadians, watched some or all of the Argo’s dramatic 27-24 victory. One in three Canadians watching television across Canada on that Grey Cup Sunday were tuned into the game. Drama always draws viewers and without exception, it is almost always delivered by the performance of your quarterback.
If the Western Division offers the greatest talent at the QB position, it’s the East that offers the greatest intrigue and perhaps the most drama.

Vegas Golden Knights’ Cinderella Season

by Austin Broad

One season.

That’s all it took for the Vegas Golden Knights to make the Stanley Cup Final.

The NHL’s 31st franchise has been having a season to remember, and now they are three wins away from becoming the first franchise in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.

In many ways the 2018 Stanley Cup Final has been the most unlikely final in recent memory.

Vegas is an expansion franchise that no one expected to win more than 20 games, let alone make the cup final. On the other side the Washington Capitals haven’t made it to the final since 1998, and have been labeled as chokers for the last decade.

Both teams have defied the odds and are on the verge of capturing hockey’s greatest trophy.

2018 CFL Season Set to Kick-Off

by Sandy Annunziata

The 2018 Canadian Football League Season started in earnest this past week as all nine CFL clubs welcomed their respective rosters to training camps all over the Country. For some, it will mark the beginning of a Grey Cup Journey. For others, an end to a playing career that for most, started when they were just little boys. Such is the fate of a pro football player. With an average career expectancy of just under 3 years, training camp offers a chance to turn heads, make an impression, win a roster spot and turn a childhood dream into a career. But be forewarned, it comes with a price and will test every part of you.

A special kind of athletic ability is required in order to successfully compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprinting events.

For Niagara native Ethan Pasco, running in both events is something that comes naturally to him. The dual sport athlete is on the verge of finishing his final year at St. Paul High School and just successfully qualified for OFSAA.

The Niagara region has produced some amazing professional hockey stories this year.

First it was former Fort Erie Meteor Andrew Sturtz signing his first career professional contract, then it was Fort Erie native Megan Delay winning the Clarkson Cup in her first season with her Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) team the Markham Thunder.

The Niagara Region continues to grow its sporting landscape. Look no further than the past three years when the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines has landed national or international events including the 2016 IIHF U-18 Women’s World Hockey Championships, the 2017 Canadian Women’s Curling Championships (Scott Tournament of Hearts) and now the 2018 U-18 […]

High School Baseball: Myer vs. Myer

by Niagara Independent Staff

Myer’s Ryan Shannon rounds the bases during play in the Bullet Proof  high school baseball tournament. Photo Credit: Jeff Eidt Last week the annual Bullet Proof High School Baseball tournament was held in St. Catharines.  A.N. Myer of Niagara Falls, which has ‘threepeated’ as SOSSA champions and finished in the top five in OFSAA the last […]

Former Falcon Sturtz Signs with Sens

by Austin Broad

Every young hockey player dreams of one day making the pros and signing an NHL contract.

For Buffalo N.Y. native and former St. Catharines Falcon and Fort Erie Meteor Andrew Sturtz that dream became a reality on March 28 when he signed with the Ottawa Senators.

“I had interest from multiple teams I had talked to about 10-15 teams throughout the year and at the end of the year there was four or five and Ottawa was the team that I went with,” said Sturtz describing the process of deciding where to sign.

Brock Basketball Rookie Named All-Star

by Niagara Independent Staff

As a rookie, Kristin Gallant figured her first year with the Brock Badgers women’s basketball team would see her play a small role and fight for playing time.
But after a busy season that saw the 18-year-old Halifax native become a young leader on her team, Gallant was named to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) all-star game.

Sixteen years old, and drafted to the OHL.

Might sound great to some, but what’s lost is your leaving home. You’re off to a new school. New friends. New teammates. All part of the process that many often forget.

And what about the parents? They’re entrusting a new billet family with ultimately their son’s future.

Two questions.

How many people across Niagara know the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame is located in St. Catharines? Or that the St. Catharines Jr. A Athletics have been around since 1877?

Don’t worry you’re not alone.

The Jr. A Athletics lacrosse club is one of the oldest sporting traditions in all of Canada.

It’s very rare for a freshman quarterback to start a Canadian University football game. But when you have the skill set and the confidence of Niagara’s Tre Ford it’s really no surprise he bucked that trend.

The former A.N. Myer student-athlete is now behind centre with the University of Waterloo Warriors. Ford just finished his first year with the team, used primarily in a platoon role but also getting a start. His performances were so impressive Ford claimed the Norm Marshall trophy as the Ontario University Athletics’ rookie of the year becoming just the second player in school history to do so.

Finding Clarity on Concussions

by Kevin Vallier

“There’s a lot of marketing on the internet mixed in with a lot of unproven recommendations.” That was a key message from one Canada’s top neurosurgeons talking about concussions.

Dr. Charles Tator, a world-renowned expert in concussions and spinal cord injuries, spoke to The Niagara Independent prior to his talk, Concussions — What Are They and What Can I Do? held at Brock University last Thursday.

Dr. Tator joined a panel of Brock faculty members, students and alumni to provide an overview of the current state of concussions from a broad perspective.  Members of the panel included: Dr. Omar Khan (working with concussion patients through ODK Physical Medicine at Hotel Dieu Shaver’s Medical Clinic) Hilary Findlay, PhD (Associate Professor, Sport Management— legalities around concussions for sport organizations), Caitlyn Gallant (Brock University doctoral candidate — research focusing on the ability to understand others’ thoughts and emotions, Theory of Mind, among individuals with concussions/mild traumatic brain injuries) and Stephanie Cowle, Manager, Knowledge Translation, Parachute.

A.N. Myer High School’s baseball program has been having great success over the last few years.  Success that rivals that of the school’s legendary football program – whose senior team had 3 successive SOSSA Championships as well as victories at OFSAA which included the #2 ranking in Canada in 2016.

Myer baseball is on a similar streak with 3 successive SOSSA championships and 3 straight trips to OFSAA, which included the #3 ranking in Ontario going into OFSAA last year.

Solid Season and Bright Future for IceDogs

by Kevin Vallier

As the Niagara IceDogs cleaned out their lockers and reflected on their season that ended recently with a 4-2 loss to their k-9 rivals the Hamilton Bulldogs who won the hard-fought second round series four games to one, much is expected of the 2018-19 edition of the IceDogs.

This year’s team had a successful year with 35 wins, 23 losses, seven overtime losses and three shootout losses for a season total of 80 points, good enough for a fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference.  Overager Sam Miletic who split his time between the London Knights and Niagara lead the team in scoring with 92 points in 63 games played (28 with Niagara). He finished sixth in OHL scoring. Second year centre and top rated NHL prospect Akil Thomas had an impressive sophomore season with 81 points in 68 games.

River Lions Continue to Roar

by Rod Mawhood

The in-arena setup is second to none. The atmosphere is electric. Most importantly, the quality of basketball is on par with any professional team across North America.

The Niagara River Lions are in their third year of existence, playing out of the Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines, as part of the National Basketball League of Canada.

Niagara’s Future of Golf at Augusta

by Brody Whetham

With the coming of spring, and The Masters now come and gone, the golf season is finally upon us. So, who was the “real” winner of this year’s Masters Tournament? Yes, there were some great story-lines, including Patrick Reed and his ugly shirt choices, putting on the green jacket. Jordan Speith put on a putting clinic, Tiger made his return to a major and Jack Nicklaus’ grandson made his first-ever hole-in- one at the Par 3 contest. But there is something else that I hope everyone had an opportunity to watch…  the Drive, Chip and Putt Finals.

The Drive, Chip and Putt Final is an accumulation of a years’ worth of qualifying sites for thousands of junior golfers from across the United States and Canada to vie for a chance to compete at Augusta National Golf Club. For the last few years I make every attempt to watch television on the Sunday prior to the grand tournament, to celebrate the start of “Masters Week”. Memories come back from my junior golf days as a member of Southbrook Golf & Country Club in Binbrook, Ontario as I spent my entire summer chasing a ball around that golf course for 18, 36 and 45 holes daily. This year Canada was well represented with three junior golfers participating in the finals. One of Canada’s brightest, up and coming golf stars, Vanessa Borovilhos, won the 11-12-year-old girls division.

Winning the right to host more sporting events in the Niagara Region is what a group from Brock University hopes to convince the Region they can do if given the opportunity to lead the process, at least temporarily.

Dr. Julie Stevens, an Associate Professor in Brock’s Sport Management program and Director of Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity was at the Region’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting this week outlining a proposal that would see Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity manage the sport hosting process, data collection and post event analysis for the Region, at least on an interim basis.

If the regular season was any indication, the Niagara Ice Dogs would be the favorites heading into their second-round playoff series against the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Unfortunately, most in the world of sports know the regular season means nothing when it comes to the post-season – especially in hockey.

The Ice Dogs entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference standings but won five of six games against the top-ranked Bulldogs during the regular season.

Brock Women Win Bronze at U Nationals

by Stu Black

“Whoever played against us today . . . would not stand in our way.” Brock Badger’s curling coach, Murray Etherington, was referring to the Brock women who steam-rolled over Mount Allison Mounties to win the bronze medal at the U-Sports Canadian Championships in Leduc, Alberta on Wednesday. The scoreboard showed Brock leading 12 to 2 after 6 ends, and that was enough for the Mounties. The Badgers team, Skip – Terri Weeks, Vice – Jessica Humphries, Second – Marcia Richardson, Lead – Joanna Francolini and Alternate – Jeanette Burnside, shot a combined 83 per cent in their final match together.

High School Hockey Gaining Respect

by Kevin Vallier

After another impressive run in the Ontario high school hockey season, for the second year in a row, Denis Morris Catholic High School hockey coach Billy McLaren hopes the game at the post-secondary level will start to get the respect it deserves. Recently finishing a very impressive fourth in Ontario, McLaren is proud of his troops and their dedication both on and off the ice. “These kids are true student-athletes with great character,” the coach said. “We emphasize effort in the classroom as much as we do effort on the ice and we hold them accountable to both,” he added. The Reds lost to Lakeshore Catholic in the Southern Ontario Secondary School Association (SOSSA) but were automatically entered into the provincial tournament as the host team. The Reds had a very impressive regular season and proved they belonged in the provincial tournament going undefeated in pool play.

High school hockey in Niagara and across the province has improved in both quality and reputation in recent years. McLaren admits it used to be seen as a bit of a goon league and was never taken too seriously. There were, and at times still is, a lack of cooperation between local travel hockey coaches and the high school teams. Many higher-end travel hockey coaches discourage their players from suiting up with their school teams for fear of injury or fatigue. When kids at that level do join their high school teams, it happens during the playoffs. “Some teams in the GTA for example will have AAA kids play a couple of games during the regular season with their high school team so they get their eligibility, and then come playoff time, when their club team is finished, some schools will parachute-in several AAA players to their team and make a run in the provincial championships,” McLaren explained.

One of the most exciting events in the Meridian Centre’s history was the gold medal women’s under-18 hockey game in January of 2016. It was a sea of red and white, and one of the largest crowds ever to fill the downtown St. Catharines sports and entertainment facility. The enthusiasm should have come as no surprise, given the rise in popularity of girl’s hockey across the country and right here in Niagara. The St. Catharines Female Hockey Association (SCFHA) has formed a unique partnership with the top female hockey teams in the region to help continue that growth.

St. Catharines CYO Minor Hockey introduced a girl’s hockey program back in 1995. In 2008, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association officially sanctioned the merger of the St. Catharines CYO Chaos Rep Hockey Association and the St. Catharines CYO Girls House League to form the SCFHA. The only all-female hockey association in St. Catharines, the SCFMA – branded as the Jr. Badgers, offers both a house-league and rep (travel) program for girls aged 4 to 21 years of age.

Saturday in Dunedin, Florida, the Blue Jays held their annual spring training exhibition game against Canada’s Junior National Team.  Seventeen-year old Braden Halladay, son of the late Blue Jays pitching legend Roy, ‘Doc’ Halladay, made an appearance in the eighth inning of the game and provided a wonderful sports moment.

Braden is a 6’2” 165 right handed pitcher.  He was born and raised in Toronto when his Dad was performing brilliantly year after year in a Blue Jays uniform.  The two-time Cy Young Award winner, perhaps the greatest ever Toronto Blue Jay pitcher (a fair debate to be had with Dave Stieb fans), died last year in a plane crash in Florida.

As the Niagara IceDogs get to set to embark on yet another playoff run – their eleventh straight since arriving in St. Catharines – head coach Billy Burke feels his team doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Entering play on Friday the IceDogs hold down fourth place in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) Eastern Conference Standings, and will likely play the Oshawa Generals in the first round of the playoffs.

“Regardless if we get home ice or not, I still think a lot of people will see us as underdogs,” Burke, the first year Niagara head coach, said.

Niagara Shooting for $15M Curling Win

by Stu Black

One major success in Niagara may soon lead to another. Shortly after the wind-up of last year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, the bid chair was being asked if we could do it again.  Doug Geddie said, “Sure, but this time, why don’t we aim for the Brier in 2020.” The economic benefit to a community hosting the Tournament of Hearts is estimated between 8 and 10 million dollars. For the Brier, that number jumps to 15 million, with 130,000 visitors projected.

After receiving warm praise from the Canadian Curling Association for their hosting of the Tournament of Hearts last year, Geddie asked officials outright: “Are we crazy to take a run at the Brier?”

The Brock University curling program continues to experience its winning ways in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Curling Championships.  The Men’s Varsity won the Gold and the Women’s Varsity rink captured Bronze in Sault Ste. Marie in late February.

Brock curling has quietly experienced great success since Head Coach Murray Etherington took over nine years ago.  In the last five seasons alone, the Brock Varsity Men have won three OUA Bronze Medals and one OUA Gold Medal, while the Varsity Women have won two OUA Silver Medals and one OUA Bronze Medal. While these Brock teams haven’t medalled in the last few tries at the U-sports Championships, the Varsity women did win silver in 2011 and 2012; the Varsity men won Bronze in 2012 at the national championships.