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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.