What stands out this year in provincial sports are a few significant accomplishments and a couple of major disappointments.
Aside from the very respectable achievements from a handful of our teams, the addition of some much-needed sports facilities in the metro St. John's area augurs well for the future of sports in this province.
On the positive side, there was a national softball championship; the revival of Holy Cross senior soccer team which captured its first provincial Challenge Cup title in 15 years; the somewhat surprising strong play of the St. John's Capitals at the national baseball championships to go along with a memorable provincial senior hockey championship by the Clarenville Caribous.
On the negative side of things, it's fair to say at least two teams underachieved in a big way: there's the failure of Brad Gushue's rink to even make it to the Olympic qualifying tournament, which was a shocker considering the team was the defending Olympic gold medal champion, and Memorial Sea-Hawks women's soccer team which never got off the ground in a season where they and their fans anticipated so much more.
The Telegram sports staff came up with a top 10 list and here is our look back at 2009:
1. There have been very few hockey players from this province who have made Canada's world junior hockey team, so when a local product makes it, it's always big news.
Such is the case this year with Kilbride's Luke Adam making Team Canada and then scoring twice and setting up one goal in his team's 16-0 opening win over Latvia. Adam scored once in an 8-2 win over Slovakia Tuesday. Aside from being named to Canada's world junior team, Adam is off to a fast start with Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League where he was second in the league's scoring race with 52 points before taking a break to play for Canada.
2. Kelly's Pub Junior Canadians finished the regular schedule of the national junior men's softball tournament strong, running off five straight wins for a 9-2 overall record, including a pair of nine-inning games against Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia before nailing down the title with a 4-2 win over Nova Scotia for the crown.
Kelly's overall dominance was obvious when Mark Lewis, the tournament's top batter with a .522 batting average, was selected the all-star first baseman, while Justin Gill, at shortstop, and Shane Boland, at second base, were the other Newfoundland players earning all-tourney status. Playoff most valuable player Mike Noftall pitched the team's three playoff-round victories before tossing a five-hitter with seven strikeouts in the deciding game.
3. Back in provincial senior hockey for the first time since the mid-1970s, the Clarenville Caribous, in only their third season of Herder play since the senior team was revived, beat three-time defending champion Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars 5-2 to take The Telegram Herder Memorial Championship Series 4-1.
Clarenville outplayed the Stars in every aspect of the game to capture the championship for a town that has embraced the Caribous. The team initially had a five-year plan to win the Herder, but local organizers, including team president Fraser Russell and coach Randy Pearcey, achieved their goal much sooner. Now the Caribous will represent the province in the Allan Cup national senior men's hockey championship.
4. The impressive international-size artificial turf in Mount Pearl, installed at the end of the soccer season, will only help develop the game in an area which is already a hot-bed for the game.
Toss in the indoor soccer facility currently under construction in Pleasantville and it looks as if provincial soccer is on the rebound after the setback late last year when King George V Park FieldTurf was destroyed by flooding and high winds brought down the steel trusses of the indoor structure.
5. The Brad Gushue foursome's failure to make the Olympic Trials was our province's biggest sports disappointment of 2009.
Gushue and his Bally Haly rink of Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Jamie Korab had a bye in the first round and defeated Greg McAulay in his first game before the reigning Olympic gold medallists bowed out with three straight losses in the triple-knockout format at the 2010 Olympic Pre-Trials in Prince George, B.C. It was a performance that left a lot of curling fans wondering about the team's future.
6. Another big disappointment of 2009 was Memorial Sea-Hawks women's soccer team's dismal performance during the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) regular and post season.
The team, which had all of its star players returning on a roster that finished second the previous year with a 9-2-1 record, seemed poised to at least make it to the final with a talented, veteran side. As well, a good crop of rookies gave the team solid bench strength. As it turned out, what the team didn't have was an ability to win close games. Losing seven games by one goal might be some sort of record, but it highlighted the fact the team couldn't score when it counted.
MUN finished seventh in the AUS standings with a 4-8-1 record, but got a free pass to the AUS playoffs as host team. The Lady Hawks outplayed Cape Breton Capers in the quarter-final but lost the game 2-0, ending a forgettable season.
7. St. John's Winmar Capitals senior baseball team finished fourth at the 2009 Canadian senior baseball championships in Dartmouth, N.S., losing 1-0 to Ontario in the bronze-medal game.
The Newfoundland and Labrador representative, which posted a 2-2 record in round-robin play, finished with the province's second-best showing at the senior nationals. (Corner Brook Barons won a bronze medal at the 1992 Canadian championships.) One of the highlights for the Caps was the stellar play of veteran pitcher Bob Kent, who proved he still has the right stuff. Kent, who gave up just one earned run in 14 innings of work at the nationals, tossed a five-hitter as the St. John's team blanked the Trail, B.C., Royals 1-0 and he went the distance giving up six hits in a 1-0 loss to Ontario. An impressive performance considering the local league is only four months long.
8. The Holy Cross/The Dock soccer team, dormant for many years in terms of being a legitimate contender, brought back echoes of the glory years in 2009 with a thrilling 1-0 overtime win over defending champion St. Lawrence Laurentians in the provincial Challenge Cup final in Mount Pearl. It was the first provincial win for Holy Cross, which had the league's best record at 13-2-3, since 1994.
The Crusaders were undefeated in preliminary round action at the snow-plagued nationals in Saskatoon, Sask., which forced most games indoors. Holy Cross won one game and tied three, giving only two goals in the process. Still, the Crusaders had to settle for sixth place after losing 6-5 in a penalty shootout to British Columbia. The Newfoundland and Labrador representatives didn't come home empty handed however, as Holy Cross goalkeeper Scott Edwards was named the BMO Challenge Cup tournament's top keeper.
9. The St. John's Toyota Plaza Caps defied all odds to win the Don Johnson Cup Atlantic junior B hockey championship at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts. The Caps broke a 22-year provincial team drought with a 3-2 overtime win over the Sherwood Falcons from Prince Edward Island in the tournament's championship game.
The Caps, who defeated the Cumberland County Cool Blues 6-5 in the semifinal, dressed fewer than 10 players over four round-robin games. The Caps missed the bulk of their lineup throughout the week as 19 of the 23 roster players were completing post-secondary exams.
10. The new Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay, a modern 1,000 seat facility with six dressing rooms and a heated indoor walking track, had its grand opening in 2009. Northeast minor hockey numbers skyrocketed as a result of the new facility which was really needed in the fast growing community.
The Jack Byrne Arena is also the home of the Torbay Sharks of the Bud Light Avalon East Hockey League.
1. Luke Adam makes national junior team
2. Kelly's Pub Junior Canadians win national championship
3. Clarenville Caribous win first modern-day Herder
4. Sports facilities: Mount Pearl and Pleasantville indoor soccer
5. Gushue rink doesn't get to Olympic Trials
6. MUN women's soccer flameout
7. St. John's Capitals baseball fourth at nationals
8. Holy Cross soccer rebirth
9. St. John's Caps win Atlantic junior B title
10. New rink for Torbay