Rugby’s provincial history-making pair of Canadian championships highlighted an otherwise mediocre 2010 at the national level of Newfoundland and Labrador sports competition.
A bronze medal at senior softball nationals and midget hockey and — on the negative side —the dismal performance by Holy Cross Kirby Group at the national senior men’s Challenge Cup soccer tournament were among the top stories of the past 12 months.
There were surprises — good and the bad — but overall it was, alas, a year filled with unfulfilled potential, lost opportunity and, in some cases, bottom-line under achievement.
However, rugby’s unprecedented achievement shone like a lonely beacon on a hill full of possibilities, few of them realized by other provincial teams this past year.
The Telegram sports staff came up with a top 10 list, and here is our look back at the 2010 stories of the year:
1. Rugby double gold: The senior Rock team, representing the Atlantic region and comprised of a nucleus of local players with the addition of athletes from other Atlantic provinces, completed a perfect season in the rejigged Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) league.
More than 2,000 spectators showed up at Swilers Complex in St. John’s on a cool, overcast September afternoon to watch The Rock defeat Prairie Wolf Pack 19-8 and earn the CRC crown in a game that was carried live across the country on CBC TV.
The Junior Rock gold medal win over Vancouver Wave was more of a surprise, although the team, under coach Simon Blanks, had shown potential in recent years. Still, no Newfoundland rugby team had ever beaten a team from British Columbia, the sport’s traditional powerhouse.
That record remained intact until Patrick McNicholas kicked a penalty with two minutes left to give the Newfoundland representatives a 13-10 nail-biting victory at Swilers Complex in late July.
2. Newfoundland NHLers shine: There aren’t a whole lot of Newfoundlanders in the NHL, but most of the ones who are there now are all having very good seasons.
Until he broke his ankle Sunday in Minnesota, the Detroit Red Wing’ Dan Cleary of Riverhead, Harbour Grace was on pace for his best scoring season. Cleary, who notched his team-leading 16th goal on the year earlier in the game, is expected to miss at least a month because of the injury he picked up when he was hit by a puck.
Meanwhile, Ryane Clowe of Fermeuse is third in Sharks scoring with 33 points, including nine goals.
Bonavista’s Michael Ryder, shaking off trade and demotion rumours, is playing better than he did last season, and is third on his team in goals (11) and fourth in overall points (23).
Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell is playing the best hockey of his young career, after the St. John’s native was given an opportunity to play ample minutes. Purcell has responded with 6-18-24 stats for fourth place in the team’s scoring.
Adam Pardy, who is also from Bonavista, has been limited to 12 games this season due to a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, rookie Luke Adam from Kilbride is making a case for a full-time job with the Buffalo Sabres in the new year after scoring his first NHL goal following up his solid play with Canada’s junior national team last Christmas. He was called up again to the big club earlier last week. He has a pair of goals and a helper in 12 games with the Sabres so far this season.
3. Ferbey joins Gushue: It was both an eyebrow raising and controversial move and the official press conference, which proved to be highly entertaining, drew plenty of attention across the country, including interviews on TSN. Future Hall of Famer Ferbey was an interesting choice to join Gushue, to say the least.
It will be a hook-up that is bound to be discussed throughout the 2011 curling season.
Gushue, with his rink of Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Jamie Korab, became the first skip in provincial curling history to win four consecutive provincial championships when he beat Bally Haly clubmate Alex Smith 8-2.
Gushue went on to post an 8-3 round-robin record in the Brier before falling 6-5 to Alberta in the Page playoffs.
However, his team dropped three straight games and was ousted from the Olympic Pre-Trials in Prince George which was a major disappointment.
4. Eye-opening hockey at Mile One Centre: Newfoundland hockey fans got a look at potential NHLers during the world junior summer evaluation camp at Mile One Centre in August.
Fans got to see such young stars as Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner and Louis Leblanc in a pair of read and white games and at practice.
That team — minus Seguin, who is with the Boston Bruins — is representing Canada in the world junior championship in Buffalo, N.Y.
And while there’s no significant hockey at Mile One these days until the Herder Trophy finals, the 4 Nations Cup women’s hockey tournament provided some very entertaining hockey that concluded with a dramatic final between rivals Canada and the United States.
The home side won in dramatic overtime fashion, on Rebecca Johnston’s goal, to the delight of a wildly-enthusiastic capacity crowd.
5. Another Herder for Clarenville: Clarenville Caribous proved their first Herder win the year before wasn’t a fluke as they defeated Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars 7-4 in Game 5 of the best-of-seven Telegram Herder Memorial Trophy Championship Series.
Clarenville outscored Conception Bay North 21-17 over the five games, which included two one-goal decisions, and one game that went into double overtime.
Still, it was the second straight year that the West Cost Senior Hockey League champs beat the Avalon East Senior Hockey League representatives in five games, hinting at a growing disparity between the East and West leagues.
"We don't quit," said Clarenville centre and championship series MVP Ryan Lauzon after the final game, which pretty much summed up the Caribous entire season.
6. St. John's Fog Devils medal at midget nationals: The Foggies won Newfoundland and Labrador’s second bronze medal at national midget hockey championship, with a third-place finish in Levis, Que.
St. John’s earned a 5-4 win over Quebec’s Gaulois du College Antoine-Girouard to claim the title. The Fog Devils’ Zach O’Brien finished the tourney with 11 goals and 17 points, the most recorded by a single player in at least the past eight nationals.
O’Brien was invited to the San Jose Sharks’ rookie camp in the fall, and is now playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Acadie-Bathurt Titan.
The last time a Newfoundland team won a bronze in this tournament was in 2003 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where Teddy Purcell was named MVP.
7. Holy Cross crumbles: A last-place finish at the 2010 BMO national soccer championship in Charlottetown, P.E.I., for Holy Cross Kirby Group was a complete shocker, and raised questions about the calibre of provincial soccer these days.
The Crusaders’ effort was perhaps the lowlight of an overall unimpressive soccer season at just about every level of the game from minor to university to senior.
Holy Cross won the provincial men’s Molson Challenge Cup soccer championship for the second straight year, and were optimistic of making a run at a national medal, but came up completely flat at the nationals, finishing last in the 10-team setup with an 0-3-1 record.
8. Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games: The Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games rolled into Grand Falls-Windsor in March, giving the community a much needed shot in the arm in the wake of the Abitibi Bowater paper mill closure.
Some 1,400 athletes from around the island and Labrador descended on the town and were met by a team of over 560 volunteers and a tirelessly dedicated staff led by Games Manager and former pro hockey player, Brian Casey.
Regions competing at the Games included St. John’s/North, Mount Pearl/South, Eastern, Labrador, Central, Avalon, St-Pierre et Miquelon and the Western region which emerged as the top medal winners with 22 gold, 21 silver and 13 bronze.
Mayor Al Hawkins said the Games were “a real morale boost” for the town and enabled them to focus on, “something very positive.”
9. Senior softball bronze: A national bronze medal for most provincial teams would be considered a successful tournament, but for 3Cheers Bud Light, who were expecting nothing less than a gold in Charlottetown, P.E.I., a bronze just doesn’t cut it.
3Cheers cruised through the round-robin, losing only one game to the defending champs from Kitchener, Ont., and earning a double life in the playoffs, but, as too often in the past, Newfoundland's representatives came up short in a quest for gold.
One of the best rosters “on paper” the province ever produced included six players who are in the Canadian development pool along with all-time Canadian great Colin Abbott. But the squad simply came up short.
10. Fewer runs sub-50: Colin Fewer, a Harbour Main native, who lives in St. John’s, finally broke the “elusive” 50-minute mark by winning the 2010 Tely 10 road race in 49:48, which was the fourth-fastest time ever recorded on the 10-mile course.
Fewer, who won the race for the sixth straight time, is only the second runner to run that fast. Provincial running legend Paul McCloy owns the top three quickest times.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Fewer said after the race, “and it’s just as good as I had imagined.”
Kate Vaughan won the ladies’ crown, part of her brilliant 2010 season in which she won all eight local road races she entered. In addition to that, she placed sixth in the Canadian cross-country championship.