Published on December 31, 2011
The biggest local sports story of 2011 was the return of the AHL to Newfoundland in the form of the St. John's IceCaps — Telegram file photo
Published on December 31, 2011
Longtime Team Brad Gushue member Mark Nichols announced he would take a break from the competitive game following the 2010-11 season. — Canadian Press file photo
Published on December 31, 2011
Michael Ryder became the second Newfoundland-born player with his name etched on the Stanley Cup when he played a part in the Boston Bruins' 2010-11 championship run this spring. — Canadian Press file photo
It was an eventful year for many sports during the past 12 months, but hockey topped them all with a number of big headlines, namely the American Hockey League returning to St. John's.
The Telegram sports staff cobbled together a list of the top 10 sports stories from the past year and seven of our choices are hockey stories.
The St. John's IceCaps' debut and the Clarenville Caribous' Allan Cup win top them all.
On a different sort of ice, one of the best curlers the province has known hung up his broom, while off the ice, the year included a local rugby player starrring for Canada and another disappointment at a national senior men's softball tournament.
Outside of a Canadian senior hockey crown, teams travelling off the island in various sports failed to claim a championship or return home sporting golden hardware.
Here's our look back at 2011 in sports:
1. THE AHL RETURNS
There was no bigger sports story - and one of the biggest overall news stories - in the province in 2011 than the return of the American Hockey League to St. John's and Mile One Centre.
With the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers relocating to Winnipeg, True North Sports and Entertainment - owners of the new Winnipeg Jets - began looking for a new home for its American Hockey League franchise, the Manitoba Moose.
After several months of talks, True North and former premier Danny Williams and former St. John's Maple Leafs honcho Glenn Stanford inked a deal to relocate the AHL franchise in St. John's where they would be renamed the IceCaps, and become the AHL affiliate for the Jets.
The re-emergence of the AHL also meant the return of Stanford, who left his position with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs for St. John's, where he ran the Leafs all 14 years of their existence.
Local hockey fans embraced the return of the professional hockey after a six-year absence, with upwards of 4,000 commitments to three-year season-ticket packages sold before the team's first game. All 16 home games played before Christmas were sellouts.
The IceCaps are off to a good start, 17-7-4-1 over their first 29 games.
2. CLARENVILLE CARIBOUS WIN ALLAN CUP
In April, the Clarenville Caribous became the first Newfoundland team since the 1986 Corner Brook Royals to win a national senior hockey championship and hoist the storied Allan Cup.
With a revamped roster that included 10 members of the Conception Bay North (C.B.N.) CeeBee Stars, the Caribous went undefeated on their way to the title, defeating Alberta's Bentley Generals 5-3 in the championship game.
Clarenville outscored the competition 15-7 and finished with a success rate of 27 per cent on the powerplay.
Caribous goalie Jason Churchill of Hodge's Cove finished the tournament with a 1.75 goals against average and .947 save percentage, earning him most valuable player status and a spot on the tournament all-star squad alongside teammate Travis Chapman, an import defenceman who was tied for second in tournament scoring with four goals and three assists in four games.
3. RYDER WINS CUP
Michael Ryder became the second Newfoundlander to hoist the Stanley Cup when he helped lead the Boston Bruins to their first championship since 1972.
Ryder languished through a so-so 2010-11 regular season campaign with 18 goals and 41 points, but was one of Boston's best forwards in the post-season, collecting eight goals and 17 points in 25 games.
In the final, Ryder amassed three goals and three assists, including a one-goal, two-assist performance in an 8-1, Game 5 Bruins win over the Canucks which put Boston back into the series after dropping the first two games in Vancouver.
Ryder then tallied a single marker in a 4-0 Game 4 win and added one goal and one helper in a 5-2 Game 6 win that forced the seventh and deciding game.
The Bonavista native brought the Cup home in August much to the delight of the thousands who gathered for the event.
4. NLers IN NHL
Keeping with pro hockey, Newfoundlanders made their mark in the NHL and AHL last season.
Consider this: of the top 15 scorers in last year's Stabnley Cup playoffs, three were from this province.
Joining Ryder, who was 11th in playoff scoring, was Teddy Purcell of St. John's who finished 12th overall following a breakout season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Purcell registered six goals and 11 assists in 18 games. In the regular season, Purcell put up an NHL career-best 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 81 games.
Fermeuse native Ryane Clowe skated in 17 playoff games for the San Jose Sharks last spring, putting up 15 points (six goals, nine assists) to finish the postseason 15th overall in scoring. Like Purcell, it was a banner year for Clowe as he amassed a career-high 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists) in 75 games.
Dan Cleary of Riverhead, Harbour Grace, the first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup (2008), also set new career highs in goals and points last year. Through 68 games Cleary had 26 goals and finished the regular season with 46 points.
As for the other Newfoundlanders to play in the NHL last season, Bonavista's Adam Pardy was plagued with shoulder problems and missed much of his 2010-11 season with the Calgary Flames while St. John's boys Luke Adam of the Buffalo Sabres and Colin Greening of the Ottawa Senators played their first pro games after being called up from the AHL.
Adam, who earned rookie of the year honours in the AHL, got in 19 games for the Sabres and scored three goals and one assist. After a strong first half with the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa began recalling Greening on a regular basis. By season's end, he scored six goals and seven assists in 24 games.
After the NHL Senator's season ended without a playoff run, Greening was returned to Binghamton where he dressed in 23 games and helped lead the Baby Sens to the AHL's Calder Cup championship.
5. KRAFT HOCKEYVILLE
The AHL game wasn't the only pro contest on Mile One Centre ice this fall. The National Hockey League brought their show to town as well.
When the town of Conception Bay South became the first Newfoundland and Labrador community to win the Kraft Hockeyville - besting the next closest community by 342,946 votes - they won $100,000 in rink improvements for the Robert French Memorial Stadium, and the chance to host a pre-season NHL game in the building.
In July, the town announced that the game would have to be played at Mile One to accomodate the many minor hockey players, parents, coaches and residents.
At the time, the game was scheduled to be Ottawa vs Atlanta. In a strange twist of fate, the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, providing Newfoundland and Labrador hockey fans a glimpse of the future parent team of their brand new AHL franchise.
6. CATARACTS WIN HERDER
In the senior circuit at home, the Grand Falls Windsor-Cataracts won their first Herder Memorial Trophy since the 1981-82 season by sweeping the Concewption Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars in the best-of-seven Telegram Herder Memorial Championship Series.
After besting the Clarenville Caribous in the West Coast Senior Hockey League (WCSHL) final, the Cats opened the senior provincial final with 5-4 win in Game 1 and a 3-2 double overtime win in Game 2, both at Mile One Centre in St. John's.
The series shifted to the Joe Byrne Memorial Arena in Grand Falls-Windsor for Games 3 and 4 which the Cataracts won convincingly, 8-2 and 4-0.
With the win, the town of Grand Falls-Windsor has celebrated 11 Herder Memorial Trophy titles - once as the All-stars in 1953, five-times in a row as the Andcos from 1955-1959, and five as the Cataracts (1971, 1972, 1981, 1982 and 2011).
7. SENIOR HOCKEY REALIGNMENT
The Cataracts will have a chance to repeat as Herder champs this season, but the road leading back the provincial senior final became a little tougher with the formation of a new province-wide senior hockey league that began play this fall.
The Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL) was formed somewhat out of necessity. After the Clarenville Caribous bolted the WCSHL to join the CeeBees and Mount Pearl Blades in a new three-team senior league on the province's east coast, the Cataracts, Deer Lake Red Wings and Corner Brook Royals were left to play in the WCSHL.
The leagues had planned on some interlocking play. But when the Deer Lake Red Wings announced they would not ice a team this season, interlocking was abandoned and a province-wide setup was explored.
At Hockey Newfoundland abnd Labrador's fall meeting, an agreement was reached for the first provincial senior league since the old NSHL folded in 1989 due in large part to mounting debt. To avoid such pitfalls with the new league, HNL and the stakeholders implemented an indiviual and team per-game salary cap based on what they felt was necessary to balance the league in terms of its geography.
Teams are also limited in the number import players on their roster.
8. CIARAN HEARN PLAYS FOR CANADA
Six-foot-three, 220-pound Ciaran Hearn hit the pitch for Canada at pair of international rugby tournaments in 2011, starting with the Rugby World Cup in September and October, the third-largest sporting spectacle in the worlds, behind the Olympic Games and World Cup of Soccer.
The Conception Bay South native started for Canada in a win over Tonga and a loss to France, but found himself benched for matches against Japan and New Zealand. Through his two games, he averaged five tackles per match.
Not long after the World Cup, Hearn was donning the Maple Leaf again as he helped Canada to a gold medal in men's rugby sevens at the Pan American Games in Mexico.
9. WEST SIDE CHARLIES SILVER MEDALLISTS
West Side Charlies/Bud Light, the province's representatives at the 2011 Canadian senior men's softball championships in Owen Sound, Ont., were poised to win the gold medal this September after going a perfect 7-0 in the round robin and earning double life in the playoff round.
After the championship game, however, silver medals hung around their necks.
West Side punched through the playoff round and found themselves up against the Kitchener Hallman Twins, the two-time defending champs, who finished the preliminary round in eighth place with a 2-5 record, but collected consecutive playoff wins over New Brunswick, the host club and Quebec.
Kitchener went on to win the title game 4-3.
10. MARK NICHOLS LEAVES TEAM GUSHUE
After 13 years, eight provincial Tankard titles, a runner-up finish at the Brier, one world junior championship and, of course, an Olympic gold medal, Mark Nichols announced he would be leaving the Brad Gushue curling team at the conclusion of the 2010-11 curling season.
The 31-year-old said he needed a break from competitive curling and time to focus on family and career.
With Nichols gone, Ryan Fry moved into the mate's spot, leaving the front end positions open for audition.
By the beginning of April, Gushue had locked down his front end with the addition of Geoff Walker, a native of Grand Prairie, Alta., and Adam Caset of Summerside, P.E.I.
Walker, a two-time world junior champ, took over Fry's spot at second stone while, Casey, a former world junior silver medallist, became the team's lead replacing Jamie Danbrook who briefly held the spot last year