What a difference a year can make. It’s a phrase you’ll hear uttered frequently at this time of year as people reflect on the past 365 days.
Twelve months removed from our last look back at the year that was in sports, many of the subjects and the people who made our list of the top sports stories of 2011 continued to make headlines.
Mark Nichols hanging up his curling broom, for instance, was big news in 2011. In 2012, Nichols came out of retirement, moved to Winnipeg and joined one of the country’s best skips in Jeff Stoughton. Similarly, yet another second-place finish by a Newfoundland team at the national senior men’s softball championships in 201 left many wondering if this province, with its bevy of national team players, would ever win gold. In 2012, they did. And the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, who made news with their arrival here in 2011, did so again in 2012. in large part because of the way they finished.
Here's our look back at the list of the top sports stories of the past year, and a few honourable mentions, compiled by the Telegram sports staff:
IceCaps reach conference final in first season, sell out every game
For much of the 2011-12 American Hockey League season, the St. John’s IceCaps sat near to or atop the top of the Eastern Conference standings, thanks largely to a impressive road record — the ‘Caps tied the league record of 15 straight wins away from home — a deep roster of players ready to play hero and the stellar play of rookie netminder Eddie Pasquale.
The team sold out every game at Mile One Centre through the winter and spring, and rewarded the 6,287 faithful who turned out for 38 home games with a run all the way to the conference finals.
After dispatching the Syracuse Crunch in four games in a best-of-five first-round series, the IceCaps needed seven games to get past the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and earn a date with the top-seeded Norfolk Admirals in the conference final.
St. John’s had a chance to replicate the feat of the 1991-92 St. John’s Maple Leafs, which, as a first-year AHL, went all the way to the Calder Cup finals before losing Game 7 to the Adirondack Red Wings. Standing in their way, however, was an Admirals team that had set a professional hockey record for the longest winning streak with 28 straight victories. Kell’
In the end, the Admirals swept the IceCaps in four games, ending the team’s playoff run.
Softball gold, TWICE OVER
Newfoundland teams won gold at both the national and junior fastpitch softball championships last summer.
At the national senior men’s championship in Fredericton, N.B., 3Cheers Pub/Bud Light went undefeated through the round robin — outscoring opponents by a staggering 74-4 margin — and playoff round, earning a berth in the championship game. But unlike the 2011 West Side Charlies unit or 2007’s Roebothan McKay Marshall, Newfoundland teams that lost the final after entering with undefeated records, 3Cheers wasn’t forced to settle for silver as they blanked the defending champion Kitchener Cubs 5-0 to claim the province’s first-ever national senior men’s title.
Freshwater-Placentia’s Stephen Mullaley was the tourney’s top batter after hitting .571 on 12-for-21 hitting, with 10 of those hits home runs. Mullaley was also the playoff round and claimed first-base all-star team honours.
Sean Cleary was named the championship game MVP, and outfielder Brad Ezekiel and Jeff Ellsworth also made the tourney all-star squad.
Meantime, at the national junior men’s championship in Owen Sound, Ont., the Kelly’s Pub Junior Canadians won the province’s fifth title by defeating the host Selects 5-3 in the championship game.
Pitching ace Mark Power tossed three straight victories on Sunday, after rain forced the tournament to be decided in one day with games shortened to five innings each. He was named the championship-round MVP, while teammate Shane Boland was named top player of the championship game.
Including this year, the province has won three gold medals (2006, 2009) at national softball championships. Prior to 2006, only two teams from here — the 1974 Placentia Intertown entry and the 1975 St. John's Caps — had won national junior crowns.
Mark Nichols joins Stoughton rink
One of the biggest local sports stories of 2011 was news Nichols was retiring from competitive curling, ending his 13-year run with the Brad Gushue rink to focus on his career and family. But in March of this year, Nichols put his retirement on ice and threw lead stones for the Jeff Stoughton’s rink at the The Players Championship in Summerside, P.E.I. That was just after Stoughton and longtime lead Steve Gould had parted ways.
At the time, Nichols told The Telegram he wouldn’t rule out joining the Stoughton rink on a permanent basis if the opportunity presented itself.
“I’d have to take a serious look at it. Right now, it’s not on the radar ... There would be a whole lot of hoops to jump through for that to happen,” he said. “
“It’s not a definite no, but it’s by no means a yes.”
However, it did turn out to be yes. In June, it became official that Nichols would relocate to Winnipeg and join Stoughton’s rink.
In November, Nichols helped Stoughton win his first Capital One Canada Cup of Curling title, giving the rink a berth in the Roar of the Rings Olympic trials next December in Winnipeg.
Kaetlyn Osmond SKATES INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
She may not call Newfoundland home any longer, but figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond still made her native province proud with her many accomplishments on an international stage in 2012
At the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, N.B., in January, the Marystown native who moved to Alberta six years ago, finished third overall after placing first in the short program ahead of defending champ Cynthia Phaneuf and the eventual 2012 champion, Amelie Lacoste. At the subsequent world championships, Osmond won the preliminary round with 97.36 points and finished 10th overall.
Osmond’s 2012-13 season started with her winning the ladies’ title at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Then, in her senior Grand Prix debut at the 2012 Skate Canada International in October in Windsor, Ont., Osmond’s short and free program scores combined to give her the title.
Newfoundland softballers SHINE
on INTERNATIONAL DIAMONDS
Five Newfoundlanders helped Canada claim gold at the VIII Men’s Pan American Softball Championship in Medellin, Colombia in September.
Jason Hill and Ryan Boland from St. John’s, Stephen Mullaley of Freshwater, Placentia and Harbour Main’s Blair Ezekiel were part of the Canadian roster, as was Petty Harbour native Sean Whitten, who now calls Calgary home.
The Canadians posted a 7-2 round-robin record, fell to Venezuela in the first vs. second playoff game, then defeated Argentina to earn a berth in the championship game, where they met Venezuela again, winning 4-1 this time.
The win guaranteed Canada a spot at the International Softball Federation world championships in March in Auckland, New Zealand.
Hill, Boland, Mullaley, and Whitten were named to Canada’s roster for worlds, along with Harbour Main natives Brad Ezekiel and Sean Cleary, who were also part of Softball Canada’s 40-man national senior men’s team selection pool.
MICHAEL RYDER TURNS OUT TO BE A STAR IN DALLAS
The Bonavista-born sniper may have won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2010, but his 2011-12 season with the Dallas Stars was easily the best — stats-wise — of his eight-year NHL career.
In 82 games, Ryder lit the lamp 35 times, a personal best and the most goals scored by a Newfoundland-born NHLer. Six of his goals were game-winners, while seven were scored on the power play.
He also had 27 assists to finish the season with 62 points, and a plus 17 rating. Ryder earned 30 of his points — 18 goals and 12 assists — in his final 29 games of the season.
Clarenville Caribous win Herder... again
The Caribous carved out a place for themselves in provincial senior hockey history by winning their third Herder Memorial Trophy in four years.
After posting a 17-5-2 regular-season record, the Herd eliminated the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars in a five-game semifinal, setting up a date with the defending Herder champion Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts.
The Cats took the series opener 5-1 at Mile One Centre, but the Caribous responded with a 5-2 victory in Game 2. With the series shifting to Corner Brook’s Pepsi Centre, Clarenville’s Dale Sullivan scored the overtime winner in a 3-2 Game 3 victory, and the Herd took Game 4 in regulation by a 4-3 score. In Game 5, Steve Yetman had a pair of goals as the ‘Bous won 5-1 to close out the series and clinch the title.
Captain Dustin Russell won the Cliff Gorman Memorial Award as the most valuable player in the Herder playoffs.
The win earned the Caribous the right to represent the province at the 2013 Allan Cup in Kenora, Ont., which happens to be the site of Clarenville’s 2011 national senior amateur men’s championship victory.
Tely 10 champ dethroned
Colin Fewer turned in a personal best time of 49 minutes and 43 seconds at this year’s Telegram 10-Mile Road Race. It was also the fifth fastest in the event’s 85-year history.
But it wasn’t fast enough.
Windsor, Ont., native Matt Loiselle sliced through the Paradise-to-St. John’s course in a time of 48:09, the third-fastest times overall behind Paul McCloy’s 1985 course record of 47:04 and a 47:54 showing in 1993.
Loiselle led from start to finish, foiling Fewer’s assault on Pat Kelly’s all-time record of nine straight Tely 10 titles.
Fewer, who was also gunning for his eighth straight title, was having a good season leading into the race. He was seventh for Canada at the North American Cross-Country Championships in Trinidad, and had good performance in race races in B.C. and Ontario. At the Mews 8k two weeks before, Fewer easily won in a time of 24:01.
Fewer still shares a spot in the record books with Cliff Stone and George Hillier as second all-time with seven Tely 10 wins apiece.
THIS LEFTY WAS ALL RIGHT
Corner Brook southpaw Tyler Vincent was virtually unknown on the national scene until this year, helped Canada to a silver medal at the World 18-and-under baseball championship in South Korea.
Vincent, 18, went 1-1 in the tournament, collecting a three-hit, nine-strikeout win over the Czech Republic. He also pitched a 9-3 loss to the host nation.
Vincent was spotted by Team Canada scouts while playing for Newfoundland at the Canada Cup tournament in London, Ont.. Following a game against Saskatchewan in which he struck out 11 batters, Vincent was asked by national junior head coach Greg Hamilton to travel with the team to Italy, where he would pitch in three games and survive the cuts to make the national squad.
Vincent also had outstanding pitching performances in July in the provincial midget, junior, senior B and senior A championship tournaments with the Corner Brook Barons. He tossed a no-hitter in the provincial midget tournament and was named the tourney’s MVP and top pitcher. He also pitched a no-hitter in the senior B championship game.
The lefty was named Baseball Newfoundland and Labrador’s minor division player of the year.
Zach O’Brien has Titan-ic season
St. John’s native Zach O’Brien enjoyed his best season to date in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In just 63 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the centreman racked up a league-best 50 goals and added 51 assists to finish second in league scoring with 101 points. Nineteen of O’Brien’s goals came on the power play, while five were game-winners.
His scoring represented exactly 20 per cent of the Titan’s regular season goal total.
What’s more, is O’Brien finished his second straight Q-league season without serving a penalty. As of Saturday, O’Brien has gone 164 QMJHL games without so much as two minutes in the sin bin.
After his season ended, O’Brien signed an amateur contract with the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps, appearing in one game with the club before his release.
In 34 games with Acadie-Bathurst this season, O’Brien has 22 goals and 25 assists, with a +10 rating.
The Rogers Bussey men’s rowing team won its third straight championship with ease at the 194th Royal St. John’s Regatta in August.
Steered by coxswain Ben Colbourne, the crew of stroke James Cadigan, Adam Kavanagh, Ronnie Whitten, Daniel Cadigan, Craig Whittle, Matthew Manning, spares Jon Ledrew and Brent Hickey, cleared the course in 9:06.64, 13 seconds ahead of the second place boat, Toyota Plaza.
For Whitten, it was his ninth Regatta title in 13 years.
Ciaran Hearn had a full schedule for Canada
The provincial male athlete of the year for 2011 hit the pitch for Canada in almost three dozen international rugby matches in 2012.
Hearn was part of Rugby Canada’s team for the 2012 North American and Caribbean Rugby Association Rugby 7’s Championship in Ottawa, a qualifier for the national side at the 7’s World Cup in 2012. In October, he was a starter in Canada’s shutout win over Portugal and a lost to England in 7’s matches on the Gold Coast and Australia.
In 15’s play, the C.B.S. native competed in an International Rugby Series in Colwyn Bay, Wales and at the HSBC IRB World Series in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Of the 36 players used by Canada in 15’s rugby action, Hearn was one of just eight players to play all four of Canada’s international 15’s games.
Katarina Roxon was busy in London
The Kippens swimmer competed in six events at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England. Roxon swam in the 100-metre breaststroke, the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 200m individual medley.
She qualified for the Canadian team at the Olympic and Paralympic swimming trials in Montreal.
Clark Bishop take third overall on QMJHL draft
The St. John’s native became the third Newfoundlander to go third overall in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League entry draft when the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles selected him in the lottery in June. (Brandon Hynes, in 2008 by the Victoriaville Tigres, and Colin Escott, in 2005 by the Gatineau Olympiques, were the others to picked third)
Bishop, who had been ranked second overall, has recorded two goals and five assists in 30 games this season. He was recently one of seven Newfoundlanders named to Team Atlantic for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this Christmas in Quebec.
McDonald and mates wins Canadian masters
Former Brier winner Toby McDonald and his rink of third Wayne Hamilton, second Lloyd Powell, and lead Paul Aitken made provincial curling history by becoming the first Newfoundland and Labrador team to win the Canadian masters championship.
The rink was 6-2 in the round robin, defeated Saskatchewan in the semifinal, and edged Quebec 10-4 in the final. Other teams at the tournament voted for McDonald to receive the Martin Bailey sportsmanship award for his skills and behavior on and off the ice.
Carbonear and Harbour Grace co-host provincial summer games
Thousands of athletes from around the island descended on the towns of Harbour Grace and Carbonear as they teamed up to host the provincial summer games. It marked the 20th anniversary of the town’s 1992 co-hosting duties.
Team Western won the Premiers Cup with 80 points after amassing 30 gold medals, 35 silvers and 28 bronze, and also took home the SportNL award for the most improved team. The host team won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award as the most spirited team.
Paradise kid make national headlines with act of generosity
It may not be a prototypical sports story, but 10-year-old Elijah Porter’s story certainly generated a lot of interest here and across the country.
The Canadian men’s 4x100-metre Olympic relay team finished third at the London Olympics, but a review of the race showed that Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., stepped on a line, thereby disqualifying the team and costing them a bronze medal. After seeing this, Porter went to his room where he wrote the team a letter and enclosed his only Timbit minor soccer medal. Before sending it out, Porter’s mother tweeted a photo of the letter and medal which quickly went viral.
Local and national media outlets clamoured for interviews, Tim Horton’s replaced his medal and presented him with a new bike, and in mid-September, Connaughton and Ottawa’s Seyi Smith, another member of the team, made a trip to Newfoundland to surprise Porter and thank him personally for his generosity.