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Ten for ’17: The Telegram's choices as NL's top sports stories of the past year


Lots of coming and goings in the year that came an went

This being Newfoundland and Labrador and all, we shouldn’t be surprised the top sports stories of 2017 came on ice.

From curling to hockey, to the comings and goings (mostly goings), 2017 didn’t let us down in terms of it being a newsworthy year.

Here are, in no particular order (we’ll leave it you to determine that), the top 10 news stories of 2017:

 

Gushue finally brings it home

 

By now, we all know the story: it started with a Tweet from Brad Gushue that went something along these lines: Why can’t Newfoundland stage the Brier again?

Well, this province did play host to the Tim Hortons Brier, and the 2017 Canadian men’s curling championship at Mile One Centre was a hit on all counts.

Not only did the Brier crack the top 20 in all-time attendance (not bad given the size of Mile One), Gushue won the championship in the most exciting way imaginable.

Playing defending champion Kevin Koe in the final, before a jam-packed house, Gushue won 7-6 on the last shot of the last game. His draw looked to be coming up short, but was dragged into the eight foot by some feverish work by Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker and Mark Nichols, coaxed by a hometown crowd that very nearly lifted the roof off the downtown rink.

It was only Newfoundland and Labrador’s second Brier win, following Jack MacDuff’s 1976 championship.

The Brier was a huge financial shot in the arm for the city and province. In October, an economic impact study undertaken by the Canadian Sport Tourism Association on behalf of the Brier host committee and Curling Canada indicated the curling championship was worth an estimated $10.1 million in economic activity to the province, with $9.1 million of that benefiting the city of St. John's.

 

Close the door, turn out the lights

 

When the St. John’s IceCaps lost 2-1 to the Syracuse Crunch on Friday, April 28, 2017, at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena in upstate New York, it not only meant the end to the St. John’s IceCaps’ season, but the end of the line for the American Hockey League in St. John’s.

The IceCaps’ two-year contract as the Montreal Canadiens’ minor league affiliate was officially expired. Montreal was moving its AHL operation closer to home, to Laval, Que.

Efforts to find a replacement AHL team and National Hockey League partner stretched out more than a year, but were unsuccessful in the face of the trend of NHL organizations wanting to have their farm teams close at hand.

The AHL lasted 20 years in St. John’s — 14 as the Maple Leafs (1991-2005), and six as the IceCaps (2011-2017).

 

St. John’s finds its Edge

 

There is no hockey at Mile One Centre this season, but that’s not to say St. John’s isn’t without some sort of professional sports entertainment.

The National Basketball League of Canada – a semi-pro hoops outfit operating in 10 cities in Ontario and Atlantic Canada – set up shop in St. John’s, with the new team dubbed the Edge.

The players are virtually unknown to most fans – save for local boy Carl English, playing at home for the first time since his high school days – but so far the team is proving to be a hit.

Through four home games, the Edge are averaging 2,863 fans, though that was bolstered by a crowd of 4,803 for the team’s home debut.

St. John’s is 8-4 at the break, and people here are talking about the expansion club.

 

Holy Cross women complete successful crusade

 

The Holy Cross Avalon Ford women's soccer team created history in Surrey, B.C., in September, winning a bronze medal at Soccer Canada's Jubilee Trophy championship.

It was the first-ever podium finish for Newfoundland and Labrador at the national senior women's soccer championship.

 

See ya, CeeBees

 

It what could be best described as an “only in Newfoundland” thing, the reigning Herder Memorial Trophy provincial champion Conception Bay CeeBee Stars were kicked out of their league prior to the start of the season.

No definitive reason was given, except there were “trust issues” between the CeeBees and Avalon East Senior Hockey League, which forbids teams from paying players. In addition to that, there reportedly were concerns over the allocation of proceeds to other league teams from last year’s Herder championship.

After the CeeBees were ousted, the Avalon East league was officially scrapped and a new league was formed – the East Coast Senior Hockey League, comprising the four remaining team from the old East league (St. John’s, Southern Shore, Northeast and C.B.S.).

The CeeBees tried to start a new league under the Avalon East banner with Mount Pearl and Paradise, but couldn’t pull it together for the 2017-18 hockey season.

Meantime, how the CeeBees won the Herder last season is a story in itself.

With just over four minutes remaining in regulation time in a tie game in the best-of-five final between the CeeBees and Clarenville Caribous last spring, the CeeBees’ Ken King fired the puck at the Caribous’ goal.

The puck somehow slid under the side of the net – NTV video supported the claim – yet it was counted as a goal. The CeeBees hung on for a 4-3 win in the Herder final game, to the dismay and anger of the Caribous and their fans.

 

Major junior or minor pro?

 

There’s no game this season, but there appears to be a good chance there will be hockey next year at Mile One Centre.

Question now is it junior hockey or pro again?

A group headed up by St. John's businessman Dean MacDonald and former IceCaps chief operating officer Glenn Stanford is pursuing an ECHL franchise.

MacDonald says his side has begun the ECHL’s formal application process and has already had discussions with the St. John's municipal officials; the city operates Mile One through the St. John's Sports and Entertainment’s board of directors.

On the other hand, the St. John’s Edge basketball team’s owners, New York-based Irwin Simon and Robert Sabbagh, along with Toronto promoter John Graham, are looking to bring a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise to St. John’s.

The QMJHL is not entertaining expansion. However, there is a chance some teams could be available for purchase and relocation.

 

Say what? One medal?

 

The province continued its disturbing downward spiral at the Canada Summer Games this past August in Winnipeg, managing to win only one medal, a silver by wrestler Angel Hiltz-Morrell of Avondale.

Since the 2001 London, Ont. Summer Games, when Newfoundland and Labrador won eight medals, it's been downhill since in the four subsequent Summer Games with seven, six, two and the lone medal in Winnipeg.

 

Net loss: Memorial cuts men's volleyball program

 

In a decision based solely on cutting costs, one of the oldest and longest-serving sports programs at Memorial University was axed in 2017. The men's volleyball program, a Memorial sports staple since the 1960s, was discontinued.

The program was one of the most expensive to operate at Memorial given the team’s travel schedule. Memorial’s lack of success on the volleyball court didn’t help matters either: the Sea-Hawks had not won a game in 67 starts in the past four years.

 

Cleary’s done

 

After 1,059 career NHL games – the most of any Newfoundlander ever – Daniel Cleary officially called it a career in 2017.

Actually, Cleary was done last season, when he failed to a play a game for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

He leaves the NHL with 439 career points and the title as the first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup (2008).

Cleary was drafted in 1997, in the first round (13th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks. In addition to the Detroit Red Wings and Blackhawks, Cleary also played with the Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes.

It wasn’t that long ago Newfoundland and Labrador had seven players in the NHL – Luke Adam, Cleary, Ryane Clowe, Colin Greening, Adam Pardy, Teddy Purcell and Michael Ryder. Today, there’s not a single Newfoundlander skating in the NHL.

 

Osmond’s gearing for Olympics

 

She hasn’t lived or trained here since she was 11 or 12, but the folks from Newfoundland and Labrador like to think of Edmonton resident Kaetlyn Osmond as their own.

The Marystown native is preparing for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, and she enjoyed a fine 2017, winning her third national figure skating title and a silver medal at the world championship.

This season, she won gold at Skate Canada and a bronze at the Internationaux de France competition.

 

Honourable mentions:

 

Road runner Colin Fewer enjoyed a memorable 2017. In July, Fewer set a record for wins with his 10th Tely 10 Road Race victory, and finished fifth out of a field of 11,374 runners in the Toronto Scotiabank half-marathon. Fewer was the top masters runner (40-plus) in the event, finishing in 68:04.

In addition to that, Fewer enjoyed a top 10 showing at the Canadian 5K road racing championship in Toronto. Racing in the B&O Yorkville Run, the national 5K championship, Fewer stopped the clock in 15:07.6. He also won the provincial cross-country title.

 

Liam Hickey of Mount Pearl was named to Canada’s sledge hockey team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics.

It will be the second Paralympics for Hickey, who competed in wheelchair basketball at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Games.

Hickey again played for Team Canada at the world sledge hockey championship held in P.E.I. in December, winning a silver medal after losing to the United States in the final.

 

robin.short@thetelegram.com

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