Best of the best

Matt Molloy mmolloy@ganderbeacon.ca
Published on January 5, 2012

2011 was a year of memorable sporting achievements in Central Newfoundland. From local Herder Memorial Championship stories to local Allan Cup stories to provincial championships to AHL hockey to hall of fame inductions to local athletes competing in marquee events, the year had more of its fair share of headlines.
Of the more than 300 articles that appeared in The Beacon's award-winning sports section in 2011, the sports department decided the following were worthy of being named the top-10 sports stories of 2011.
Making the final cut wasn't easy, which only proves how competitive local teams and athletes are on the regional, provincial, Atlantic Canadian, national, and international scene.
Without further adieu, here are the top-10 sports stories of 2011.

10 A metro move

Just a month before the 2011 Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Senior Volleyball Championships came to Central Newfoundland, Luke Harris, technical director with the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association, informed The Beacon of the NLVA's decision to contemplate moving the annual provincial tournament to the St. John's area beginning in 2012. According to Harris, because of other sport bodies hosting events on the same weekend as the provincial volleyball championships, hotel rooms have become harder to book, leaving the NLVA wondering if the move to St. John's would be better. Harris went on to say it wasn't the first time the NLVA thought about the move, but added uprising from the athletes have kept the event in Central Newfoundland.

9 The saga of Thunder Valley Speedway

In June, Jason Yates, administrator of Thunder Valley Speedway's website, told The Beacon the 2011 racing season would be cancelled because there was nobody to take over in the absence of Bob Hutchings, owner/operator of the track, who was out of the province due to work commitments. However, a few weeks later, Yates informed The Advertiser, The Beacon's sister paper in Grand Falls-Windsor, the track would re-open with a shortened four-race season.

8 The IceCaps cometh

When it was announced former premier Danny Williams was bringing an American Hockey League team to St. John's, hockey fans province-wide started talking about what the team would be named, and where they could catch a glimpse of the newest AHL team. After the team was officially named the IceCaps, it was announced the squad would tour Central Newfoundland for a set of exhibition games against the Norfolk Admirals, farm team of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. The IceCaps battled the Admirals in Grand Falls-Windsor Sept. 27 and again in Gander Sept. 30. The team also participated in a Beyond Words tribute dinner and silent auction in Gandet.

7 Hockey News publisher has Gander roots

Early in January, The Beacon introduced its readers to Caroline Andrews, publisher of the popular magazine, The Hockey News, known nationwide as the bible of hockey in Canada. However, the interesting angle of this story is Andrews' connection to Gander. Andrews lived in Gander on Brown and Grieve Crescent until she finished Grade 8, which is when she moved away. During the two-part series, Andrews talked about life in Gander in a military family, the friends she made in Gander, her favourite hockey players, and how she conquered uphill battles to sit in the publisher's chair in an industry typically dominated by males.

6 Using your ‘head'

With concussions dominating national NHL headlines, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador adapted a new head contact rule to try and eliminate contact above the shoulder. At its fall meetings in Gander in April, Hockey Canada Officiating Program instructors

were on hand to deliver the details of the new head contact rule, which focuses on player safety. Today, players will now be penalized for hits to the head, face or neck

areas. In October, Gander Minor Hockey's referee-in-chief, Sean Kinden, told The Beacon he's in favour of the rule. Although he believes it could take a while for referees, fans, coaches and players to catch on to it, he thinks it will pay off in the long run.

5 Hockey heroes

In Newfoundland and Labrador, hockey's grandest amateur prize is the Herder Memorial Trophy, and in Canada, the  biggest amateur prize is the Allan Cup. In 2011, three local hockey players experienced winning both. Gander's Andrew Whalen and New-Wes-Valley's Sam Hounsell won the Herder with the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts, while Gander's Mike Dyke captured the Allan Cup with the Clarenville Caribous.

4 National/international/Atlantic Canadian spotlight

A number of local athletes made provincial teams that competed at the national level, with a few athletes returning to Central with national medals. In March, Gander's Chris and Ryan Langdon captured bronze at the National Cadet Biathlon Championships as part of the 537 Gander Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron's patrol team. In the summer, Gander midget-aged baseball players Jacob Lane and Robert Stockley competed in the national midget baseball tournament with the Upper Island Cove Bulldogs, and Stockley also competed in the Canada Cup with the provincial U-17 team. While Stockley and Lane were busy with their national midget tournaments, Gander's Colton Collins, Shane Barnes and Matt Flynn represented their province at the national bantam baseball championships. Gander golfer Bob Skanes teed off in his 13th national golf tournament in late August, and Gander teenager Blair Bursey captured the Canadian International Junior Challenge Qualifier in June. During the summer, Gander Wings Special Olympics' athlete Michael Harris captured silver as part of Canada's 4X100-metre relay team at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece. Gander's Max Burt was in Mexico competing for Team Canada at the Pan American Games. Gander Minor Hockey Association players Ben Avery, Keesha John, Jordan Maher and Jared Lush competed in the Atlantic Challenge Cup, with Avery, Maher and Lush winning Bronze.

3 Hall of Fame game

When it comes to sports, being inducted into a hall of fame is the greatest feeling anyone can experience. In 2011, three local sports minds experienced those emotions. Master Cpl. Brian George, who spent most of the past decade at the Canadian Forces Base in Gander, was the first powerlifter to be inducted into the Canadian Forces Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony in November. In June, former Gander Flyer Kirk Johnson was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Fame. Johnson won the Herder with the Flyers in 1980, and captured the Veitch trophy with the Junior Flyers in 1974 and 1975. In January, long-time hockey volunteer Ed Beaton was inducted into the Gander Sports Hall of Fame. He's organized over 100 invitational and provincial tournaments, and has served as the central area director for three years. While in this position, Beaton was responsible for 15 minor hockey associations - including Gander's. He served as the public relations officer for HNL for the provincial minor council and is currently the vice-president of the provincial major midget hockey league.

2 Golden glory

A large number of athletes/teams won big tournaments throughout 2011. In March, Gander's Chris Ford won gold with the Memorial University Sea-Hawks at the Ford Dominion Insurance Canadian Interuniversity Sport National Men's Curling Championships. The Pearson Academy Astros senior high boys' volleyball team of New-Wes-Valley captured gold at the School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial 3A Volleyball Championships, and won banners at both VolleyFest and VolleyCentral. The senior high male and female Gill Memorial Academy Vikings volleyball teams won the SSNL Provincial A Volleyball Championships, and the school's U-14 girls' volleyball team won Tier 3 gold at the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association's Provincial Championships in April, and the Glovertown Academy Eagles senior high boys' softball team won the SSNL Provincial 3A Softball Championships. The Gander U-20 Female Flyers captured gold at the provincial U-20 tournament in April, and a combined team made of players from the Glovertown Tornadoes and Wesleyville Beothics won gold at the bantam G provincial hockey tournament. Members of the Glovertown Aesirs Figure Skating Club, Kaitlyn Hawkins, Ashley Davis, Jessica Watkins and Deneka Stanley, took team gold in the provincial level 1 senior category at the Spring Provincial Championships, while Gander Silver Jets' competitors Camryn

Young, Julia Goodyear and Alexis Parsons skated their way to first-place finishes at the

Skate Newfoundland and Labrador Junior Provincial Figure Skating Championships in March. Gander Lakers Swim Club athlete Jacob Cole won a pair of medals at the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Long Course Championships in May. Gerald Yates of the 288 Ardent Sea Cadet Corps captured provincial gold in the standing shooting competition at the Provincial Marksmanship Competition. Gander Minor Hockey's Josh Fitzgerald captured gold at the Atlantic Challenge Cup Hockey Tournament. Also, the Gander Mosquito Pilots returned home from the Atlantic Canadian Mosquito Baseball Championships with the gold medal.

Sports editor's note:

With so many athletes and so many teams winning banners and numerous gold medals in 2011, we apologize if we left anybody out.

1 Moment of surrealism

In January, The Beacon covered a sporting event that turned out to be about something much, much more important that winning and losing. A group of high school female basketball players attended the Bethpage Holiday Basketball Tournament in New York. The invitation to compete came as a thank-you for what Gander and area did during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While at the tournament, the girls, along with coach Oz Fudge, visited Ground Zero in New York where the Twin Towers fell. According to player Rebecca Hogan of Appleton, the girls were treated "like royalty" as soon they stepped off the bus, and had television crews follow their every step while they stayed in New York. Besides their tour inside Ground Zero - which is usually reserved for kings, queens and extremely special dignitaries - the girls were also served breakfast by a group of firefighters who lost fellow firefighters during the terrorist attacks.

mmolloy@ganderbeacon.ca