Mount Rushmore of memories: Top junior B moments
With most local sports on standby once again thanks to another round of COVID, an opportunity to do a little something different has presented itself.
Last spring during Lockdown 1, I wrote a series of wrestling columns based on my Mount Rushmore of performers, memorable moments, announcers, etc.
It was very popular — thanks to all those who read and reached out — so I thought why not do it again, this time with a bit of a twist.
Instead of wrestling memories, I’ll be picking a personal Mount Rushmore from a variety of categories, everything from local sports, to personal memories from covering sports in Niagara for almost four decades starting in 1984, to bucket lists. Any sport is on the table, including the pros.
To start off, I thought I would feature something near and dear to my heart: local junior B hockey.
Between my previous profession as a sports writer at The Standard and now into our fifth year at BPSN (already!) it is safe to say I’ve seen a heck of a lot of junior B games in the Golden Horseshoe. A quick guesstimate would be in the 2,000 range.
Trying to boil down thousands of games to the four most memorable is an impossible task — I thought of at least 20-30 that could have easily been included — but finally narrowed it down.
With so many near-misses, a second Mount Rushmore of junior B memories is a distinct possibility.
Five overtime playoff game
Without a doubt, the St. Catharines Falcons and Port Colborne Sailors playoff game, which began March 10, 1999 and ended the next day, was the most memorable event I ever covered.
The teams played a record eight periods (three regulation and five overtimes periods) before Peter Lacey ended the drama with a goal at 2:13 a.m. The game is believed to be the longest (153:47) in junior B history in Canada. If someone can prove that statement incorrect, I’m all ears.
Most fans had long left Jack Gatecliff Arena before Lacey scored while some who remained used their seats as make-shift beds, dozing off. Food and beverages were being brought in for the players who somehow managed to find the strength to keep playing.
Personally, I was proud of the fact the story appeared in The Standard the next day thanks to a rush of adrenaline to get the story done as quickly as possible and editor Jim Wallace who was back at the office anxiously waiting for the copy.
To this day, I still remind Lacey of the goal whenever I see him.
Blackhawks winning Sutherland Cup
The Thorold Blackhawks ended years of frustration in April of 2005 when they finally brought home an Ontario Junior B championship.
The Blackhawks were Golden Horseshoe champions in 2001, 2003, 2004, only to fall in the Sutherland Cup finals, once to Elmira and twice to Stratford.
But in 2005, the Blackhawks, coached by Dan Timmins, and with current Falcons general manager Frank Girhiny acting as GM, topped the Chatham Maroons in five games to earn their rings.
The Blackhawks won the championship on home ice before a jam-packed crowd shoehorned into the Thorold Arena. The Hawks appeared en route to sweep the series and win the title in Chatham, but the Maroons rallied and forced a Game 5.
The Hawks won their title thanks to a stifling defence which permited a paltry 84 goals in the regular season. The goaltenders were Rick Miller and Sean Ramanauskas.
They also did it with a roster highlighted with Thorold natives J.J. Martin, Joey Martin, Chris Risi and Steve Zmudczynski. Toss in the likes of John Falzoi, Ryan Bellows, Dunnville’s Mike Hedden, Grimsby’s Joey Koudys and current Niagara Catholic Athletic Association health and physical education consultant and convenor Chris McLean, and the roster was stacked.
There is a photo and plaque of the championship team in the lobby at Thorold Arena which still brings back a flood of good memories every time I look at it.
Falcons finally winning it all
The St. Catharines Falcons have one of the most storied histories of junior B teams in Ontario, but until 2012, were missing one trophy to complete the collection.
After several attempts came up just short, the Falcons finally won their first, and to this day, only Sutherland Cup in the spring of 2012 by defeating the Brantford Eagles in six games.
The Eagles, who relocated the next season to Caledonia, won the first two games of the series and it was beginning to look like the Falcons would be bridesmaids once again.
But the Falcons regrouped and ran off four straight wins, including the cup-clincher at home.
Following the game, the emotion, not only the faces of the players, but also on many long-time members of the board of directors and volunteers, was palpable.
Coached by Girhiny and his brother Rick Girhiny, the Falcons featured a strong core of local players headed up by Broderick Kelly, Jimmy Sheehan, Kyle Woodhouse, Aaron Taylor, Matt Does, Spencer DeWolfe, Luke Karaim and Kenny Bradford.
Sugar Kings spoil the party
In 1997, the Falcons and Elmira Sugar Kings engaged in a memorable seven-game set for the Sutherland Cup.
The Kings won Game 6 at home forcing a one-game, winner-take-all showdown for junior B supremacy in Ontario in St. Catharines.
To this day, the game was the most drama-filled and anticipated encounter I ever covered at Gatecliff Arena.
Remember, this was pre-Ontario Hockey League in Niagara and junior B was the be-all and end-all for local hockey fans.
Fans packed Gatecliff that night, with many literally hanging from the rafters and sitting in the aisles, only to see the Sugar Kings come away with a 5-3 victory over head coach Garry Lariviere’s charges.
After the game, the silence of the dressing room was something I will never forget. Tears flowed and who could blame them? To come that close only to fall just short was gut-wrenching.
Key members of that team were current St. Catharines Junior A Athletics assistant coach Rob Taylor, leading scorer Brad Rooney, Trevor Lariviere, Steve Rymsha, Kevin Barszcz, Matt Montague, John Manning and Adam Shields.
Next week: My Mount Rushmore of favourite NHL players. Hint: None of them would be considered stars.
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