Junior Leagues Lacrosse

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Unflappable goalie Thomas Kiazyk a pillar in Nepean Knights’ double championship lacrosse season

By Martin Cleary

Thomas Kiazyk took control of his sporting destiny when he stepped forward as a six-year-old lacrosse player.

After a two- to three-year introduction to Canada’s national summer sport at the initiation level, he was looking forward to playing games for the Nepean Knights in the tyke division.

That was until his coach Jason Tasse broke the bad news to the eager players. The Knights didn’t have a goalkeeper. Tasse explained if they couldn’t find a goalkeeper, then the Knights wouldn’t put a team out on the floor for their spring and summer season.

Kiazyk solved that problem immediately.

“I volunteered (to be the goalkeeper). And the rest is history,” Kiazyk said with feeling.

It certainly is as Kiazyk has been a stalwart goalkeeper with the Knights for the past 11 tyke, novice, peewee, bantam, midget and now junior B seasons. His 2022 regular season and playoffs formed a most remarkable season as he was one of the numerous team pillars that led the Knights to the club’s first Ontario and Canadian junior B box lacrosse championships.

In his second year as the tyke goalie with coach Tasse, Nepean won the 2012 Ontario tyke B championship for players seven and eight years old. A decade later with Tasse and Matt Firth as the senior coaches and recent junior B grads Riley Ash, Harrison Jones and Sam Firth as assistants, the Knights captured the provincial junior B championship by winning 12 consecutive games without a loss over four playoff series.

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Kiazyk volunteered to be the tyke goalkeeper because he felt it was the right thing to do and being tall for his age he could fill a good part of the square net.

“It was the excitement I would get from making a save and the excitement I would create for the team. And I liked the crowd reaction. I liked how that made me feel and the others around me. I liked making the break-out pass as well. I liked the whole team aspect,” Kiazyk, 18, explained about why he started and stayed as a goalkeeper and has become one of the best in the country.

Kiazyk, who won two National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championships and attended two OFSAA provincial high school field lacrosse championships with Sacred Heart Catholic High School, entered the Knights junior B program in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic greatly altered the season.

The Knights only practised when they could find available venues and had one tournament in the season.

But when the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League announced it would resume playing a full schedule of games in 2022, Kiazyk was ready to stop every ball thrown his way at age 17. The league is open to players up to 21 years old.

“I had confidence in the team that surrounded me,” said the six-foot, three-inch Kiazyk, who was an imposing figure in the Knights’ net. “There was a bunch of guys (who were) 17, but I felt good going in.

“The veteran players kept their heads up and helped support us. As a team, we were tight knit and considered ourselves a family. The confidence grew as the season progressed.”

The Knights, who played their home games out of the Howard Darwin Centennial Arena on Merivale Road, were impressive in the regular season. They finished in first place in the four-team Far East division with an 18-2 win-loss record.

Kiazyk looked more like a well-established goalkeeper than a rookie as he led the Ontario league in wins at 14, goals-against average at 4.69 and was third in save percentage at 0.871.

As strong as he was in net, there also was a feisty side to him, which proved costly for him. At the end of a 12-7 home win over the Orangeville Northmen on June 11, tempers flared and there were three players on each team involved in fights.

Kiazyk was one of the combatants and ended up hitting his head on the concrete floor. He suffered a concussion, which forced him out of the final six regular-season games and the three games against Orillia Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. Backup goalkeeper Dylan Young was equally impressive in the Knights’ net.

“It was the first big injury of my career. I had a minor concussion. I had a lacrosse fight. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The way I landed I hit my head on the floor. I lost my sense of everything.

“But I came back better than before.”

Thomas Kiazyk. Photo provided

For the Knights’ remaining nine games of the playoffs – three best-of-five sweeps over Halton Hills Bulldogs, Akwesasne Indians and the Windsor Clippers in the final – Kiazyk posted better stats than in the regular season.

In his nine post-season games, he had a playoff-leading 4.64 goals-against average and a 0.887 save percentage. In the final game of the championship series win over Windsor, Kiazyk only allowed a single goal in an 8-1 victory, stopping 38 of 39 shots.

At their first Founders Cup national junior B championship in Brampton, ON., Nepean went undefeated to claim the title and finished the season at 36-2. The Knights qualified for the national championship game by defeating Coquitlam, B.C., 8-3, Edmonton 9-6, SWAT of Saskatchewan 14-3, Onondaga 17-5 and Brampton 12-7.

The final against Coquitlam was a tense, tight struggle. The Knights counted two late goals and played the final 2½ minutes shorthanded, but held on to defeat Coquitlam 7-6.

“It was back and forth and lots of excitement. I’ve played in tense games before, but nothing like this,” said Kiazyk, who was named the top goaltender at the national championship.

Kiazyk plans to play with the Knights junior B team in 2023, but if he gets an opportunity to play some Ontario junior A games, he’ll consider that as well. Nepean also is exploring the possibility of moving up to the Ontario junior A league.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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