Baseball Junior Leagues Lacrosse

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Nepean Knights’ Ontario junior B lacrosse title hunt ends in semifinals

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By Martin Cleary

The Nepean Knights recently fell short in their chase for a second straight Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League box championship.

But another Knights squad was right behind them to pick up the ball and is in pursuit of the Ontario Junior C title. The Knights must win the last two games of the best-of-five Eastern Conference final against the North Shore Kodiaks to qualify for its provincial championship.

After storming through the Ontario Junior B League with a first-place record of 18-2 in the Far East Division and sweeping the Orillia Kings 3-0 in their best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Knights were stymied by the Akwesasne Thunder 3-1 in the semifinals. Three of the four tight games ended in overtime.

The Knights won the regular-season series against the Thunder by a 3-1 count, but they only held a slim 29-28 margin in goals for and goals against. The playoffs were even closer, but Akwesasne survived the series.

“We knew going into the playoffs, they (Thunder) were capable of beating us,” Knights head coach Matt Firth said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It was not an upset.

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“They have a team that was getting better as the season went on and they were healthy. Akwesasne is playing like our season last year. Everything is going right.”

The 2022 junior B lacrosse campaign was an historic season for the Nepean Knights as they won their first-ever Ontario and Canadian championships, compiling a 36-2 record and producing an unimaginable 18-0 mark in the playoffs.

“It was pretty special,” Firth added. “After this season, it gives you a greater appreciation for what we accomplished. It was a perfect storm. Everything went well. We had no injuries, things fell into place and we were almost destined to win.”

Expectations were high entering the 2023 season, but like any junior sports team, there were a number of roster changes.

The leadership team of captain Jared Downey and assistant captains Brodie O’Connell and Nate Woods had their junior eligibility end. Two other players didn’t return for various reasons.

“They were skilled, character players and leaders,” Firth said of the three captains. “It doesn’t sound like a lot to lose three players, but they were three core character guys. You get turnovers every year, but sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you don’t have it.”

But the Knights still had a strong returning core of players for the 2023 season.

That group included goalkeeper Thomas Kiazyk, who will be named the Ontario junior B East Division MVP for his exceptional regular-season play. In 16 games and 879.38 minutes, he posted a record of 14-1, allowed only 58 goals for a league-leading 3.96 goals-against average and a save percentage of 0.881 off 431 saves.

Considered one of the top-five goaltenders at all junior levels across Canada, Kiazyk was named the top goalie at the 2022 national championship.

Kiazyk also has been recalled by the Burlington Blaze along with teammates Cameron York, Sam Parent, Owen Tasse and Connor Nock for the Ontario Junior A Lacrosse League championship series against the Orangeville Northmen. The final was scheduled to start Wednesday night.

“We were strong in the regular season (a repeat 18-2 mark). The playoffs didn’t go as planned. We had lots of injuries (all season),” Firth explained. “Their hunger last year to win and the same passion and drive was hard to replicate.

“We had 21 runners and eight missed time because of injuries, including our top goal scorer for the playoffs, James Donnelly. That never helps. I’m not making excuses. And when you play the defending champion, the other team has that extra motivation.”

Donnelly was scratched for the final four weeks of the season because of a separated shoulder. Nock, a strong defensive player, only played the final two games against Akwesasne, missing the first five playoff matches because of injury.

Donnelly was Nepean’s top scorer this season with 34 goals and 60 points, while York had a matching 60 points, including 21 goals.

In the provincial semifinals, Akwesasne seized the first two games in overtime, 9-8 and 6-5. Nepean cut the deficit in half with a 6-4 win in the third game. But the Thunder recorded a 9-8 overtime decision at home to win the semifinal.

“We lost two double-overtime and one triple-overtime games. Those were heart-breaking losses. One shot made the difference. They got it and we didn’t,” expressed Firth.

Akwesasne advanced to the Eastern final and defeated Orangeville 3-1. The Ontario junior B final is slated to start Thursday with Akwesasne playing Six Nations Rebels. The Gloucester Griffins matched Akwesasne’s 11-9 mark in the regular season, but fell 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs to Orangeville.

When Firth looks ahead to the 2024 season, he knows the Knights will graduate seven players, but they could be elevated to the Ontario Junior A league.

“It’s still in the works,” he said about the year-long project to move the Knights to the top junior division. “It’s a decision that will be made in September (by the league).

“One of the hurdles is the league is largely based in Southern Ontario. There will be more costs (travelling to Ottawa) for the teams. We have Nepean players who are playing Junior A and have been drafted by Junior A teams.

“What this says is we have a lot of Junior-A calibre players here. We have the players to support a Junior A team.”

Firth’s son, Willem, is a good example. After being named the Ontario Junior A MVP and rookie of the year in 2022 with the Toronto Beaches, Willem placed second in point scoring this year with a league-leading 71 goals and 75 assists for 146 points in 25 games. The Beaches placed fourth in the regular season at 15-13.

Willem also has been nominated for the league’s MVP again this season.

Meanwhile, the Knights will be looking to even their Ontario Junior C Lacrosse League Eastern Conference final at 2-2 against the North Shore Kodiaks on Friday at the Jack Charron Arena. Game time is 8 p.m.

If a fifth game in the best-of-five conference final is required, it will be played at the Mascouche Arena, which is east of Laval.

Pennant-winning North Shore, 21-4, won the opening game of the conference final 6-4 over Nepean, which placed second in the regular season at 19-7. The Knights took the second game 4-3, but the Kodiaks rebounded with a 13-7 decision in the third game.


The Ottawa West Twins were overwhelmed on Wednesday at the Canadian Little League Baseball majors championship in Regina.

The Twins were shut out 21-0 by defending national champion Little Mountain Major All-Stars of Vancouver.

In their first game on Tuesday, the Twins led Moose Jaw 1-0 after the top of the first inning before rain postponed the game until a later date in the championship.

At the Senior Little League World Series in Easley, South Carolina, the East Nepean Eagles were eliminated Tuesday, after losing their first two games – 11-1 to Kennemerland in Haarlem, The Netherlands, and 5-1 to Matamoros, Mexico.

The Eagles scored their only run in the top of the first inning, but Matamoros countered with one run in each of the first, third and sixth innings and two in the second.

Justin Morris and Thomas White connected for one double apiece, while Jacob Elyea and Owen McBane contributed singles.

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

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

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