Junior Leagues Lacrosse

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Repeat provincial & national-champion goalie Thomas Kiazyk declares for National Lacrosse League draft

By Martin Cleary

Thomas Kiazyk is in his final year as a teenager, but he is well on his way to dealing with the challenges of being an adult.

As a second-year student at Carleton University, he’s enrolled in business and focusing on commerce and finance.

As an athlete, the Nepean Knights’ lacrosse goalkeeper has decided to test the waters of the professional game by putting his name forward for this month’s National Lacrosse League draft.

“I want to get my foot in the door at a younger age to help me prepare for my future. Why not go now?” Kiazyk determined in a phone interview this week.

Kiazyk had outstanding junior B seasons in 2022 and 2023, whether individually or from a team perspective, and felt the time was right to declare for the Sept. 16 draft in North America’s top pro box lacrosse league.

“It’s what every single (lacrosse) player dreams about. Why not declare now? I’ve talked to my coach, family and friends and they all ask me about my plans. Why not get my foot in the door at a young age?” he added.

Quickness, agility and playing the right angles to handle the blurring shots are three of Kiazyk’s main features.

“It’s important to move,” he noted. “The game is so quick and the shots are harder than in the past. I must move my body quickly to cover as much of the net as possible.”

The net in junior lacrosse is four feet high by four feet, six inches wide. But the NLL nets are slightly larger at four feet high, but four feet, nine inches wide.

Playing in the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League the past two box lacrosse seasons, Kiazyk has developed an exceptional resume. He also earned valuable experience this past season with the Ontario Junior A Lacrosse League’s Burlington Blaze, which uses Nepean as its affiliate team for player call-ups.

During the 2023 provincial junior B season, the six-foot, three-inch and 180-pound Kiazyk was a standout and named the East Conference’s most valuable player. His statistics were stunning and ranked him the league’s No. 1 goaltender for a second straight year.

In 16 regular season games, where Nepean went 18-2 for a second season in a row in its conference, he posted 14 wins and only one loss. He allowed a meagre 58 goals for a 3.96 goals-against average and an impressive save percentage of 0.881 (431 saves and 58 goals permitted).

The Knights’ seven-game playoff run was halted in the second round (all three losses were in overtime), but Kiazyk did his best to keep the team alive – 4.53 goals-against average and a 0.892 save percentage (263 saves and 32 goals against).

When the Nepean season was complete, Kiazyk was one of six players called up by Burlington for the provincial junior A playoffs. While Kiazyk was “glued to the bench” for most of the successful Blaze playoff run, he did play the series-clinching game in the semifinal round against the Mimico Mountaineers.

The other Knights players on the Blaze roster were Owen Tasse, Cameron York, Connor Nock, Owen Wills and Sam Parent. Zach Thompson of Nepean has played for Burlington the past three seasons.

In the best-of-seven Ontario junior A championship round, Burlington rallied to defeat pennant-winning Orangeville Northmen 4-2 for the provincial title. Winning the provincial crown allowed the Blaze to represent Ontario at the Minto Cup for the four-team Canadian junior lacrosse championship tournament in the final week of August.

Burlington survived its three tight round-robin games, defeating Edmonton Miners 11-7, Calgary Mountaineers 8-6 and Coquitlam Adanacs 10-8. By winning its pool, Burlington met Coquitlam in the best-of-three gold-medal final and the Blaze ruled 12-7 and 10-9 in overtime.

For the second straight season, Kiazyk experienced winning provincial and national titles in the same year, albeit at the junior A level this time around.

Thomas Kiazyk celebrates during his Nepean Knights’ 2022 championship season. File photo

In 2022, Kiazyk was one of the pillars for the Knights as they went undefeated through their entire playoff run to win the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League title and the Founders’ Cup national championship. Kiazyk posted a 4.69 goals-against average in the regular season and a 4.64 number in the playoffs, while his respective save percentages were 0.871 and 0.887.

“It’s surreal,” Kiazyk said about his double-double lacrosse championship experience. “Some players don’t get an opportunity to compete for a provincial title in their entire career and for me I’ve experienced it in my last two years. It’s crazy.”

Being the backup goaltender was a new assignment for Kiazyk, but he graciously accepted that role when he joined Burlington. Deacan Knott was the senior goalie on the Blaze and deserved to play every playoff game, Kiazyk added.

“It (being backup) was a little different,” admitted Kiazyk, who has two more years of junior eligibility. “But I embraced the role. I did all the team wanted me to do. Going in, Deacan was the graduating goalie and I didn’t have super-high expectations of playing.

“The coaches were confident in me. I was happy to be part of the team. I was grateful.”

Kiazyk would like to take his game to the junior A level in 2024. The Knights continue to explore the possibility of joining the Ontario junior A league or Kiazyk could sign with an existing team.

Believing his goaltending numbers should catch the attention of NLL coaches and scouts, he’s unsure which way his draft will go.

“I feel I won’t go unnoticed,” Kiazyk continued. “I’ve been on successful teams … and if you’re good, people will find you. It doesn’t matter where you play as long as you are getting better. I feel my stats with Nepean are good, but I can do much more.

“I feel if someone takes a chance, I can make it worth their while. I feel I have a chance, talking to coaches. Whether it’s a high or low pick, as long as I can get my foot in the door. I’d be content to play at the highest level.

“It would be huge (if drafted). Obviously, I’ve been in my craft for a long time. My goal is to play pro. It would be awesome. There have been a lot of people who have put in a lot of time to help me in lacrosse.”

When the NLL Draft is staged Sept. 16 at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, ON., Kiazyk will not attend as he will be playing a field lacrosse game for the Carleton University Ravens in Montreal against the McGill University Redbirds.

“I might take a peek (on the Internet for draft selections). I’ll let fate take place.

“I have to focus on the game.”

Kiazyk is already thinking like a pro.

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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