By Martin Cleary
Welcome to Ottawa, the centre of the universe for Canadian amateur men’s club soccer.
For the second year in a row, an Ottawa team has won the Challenge Trophy, which is emblematic of men’s soccer supremacy at the national club level. And for the third time in as many Canadian championships, an Ottawa side has played in the gold-medal final.
On the heels of Ottawa St. Anthony reaching the 2019 Canadian men’s championship final and the Gloucester Celtic winning the 2022 Challenge Trophy, the West Ottawa Soccer Club Warriors stepped up on Thanksgiving Monday and emerged as champions in their first attempt at the Toyota National Championship.
A late first-half goal by midfielder Zach El-Shafei and the shutout goaltending of Anton Favre allowed the Warriors to blank Western Halifax FC 1-0 at the Mainland Commons in Halifax in the 99th playing of the national men’s championship.
The gold-medal victory gave the Warriors a Triple Crown, of sorts, as West Ottawa had earlier won the Ontario Cup to qualify for nationals and the Ottawa Cup. The Warriors also finished first in the Ottawa-Carleton District Soccer League.
Midfielder Javane Henry was selected the most valuable player at the Canadian men’s championship.
“I thought in the first half we absolutely dominated the game,” West Ottawa head coach Stephen O’Kane said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “We had tons of chances.
“But in the second half, Western Halifax came out guns-a-blazing. It was a dogfight. We had watched them play another game and we knew what we would be up against.”
The championship game was the fifth match in six days for the Warriors, who were more familiar playing a single game a week in the Ottawa-Carleton District Soccer League.
“It’s hard to put into words,” O’Kane admitted, after watching his team play four games in four days, post a 3-1 record to place first in its preliminary pool and then have a day off to rest, recuperate and hydrate before the championship game.
He called the experience “gruelling and exhausting,” but in the end it was “pure elation.”
Three of the Warriors’ four wins were by one goal and they had one lopsided victory. The Warriors lost their final round-robin game to finish preliminary play at 3-1 and advance to the championship match.
In their opening game, the Warriors defeated Quebec’s Rapides Chaudière-Ouest 2-1 on goals by Ricky Comba and Henry. But the team lost Mahir Hadziresic for the remainder of the championship, after he sustained a knee injury.
Centre back Brady Curkovic scored the lone goal and Favre picked up the shutout as the Warriors blanked Surrey BB5 United 1-0 to improve to 2-0.
The Warriors moved to 3-0 with an 8-0 decision over Fredericton Picaroons as Malek Belhaj scored three goals and Matias Markus and Marco Bastianelli counted two goals each. Owen McKee added the other marker. Goalkeeper Mitch LeClair kept Fredericton off the score sheet.
In its final preliminary game, the Warriors allowed three second-half goals and lost 3-1 to Winnipeg Lions, but still finished in first place. Marco Natoli scored in a losing cause. The Warriors played the majority of the game down one player, after Jack Pensom received a red card in the 8th minute.
Left back Emad Houache also missed a preliminary game because of illness.
O’Kane had a lineup of 20 players, but had plenty of depth to successfully build his lineup for each game, despite missing key players at certain times.
“We played five very good teams. These games were more gruelling than our regular-season games. But without the depth and our two young players (Simon Rochon and Markus), we would not have won the championship,” O’Kane added.
“Some of the guys have extra abilities to change the course and shine through to win a game.”
Henry was a constant force throughout the championship and was part of the lead up to El-Shafei scoring the game-winning goal off a volley kick in the final.
“It was more than well deserved,” O’Kane said about Henry’s selection as MVP. “I have never seen a player fouled more than he was. Eight or nine times he was fouled and we’d get a free kick. He was booted all over the place. He was a threat all the time.”
Henry was playing his first year with the Warriors.
“I’m surprised he’s not playing at a higher level. He’s one of the most determined players that I have coached and has plenty of will power. He’s just a force,” O’Kane added.
The Warriors were champions in another way as they met their fund raising goal of $20,000 to attend the championship. A Go Fund Me campaign organized by O’Kane raised almost $12,000 and the West Ottawa Soccer Club and Mirror Works Inc. made up the difference to cover their travel expense costs.
Ottawa made its first appearance in the national men’s amateur championship final in 1980, when Maple Leaf Almraush lost to Saint John Drydock Islanders 3-2. In the past 18 championships, Ottawa has been represented in the final six teams and won the gold medal four times.
Ottawa St. Anthony was the 2006 winner and Gloucester Celtic reached the champion’s circle in 2013 and 2022. The other silver medallists were Ottawa Royals in 2004 and St. Anthony in 2019.
In 2016, the Celtic were the national bronze medallists.
“I love to see that,” O’Kane said about the recent success of Ottawa men’s teams. “Gloucester has blazed the path and we have been fortunate to carry it on.
“We played them (Celtic) three times this year in the league. It (Ottawa) has become a bit of a hotbed for soccer. It was harder to win the league.”
HIGH-SCORING GEE-GEES WOMEN’S SOCCER TEAM POSTS 2 SHUTOUTS
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees recorded a pair of shutouts in OUA women’s soccer, blanking the Carleton University Ravens 3-0 and the Royal Military College Paladins 8-0.
Cassandra Provost paced the Gee-Gees with two goals against the Ravens and three goals in the RMC game. She leads the OUA with 16 goals and 48 shots.
Nibo Dlamini, who assisted on Provost’s two goals, scored the other goal against the Ravens and Juliann Lacasse stopped five shots for the shutout.
Jenna Matsukubo counted one goal and added three assists against RMC. The other Gee-Gees goals came from Sabrina Mangiaracina and Elianne Gervais. Matsukubo is ranked No. 2 in the OUA in assists at eight.
Cassidy Joslin and Lacasse shared the shutout, playing 45 minutes apiece.
CARLETON QUALIFIES FOR OUA BASEBALL FINAL FOUR
The Carleton University Ravens are in the running for the OUA baseball championship.
The Ravens notched two wins and a tie and won the Far East qualifying tournament at the RCGT Stadium. They will advance to the OUA championship tournament Friday and Saturday in Hamilton against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, the McMaster University Marauders and the University of Waterloo Warriors.
In the Far East regional, the Ravens defeated Queen’s University Gaels 11-1 and tied the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 6-6 to qualify for the final against Queen’s. The Ravens rallied in the eighth inning to post a 10-5 win over Queen’s.
GEE-GEES, RAVENS ADVANCE TO RSEQ WOMEN’S RUGBY SEMIFINALS
The second-place University of Ottawa Gee-Gees will face the third-place Concordia University Stingers, while the first-place Laval University Rouge et Or will take on the fourth-place Carleton University Ravens in the RSEQ women’s rugby semifinals on Saturday.
The Gee-Gees finished their regular season at 5-1, following a 69-0 win over Bishop’s University Gaiters. Ketsia Kamba recorded three tries, Jamie Lee Walker added a pair and singles went to Ella Blyth, Tylo Borsboom, Alysia Comtois, Farida Elsharkawy, Taelor Hendrick and Leigha Stiles. Aurora Bowie kicked seven converts.
Carleton lost its final regular-season game 73-7 to Laval to finish at 3-3. Anna Norman had the Ravens’ try and convert.
GEE-GEES, RAVENS DROP OUA FOOTBALL GAMES
It was a lost weekend for the University of Ottawa Gees-Gees and the Carleton University Ravens football teams as they both lost critical games with only two weeks remaining in the OUA regular-season schedule.
Despite leading 19-11 and then trailing by only two points at halftime, the Gee-Gees dropped a 38-30 decision at home to the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks. The Gee-Gees are tied for fourth place with Queen’s University Gaels and University of Guelph Gryphons at 3-3.
Quarterback Josh Janssen tossed touchdown passes to Nicholas Gendron (nine yards) and Robin Collioud (four yards), while Amlicar Polk ran five yards for a touchdown.
Campbell Fair kicked field goals from 28 and 17 yards as well as two converts. Janssen connected with Maxim Malenfant for a two-point convert. The Gee-Gees also registered a team safety.
Polk rushed for his fifth century game this season, gaining 112 yards on 18 carries. Janssen completed 20 of 27 passes for 233 yards and Gendron caught five for 82 yards.
The Ravens dropped to seventh place in the OUA standings, after losing 35-16 to Queen’s. The top six teams will make the playoffs.
Tristan Ready caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tristan Lefebvre and Brandon Forcier added the convert to give the Ravens an early 7-0 advantage.
But the Ravens couldn’t find the end zone for the rest of the game. Forcier kicked field goals from 42 and 33 yards, Joey Sciandra booted a single and the Ravens were credited with a team safety.
Lefebvre gained 282 yards passing by connecting on 22 of 33 pass attempts. Kaseem Ferdinard made seven receptions for 95 yards. Defensively, Louis Lavaud made nine solo tackles.
WEIDEMANN, BLONDIN EARN 3 MEDALS EACH AT NATIONALS
Gloucester skaters Isabelle Weidemann and Ivanie Blondin collected three medals apiece at the Canadian long-track speed skating championships in Calgary.
Weidemann won the women’s 5,000 metres in six minutes, 56.28 seconds, while Blondin was third in 7:04.65. In the 3,000 metres, Weidemann placed second in 4:04.76 and Blondin took third in 4:06.09.
Blondin was the fastest in the 1,000 metres in 1:15.62. Weidemann took second in the 1,500 metres in 1:56.16.
Vincent De Haitre of Cumberland placed third in the men’s 1,000 metres in 1:08.31.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
· The Canadian men’s volleyball team defeated Mexico 25-20, 25-21, 25-15 in its final game at the Men’s Olympic Volleyball Qualifying Tournament in Xi’an, China, to earn a ticket to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. Canada placed second in its pool with a 5-2 record. Gatineau’s Nicholas Hoag is captain of the Canadian team, which qualified for its third consecutive Games.
· Rachel Weber of the Ottawa Rowing Club and Sally Jones of Rowing B.C. won the women’s U23 pair title at the Canadian rowing championships at the Quamichan Lake, B.C., national training centre, while Julien Weise of Rowing B.C. and Aidan Hembruff of Western University and the Ottawa Rowing Club were bronze medallists in the men’s U23 pair.
· Nepean Knights’ goalkeeper Thomas Kiazyk has signed a two-year contract with the National Lacrosse League’s Saskatchewan Rush, who drafted him in the second round and No. 20 overall. Kiazyk has two years of junior eligibility remaining.
· The Rideau Curling Club will celebrate the Howard Rajala rink’s world men’s senior curling championship Wednesday night with the presentation of the champion’s banner. The other members of the rink are Phil Daniel, Paul Madden, Chris Fulton and Rich Moffat.
· Ottawa’s Michael Woods finished 12th at the Il Lombardia road cycling race, which is the final Monument test of the 2023 season.
· Ottawa’s Trinity Lowthian earned a top finish of 15th place out of three events at the Oct. 2-8 Wheelchair Fencing World Championships in Italy. The 21-year-old beat an opponent from The Netherlands en route to the table of 16 round in the women’s epée B classification before falling to a Brazilian competitor. Lowthian also placed 25th in sabre and 27th in foil.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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