Sunaya Sapurji

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Sunaya Sapurji is the junior hockey columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Sunaya previously worked at the Toronto Star for 10 years as a copy editor and writer covering the Ontario Hockey League.

  • 'Minny Boy' Oliver Bjorkstrand becomes leading man in the WHL

    Oliver Bjorkstrand #27 of the Portland Winterhawks. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)Oliver Bjorkstrand #27 of the Portland Winterhawks. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

    Oliver Bjorkstrand’s home in Herning, Demark is a long way from Minnesota. Despite that fact, the Portland Winterhawks star has found himself in an elite group among his teammates. There are four players on the Western Hockey League club who call the state of Minnesota home.

    Somehow, Bjorkstrand has managed to join the group as an honourary Minny Boy.

    “We let him in the group,” said teammate Paul Bittner, who hails from the small-town of Crookston, Minn. “He’s our fifth member for sure; he calls himself a Minny Boy.”

    There are other ties to be sure. Bjorkstrand’s father, Todd, is a former pro player who left home in Minneapolis to play in the top Danish league with Herning before retiring and becoming a hockey coach.

    Bjorkstrand says his favourite team growing up was the Minnesota Wild, because he really liked watching Marian Gaborik. A childhood in Denmark, however, meant his NHL viewings were limited to what he could find on YouTube and on the league’s website.

    Now, as the WHL’s top

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  • Charlottetown's MacCallum helps rescue Islanders in QMJHL playoffs

    Daryl MacCallum (#35), of the Charlottetown Islanders. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Ghyslain BergeronDaryl MacCallum (#35), of the Charlottetown Islanders. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Ghyslain Bergeron

    Mason McDonald was injured on what looked like an innocuous pad save. There was no big collision, no contact and no writhing in pain when the goaltender left some five minutes into Game 3 of the Charlottetown Islanders’ QMJHL first-round playoff game against the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

    On the bench, coach Gordie Dwyer had no idea how bad the injury was though he was concerned since McDonald – one of the top young goalies in the league – was a huge part of Charlottetown’s regular-season success.

    Further down the bench, backup goalie Daryl MacCallum was quickly coming to the realization that he’d have to protect the Islanders’ fragile two-goal lead with almost a full game to go.

    MacCallum, a rookie, came into the game with a goals against average of 4.65 and a save percentage of .859 – not exactly all-star stats.

    “When I found out (McDonald) was injured, I was nervous,” said the 19-year-old, who played in 23 regular season games. “When I entered the net I had butterflies, but after the

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  • Team Canada turns to Lowry for 2016 world juniors in Helsinki

    Dave LowryDave Lowry

    When Canada tries to recreate their golden moment from world junior championships in December, they’ll have a familiar face behind the bench.

    On Monday, Dave Lowry, an assistant coach from the gold-medal winning 2015, was chosen to lead the 2016 squad in Helsinki. The 50-year-old, was in charge of the defence last year when Canada won its first gold since 2009.

    “It’s simple,” said Lowry in a conference call. “We’re going to continue to build on the momentum that we generated in 2015 and my mandate moving forward will be that we will, once again, look to take the best players and we’re going to make the players buy into playing the game a certain way and that’ll be our way.”

    Lowry, who is head coach of the Western Hockey League’s Victoria Royals, will be joined on the bench by assistants Dominique Ducharme, head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads, and D.J. Smith, head coach of the Oshawa Generals.

    Drummondville Voltigeurs coach Martin Raymond, Canada’s “eye-in-the-sky” at last year’s

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  • Departure of Bulls from Belleville sparks memories for alumni

    Luke Judson of the Belleville Bulls. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL ImagesLuke Judson of the Belleville Bulls. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

    It is a rivalry that started long before there was major junior hockey in either city.  The dislike – fans might use a stronger word – between the sporting cities of Kingston and Belleville has been raging for years.

    It goes back to the old senior hockey days, and the big Junior B battles that spilled over into baseball as well. 

    “There were some pretty intense games back then,” said Larry Mavety.

    No one is probably as well versed in the hockey rivalry between the two cities as Mavety, now 72, who served as general manager and head coach for both the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs and Belleville Bulls at various times during the course of his legendary hockey career. He was there for the early days of the Belleville Bulls, back in 1979, as head coach of the Tier II junior club before the team joined the OHL.

    The Bulls spent 34 years in the OHL before owner Gord Simmonds, a businessman from Uxbridge, Ont., announced he had sold the team and it was moving to Hamilton.

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  • Belleville Bulls sold, OHL team moving to Hamilton

    Belleville Bulls. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL ImagesBelleville Bulls. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

    Many fans and observers in the Ontario Hockey League knew this day was coming.

    On Thursday afternoon, Quinte News first reported that the Belleville Bulls had been sold and are moving. The news was confirmed later in the day by the OHL which confirmed the team would be playing out of Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre starting in the 2015-16 season.

    The Bulls had been a part of the OHL since 1981, and according to reports out of Belleville there was no attempt from owner Gord Simmonds to find a local buyer or any discussion with the city about a move.

     

     In the OHL's press release, commissioner David Branch welcomed Hamilton to the league, saying, "Hamilton has a long and storied history in junior hockey and we look forward to building on this tradition starting next season.”

    Hamilton has been home to a number of OHL franchise in the

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  • Jake Paterson's trade to Kitchener has put the Rangers back into the game

    Jake Paterson is reticent to take any credit for the recent success of the Kitchener Rangers. He'd rather credit the defence playing in front of him or his relatively new teammates for changing the group dynamic.

    There is, however, no humility in the facts. Prior to the Rangers acquiring the 20-year-old goaltender, the team was mired at the bottom of the Western Conference standings battling with his former team - the Saginaw Spirit - for the last playoff spot. The Rangers weren't expected to be a powerhouse and they stayed true to form.

    The first game in a Rangers uniform, Paterson stopped 29 shots for his first shutout of the season, a 5-0 victory over the Belleville Bulls. Since the trade, Paterson is 9-3-1.

    "Whenever you get traded to a new team there's new scenery and personally I just wanted to get off on the right foot," said Paterson. "The first few games went well and for the most part I think most of that's because of the team, the guys have been playing well since I got

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  • Sarnia's Josh Chapman suspended 12 games for dangerous head hit

    Joshua Chapman of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images.Joshua Chapman of the Sarnia Sting. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images.

    Sarnia defenceman Josh Chapman will have a long time to think about his actions. The Ontario Hockey League suspended the 20-year-old for 12 games for his hit to the head of Ottawa 67's winger Ben Fanjoy.

    Chapman's elbow makes clear contact with Fanjoy's head and there is no attempt to avoid the collision whatsoever. According to the league, Chapman is a repeat offender and Fanjoy was injured on the play.


    The incident occurred during a game in Ottawa on Jan. 30. After Ottawa's 5-0 victory over the Sting, 67's head coach Jeff Brown told reporters these types of hits are ones that need to be removed from the game at all costs.

    "That's the stuff that I talk about all the time ... I'm so passionate about it because I lost my career because of it," Brown told reporters. "It's got to get out of the game. Good strong hard battling is fine but ... the gutless stuff to the head has got to get out of the game.

    Chapman is eligible to return to the Sarnia lineup on Feb. 27, when the Sting host

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  • OHL approves sale, move of Plymouth Whalers to Flint

    The Plymouth Whalers are moving to Flint (Aaron Bell, OHL Images).The Plymouth Whalers are moving to Flint (Aaron Bell, OHL Images).

    The Ontario Hockey League's 25-year run in the Metro Detroit area came to a close on Monday as the league's board of governors approved the sale of the Plymouth Whalers.

    The team's new owner, Rolf Nilsen, who purchased the team from long-time owner Peter Karmanos, will move the team to Flint, Mich., for the 2015-16 season. The team will play out of Perani Arena, which OHL commissioner David Branch said will need some minor renovations to things like dressing rooms and board and glass systems in order to be suitable for major junior team.

    Branch said the league was impressed by the amenities the city of just under 100,000 had to offer prospective players, though they'll be staying in the suburb of Grand Blanc, Mich.

    "We're really excited because we understand first and foremost the responsibility we have for our players and their families to make sure that this is going to be a great place for them to grow and develop," said Branch on a conference call. "It's an exciting time for us

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  • Kelowna's Nick Merkley proves cream rises to the top for NHL draft

    Nick Merkley #10 of Kelowna Rockets (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)Nick Merkley #10 of Kelowna Rockets (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

    ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — At the hotel for the 2015 Top Prospects Game, Nick Merkley went on a scouting mission. He wasn’t looking to gain insights into Thursday night’s opposition – Team Cherry in this case – or for anything that would give him an on ice advantage playing in the showcase featuring the best young NHL draft prospects in the Canadian Hockey League.

    No.

    What he was desperate to find was something far sweeter: An ice cream sandwich.

    This season those cold treats have become an integral part of his pre-game ritual prior to home games with his Kelowna Rockets. Merkley said he once forgot to eat one and had a rough game, so he wanted to make sure he had one at the ready for the big game.

    These are the capricious thoughts of teenage hockey stars.

    “It’s probably not the best thing to have,” said Merkley with a smile, noting the Oreo are his favourite among ice cream sandwiches. “It’s working so far.”

    There’s no question – ice cream or not – that Merkley is having a breakout year.

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  • Canada bent but wouldn't break in reclaiming the world junior hockey championship

    Long before the game started fans were outside the Air Canada Centre in eager anticipation. It was a night that Canada had been dreaming about since last winning gold in 2009. It was the night their world junior championship drought ended.

    It was a tense 5-4 victory over Russia which saw Canada take a four-goal lead only to watch it slowly evaporate. Many still remembered the collapse of 2011 in Buffalo when the Russians came back from a three-goal deficit to steal the gold in front of many Canadian fans that had made the trek across the border. But as the seconds dwindled and final buzzer went Monday night there was nothing left for the Russians to do except accept defeat amid the chaos on the ice. Sticks and gloves littered the ice as players took turns jumping into each other’s arms.

    The crowd of 19,014 at the Air Canada Centre, who had been raucous all game, went absolutely wild.

    “My ears are still ringing a little bit from it,” said Team Canada captain Curtis Lazar. “It was

    Read More »from Canada bent but wouldn't break in reclaiming the world junior hockey championship

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