The team bus pulled from the ultra-modern TD place on a chilly night on the banks of the Rideau Canal in the nation’s capital, as it did team captain, Ivan Lodnia, and alternates Oliver Castleman, and Elijah Roberts were unknowingly turning their backs on their final career Ontario Hockey League game.
Two days later, the league announced a pause to the remainder of the 2019-20 OHL schedule due to COVID-19, By Wednesday, March 18th the OHL had announced the cancellation of the remaining games left on the regular-season schedule.
“I am certainly disappointed for the over-agers,” IceDogs General Manager Joey Burke said Saturday morning. “These guys battled extremely hard all year and wanted to help get this young group into the playoffs. To not be able to have that last swing, and to not be honoured as they should is very disappointing, and I feel for all three of them.”
Burke, clearly has a vision for his organization; family.
“We are one big family. When we bring a player into the IceDogs’ family, they know that for the rest of their lives they’re a part of this organization and this family. I’m extremely proud of everyone who comes through this building, everyone that puts on our jersey, and puts their heart on their sleeve for this organization.”
All three players, who have graduated out of the program exemplify this ethic. No doubt, they are excited for the challenges that lie ahead. At the same time, they also carry many positive memories from their time in the ‘Garden City’.
“I consider the Burkes my second family. The way they’ve taken care of me and my family is special,” Lodnia said.
Roberts was equally emphatic, “Niagara has always been a family environment for me. No matter where I am in the future, I’ll be checking in, for sure,” he said.
Castleman, a native of Ottawa, Ontario has found a home-away-from-home.
“Niagara will always be home. I love the city of St. Catharines, from the fans, to my billets and coaches, every little detail. The best four years of my life happened when I was in Niagara. I’ll never forget the time I had here. Words can’t describe how thankful I am that [the Burkes] drafted me, and helped me become the man I am today. From showing up to the rink on time, to teaching me what’s right and wrong, on and off the ice, I owe them a lot for my success.”
Burke agrees that his over-agers have achieved a great deal, “All three leave quite an impressive legacy. They’re our leaders and we will make sure their time in Niagara is honoured as soon as we’re able to do so.”
The executive, who excels as a teacher and mentor, noted that he is most proud of his graduates’ growth as people.
“It was a privilege and an honour to watch these guys grow and develop into elite athletes and elite human-beings.”