The NAIT Ooks men’s hockey team have won the ACAC championship and have finished season 36-0 after defeating the Augustana Vikings 3-2 in Game #2 Saturday in Camrose. The Ooks win best-of-3 series 2-0.
Game #1 – Friday, March 18
Augustana Vikings @ NAIT Ooks
Ooks win 4-3 OT
Game #2 – Saturday, March 19
NAIT Ooks @ Augustana Vikings
Ooks win 3-2
The reality of perfection is almost impossible to describe but, fortunately for the NAIT Ooks of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, they’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the feeling.
A pair of thrilling one-goal victories over the Augustana Vikings – 4-3 in overtime at home on Friday and 3-2 on Augustana territory 24 hours later – handed the Ooks their 35th and 36th consecutive triumphs in a championship journey that gave early promise of becoming truly remarkable for head coach Mike Gabinet, his assistants and a star-laden team that won all 32 of its regular season games before collecting 4 more in the playoffs.
On more than a few occasions during the regular schedule, the Ooks appeared too strong for any Alberta college rival, and perhaps most university rivals, to challenge. But whenever the opposition rose up in strength, the Ooks found the skill, the will and the level of preparation required to prevail.
Against Augustana, all of those elements – skill, will and preparation – were absolutely required.
A lesser team facing such pressure might have folded in the overtime victory on Friday after Augustana struck for three consecutive goals to force sudden-death overtime. But veteran right winger Connor Hoekstra needed less than six minutes of the extra session to convert on assists from Scott Fellnermayr and Jordan Wood.
Similar hardships were presented in the finale. This time, Wood was set up by Klarc Wilson and Trace Elson with less than four minutes remaining in regulation time.
However vital, those individual plays stand only as part of a season-long search for a season that may never equalled in Canadian college hockey.
Veteran forward John Dunbar was the Ooks’ scoring leader and won the ACAC points total for the second consecutive year. He accounted for two goals in the victory at home. Riley Sheen added the other, adding to a superb rookie season in which he joined numerous other teammates among the league’s premier point-getters.
Adding to Wood’s late-game winner on Saturday night were defenceman Chris Lijdsman and Tanner Dunkle, whose scoring touch previously highlighted the Ooks’ semi-final sweep – 6-0 and 5-1 over the Red Deer Kings.
As always, the Ooks rode the sensational netminding of second-year standout Kenny Coleman in most of their wins. He stopped 26 of 28 shots on Saturday after blocking 22 of 25 one night earlier. NAIT’s offensive power, which had been on display in almost every game, created a total of 90 shots in the deciding victories over the game and well-coached Vikings, who finished second during the regular season and clearly earned their berth in the finals.