By Kirk Jessome
Looking to improve upon last year’s 4-6-2 record, the Tigers didn’t disappoint in their hunt to return to the AUS playoffs.
The group was led up front by seniors Kallen Heenan and Freddy Bekkers all season, both vocally and with performance. Heenan and Bekkers were a phenomenal give-and-take combination on offence and combined to out-score three teams in the conference, by themselves.
The first part of the season couldn’t have gone better for the Tigers, who went undefeated through the entire first half, outscoring their opponents 18-0. AUS first team all-star Ben Grondin earned seven shutouts during the run in his sophomore season.
Head coach Pat Nearing had a lot of confidence in his young defensive group.
“Isaiah McCullough’s return to the line up was a huge plus for us in the back,” he says. “First-year Alex Knesaurek’s addition to the back line was also gave the team a boost, while Mike (Trim) and Emilio (Roche) anchored the full-back positions. The chemistry was right, and the defence knew what they had to do, and for the most part, they did it.”
The Tigers took advantage of their early success to prepare for the back end of the season where the schedule would be a bit tougher. They struggled offensively, but picked up another win in the last four games to finish the regular season with a record of 7-3-2, good for fourth-place in the conference.
They faced Acadia in the quarter-final round of the AUS championship. Heenan scored the lone goal of the match, while keeper Ben Grondin was stellar in nets, making 10 saves in the win and earning his ninth shutout of the season.
The Tigers ran into the defending national champions in the semifinal, which challenged the Tigers on defence.
“We knew from the Acadia game and our league game against CBU that in order to be successful, we had to stay tight defensively, limit mistakes and take advantage of any chances that fell our way,” says Nearing. “Which is exactly what we did to beat Acadia.”
They held the Capers scoreless through 60 minutes, and put together some scoring chances that could have changed the game, but it was not to be. Cape Breton scored off a free kick in the 61st minute giving them the momentum to take a 3-0 victory and eliminate the Tigers.
With the opportunity for nearly the entire roster to return, the Tigers will look to extend their playoff run next season.