By Kirk Jessome
It was a tale of two halves for the men’s hockey team. After a shaky start, the Tigers had a big push in the second half of the season to qualify for the conference championship for the first time in seven years.
The team was led on the defensive end by senior goaltender Corbin Boes who made more saves this season than any other goalie in the country at 866 over 30 regular season games.
In front of him, Colton Heffley led the scoring for the Tigers with 12 goals and a total of 21 points in his first season at centre after playing defence his first two seasons. Behind Heffley in scoring were Jackson Playfair and first-year defenceman Aiden Jamieson.
Head coach Chris Donnelly was very pleased with the ability of his team’s first-year players to adapt to the style of play throughout the season.
“We felt all of our first-year guys developed extremely quickly and provided some much-needed offence,” says Donnelly. “Going forward, our success will depend on how they progress with the increased responsibilities and ice time.”
The first half did not go as hoped for the team, who got off to a rocky start with six of their first eight games ending in losses to nationally-ranked teams. After two wins over Moncton, the Tigers suffered an 11-game losing streak that saw the Tigers go into the break at 2-16.
There was no quit in the group however, and the Tigers were able to turn it around in the second half, putting together a winning record at the end of a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.
The streak included wins against three nationally-ranked teams, including the number two ranked StFX, and Donnelly credits his group with showing incredible determination to regroup for their second half run.
“We have a great dressing room filled with leadership of former captains and assistant captains of junior teams. The success that we had was a direct result of us solving problems that were standing in the way of winning.”
The second half turnaround pushed the Tigers into an AUS playoff spot with a record of 9-21, facing off against Acadia in the quarter-final series, their first appearance in the conference playoffs since the 2010-11 season.
It was a hard-fought series, with the scores of the games not quite reflecting how close they really were, but the Tigers dropped back-to-back games in the series with scores of 5-2 and 4-2.
Not a single player on the roster had experienced an AUS playoff game before the series against Acadia, and Donnelly believes that series will help them in the future.
“Any time you get to experience the elevated intensity of a playoff series it will only benefit your program. The feeling you get in those elimination games is difficult to duplicate in any other situation. We feel the improvement of our team will allow us to take the next step as a program.”