Vikings set for Round 3 with Ooks
University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings forward Travis Mayan snaps off a shot against the SAIT Trojans during the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men's hockey quarter-final in Camrose on Saturday. Augustana won 5-2 to sweep the series 2-0. They now face the NAIT Ooks in the semifinal this weekend. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
The University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men's hockey team is hoping third time is the charm.
The Vikings will meet the NAIT Ooks in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference playoffs for the third year in a row this weekend. The last two years have not ended in an Augusta series win, but UAA is coming off of a series sweep of the SAIT Trojans in which they played some of their best hockey of the season while the Ooks slumped down the stretch into their first-round bye.
"It's our turn," said Vikings head coach Blaine Gusdal. "It's one of those things we feel as a group, the last time we were successful and won as a group we had to go through NAIT, and the last time we were in the final and didn't win, it was against them."
The Vikings beat the Trojans two straight to win the ACAC best of three quarter-final, with a 3-0 score on Friday in Edmonton and 5-2 on Saturday.
Gusdal is encouraged with the idea that they have not played a complete game all season. The Vikings have also played the Ooks exceedingly close with three of their games decided by one goal, two of them in double overtime. This includes their first game of the year when Augustana blew a two-goal lead in the third period.
NAIT has done NAIT things all year and looked unstoppable up until the final two weekends of the regular season when they dropped their final three games but still finished atop the standings with a 23-3-3-1 record, six points clear of MacEwan University.
"They're first place for a reason, they're a perennial contender for a reason, they're a big school with big time players," said Gusdal. "It's going to be a fantastic series like it always is, and that's the way I like it. We're the little campus that could. We're 1,000 students and we're certainly not overpriced but the guys come to play. I'm really proud of the group right now. In order to be at the top of the mountain you have to go through the SAITs and NAITs."
The series will likely be decided by defensive play. The Ooks were the only team to score more than Augustana this season with a five-goal edge, but NAIT allowed 28 fewer goals. For Augustana to come out on top, they are going to have to match their rivals in own end.
On a positive note for the Vikings defenders lead the way in their sweep of Concordia. Curtis Skip stopped all 40 shots he faced in Game 1 and then 37 of the 39 shots he faced in Game 2. Meanwhile, the defensive pairing of Jimmy Sheehan and Joe Tambasco continues to develop into one of the best in the ACAC and Logan Sproule is looking better every game.
The Vikings' balanced attack continues to drive them as three different goal scorers tallied in Game 1 – Adam Osczevski, Cody Young and Dillan McCombie – while in Game 2 five players scores – Sheehan, Osczevski, Mitch McMullin. Travis Mayan and Taylor Armbruster.
"They had home ice on us and we knew we had to take it away," said Gusdal. "It was guys buying in and I'm really proud of the group."
The win extended their ACAC best current streak of seasons with a playoff series victory to nine. A major feather in the cap of a program that relies heavily on the support of the community and their alumni association.
"I'm really proud of this program because we really have to work hard at it," said Gusdal. "For nine straight years, we're the only program on that streak of being in the final four and winning at least one round of the playoffs, but all I can say right now is that's not enough. We have a group right now that can do something special, and that's our focus."
The best-of-three semifinal gets underway on Friday in Edmonton at 7 p.m. and then is back in Camrose for Game 2 on Saturday at 6 p.m. If Game 3 is needed, it will go Sunday in Edmonton at 6:30 p.m.
The other semifinal features defending ACAC champion MacEwan against the Red Deer College Kings.