Ooks sink Vikings in semis
University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings forward Adam Osczevski is tripped up as NAIT Ook Brandon Ralph looks on during Game 2 of the ACAC semifinal in Camrose on Saturday. NAIT won 4-1 to sweep the best-of-three series 2-0. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
Ooks 4, Vikings 1
The University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men's hockey team went out black and blue all over.
There was no whimper, but maybe the odd tear.
After a season of inconsistent effort and performances, their was no questioning their motivation during their two-game sweep to the NAIT Ooks in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference semifinal, which concluded with a 4-1 loss on Saturday in Camrose.
"I was real proud of how my boys emptied the tank this year, I'm really impressed with their resiliency and bounce back. It was a tough loss," said Vikings head coach Blaine Gusdal. "The games last weekend were physical, the games this weekend were the old prototypical hockey war. I thought the first period tonight was probably the best period of hockey I've seen played in this rink in my 10 years. It was men going at it like there was no tomorrow and that's the way our guys played."
The final score is misleading, in reality it was a 2-1 score padded by two empty net goals, and followed on the heals of a 4-3 double overtime game the night before in Edmonton.
The first 20 minutes of Game 2 were arguably the most physical and intense the Vikings years, and they exited with a 1-0 on a Cody Fiala goal.
Officials attempted to crack down on the physicality to keep the game under control in the second period with 10 minor penalties, and the Ooks managed to pull into the lead. First Colton Waltz blistered a wrist shot over the blocker of Vikings goalie Curtis Skip at 6:56 and then Matt McNeil banged home a rebound on a bang-bang play at 16:08.
The Vikings were unable to tie the game in the third period as the Ooks closed the game out with two empty-net goals.
Gusdal credits Ooks goalie Nathan Park for stealing the game for NAIT. He made several critical saves with the game on the line, including robbing the Augustana on a short-handed two-on-one break in the second period.
"We had some off the chart good scoring chances," said Gusdal. "I know that they, in their dressing room, were questioning if their young goaltender was capable of stepping up on such a big stage, and tonight Nathan Park was a difference maker for them … he made some phenomenal saves and made some big time scorers on our side shake their heads."
In Game 1, the Vikings rallied with two goals in the third period – including a Fiala tally with the goalie pulled and one minute remaining in regulation – to force overtime. The Ooks, however, controlled both overtime periods before Brandon Ralph scored the winner at 7:49 of the fifth period. Skip finished with 43 saves on the night while Park made 33 saves.
For a few Vikings – Harry Fredeman, Patrick Thompson-Gale and Zaine Walker – this was the final game of their ACAC careers and will leave a hole in the roster for Gusdal to fill this summer.
"Harry Fredeman and Pat Thompson-Gale are second to none when it comes to the type of people they are," said Gusdal. "Zaine Walker is the prototypical buy-in team player, in the mold of guys like Boyd Wakelin, Dane Bonish, and Richard Dupre... guys who played for five years and they really understand what it truly means to be a Viking and to be a Viking for the rest of your life. It's really tough to see those guys go."
This was the third year in a row the Ooks have ended the Vikings' season in the playoffs, the last two in the semifinals. This appeared to be the year the Vikings would potentially be able to get over the hump with the way they had played down the stretch and in their first round sweep of the SAIT Trojans. Instead, the Vikings will spend the summer looking back at squandered points that kept them from securing a top-two seed and a first round bye.
"It just hurts because nobody wants to be done," said Gusdal. "I've been doing this so long, and you don't get to have that rah-rah, life is great final speech that often. It's tough to know you end the year on a loss."
This will be the seventh straight year for the Ooks to qualify for the ACAC final. The MacEwan University Griffins swept the Red Deer College Kings in the other semifinal to set up a rematch of last year's final, won by MacEwan.