The NAIT Ooks squared off in the ACAC Championships this week against their top rival, the Red Deer College Queens, after finishing first overall in the rankings. The Ooks came out with a 2-1 win at home on Thursday, March 5, but lost 3-2 two days later in Red Deer. The Ooks had to wait for the Queens to play out a best-of-three semifinal against the SAIT Trojans. The final is best-of-five series.
Queens strike first
Friday night, the Queens’ Rachael Hoppins struck first, 12 minutes into the second period with a shorthanded goal, which ended up as the Queens only goal of the game. With a couple minutes left in the second period, NAIT centre Sherri Bowles scored off a feed from Haley Vandepoele. Red Deer took several penalties, giving the Ooks ample opportunity to score. The game was tied heading into the third, it wasn’t until late into the period when Karli Reeve smacked in the winner with assists from Vandepoele and Hoppins; preventing the game from going into overtime. NAIT goaltender Jill Diachuk made 22 saves, allowing the Ooks to narrowly escape with the victory.
Better as game went on
“We got better as the game went on and we kept our composure,” said head coach Deanna Iwanicka. “We need to play as a team and we need everyone to contribute.” The ACAC also announced awards for the All-Conference teams during the series, along with player of the year and coach of the year. NAIT’s Sherri Bowles and Breanna Frasca were named to the First All-Conference team and coach Iwanicka was presented with the coach of the year. Entering Saturday’s game, the Ooks knew it wasn’t going to be easy to defeat the Queens. RDC’s Casey Nicholosn opened up the game with the first goal half way through the first period on a power play. Coming into the second period RDC had a one-point lead and they continued the lead, scoring another goal on the power play. With less than half the period to go, Bowles scored NAIT’s first goal of the game. Red Deer outshot the Ooks 14-4 in the second period and they retained momentum going into the third. All it took was one minute for the Queens’ Cassidy Holt to score and put the home team up by two. It wasn’t until later in the third when Reeve fired home her second goal of the week, pulling the Ooks to within one. Despite pressure at the end, NAIT’s efforts were too little, too late. “We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play good enough,” said Iwanicka. “Winning a championship is about not making mistakes. You’ve got to be as close to perfect as possible and this is accomplished by using the season to prepare.” “I just think these past two games prove that it’s going to be a tough battle to get the cup. Reaching a three-peat isn’t going to be easy,” said Ook defenceman Jocelyn Racic. “But I’m confident we can get there.” It’s a fair split between the two teams after game one and two of the championship series. This weekend the Ooks have two, possibly three, games left to defend the title. Game 3 goes tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. here at the NAIT arena. Puck drop for Saturday afternoon’s Game 4 is at 3 p.m. in Red Deer and, if Game 5 is needed, NAIT hosts the action at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
By FARYAL BASHIR