The ACAC hockey season is over and the golden celebration is paired with a little blue. The NAIT Ooks men’s hockey team made a triumphant return to the championship series by dethroning the defending champions, and bitter rivals, the SAIT Trojans. The Ooks took an early lead in the best-of-three series in dramatic fashion on home ice, beating SAIT 4-3 in overtime on Friday night, before trouncing the Trojans 6-2 in Game 2 at SAIT on Saturday.
The win is a sweet one for head coach Serge Lajoie and the veteran squad after losing to the Trojans in last year’s final. NAIT takes home the program’s 15th championship and second in three years, finishing the season with a 30-5-0-1 record. The Ooks wasted no time in the series’ opening frame, with fourth-year left winger Jordan Wood finding the net just over three minutes into the period.
All-Conference forward John Dunbar and Dallen Hall picked up assists. NAIT doubled the visitors in shots but only led by one after 20 minutes of play. All-Conference forward Michael Piluso put the Ooks up by two just 26 seconds into the second (with an assist from Josh Lazowski), but the Trojans cut the deficit back to one two minutes later. Those proved to be the only scores of the period, although the teams did combine for 10 penalty minutes.
NAIT jumped back ahead by two off an early power-play tally by Wood, (Charles Wells and Tyler French assisting) but the Trojans dominated the middle of the third, scoring two goals just under three minutes apart to tie the game. Things got rough as both teams went at each other every play but regulation time ran out, sending the game to overtime. A little over six minutes into the extra frame, SAIT got dinged with a too-many-men call, putting the home team on the powerplay. The Ooks needed only 19 seconds as Piluso fired in his second of the game, off Dunbar and AllConference defenceman Sam Waterfield. Goaltender Kenny Cameron continued his fine play between the pipes with 22 saves. NAIT outshot the Trojans 42-25 in the game. Despite the fun involved with winning at home, the Ooks had no intention of letting the series continue past Game 2 in Calgary. The Ooks’ streak of good starts continued with goals in the first half of the opening period. Piluso, Dunbar and Lazowski pocketed the stats for both goals, with Dunbar grabbing the first goal and Piluso grabbing the second. Trojan forward Brenden Forbes got his team on the board late in the first but the Ooks stretched the lead to three midway through the second, with an even-strength goal from Wood and a power-play marker from Kevin Carthy.
Despite another late goal from Forbes, the Ooks’ depth was too much for the Trojans as Piluso and captain Scott Fellnermayr put the game away in the third. The only ugly part of the game was several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, all but one going to the Trojans. Cameron made 24 saves to solidify the win.
Winning the championship marks another successful campaign for the Ooks hockey program. In addition to sweeping men’s and women’s hockey, the win over the Trojans is the sixth ACAC championship won by NAIT Athletics this year.