After a month of vacation, NAIT players and coaching staff are getting back into the groove of the hockey season. Both teams had fought their way to the top of the standings before the Christmas break and the women remain in first after a split last weekend with the Red Deer Queens and now sit at 9-2-1.
Offence was hard to find in the women’s game Thursday night in Red Deer but the Ooks edged out the home team for the 2-1 shootout victory. Breanna Frasca and Alyssa Shorts found the back of the net in the shootout, while Jill Diachuk was a wall, allowing no goals in the shootout and making 13 saves during the game.
“It was a rough start for sure,” said head coach Deanna Iwanicka. “We were executing things well, we just weren’t gritty and competitive.”
The women continued to struggle offensively Friday evening at home, losing 1-0 to the Queens. Laura Wagner made 21 saves though, allowing the lone goal on a Red Deer power play.
But with any team there are always things to work on and, for the women, it’s chemistry.
“Chemistry is something I think we still need to find,” said Iwanicka. “We need to score more goals.”
With two months left of condensed, intense hockey on tap, the women are looking to balance both school and hockey in the weeks to come.
So what’s on the horizon for our Ooks? Well, both teams want to keep their momentum from an excellent first half; a tall order with things heating up in the ACAC. The men’s team has yet to play since coming back from the break, enjoying the time off after a gruelling first semester.
“The break was welcome,” said head coach Serge Lajoie. “It was good to step away from hockey, finish up exams and spend time with family.”
The coaches have a strong belief in reiterating the good habits of the last half and instilling confidence in their players going into these final few months of hockey. The coaches also made a few changes during the break that fans are going to love watching.
“On ice, we wanted to tweak our approach and mindset to how we play the puck and I think that’s been really refreshing to the guys,” said Lajoie.
Despite such a long break, Lajoie isn’t worried about the players’ fitness and is confident they will hit the ice in fine style.
“We made sure they didn’t lose their conditioning. We had a focus for them off ice to make sure that when they did come back they would still be at a decent level.”
Speaking of conditioning, no one knows how important it is better than Kenny Cameron, the Ooks only goaltender for the first half of the season. Luckily, he doesn’t have to go it alone anymore because Kyle Birch is back! He has been out with a knee injury since the beginning of the season. The team is ecstatic at having the reigning ACAC Male Athlete of the Year and top goaltender to share the net with Cameron.
“Both of them are competitive, they have a great relationship, they push each other and they respect each other’s abilities,” said Lajoie.
The guys and gals are excited and so are the fans. Ook nation can utilize that excitement again this weekend by cheering on the women against the SAIT Trojans. Puck drop for the home game is 7 p.m. Friday while the game in Calgary is the same time on Saturday.
The men closed out with a 14-3-0-1 record after soundly defeating Briercrest 9-4 just before the break.
They are on the road to take on the scrappy Keyano Huskies. Catch those games online at 7 p.m. Friday and 1:35 Saturday afternoon on the Ooks website.