NAIT ends Kings’ hockey season
Ooks 6 Kings 1
PENHOLD — The RDC Kings first season back into the Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League after being away for nine years, came to an abrupt end Saturday, but looking back there were more positives than negatives.
“It hurts to lose that last game and get knocked out of a series, but we talked to the guys about taking a step back and looking at the big picture,” said Kings head coach Trevor Keeper after dropping a 6-1 decision to the NAIT Ooks at the Penhold Regional Multiplex Saturday, which eliminated them from the best-of-three ACAC semifinals 2-0.
“We used the example of NAIT, which four years ago were out of the playoffs. They then reached the quarter-finals, the semifinals and then the final. They’re peaking after four or five years of work. We reached the semifinal in our first year back and we have to be proud of that. We can use the team we just played as a measuring stick and use this as a learning experience.”
Despite the 6-2 and 6-1 wins over the Kings in the two games in the series, Ooks head coach Serge Lajoie never took the RDC squad for granted.
“You never get anything for free,” he said. “Trevor Keeper did a great job with that team after being out of the league for nine years. I have the utmost respect for how his team plays. They pushed us. They have a good team off the rush, which was depleted by injuries.”
The Kings played Grant MacEwan in the first round of the playoffs, winning the series 2-1, but suffered a string of injuries.
“Look at NAIT they finished first and got a first-round bye, which was huge. They came into this series without any injuries and at full strength,” said Keeper. “We were missed three of our top nine forwards, plus several others were playing injured. It’s tough to play a series against a team of that quality without being at full strength.”
The Ooks led 2-0 after the first period on goals by Jason Wark and Joshua Lazowski and extended it to 4-1 after 40 minutes. Michael Piluso and Tyler French made it 4-0 before Mike Marianchuk connected on the power play at 12:48.
The Kings didn’t let down in the third period, but Scott Fellnermayr and Jordan Wood took advantage of breaks while the Kings were pressing to put the lid on the scoring. Mike Salmon finished with 38 saves for the Kings and was named their player of the game. Kings had 21 shots on Kyle Birch.
“I was proud of the guys, they played hard to the very end,” said Keeper. “We could have quit and imploded, but they kept playing.”
The Ooks will go on to face the SAIT Trojans in the league final. The Trojans defeated the Augustana Vikings 2-1 twice to advance.
“We have a healthy rivalry with SAIT,” said Lajoie, who feels his team is playing their best.
“The second half of the season we played with a lot of confidence and the guys put in the work to get better.”
Keeper will have exit meetings this week with his players to determine who will be back for sure.
“We need to upgrade a bit and keep building, that’s part of the process,” he said.
“Even with the guys returning we’ll be better. There’s a huge difference between the first and second years, you see it in their scoring and defensive ability. After knowing what it takes the guys will improve significantly.”