Through the history of post-secondary varsity hockey in North America, few teams have accomplished what the NAIT Ooks men’s team did in 1985.
The Ooks ran the table with a 33-0-0 record in 1984-1985, one of only five teams to accomplish the feat and it is also the squad with the most victories of the undefeated groups.
It was also the only Alberta-based national champion from midget, junior, senior, university or college hockey to go undefeated in both the regular and post season.
This summer, the Ooks will be recognized in the team category by the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
The team’s connections to Red Deer and area also run deep.
Two players from the team, Hugh McCaskill and Gary Leach, along with assistant coach John Phelan, all played for the Red Deer College Kings.
Ooks head coach at the time, Perry Pearn played for the 1970-71 Centennial Cup Champion Red Deer Rustlers.
Phelan, raised in Red Deer, and a former City of Red Deer Athlete of the Year in 1972, was the Ooks assistant coach for five seasons, and he was part of two national championships. Since then, for the past 15 seasons, he has served as a mental skills coach with five NHL teams, including, most recently, the Winnipeg Jets. Phelan is now an associate professor at the Smith School of Business at Queens University in Kingston, Ont.
Pearn won the first of four consecutive league titles with the Rustlers in 1970-71, before they capture the franchise’s first of two Centennial Cup National Championships. Born and raised in Stettler, Pearn was head coach at NAIT for 13 seasons and a member of six national championship teams. He left the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference as the career coaching leader in championships, first place finishes, seasons, wins, games and winning percentage. Pearn spent time coaching in the WHL and also served as an assistant coach in the NHL for the past 21 seasons with five teams. He’s also a member of the Edmonton Sports Hall of Fame and the ACAC Hall of Fame.
The 1985 Ooks came off a disappointing fourth place finish at nationals in 1984. Eager for redemption, 13 players returned from the conference winning team. They started the season with 11 straight wins and then beat the CIS York Yeomen during a Christmas Break tournament in Switzerland. After returning home the Ooks reeled off 14 straight wins and set six regular season records that still stand today. They are: most goals (222), most assists (343), most points (565), most wins (25), fewest losses and highest winning percentage.
They swept both Camrose and Red Deer in the conference semifinal and final, respectively, before establishing an attendance record between two Canadian post-secondary school teams. The Ooks played the University of Alberta Golden Bears at Northlands Coliseum where 13,354 fans were in attendance.
At the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Championships in Moose Jaw, the Ooks beat the Cariboo College Chiefs, the Seneca College Braves and the Victoriaville College Vulkins to capture the title.
Through 33 games that season, NAIT scored 267 goals and only allowed 74, a difference of nearly six goals per game.
The 1985 NAIT Ooks Men’s Hockey team will be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame on May 26 in Red Deer.
– With files from Canadian College Hockey History