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RODE: Doig, Haygarth saviours for RDP Kings hockey

The Red Deer Polytechnic Kings will play the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder in Game 3 of the ACAC Men’s Hockey Championship finals on Friday at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre. (Advocate file photo)

Handling injuries requires some innovation at the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association level.

When the RDP Kings lost three defencemen at Christmas—Brennan Davis, Layne Toder, and Ty Ettinger—to season-ending injuries, head coach Trevor Keeper desperately needed someone to step up.

That’s where veteran forwards Regan Doig and Easton Haygarth came in.

Both volunteered t0 move back to the blueline and it couldn’t have worked out better.

The Kings defence which was struggling just before the break, has solidified the second half of the season, as the Kings posted a 15-3 record — and are within one game of capturing their second straight ACAC championship.

The Kings hold a 2-0 lead on the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder in the best-of-five final with Game 3 Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre.

Of the two forwards who moved back, Doig had the least amount of experience.

“It’s definitely strange. I played a bit when I was younger and after the Covid year I played briefly here, but very little,” he said.

“But there came a point after Christmas where we had the guys down, and I went to Keeps and said if he needed someone, I was OK with it, and luckily, it worked out.”

Doig, a fourth-year forward from Olds, admits it was a bit trying early on.

“The first couple of weeks I had a tendency to want to jump up into the play, but my D partner (Tyson Janzen) helped me a lot. There was a lot of talking, which makes it so much easier on the ice.

“Still just knowing and picking the spots when to jump up on offence, plus being defensively responsible when you do is the toughest part. It’s been a challenge but something I want to embrace. I want to be a leader as much as I can and I think I’ve done a pretty good job.

“I’ve never been a big goal scorer … more of a defensive forward so it wasn’t super difficult. Plus we’ve all came together and jelled and it’s keeps working and we don’t want to change anything.”

Doig does have a year of eligibility remaining, but will graduate with his Justice Degree this year.

“Hopefully, I can go out with a win. But it will be difficult. That third game is the toughest and I know they’ll be coming in with nothing to lose. That was the case last year when we were up 2-0 in NAIT.”

Haygarth, with his twin brother Chase, are in their third season with the Kings.

Easton has played a bit more defence than Doig, although not at the ACAC level.

“In my second year of peewee, I moved back there, which allowed me to make a few more teams growing up, which I may not have made if I was a forward,” said Haygarth. “I did play there some in minor midget and bantam AAA and a bit in my 17-year-old season of junior.

“When Keeps asked me, and we were down three D men, I thought why not take a chance.”

Easton figures that between him and Chase, he was the better choice to move back.

“I’m not sure he can skate backwards,” Easton said with a laugh.

But the five-foot-11 Haygarth, a native of Lloydminster, has fit right in, blocking shots and diving into the crease to prevent goals.

“You block a shot and hear the guys supporting you from the bench it makes you want to do it again,” he said.

“It’s been good and I’m getting a lot of minutes, so I can’t complain about my ice time.”

Easton has been playing mainly with first-year defenceman Kevin Minnoch.

“He’s super easy to play with. He’s a super steady guy and makes the plays simple and makes sure I don’t get into my own head … keeps me positive so that’s been good.”

Haygarth likes that Keeper encourages defencemen to jump into the play.

“He likes a five-man O-zone where everyone is involved, but to be honest I want to make sure I focus on the D side and keep it simple, not try to make the extra play and it’s been working out so far. Now to keep it going Friday.

“I know they’re (Thunder) will come in fired up, but I believe we still have a lot left in the tank. There should be a good crowd and we’re ready to go.”

Originally Easton and Chase had talked about this being their final season with the Kings, but both will be returning.

“We’re losing seven guys as it is. It will be bittersweet when it’s over, but we want those guys to go out as champions.”

Keeper looks back at Christmas when the two talked about moving back.

“They plugged a big hole. Both are gritty players who aren’t too fancy. They’re playing out of their comfort zone but keep it simple and have been effective.”

The fact Easton will be returning gives the Kings some added depth next season.

“We’ve signed three defencemen so far as we don’t want to be in this situation again.”

Both Ettinger (knee) and Davis (shoulder) will be returning when they’re recovered.

Keeper knows Friday will be a battle but doesn’t want to return to Edmonton on Saturday.

“We have the trophy in the equipment room and we want it to stay here. But they work hard and it won’t be easy.”

If a fourth game is needed it’s Saturday at 7 p.m. in Edmonton with the fifth, if necessary, Sunday at 7 back at RDP.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at