The change from a college to a Polytechnical Institution worked out perfectly for Jake Wozney and the RDP Kings hockey team.
Wozney, who was in the secondary education program, looked as if his career with the Kings was finished following the 2020-21 year.
“But when the school changed to Polytechnic I was able to finish my degree here,” explained the Richmond, B.C. native.
“Trevor (Kings head coach Keeper) told me about that and asked me to come back. I had to think about it for a while and decided to come back.”
Keeper knew early on Wozney was returning, which made recruiting that much easier.
“It was good in that I didn’t have to look to find someone to take his place … that would have been tough,” Keeper explained.
“As a staff, we feel he could be the best all-around forward in the league. He has a great work ethic, speed, a physical presence and goal scoring … he is the whole package … one of the best for sure.”
Wozney indicated it was the “small things” that he needed to work on to be ready for the season.
“Things like time with the puck, stick handling and getting my shot off,” he said. “But we had a good long, hard training camp and I was able to adjust quickly back to the pace of play.”
He didn’t look out of place, finishing with nine goals and nine assists in 23 games, then took another step up in the playoffs.
He has a league-leading seven points on three goals and four helpers in five games as the Kings are within one game of their first ACAC championship since the 1993-94 season.
They host the NAIT Ooks in the third game of the best-of-five championship final Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre. If a fourth game is necessary it goes Saturday at 6 p.m. at NAIT and a fifth, if needed, is Sunday at 7 p.m. at RDP.
Wozney was away from college hockey for two years, although he did play some men’s league in B.C.
“But that was a lot different,” he said. “It was difficult coming back as it was tough to find ice time at home and I felt I had to be extra prepared this year … try to keep my body in shape and I think I did a great job.”
Jake had played with several players and knew at least half the team, so that was an easy transition.
“I played with some of the guys in the 2019-20 season and skated with about 50 per cent of them at one time or another. So that was nice.”
He was inserted on a line with Chance Longjohn at the beginning of the season and the two, who played together in 2019-20, clicked right away with Jaxon Steele on the other wing.
However, Steele was injured and needed surgery so Hayden Clayton stepped in and the line never missed a beat.
“Clay filled in and we’ve been clicking ever since,” said Wozney.
“They have great chemistry,” added Keeper. “They each provide a different part (to the line) but compliment each other.”
Wozney is enjoying the run to the championship.
“I’ve never been to the finals before,” he said. “The whole team is doing a great job. We came up with a good game plan and started clicking in that first series (a 2-1 win over Concordia).
“We have a lot of energy in the room and we need to carry that into Friday’s game. NAIT has a great program and the job is still not done.”
Wozney is looking for his first ACAC championship, but already has a Canadian title to his name after winning the EA Sports online hockey championship during the 2020-21 Covid season.
“During the Covid year I was playing a lot of video games and it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I still play, but with a full hockey season and a full course load there’s not as much time.”
Wozney is also the oldest player on the Kings at 27, which draws some kidding.
“The butt end of a few jokes,” he said with a laugh. “I have a younger brother, who is five years younger than me, and a lot of these guys are about that age so I can joke with them about ‘when I was your age’. It’s all fun.”
In fact, Jake will be around for one more year as he works to conclude his education degree, and of course, finish his hockey career.
The Kings will continue to be without all-star defenceman Parker Gavlas, who is sitting out his third game of a three-game suspension for a gross misconduct he received when he squirted water at an opposition player during the CUE series.
“It shouldn’t have happened but this was not close to the same level as other gross misconducts, some of which were cut to two games,” said Keeper. “It’s something we have to look at.”
The Kings did receive some good news when defenceman Brennan Davis returned from a knee injury.
The RDP Queens are also looking to clinch their second straight ACAC title when they visit the Ooks Friday. The Queens hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. If a fourth game is necessary it’s Saturday at 7 p.m. at RDP with the fifth, if needed, Sunday at NAIT.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org