Ooks 2 Queens 1
The NAIT Ooks clearly do not care much for fairy-tale endings.
On Saturday at the Red Deer Arena they beat the Red Deer College Queens 2-1 to win their third straight Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference title, this time in four games.
The results went off script from the Hollywood-esque rags-to-riches story of the Queens. While a silver medal was still a strong result, it couldn’t have felt further from the medal they really wanted.
“It’s heart-breaking … I can’t really keep myself together,” said Queens captain Rachael Hoppins, as she choked back tears following the game. “We tried, we did what we could out there but at the end of the day we didn’t get done what we needed to.”
The Trochu native played all five of her ACAC seasons in Red Deer, three of them with the ‘C’ on her jersey, and was a product of the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs hockey program. She was just one of 11 Queens playing their final game for the program, but this loss may not have hit anyone harder.
“It sucks. When you play five years and don’t have a gold medal to show for it, it’s a tough one,” said Hoppins, 22. “But I played with a lot of awesome girls along the way and a lot of awesome girls in that room right now; we may not have a gold medal, but we’ll have memories to last a lifetime.”
Taylor Hall scored the lone goal for RDC while Summer Roberts made 22 saves in the loss. Veronika Kuzelova and Sherri Bowels responded for the Ooks while Jill Diachuk made 22 saves to win the gold medal.
The Queens’ story has been well documented this season. Sitting in last place at Christmas time, they slowly picked up steam in the second half of the season and then got red hot. By the time the dust cleared, they finished the regular season in second place and looking like the best team in the league, having won the season series with the Ooks, carrying a 4-2-2 record over the ACAC’s top seed.
The Queens made quick work of the SAIT Trojans in the first round and then got a much needed split in the first two games with the Ooks.
But Game 3 sucked all the wind out of their sails on Thursday as they lost 2-1 in double overtime after fighting to tie the game up in the final minute of regulation.
For the first 40 minutes on Saturday, it looked like they were still dealing with the emotions of that loss.
“I liked how we reacted to (the loss), we weren’t devastated by any stretch, we did a lot of positive things in Game 3 … We had six or seven good chances (on Thursday) and if we burry one of those we’re still going up to Edmonton on Sunday (for Game 5),” said Queens head coach Bob Rutz. “But that’s playoff hockey, the margin of error is so small.”
Hall opened the scoring at 4:53 of the second period on a wrist shot from the point that found its way through a crowd in front and the top corner over Diachuk’s glove. But the lead did not last as Kuzelova tied it up 1:07 later.
The Ooks took the lead at 6:59 of the third period as Bowles — who finished her five-year career as the ACAC’s third all-time leading scorer with 101 points — banged home a rebound.
RDC never really got close to the equalizer after that.
“I thought we missed an opportunity,” said Rutz. “Things that were nipping us in the butt early on in the season, we didn’t see a lot of it in the second half and unfortunately tonight we just didn’t find our game until the third and it was too late
It will be difficult for the Queens to build off the momentum of this season, regardless of all the good things they accomplished. They will be losing 11 players off this roster. The list also includes Hoppins, ACAC player of the year Megan Jones and other fourth year players Casey Nicholson and Jena Holden. That group was expected but they are also losing a core of top young players with multiple years of eligibility in Hall, Ashley Graf, Kaylea Renz, Cassidy Holt, Jessica Anderson and goalies Moriah Andrews and Summer Roberts.
Adding to the pain of the loss for the Queens was the opponent.
The Ooks have now ended RDC’s season three years in a row, twice in the championship game and last year in the semifinal.
“You’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve got a good team, they got it done,” said Hoppins. “They’re easily the most despised team in the league just because they work hard and they get in your face and they know how to make you made. They come at you hard and you’ve got to be ready to push back even harder.
“It was a great series, it wasn’t a blowout by any means, we just couldn’t get it done tonight.”