UNB scores men’s and women’s hockey title hat trick

Click to play video: 'For the third year in a row, UNB sweeps men’s and women’s AUS hockey titles'
For the third year in a row, UNB sweeps men’s and women’s AUS hockey titles
Both UNB hockey programs have on their respective university titles – marking three years in a row both have won. As Silas Brown reports, both teams will now look to prove their strength at the national level. – Mar 6, 2024

When the University of New Brunswick women’s hockey team scored in double overtime to win the Atlantic University Sport title, their counterparts on the men’s team had already begun to celebrate their title-winning game in Moncton.

The pair of AUS titles makes three in a row for both programs, with the men’s streak extending back to the last six titles. The women beat St. Francis Xavier 2-1 and the men posted a 3-0 win against l’Université de Moncton.

Now both teams gear up for nationals, where they look to prove that they belong among the country’s elite.

“To see two programs from the same school, both at nationals, that doesn’t happen very often in any sport,” said Jamier Tozer, the editor of Station Nation.

Over the last 20 years, UNB has turned its men’s program into one of the best in the country, winning 11 AUS titles and eight national titles. The program is now second all-time in AUS titles, with 20 over its entire history, and third in national titles with nine.

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They head to nationals as defending champions and looking to protect their perfect record on the season, having posted a 30-0 regular-season record and not dropped a game on the way to the AUS crown.

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At the centre of the program’s rise has been coach Gardiner MacDougall, who has spent 24 years at the helm. Tozer said he’s sure MacDougall is as hungry as ever to win, with the added pressure of maintaining a perfect season.

Team captain Jason Willms said he believes the extended run of success comes from the culture of hard work and achievement fostered by years of successive leadership groups.

“I remember my first year the captain Kris Bennett, watching him start every drill with three hard strides like it was a Game 7, every rep in practice,” he said. “My second year I remember Sam Dove-McFalls, the captain, who was a 4.0 average student in the classroom.

“I think it’s those standards and the culture that’s created here of having high achievers and being high performers that has just led to our success.”

Tozer said it’s typical to see programs in the Atlantic region rise and fall, pointing to the historically dominant programs at St. Francis Xavier and St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. He says fans should enjoy the success while it lasts.

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“You look back at a lot of the historically good schools and a lot of schools have had these runs over the years where they have 10, 20 years of great success before it starts to fall off,” he said.

“Eventually it’s not going to be like this so I think it’s cool to kind of be in the midst of it and enjoy it while it’s happening because this is really an incredible run.”

For the women, the win marks an impressive third straight title, just six years after their AUS program was reinstated. Captain Payton Hargreaves has played for all three championship-winning teams and says the group has their sights set even higher as they head to nationals.

“In the past couple years we’ve been focusing solely on winning AUS but this year our goal was to win nationals. AUS is a stepping stone towards winning nationals,” she said.

“We’re not going to change anything about our game, we’re going to keep playing the way we’ve been playing because it’s obviously been working. We just got to keep working together as a team and rely on the people sitting next to us in the dressing room.”

Tozer said it will be interesting to see if the team is able to take that next step and compete for a national title.

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“The AUS has had a lot of success nationally on the men’s side, but it hasn’t had a ton of success on the women’s side,” he said.

“So I’m curious to see if they can reach that level over the next decade.”

The national tournaments for both teams take place from March 14 to 17. The men’s tournament is in Toronto and the women’s in Saskatoon.

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