Wednesday 6 May 2009

2001 AUS Championship

The 2000 - 2001 AUS hockey season was a long time in the making for STU. The Tommies had endured 40 years of futility since winning their last championship in 1961 and many things had changed since the early sixties. Most significantly the physical location of the school had been moved from the small town of Chatham on the Miramichi to the capital city of Fredericton. Gone were the days of graduate studies and science degrees at STU and in were the days with specialization of Liberal Arts and forced associations with the University of New Brunswick.

The men's hockey team had also seen major changes over the years. From being a force in the late 60's to being weak in the mid 70's and losing the team altogether for 4 years in the late 70's, the 1980's brought a new lease on life to St. Thomas hockey although the team struggled early on as they slowly emerged after their self imposed hiatus from the league. The late 80's saw a resurgence in Tommies hockey when Al MacAdam took over the reins as head coach and it continued well into the 1990's. Although there were no championships to show for his work, MacAdam had some of the best teams to ever grace the ice of the LBR. It would probably be fair to say that some of the teams underachieved as a whole, considering the level of talent.

The 2000-2001 season would usher in several new features for University hockey in Atlantic Canada. Gone were the days of the "Atlantic University Hockey Conference" (AUHC) and in was the new "Atlantic University Sport"(AUS) hockey conference. The old setup of divisions in the conference were also replaced. (MacAdam Division for NB-PEI Schools and Kelley Division for NS Schools). The new format featured all eight teams in one conference with the two top finishers in the regular season receiving a bye in the first round and the bottom two finishers missing the play-offs.

St. Thomas had finished the previous season (99-00) with an 18-8-0 record good for first place in the MacAdam division but lost a heart-wrenching series to the underdog Squirrels. Expectations were still high for the new season with an exciting recruiting class including goalie Greg Hewitt, forward Scott Page, and new defenders Luc Rioux, Shawn Cation, Troy Turyk. The Tommies cruised through the extra long first half with a 10-4-3-1 record. The World University games were held this season and the second half was much shorter to compensate. STU would post a 6-3-1-0 record in the second half to finish 16-7-4-1, good for 37 points and 2nd place in the league. It also represented a first round bye in the new scheme of things.

With a week of rest under their belts the Tommies would face off against a tough Dalhousie Tigers team, who went 3 and 1 versus STU in the regular season. Here is the recap of the final game and series by Bill Hunt.

Tommies make it happen;
Dewar scores pair as STU dusts off Dal to earn berth at nationals
The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Monday, March 5, 2001
Section: Sports

The long drought is over for both Tom Hughes and Jeff Dewar.

Dewar, the St. Thomas Tommies' industrious right winger who has suffered through every torturous twist for the Tommies over the past five years, delivered Hughes, the Tommies most ardent supporter, the perfect present for his 84th birthday.

Dewar scored the goal that stood as the eventual winner shorthanded at 12:18 of the second period and added an insurance marker at 11:11 of the final frame to lift the Tommies to a 4-1 victory over the Dalhousie Tigers in the third and deciding game of their Atlantic University Sport Hockey Conference semifinal series last night at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink, much to the delight of some 1, 500 fans.

"We've suffered over here enough," said a jubilant Dewar outside a raucous
Tommies dressing room. "It's our turn. It's our turn. I couldn't have written it
any better."

The Tommies will host the St. Francis Xavier X-Men -- 5-4 double overtime
winners over the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in the third game of
that semifinal -- Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the LBR.

Games two and if necessary will be played in Antigonish Saturday and Sunday
with game starts being 7:30. CHSR-FM 97.9 and the internet at will provide play by play coverage.

By virtue of their respective victories, both the Tommies and X-Men have earned automatics berths into the national tournament slated March 22-25 for Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.

Troy Smith of the X-Men scored on a shot from the point 3:32 into the second sudden-death period to give St. FX the victory after the Reds' Ryan Walsh had tied the game 4-4 with 14 seconds left in regulation time, stirring memories of the Reds' memorable run of a year ago. X-Men had forced game three with a 5-4 victory Saturday night.

At the LBR, it wasn't really that close -- either night.

The Tigers had forced the deciding game with a convincing 3-1 victory over the Tommies Saturday night. Denis Aucoin and Marty Johnston scored 36 seconds
apart in the first period and the Tigers stifled the Tommies on 10 power play
chances, including four in a row in the first period.

Chris Pittman had the other goal for the Tigers in that one. Tommies didn't spoil goaltender Pat Berrigan's shutout until Shawn Cation scored with 45 seconds left.

But the Tommies bounced back in a big way in the Sunday night showdown, exorcising all those demons from their past in the process. Darryl Knight got them off and running by jamming a rebound past Berrigan just 2:28 into the game.

The Tigers tied it up on a goal by Brian Surette at 17:47 of the first. But when Greg Hewitt came up big on a couple of breakaways by Dal sniper Chris Pittman -- he shot high and wide on a chance late in the first period and was foiled on a deke attempt 5:30 into the second -- that seemed to pick up the Tommies.

On his first goal, a forechecking Dewar dove to try to break up Dal's clearing pass on the penalty kill. Scott Page broke up the Dal rush and hit Dewar just outside the blue line in front of the Dal bench. He went in and deked him to give the Tommies a lead they would never relinquish.

You never really got the sense they would anyway, but it was Dewar, fittingly enough, who made sure. Good forechecking by Knight sprung the puck to Mike Hanson, who found Dewar going hard to the net. He slid it by Berrigan to make it 3-1. Jason Sands added the backbreaker at 15:03, sparking bedlam among the Tommies faithful.

For a Tommies team that had a sleepless night after Saturday's defeat, it was a dream come true.

"It's hard to put into words," Dewar said. "I came back here (to school) this year with this goal in mind. It's a great feeling. I love all those guys."

He loved the feeling too, after a skirmish in the game's final minute, of going by the Tommies bench and down in front of the area of the rink known as Rum Row, and dusting off the Tigers -- as a recording of 'Farewell to Nova Scotia', as recorded by Stompin' Tom Connors, no less, blared in the background.

"We played all year to get into this situation," Dewar said. "If they had told us in September that we would have Game 3 in our barn to go to the nationals, every one of us would have taken it. The fans were just phenomenal tonight. They really helped us."

"I couldn't be happier for a Jeff Dewar," Tommies coach Derryl Smith said. "He's the first guy at practice and the last guy to leave practice and every game he plays, he plays like a pro. He's the guy that stepped up tonight, and he let us know he was going to do that."

Hanson, who ducked the team doctor all day so he could play -- he was scratched from the lineup Saturday night on doctor's orders and his absence turned out to be conspicuous -- answered the call in a big way Sunday. "I was determined to go," he said. "They needed me. I didn't know if I was going to play very many shifts, I didn't know if I was going to play at all. But I wanted to be there on the bench."

Hanson and the rest of the Tommies fed off the emotion in the building.

"Guys in the community who really care about this program came in and made sure they told us," Hanson said. "And the guys came out and supported each other and we came out with a big win. From the get-go, we knew it was going to be ours. No matter what, we did what we had to do. And the moral of the story is, we're going to the AUAAs, and we're going to the big dance."

Hughes may go with them, said Smith.

"We've talked a lot about Tommy over the years, what he means to the program and how interested he is in it and what a big fan he is. I'm sure he's excited and probably looking for a trip to Ontario too."

Captain Sands wasn't a big factor Saturday night, but he was a sparkplug for the Tommies Sunday. He felt the early goal was key.

"We're a team that thrives on momentum." he said. "We're a forechecking, run- and-gun team. We get a goal early and we usually never look back. I think everyone had a little bit of nerves, but it was good nerves, I guess.

"We were a little more hesitant last (Saturday) night. Our line didn't play like we should have. But he put us to the test tonight and I feel our line and our older players won us the hockey game."
© 2001 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)

With the hard fought victory over Dalhousie it was on to Nationals and on to face first place ST FX. The first game of the finals was played at the LBR. It was lead by an outstanding performance by Jason Sands, who contributed 3 goals and 2 assists, and the Tommies won 6 to 3.

The scene shifted to Antigonish and the Tommies were mugged by a desperate ST FX team 9 to 1. So it came down to a one game finally, winner takes all. Dave Ritchie summed it up in the following article.

It's a banner season!
The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Monday, March 12, 2001
Section: Sports

Bottom line, it didn't mean anything as far as qualifying for nationals was concerned.

But the sense of pure delight and in some cases relief on the faces of many of the St. Thomas Tommies was palpable after winning the Atlantic Universities' Hockey conference title over the St. Francis Xavier X-Men here last night.

The Tommies won their first Atlantic title in 40 years with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over the X-Men in the third and deciding game played before 2, 2000 fans at the Antigonish Arena.

The last time the Tommies could claim a regional title was in 1961 when they were based in Chatham and they played in what was called the Maritime Intercollegiate Hockey League. Oddly enough, the team they beat that year were also the X-Men and the margin of victory was a single goal.

Forty years later, it was a little pepperpot named Jason Sands ripping a shot over the left shoulder of X goaltender Dave Haun at 4:51 of the first overtime period providing the margin of victory and avenging what had been an embarrassing 9-1 loss to the X-Men in game two the night before.

Tommies had won the first game of the series 6-3 Wednesday night on home ice, setting up a scenario in which they needed only to win one out of two to claim the title and head to the national tournament beginning March 22 in Kitchener- Waterloo, Ont. as the top seed from the Atlantic conference.

But it wasn't until Sands broke in on a two-on-one with Darryl Tiveron and beat the X goaltender in the third and deciding game in overtime that they finally realized their dream of winning what had eluded them for so long.

And for head coach Derryl Smith, it also fulfilled a promise he had made to Sands when he was recruited three years ago.

"Other schools were also talking to him and I just told him our goal was to win a championship in three years. And here we are," said Smith. "This is his team. (Goaltender Greg) Hewitt was brought in to be the number one guy and he's given us that. But Sands is the guy who is the leader, the guy who makes this team go."

Certainly he led by example on the game winner, using Tiveron as a decoy and banking the puck high over Haun's shoulder.

"My game is more to pass the puck and not shoot it, but the defenceman sort of backed off so I just went top shelf and it went over his left side I think," said Sands, demonstrating with his left arm Haun's futile effort to stop his shot. "Oh yeah, it's definitely the biggest goal I've ever scored."

The only other Tommie beating Haun on this night was defenceman Shawn Cation at 21 seconds of the second period on a two-man STU power play. Cation's shot from the right point eluded Haun on the stick side.

That held up until Dean Stock, the hero of Saturday night's rout with two goals and three assists, took a pass from Patrick Grandmaitre, got in behind the Tommies' defence and ripped a shot from the top of the right circle past Hewitt to the blocker side. Time of the goal was 10:30 of the third period.

And that was it.
Overall, Hewitt stopped 33 shots, a far cry from Saturday when he was victimized for six X goals in 23 shots before being mercifully hauled by Smith at the 2:22 mark of the third period. X-Men scored three more past Max Gauvin on 12 shots. At the other end, Haun faced only 22 STU shots with Sands -- who else? -- scoring the lone goal.

Last night, STU directed 28 shots at Haun with several near misses, particularly by Andrew Proskurnicki early in the second and by Tommies' veteran Dustin Virag about mid-way in the third.

"This is our Stanley Cup," said Virag, a fourth year Tommies' winger and one of three STUers named to the AUS all-star team that won a silver medal in Poland last month.

"We were definitely embarrassed (Saturday) but we were able to use that as motivation for tonight," he said. "This is what I've been waiting for. Winning this is the biggest achievement we can have at this level. Now our goal is to win a national title."

Sands says having watched UNB compete at the nationals two of the past three years makes the Tommies' victory this time around even more special. "Now they can watch us for a change," he said. "It's the Tommies turn to win a title and that's a great feeling."

Despite the loss, the X-Men will also be a part of the six team national event running March 22-25. St. FX coach Danny Flynn said knowing that takes some of the sting out of the X-Men loss to STU.

"Sure, it was in the back of our minds. We wanted to win this but we know the sun will rise tomorrow. If this happens last week (against UNB in the semifinal), we're dead. But now we have another chance. The real season begins in 10 days. Last year Alberta won as a wild card. They proved it can be done. We'll get ready over the next 10 days, hopefully get some people back from injury, and be ready to go again."
Flynn said despite the Saturday rout, he fully expected the Tommies to bounce back the way they did in game three.

"We played them four games during the season and they all ended up in overtime so we knew they'd come back strong," he said. "Hey, it was a fun series. It sums up our season. We wanted to win but we fought hard and gave it everything we had. That's what makes this such a great league."

Along with Stock, also scoring two goals for the X-Men Saturday night were Steve Nimigon and Paul Andrea. Grandmaitre, Paul Dunphy and Guy Loranger had the

The line of Stock-Grandmaitre-Nimigon accounted for 14 scoring points with Grandmaitre adding four assists.

STU fell behind early, trailing 3-0 after one period and 4-1 after two. St. FX scored five unanswered goals in the final frame.

"We went back to New Glasgow after the game and before we disembarked (the bus), I just told them to forget about what had happened and to be ready to go for tomorrow night," said Smith. "They responded with a great game here tonight."

With that the Tommies celebrated their championship.

Special thanks to Bruce Hallihan, STU FAN #1 for the video (you know who you are), EASTLINK TV, and a belated thanks to Dave Ritchie for a tremondous call the night of the big game. He SCOOOORRRRRRRRRREEEEEESSSSSS.