Monday, 30 March 2009

Top Marks For These Students

Yesterday I took a look at the CIS Women's Hockey Championships and how they played out to give the McGill Martlets their second CIS in a row. I promised that I'd cover the Men's Championships today, and I'm a man of my word. Again, not many CIS players advance to the NHL simply due to age and experience, so those that do make it are normally signed as free agents. But, like the people of Canada, the CIS hockey circuit is largely ignored by NHL scouts - something I can't seem to comprehend why. The majority of these players have played junior hockey in the CHL, and there was even a former NHL player suiting up for one Canadian team. Does anyone know who? Read through to find out. I'll drop hints throughout the article. Anyway, let's take a look at the CIS Men's Hockey Championships.

CIS Men's Hockey Championships

The 2009 CIS Men's Championship was hosted by Thunder Bay, Ontario's Lakehead University. The defending champion Alberta Golden Bears were ranked as the top seed after winning the Canada West Division title, and compiling a 26-5-2 record this season. The Saint Mary's Huskies earned the #2-ranking after emerging as the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Champions with a record of 25-9-1. The Western Ontario Mustangs were seeded as #3 after winning the Ontario University Athletic (OUA) Division with a 26-8-2 record. The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds were the finalists in the AUS Division, and came in as the #4-seed after going 25-6-3 this season. The University of McGill Redmen finished as the OUA finalists, and earned the #5-seed after a 24-10-2 season. And the host Lakehead University Thunderwolves earned the #6-seed as the tournament hosts, finishing their season with a 21-10-2 record. Pool A saw Alberta, UNB, and Lakehead square off, while Pool B featured Saint Mary's, Western Ontario, and McGill.

The tournament kicked off on Thursday, March 26. UNB and Alberta kicked things off in Pool A with a dandy game. Instead of playing the underdog role, UNB jumped out to a 5-1 first period lead over the defending champion Golden Bears, and rolled to a 6-3 victory. The Golden Bears tangled with the Thunderwolves on March 27, and needed a huge offensive showing to try and salvage their gold medal hopes. However, despite winning 2-1 over Lakehead, their offensive production simply wasn't enough. Lakehead could still make things worse for Alberta if they happened to defeat UNB by two or more goals. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be as UNB defeated Lakehead by a 3-1 score on March 28. UNB advances to the final with a 2-0 record. Unlike the Women's Championship, there are no bronze medal games or Consolation Final.

Pool B had McGill and Saint Mary's get their party started on Thursday night. Saint Mary's controlled most of the game in winning 4-1 over the Redmen. That sent the Redmen into a rematch of the OUA Final against the Western Ontario Mustangs on Friday. And vengeance was had as the Redmen edged the Mustangs by a 4-3 score. Despite the win, McGill could not advance to the gold medal game due to goal aggregate. Western Ontario needed a win by three or more goals to bump Saint Mary's from the gold medal game, so they had quite the task ahead of them for Friday's pivotal matchup. In what has to be considered one of the largest meltdowns in CIS history, Western Ontario scored five unanswered third period goals to defeat Saint Mary's by a 7-2 score and advance to the Final.

Western is only the second school to advance to the University Cup title match after losing a round-robin duel in the 18 years of the six-team tournament format. The other team? The Alberta Golden Bears who turned the trick last year after losing their opening game to Moncton by a 2-1 overtime loss.

Hint #1: Speaking of Alberta, this former NHL player appeared for the University of Calgary Dinos in 2007-08, his only year of CIS eligibility.

The UNB Redmen are seventh team in CIS history to appear in three-straight CIS Finals. They won in 2007, but lost to Alberta last year. The Mustangs captured their lone title in their last tournament appearance in 2002 with a triple-overtime win over UQTR, but lost to York in the 1988 Final in their only other appearance.

Enough with the setup, though. Here's how the CIS Men's Hockey Championship played out.

The first period was a tight-checking affair as both teams traded a few chances. It truly felt like both teams were feeling one another out, looking for weaknesses. However, a seam was found late in the period by UNB's Lachlan MacIntosh as he scored his third goal of the tournament on an unassisted effort at 18:58. Into the intermission, UNB had the 1-0 lead.

Hint #2: This former NHLer played in 17 games, recording two goals and two assists while playing for the Los Angeles Kings.

The second period saw UNB double its lead just 1:02 into the frame as John-Scott Dickson, a former Windsor Spitfire in the OHL, notched his first of the tournament. Western turned up the pace, however, and cut the lead in half at the 8:57 mark when Patrick Ouellet put his first of the tournament in. Both teams clamped down again, though, and the defensive battle ran into the second intermission.

Hint #3: This former NHL player was involved in the trade for Rob Blake between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings on February 21, 2001.

With the last period of hockey starting on this season's CIS campaign, Western knew it had to strike. And they did. Just 1:13 into the third stanza, the Mustangs' Kevin Baker, a former Oshawa General of the OHL, scored his third of the tournament to even the score at 2-2. Once again, both teams looked for a crease in their opponent's defence. Back and forth was producing nothing until UNB's Lachlan MacIntosh fired home his second tie-breaking goal of the game, and fourth of the tournament, at the 10:24 mark. Both teams frantically tried to score the next marker as it may have been the momentum swing both needed. However, Western pulled the goaltender in an effort to score the game-tying goal, but Lachlan MacIntosh sealed the deal with his hat-trick goal into an empty net.

With his five goals in the tournament, Lachlan MacIntosh was named as Tournament MVP. The 5'10", 195-pound kinesiology student wasn't exactly a prominent goal-scorer this season, only having netted nine goals in 26 regular season games. He had no goals in six AUS playoff games as well, so his emergence in the CIS Championships was huge for UNB.

"I was just fortunate to get some chances, and capitalized. It was just one of those days where the bounces went my way," MacIntosh said to reporters. Congratulations on the accolade, Lachlan! You certainly deserved the honour!

Ok, so have you figured out the former NHL player who was the last professional to suit in the CIS? If you haven't, you missed out on Jared Aulin. Aulin, who dated socialite Paris Hilton for a short time, suited up with the Calgary Dinos in 2007-08. How he got there is a slightly tragic story. In a non-contact league, Aulin was struck by a stick-swinging opponent on the side of the neck, and fell to the ice where he convulsed for almost a minute. He had been in contact with Calgary head coach Scott Atkinson who remembered the high-scoring WHL forward from the Kamloops Blazers and the Canadian World Junior Team. But the non-contact league injury put his career in serious jeopardy.

"It was scary, especially since I was getting headaches and dizziness and I wasn't sure why," Aulin said to Allan Maki of the Globe & Mail. "I wasn't hit on the head. But it was because the carotid artery was swollen."

Luckily, doctors cleared him to play after his injury, and he suited up for the Dinos 10 games into the season. "I like being back at the rink and I like being around motivated people. It feels good. I'm excited."

So there you have it: a championship story, and a heart-warming story. Aulin is now enrolled in the Haskayne School of Business, completing a business degree. Congratulations go out to the UNB Redmen for their successful campaign and CIS title, and to Jared Aulin for finding a path that hockey could not provide. Good luck to everyone!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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