Thirty wins and zero losses.
The University of New Brunswick men’s hockey team completed a perfect regular season on Saturday with a 9-1 win over the University of Prince Edward Island, becoming the first U Sports hockey team to win 30 consecutive games in the process.
An undefeated regular season hasn’t happened in U Sports men’s hockey since 2002-03, when Western University accomplished the feat. That team actually lost two games that season, but the losses were reversed due to a player eligibility issue, according to U Sports records.
You’d have to go back to the early 1970s, when the University of Toronto and Saint Mary’s University men’s teams both posted perfect regular seasons with no losses or ties, to find a Canadian university men’s hockey team quite as dominant as this year’s UNB team has been. Even then, those teams played fewer games in a season.
“It’s a great feeling,” said UNB forward Austen Keating, who finished the season as the leading scorer in the competitive Atlantic University Sport (AUS), with 50 points in 30 games. “When you do something that rewrites history, it’s pretty incredible.”
Keating had a hat trick in the win over UPEI, while his linemate Brady Gilmour had a goal and three assists. Samuel Richard made 17 saves in the win.
When the final buzzer sounded, the team saluted a sold-out crowd of more than 3,300 at the Aitken University Centre, the homey, 1970s-era rink in the Maritime province’s capital. They celebrated under rows of white banners from standout UNB men’s and women’s hockey teams of the past.
In the last two seasons, both the UNB men’s and women’s teams have made the national championships, with the men’s team winning its ninth national title last year.
But an undefeated regular season is a first.
“I think it’s just our bond,” Keating said about what makes this team special. “For people who are around our team, we’re so connected. We’re brothers on the ice and off the ice. We push each other.”
‘A long road ahead’
Some of the players on this team were here in 2020-21, when the team practised for months but never got to play a single game due to the pandemic.
The team went to the national championship the season after that, but exited early. Then, they got redemption last year, winning it all.
It’s left them hungry for more.
“I think there’s a lot of growth in personal life and a lot of growth as a team that you can get from doing hard things consistently,” said captain Jason Willms, who had a goal and assist in the 9-1 win. “We’re just kind of focusing on the process and I think that’s what makes us so special.”
UNB was perfect on both the penalty kill and power play on Saturday, scoring three goals in three opportunities with the extra attacker, and killing off all three advantages UPEI got.
The team finished atop the AUS in both categories this season, on top of scoring 5.73 goals per game, a full two goals more than the next closest team.
They’re indicators of how dominant the team has been, but those stats won’t be top of mind for UNB when they return to practice Monday. They have a bye to the AUS semifinals, and know they’ll be facing a team in two weeks that has some momentum after winning a quarterfinal series.
“Guys come to UNB not for regular season accomplishments, but to win national titles,” Willms said.
“I know we’ve got a long road ahead and it’s just going to get harder from here. But it’s definitely important to just take it all in. Obviously it’s a pretty big accomplishment to get to this point.”
A milestone for the coach
While his team wrote themselves into the record book with a perfect season on Saturday, UNB men’s head coach Gardiner MacDougall reached his own milestone a few days ago when he won his 489th game, more than any other U Sports men’s hockey coach.
Halfway through the first period on Saturday, the buzzer sounded and the game was paused to honour MacDougall. His family walked on to the ice to present him with a jersey with the number 489 on it.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation before his team gathered around him for a photo. And then, MacDougall’s players went back to work, adding a 490th win to his record.
Willms believes his team’s work ethic comes from MacDougall, who’s spent more than two decades behind UNB’s bench.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Saturday night, or if we’re at the rink on a Monday morning getting ready for a practice, he kind of brings that energy every day and that consistency to his daily life and his daily habits,” Willms said.
“When your coach is your hardest working player, I think you’ve got a pretty good standard.”
For MacDougall, that sense of hard work can be traced back to Bedeque, P.E.I., where he saw hard work everywhere around him. One of his biggest role models was his younger sister, Kathryn, a left-shooting field hockey player who taught herself how to shoot right so she could make Canada’s Olympic team.
In that small P.E.I. village, they had an arena. It became the place MacDougall loved, and the rink is still the place he loves, all these years later.
“It’s never work,” MacDougall said. “It’s a privilege to have the job I do at UNB, to have that privilege and responsibility to try to get the most out of the group that we have each and every year.”
MacDougall has built one of the most successful university hockey programs in the country, coaching UNB’s men’s team to eight of their nine national championships, and graduating players to professional hockey annually.
He credited his players and coaching staff for this season’s 30-0 record. That record is something he’ll think about more someday. For now, he has work to do.
“As my mother says, you’ve got to sometimes stop and smell the roses,” MacDougall said. “But it’s not the time of year to smell the roses right now.”
Concordia’s women’s hockey team is also undefeated, winning all 23 games they’ve played this season. They have two games remaining on Sunday and Friday.
The last time a team went undefeated in Canadian women’s university hockey was when McGill went 20-0 in 2012-13, led by future Olympic gold medallist, Mélodie Daoust.