The Dalhousie University Tigers, in many sports prior to the pause of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season, have thrived. They have a history of racking up conference and national allocates in the winter portion of the season too.
They, like other U Sports teams, didn’t have that chance in 2020-2021. It’s a shame for the Tigers, in particular, that they’re facing cancellations of games and events midway through the 2021-2022 campaign.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know if the season will finish at all.
Based on recent results, Dal has several active AUS teams that regularly compete nationally: men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, swimming and track and field (both men’s and women’s for the last two). Dal’s men’s and women’s curling teams play championships under the AUS and U Sports banners, adding another two teams into that mix.
Those teams are once again pushing for conference titles this year, but all of those efforts are at risk of being lost to the pandemic, yet again. What I find has been interesting about this season, and puts Dal above the rest, is the emergence of two other teams typically looking from the outside of the playoffs in: the hockey teams.
While both squads have impressed this year, the men’s hockey team has raised the most eyebrows. A playoff team only twice in the last 16 seasons, Dal sits third in the standings with nine wins in 18 games before the holidays, already exceeding their total of eight wins in all of 2019-2020.
Although the team has lost some key players to professional opportunities over the break, so have other teams in the AUS. With that, the Tigers are slated to remain in competition for the top spots in the standings with a new-look team compared to 2019-2020. Better yet, if the season’s return involved jumping right into playoffs, Dal would have home-ice advantage in the AUS quarterfinals.
The women’s club hasn’t hit the same lofty heights as the men and remain outside the playoffs, but not by much. In a year without head coach Troy Ryan, who is coaching at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Tigers have pulled together for an impressive first half.
As of the holiday break, Dal is just two points back of the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues for the final playoff spot with eight games to play. Dal’s Achilles’ heel has been close games: seven of their 13 losses were by a single goal. The results don’t show it yet, but they’re right there.
None of what is happening right now is in any team’s control. Not for Dal, not for another AUS school, not for anyone. What Dal has controlled, however, was either their improvement or defence of success on the court, ice, pitch, track or in the pool.
Some Tigers’ seasons have already come to finishes to be proud of. The men’s cross country team finished in the top 10 nationally. The women’s soccer squad, meanwhile, came within a goal of knocking off the eventual conference champions in their playoffs.
Most of those Dal seasons are still in the making. Athletes are still putting in the hours training and finding a way to do so with respect to public health restrictions, advantages other provinces haven’t had as of late. Ontario and Quebec have dealt with full lockdowns throughout January even for practicing. So have New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for the latter part of the month.
Everyone wants to be back; I’m not discounting any other team’s desire to return. So many Dal teams, however, have found a way to return to play after a year off in such a triumphant fashion. After all, this was supposed to be the winter they cap off those returns with banners, awards and, most importantly, the experiences that come with going through the grind of the season with teammates.
This still can be that winter for Tigers athletes. They definitely want it to be.