In some ways Dalhousie’s men’s hockey team didn’t have the type of season they were expected to. And yet, in other ways, they did: they missed the playoffs.
Having put an end to a seven-year playoff drought the year before, the Tigers basically started the year with an 11-game losing streak that saw Dal fall to the league basement as if they had never left.
The team, however, turned their season around, but what some would call a miraculous comeback fell just short.
The Tigers weren’t supposed to screw up this year. They only got better during the offseason adding veteran leadership in fifth-year transfers Zachary Firlotte and David MacDonald—the only member of the team to have won a CIS championship. The thought was their experience would come in handy as the Tigers sought to establish themselves as a competitive AUS team.
Turns out, the veterans’ experience wasn’t enough.
A dismal first half in which the Tigers struggled with nearly all aspects of their game, from goal-scoring, to defence and goaltending, left fans wondering what went so wrong. Their only source of wins, in fact, came from the often weak St. Thomas Tommies.
Injuries to key players like veteran goalie Bobby Nadeau, Patrick Daley and forward Brad McConnell just made Dal’s already depressing situation even worse.
Something about the team changed upon their return from an apparently much-needed holiday break. Maybe it was the coaching swap which saw Pete Belliveau step down and pass on bench boss duties to assistant Chris Donnelly? Or perhaps it was the return of their many injured players? Regardless, we will never know what caused the team to play with an extra jump in their step. They played like they should have in the start of the year, as if they had something to prove.
Whatever the case, the change brought results. Players began to play, and along the way Dal earned valuable points against Moncton, Saint Mary’s, St. Thomas and most surprisingly a victory and an overtime loss against the UNB Varsity Reds, ranked No. 2 in the country at the time.
The Tigers team everybody had been waiting for paid a visit, even decreasing the gap between themselves and the sixth and final playoff spot to just one point. It all led up to an intense final weekend of the season that unfortunately eliminated any remaining playoff hopes the team had.
One can only wonder what would have transpired if that same team showed up earlier in the season. Dal’s improbable victories proved the Tigers had it in them all along; they had the ability to battle it out with the best in the conference. The logical question then becomes: What took them so long?
Yes, injuries affected the team’s play in the first half. If healthy, they should have been better. Instead, the Tigers found themselves mired in an 11-game losing streak that would come to haunt them as they nearly completed an astonishing turnaround into the post season.
Seven wins in a 28-game schedule isn’t much to brag about, and for Dal it was enough to make them miss the playoffs by seven points, reminiscent of their previous playoff absences.
But despite the many struggles the squad faced, their turnaround gives fans reason to hope; a hope that while the team, to say it nicely, was not the best they could have been, they nearly salvaged their season. It evokes hope that all was not for lost. The players might say they regained their confidence, others would simply call it luck.
As the Tigers start a new chapter in their history: moving away from Memorial Arena, a rink they have called home for the last 30 years, let’s hope they can take the confidence they gained — and maybe a little luck — in their quest to fight the league’s elite.