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Playoff dreams dashed

St. FX smother's Dal's playoff chances. Photo by Martina Marien

Dalhousie’s men’s hockey team dug themselves a hole. Turns out, it was a hole too deep to climb out of. For a team that was mired in an 11-game losing streak earlier in the season, the end result—missing the playoffs—wasn’t the formality many expected it to be more than a month ago.

Having successfully made the playoffs the year before for the first time in seven years, an aura of optimism surrounded the team when the season began. But it diminished quickly following a number of tough losses, pushing the Tigers to the league basement.

But an improbable comeback would soon turn things around.

“We had a lot of ups and downs, more downs in the first half, but hockey is a game where you never know what’s going to happen,” said Dal forward Benjamin Breault. “The X-Men were cold before Christmas, and we were hot after.

“It was nice to see the guys regroup and have a chance to make the playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected that. We decided the second half was going to be a new season for us. That’s one of the things we are most proud of that we were able to get within one point and stay that way for three weeks to make things interesting for everyone.”

Only one point was Dal’s deficit with three games remaining from the final playoff spot, but the gap, unfortunately for the black and gold, would widen further.

Playoff climb gets steeper

A win would have propelled Dal into the last playoff spot for the first time all season. Instead, a 2 – 1 loss against the X-Men Feb. 8 saw Dal fall three points back in the AUS standings.

While nearly every aspect of Dal’s game improved following the holiday break, scoring continued to haunt the Tigers, who finished with a league-low average of 2.5 goals per game.

Dal’s habit of falling behind early in games didn’t help.

A quick power play marker by Michael Kirkpatrick and a goal from Murdock MacLellan early in the third helped St. FX build a 2 – 0 lead. Pascal Amyot had the lone goal for the Tigers with seconds remaining in the match.

“I think it was just a matter of confidence,” said Dal captain David MacDonald, referring to his team’s troubles. “A lot of the guys lost confidence, and when you lose confidence on the ice it takes a big toll on the players. You don’t want to make that pass, the extra effort, or go into the corners.”

Thanks to the loss, the Tigers faced sudden death. In order to remain in the hunt for the final playoff spot, they would have to win their remaining two games, and hope the X-Men weren’t as lucky.

Dal would need to find confidence. After all, the Tigers had only won two games in a row all but once this season.

 

Acadia sinks Dal’s hopes

Surrendering a 2 – 0 lead did not help Dal’s chances in the game that officially knocked the Tigers out of playoff contention.

Acadia’s Joel Ridgeway opened the scoring 4:46 into the match. Andrew Clark, the conference’s leading scorer, increased the deficit, adding a shorthanded marker in the second.

With their playoff hopes fading, the Tigers made one last, desperate comeback. Francois Gauthier and Brett Plouffe scored seven minutes apart in the third period to tie the game at two, but it wouldn’t take the Axemen long to respond. Joe Gaynor scored just 32 seconds later, regaining the lead at 3 – 2. Alex Beaton added an insurance marker to make the final 4 – 2.

 

Final battle at DMA

Eliminated from the playoffs, the Tigers had one goal in mind for what was their last game at Memorial Arena; a building they have called home for the last 30 years.

“We wanted to come in here with no pressure,” said Breault. “We didn’t have to prove anything so we just tried to have fun with it, and make sure that we put on a good show for the people that came.”

The end result, a 5 – 4 loss, meant the Tigers would end the year on a three-game losing streak. But despite the challenges the squad faced this season, the team will take with them the memories of an unforgettable final stretch.

“That’s what we need to be remembered for,” said Breault. “I mean, who cares about what happened before Christmas? I think this season was more about how we regrouped and were able to come back and have a shot to try and make the playoffs.

“It’s never over. That’s what the guys in the dressing room will remember for years to come.”

Arfa Ayub, Staff Contributor
Arfa Ayub, Staff Contributor
Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, Arfa moved to Canada at the age of nine. She spent a year in Toronto before moving to Halifax. In the East Coast, not sure how (must be a Canadian thing!), but she began to watch and love hockey. Arfa started writing for the Gazette in her last year of high school as part of a cooperative education internship. Once she graduated, she came to Dal to study Political Science. Aside from continuing to write for the paper, Arfa completed an internship with Global Maritimes.
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