Written By: John Short
Already, NAIT Ooks men's hockey coach Tim Fragle has new plans for next year.
He insisted during a recent conversation about the recent Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season that he will not be hobbling when the 2018-19 final rolls around.
"The day our final series (a loss to the MacEwan Griffins) started, I hurt my ankle," he said. "Just fell. Simple as that."
Only when the series ended – "the second year in a row that we lost a final in the third game" – did Fragle take time to investigate the severity of his injury. "I just limped around until then. Then the doctor said he had seen me hobbling and believed a checkup would help.
And it did. Within days, surgery was performed. Three weeks after the somewhat disappointing mid-April conclusion of yet another NAIT trip to hockey playoffs, Fragle was still wearing a supportive boot.
"It's getting better," he said. "I'll be fine."
If history and effort are fair indicators, the program will also be fine.
"We had a lot of youth on last year's team," he recalled. "We were going really well until the last two weeks of the (regular) season. Now, looking back, I can see that some immaturity on the roster caught up with us. In some ways it was a problem for a lot of the season; one night the guys would come with the right mindset and the next night it might not be the same.
"One thing I've learned: next year. we'll learn to deal with adversity better. A lot better."
As always in post-secondary school sports, a host of newcomers will be involved in the fresh lessons. "Some graduates from our program will be hard to replace and we'll also lose some guys for other reasons."
One valued defenceman, Ty Stanton, who arrived from the minor-pro Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, has already committed to play next season for the University of Alberta Golden Bears, coached by former Ooks head coach Serge Lajoie. "We kind of knew all along that Ty would be with us for only one year. He was a league all-star and helped us a lot."
Similar praise was directed toward numerous other players, including goaltender Nathan Park, now successfully completing his chemical engineering technology course. "We've had some positive talks with young goaltenders who should be able to help us," coach Fragle pointed out, "but you never really know what's happening in net until you get the new guys on the ice."
Simply put, the three-game defeat by MacEwan in the championship final illustrated the truth of this comment. Park struggled in the first-game defeat and was quickly removed from the game.
"He was sick," Fragle said. "Really sick. But he wanted to play and he had done a lot for us so he got the start. When he came out, it wasn't so much that he played badly (in the Friday opener) but it was important to get Nathan ready for future games."
The tactic worked well when NAIT produced a 3-2 victory to knot the series, but the Ooks did not play as well in the decider, although scoring leader and sparkplug Jake Mykitiuk was back in action after serving a late-season suspension.
"It's good news for us that Jake will be back," Fragle said. "He's a good player and a good leader."
He praised MacEwan for "perhaps catching us off balance. We probably expected more of a skating series and the Griffins made it physical from the start. I think we were out-competed at some times in the series."
This, the coach vowed, is not likely to happen again – whether he coaches in a walking boot, street shoes or bedroom slippers.
NAIT Ooks 2017-2018 Award Winners
Rookie of the Year - Ty Stanton
Ook Leadership Award - Colton Waltz
Silver Torch (MVP) - Corey Chorneyko