The Bedeque native led the UNB Varsity Reds to their seventh Canadian university men’s hockey title on Sunday, and sixth under his guidance as head coach.
“It’s pretty darn special, that’s for sure,” said the son of Evelyn and the late Charlie MacDougall, who does not take success for granted.
When asked if it’s fair to compare one championship to another, or if one stands out in particular, MacDougall replied: “Your most recent is always really special and it’s the most vivid, but every one has been really, really special.
“This one is the first time we have gone back to back and, the fact we won at home, there is something special about it. In 2011, we had a chance to win at home, and it was one of those lifetime moments.”
Another important aspect of last weekend’s event in Fredericton was a 10-year reunion was held for members of the 2007 national-champion Varsity Reds.
“You play for the people who came before you,” said MacDougall.
The Varsity Reds, who included four players – Summerside native Cameron Critchlow, Stephen Anderson of Morell, former Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capital Christopher Caissy and former Charlottetown Islanders captain Oliver Cooper – along with assistant coach and Kinkora native Charlie Cameron with ties to P.E.I., finished atop the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) regular-season standings at 25-2-3 (won-lost-overtime losses).
However, UNB lost in two straight games to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the best-of-three final.
“Sometimes you need that adversity, and you go back a little to get ahead further,” said MacDougall. “I thought the loss in the AUS final grounded us a little bit, and made us more focused and concentrated for the nationals.”
MacDougall deflected praise to his players and staff bouncing back the way they did – going a perfect 3-0 at the nationals.
“The smart man learns from his mistakes, and the wise man learns from the smart man,” said MacDougall. “Maybe we picked up a few things along the way . . . but full credit to the group, they responded.
“The key of success any time you go into nationals is your best players have to be your best players, and we had a lot of best players last weekend.”
MacDougall pointed out Philippe Maillet was named the most valuable player in the country, goaltender Etienne Marcoux was named a tournament all-star and he praised UNB’s defence, which he said played as a six-man unit.
And how about the four-goal performance by Cam Braes in the final?
“You talk about our program and high standards being the mother of excellence and incremental improvement being the father, Cam Braes certainly personified that,” said MacDougall. “He did a lot of the dirty work on that line, he’s down low and he’s the guy that stands in front of the net and takes a lot of physicality.
“He had a game for the ages, to score four goals in his last game as a Varsity Red was truly amazing.”
Gardiner MacDougall’s resumé as UNB head coach:
Won six national titles and three silver medals in 17 years.
All-time winningest coach in UNB men’s hockey history.
Is in the top five of all-time victories in Canadian university men’s hockey.
Going into this season, 35 UNB players coached by MacDougall have played in the AHL/IHL.
Named Canadian coach of the year in 2010 and 2015.