Emphasis on continuous improvement proving to be winning formula for MacDougall-coached Reds
A Prince Edward Islander’s simple approach and focus on continuous improvement has laid the foundation for one of the model programs in University Sports men’s hockey.
Bedeque, P.E.I., native Gardiner MacDougall recently guided the UNB Reds to their eight Atlantic University Sport Conference title and seventh national championship in his 19 years as head coach.
“Our goal obviously is to be the best, but it’s to be better every single time,” MacDougall told the Journal Pioneer. “Our goal at the first of the year is to try and be the most improved team in the Atlantic conference.
“When you get to the playoffs it’s trying to be the most improved team in that series. When you get to nationals it’s a one-game best-of-one, and you want to try and be the most improved team in each game.”
After defeating the Carleton Ravens 2-1 in a quarter-final game and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men 9-1 in the semifinals, the No. 2-ranked Reds doubled the top-seeded Alberta Golden Bears 4-2 in a much-anticipated final in Lethbridge, Alta.
“We were fortunate we started with a real close game against Carleton, it was 2-1, and our goalie had to make a couple of big saves, we a couple of penalty kills and scored a goal at the right time,” said MacDougall. “I thought we played one of our best games of the season in the national semifinal against an AUS rival, and you move onto the national final against Alberta, which is probably the toughest team in the country. We found a way to be two goals better in that game.”
A lot of work went into getting to that point. For example, MacDougall noted the Reds practised 104 times during the 2018-19 season.
“The key to our success is we get real good competition in our league, and you have to get better,” said MacDougall.
But what is the key to getting better? What do the Reds do that allows them to be perennial contenders for the national championship?
“If you look back at the games, it’s a lot of little things done right,” answered the son of Evelyn and the late Charlie MacDougall. “A lot of little habits, little plays in games and if you do enough little things right, the big picture will take care of itself.”
Having quality players is also important. MacDougall signalled out his No. 1 goaltender, who turned in a strong 34-save effort in the final.
“I thought Alex Dubeau played the best of his career,” said MacDougall. “He probably played his best game in the national final, which is not easy to do.”
Back to work
MacDougall didn’t waste any time turning the page to next season. Less than a week after winning the national title, he scouted Friday night’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff game in Charlottetown between the host Islanders and Cape Breton.
“I am excited about our foundation,” said MacDougall, who is anticipating adding at least one goaltender, one or two defencemen and three to five forwards. “But our MVP in the nationals, our goaltender, and our MVP in the Atlantic conference, Chris Clapperton, will play his first American Hockey League game (this week).
“They were real good fifth-years in our program, and left a legacy. In five years with our programs, they medalled at the nationals five times.”
MacDougall confirmed it is his intention to return to UNB for a 20th season.
“The first year we started 2-5-1, and I was looking over my shoulder, ‘How is this going to go?,’” laughed MacDougall. “It’s been fantastic, and we have such a great program, it’s been a real privilege to build it up.
“We have such a great coaching staff and the players, the training staff, the university make a real difference.”
UNB’s men’s hockey records for 2018-19:
AUS regular season: 25-2-3 (won-lost-overtime losses).
AUS playoffs: 5-0.
UNB men’s hockey titles won under Gardiner MacDougall:
Atlantic University Sport