“I think it just was the want to win, everyone on our team just wanted to win.”
Learning how to win had never been the trouble for the 2018-19 Gaels team. For any team of near-championship caliber, winning becomes the expectation, the norm.
Learning how to win from behind, how to keep the lead, how to battle low in the corners or break out with beautiful stretch passes are the lessons a 28-game season teaches all too quickly.
Blink once, and you can miss some things. Close your eyes for a weekend as a hockey team, and it’s a momentum-changing action that can throw off months of preparation.
Liam Dunda knows this well. The fourth-year forward spoke to The Journal about the mid-point of the 2018-19 season, when the Gaels went on their first extended winning streak.
Before then, the Gaels had done well, but not better than expected. There was promise with goaltenders Justin Fazio and Jack Flinn posting shutouts early in the season, but also peril.
“We didn’t start the season really hot, […] we lost a couple games, […] it was kind of a rocky boat moment,” Dunda said, recalling the first few weeks of the season.
“It was probably a couple weeks into the season when we started winning where we realized how special our group was.”
Once settled in, the team began the real work of competing for a championship. While their on-ice performance was steadily improving, the Gaels were just as busy off-ice building the foundations of a team that could not only out-play but outlast their competition.
“When you’re in university, guys that are in fourth, fifth year, when the season’s done, you’re done, you’re retired,” Dunda recalled.
“We had a lot of first-year guys and a lot of second-year guys, we weren’t that old of a team […] it kind of just clicked for us […] these guys might only have 20 games left […] and if we don’t step it up then it’s over for them.”
What followed was a six-game period of domination at home that gave a glimpse of what the team could—and eventually would—become.
The first game of the streak featured a three-goal margin of victory over the University of Quebec, Trois Rivieres, during which Justin Fazio recorded a dominant 55-save performance.
After several closer games, the Gaels broke out a five-goal victory a week later against the Nipissing Lakers, erupting for seven goals which was tied a week later by another 7-2 win over the RMC Paladins.
Not only could the Gaels win, but they could seemingly score at will given the production of forward Slater Doggett, who was scoring on a nearly one-goal-per-game pace.
Should the offense need a rest, the Gaels could also count on a timely save. Both Queen’s netminders were near the top of their game, each giving up only two goals per game during that period.
Simply put, this was a team that could not find a way to lose.
According to Dunda, however, the team’s demeanor remained entirely the same during that period.
“We were kind of loose, everyone would joke around, I think the biggest thing for us was just making sure the team remained the exact same. We didn’t change what we were doing and we didn’t change what worked for us before.”
One of the traditions that became a team favorite involved Dunda’s stall-mate in the locker room.
“Henry Thompson, before every game, he would write stuff on the knob of his stick and sometimes it would have a joke and sometimes it would relate to the other team […] he kind of continued it through playoffs and it was almost something to look forward to at that point.”
Dunda, a self-described non-serious type, also has a routine of his own before each game, though perhaps with less of a flourish than his teammates.
“I go to the rink and when it’s time to put my equipment on, I put it on left side first and I finish on my right side. I can never put the right side of equipment on before the left,” he said.
Despite all the apparent madness, Dunda detailed the method behind it.
“I think that when you’re too serious, you can kind of overprepare […] when you get on the ice, you don’t want to be tight, you kind of just want to play hockey and have fun.”
In a perfect world, the story would end there. As with all streaks, however, the Gaels’ incredible run was unsustainable. It just wouldn’t appear that way until early February.
Then, it was on display for nearly four thousand people at the Carr-Harris Cup.
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