Ice Jacks end season with heads held high
The NAU Ice Jacks traveled to Logan, Utah this past weekend for the American Collegiate Hockey Association regional playoffs, entering the single loss elimination tournament as the No. 8 seed. In the first round, they faced No.4 seed University of Colorado.
Before the first game, freshman forward Greg Park said the team was heading onto the ice with confidence.
“We are coming into regionals as a stronger team than we could ever imagine,” Park said. “And we are looking to play spoiler.”
NAU defeated Colorado 4–3 in the first round of the playoffs. It was the Jacks’ game plan to get off to a quick start, and that is exactly what they did as senior captain Kevin Ingram scored within the first 30 seconds of the game. The momentum shifted between the two teams for the remainder of the contest, but the Ice Jacks outlasted their opponents to walk away with the victory.
Sophomore forward Zach Vachris moved around three Colorado defensemen to tie the game in the final period and fire up the NAU bench. From then on, the momentum remained in favor of NAU as the Jacks dominated puck control for the rest of the game. Park scored on a breakaway set up by freshman forward Adam Surber in the final five minutes of the game to give the Jacks the lead and — eventually — the win.
Senior forward Barrett Buckowich said the win was an important stride for the Ice Jacks.
“Upsetting Colorado and advancing to the second round of regionals is a huge step for the NAU hockey program,” Buckowich said.
The Jacks’ next night ended with less favorable results.
The Ice Jacks’ season came to a close on Saturday with a 9–6 loss to the No.2-seeded Utah State Aggies. NAU played the start of the game with the intensity they had ended with the night before; Park and junior forward Rocky DeAngelo both buried a puck in the net in the first period to give NAU the lead.
At the end of the first period, the Ice Jacks had a 2–1 lead, but it was in the second period that the Aggies found their flow. Utah State scored four goals in a row before Vachris scored on a power play, bringing the score to 5–3 in favor of Utah.
NAU came out flat for the start of the third period, and it showed as the Aggies scored four more goals, making the score 9–3.
Depsite the lopsided scoreboard, NAU did not give up. The Jacks regained focus and scored three unanswered goals to make a game out of the match. But after the final horn blew, the Ice Jacks’ terrific season ended one game short of a national playoff berth.
Knowing he played his last game, Ingram said he was most proud of how far the Ice Jacks have come as a program.
“The organization has come a long way since my freshman year, and I hope it continues to go in the direction it’s going,” Ingram said. “We grew a great fan base and were able to have a team that was competitive season after season. I’m proud of the season the boys played … I enjoyed it a lot.”
The Ice Jacks now turn to next season, looking to go one step further and make it into the national playoffs. High on the priority list will be to fill the defensive hole the team will have next season with the loss of senior defensemen Kyle Martinez and Kevin Ingram, and rebuilding the Division III team.