By Derek Holtom
This year’s best Division 2 team in the American College Hockey Association (ACHA) hails from right here in Brandon, with a roster built predominately of local, Manitoba-born talent.
The Assiniboine Community College Cougars came in ranked second in the ACHA’s West Region, but left on top following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Minot State University Beavers Sunday afternoon in Texas. In six previous meetings this year, ACC came up on the losing end against their rivals to the south. However, with a national championship on the line, it was the Cougars who stood tall.
“We set some goals at the start of the year to get seeded as high as we could,” said first-year head coach Tony Bertone. “We achieved a great ranking at No. 2, and went into nationals and were able to win.
“We played (Minot) six times and lost every time,” he added. “We had a great plan on how we were going to play them. They play two lines, so over a five-game schedule, it’s going to wear on them. So we used our fore check to a tee, kept a third-forward high, and it paid off.”
Goaltender Marley Quesnel made sure one goal was all the Cougars would need as she backstopped for the shutout in the final. The lone goal came off the stick of Simone Turner-Cummer, the Carman product who had 16 points in 19 games for the Cougars this year.
The result marked the second straight year Minot State University finished as the runner up at the national championship. It was also the ACC Cougars’ first-ever national championship.
The semifinal game was another nail biter, as the Cougars edged Lakehead University 2-1, ending a two-year reign for the defending champions in the process.
“We really get along with their coaching staff and we enjoy playing them,” noted Bertone. “And this was another really close one.”
Turner-Cummer was again the hero on this night, as she scored two third-period goals to lift the Cougars to a come-from-behind victory. She scored the eventual game-winning goal with just 5:31 left in regulation.
Quesnel stood tall in this game was well, making 15 saves for the victory.
On Friday the Cougars kept the good times going with a convincing 6-1 victory over Rowan University.
Rachel Charles led the Cougars with a natural hat trick, scoring the final three goals of the game to help the second seeded ACC pull away from Rowan University. Kenzie Heide, Erin Doherty, and Mariah McCue also scored for Cougars, who led by period scores of 2-0 and 4-1.
Emily Nichol picked up the win for ACC with a 14-save effort.
The tournament began with a round-robin, and the Cougars were in fine form, including a 6-1 victory over Northeast University.
The eventual champs ran up a 3-0 lead before letting their opponents on the board, and then added three more to cement their win. Turner-Cummer and Karli Frederick paced the Cougars attack with two goals each. Alyssa Alderson and Heide rounded out the scoring for ACC. Quesnel made 13 saves for the win.
And the road to gold started with a bang for the ACC Cougars, as they shutout Mercyhurst University 8-0.
“We didn’t know much about their program, but we wanted to get off to a good start,” said Bertone.
Alderson, Rachel Charles each had a pair of goals for ACC, with singles going to Jasmin Denby, Turner-Cummer, Heide and Doherty. Quesnel only had to make 10 saves for the win.
The team returned to Brandon Monday, and student athletes would all be back in class on Tuesday. Bertone added they are looking forward to raising their championship banner and sharing this moment with the ACC community – many of which were following along on social media and watching the games live online.
This is the third year the ACC Cougars have played in the ACHA. The first year they were ineligible to take part in nationals, and last year they failed to get out of the round-robin portion of the tournament.
In their third season, with last year’s assistant coach promoted to head coach, they were able to win it all.
“We practice at six in the morning and have long trips to play in the United States,” said Bertone. “We endured tough times and made sure they got their homework done on the road.
“But it all really paid off this weekend. And we had a lot of fun doing it too.”