Burns proud of Axemen’s hockey effort


Kings County Advertiser/Register

Although the 2010/ 2011 season had a less than satisfactory ending for the Acadia hockey Axemen, head coach Darren Burns has “lots of positives.”

After a fourth-place finish in the regular season, the Axemen swept UPEI in the first round of the playoffs, then lost their semifinal series to UNB three games to one, including a loss in quadruple overtime.

“We felt we had a legitimate shot at making it to nationals. We fell short of that, and that’s disappointing,” Burns says.

Hockey Axemen head coach Darren Burns: “Am I happy? Not totally. Am I proud of the guys for what they were able to accomplish? Absolutely.” File

“There are things you can control, and lots of things you can’t. I felt a lot of the things we could control, we did.”

The Axemen “had an up-and-down first half due to having so many new faces,” but “got on a good run” in the second half until “we ran into some injury problems that didn’t help.”

Other than the second period in game one against UNB, “I felt our six playoff games were our six best games of the year.”

Acadia first swept aside a potentially explosive UPEI team with a pair of 1-0 victories, thanks to an outstanding defensive effort and flawless goaltending from Kris Westblom.

Acadia’s performance against UNB, including the four-overtime loss in game two, a 3-1 win in game three and a 3-2 loss in game four, was impressive, even though the Axemen were admittedly “running on fumes” with as many as seven players on the sidelines due to injuries.

The team’s competitiveness against the number-one team in the country earned it a spot in the CIS Top-10 for the week ending March 5.

“I firmly believe the way we were playing, we could beat anyone in the country in a one-game showdown,” Burns says. “It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had as a coach. We couldn’t have done much more.”

At the same time, the Axemen did ultimately fall short of their goal of qualifying for nationals.

“We need to be able to take that next step, and that’s what we’ll be working toward doing” during the off-season.

Burns “has some work to do,” with at least 10 or maybe 11 players departing through graduation.

“We have a solid nucleus coming back, but we do lose a lot of players.”

In fact, the list of potential losses includes goalies Westblom and Mike Chiasson, defensemen Zack Firlotte and Nathan Welton and forwards Philippe Bertrand, Chris Bruton, Scott Tregunna, Jamie Klie, Zack McMillan, Adam McIlwraith and possibly Ryan Graham.

Many of the departing Axemen will be leaving after just three years at Acadia which, according to Burns, is “the risk you run when you recruit good athletes who are also top students.”

Another player, defenseman Beau Prokopetz, who missed almost all the 2010/ 2011 season, is “pretty much done” because of multiple concussions.

“We knew this was coming, that’s why we brought in extra players last year, including the four new defensemen.

“Our rookies were all tremendous for us this season, and they all gained valuable playoff experience besides.”

In his recruiting, “the things we need to address are more goal scoring up front and replacing the goalies we’re losing. This is a recruiting year that’s a little more definitive. We know what we have, and what we need

One thing that won’t suffice is the status quo.

“The middle of the pack is good – but it not enough to get you out of this conference.”

Overall, and despite all the injuries the Axemen couldn’t control, there were lots of positives, particularly in the play of the young players.

“Am I happy? Not totally. Am I proud of the guys and what they were able to accomplish? Absolutely. We got a good look at some guys who will help us a lot next year. Now we have to target size, speed and scoring.”