Vermilion resident and Lloydminster Minor Hockey Association graduate Jamie Crooks helped lead the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team to their third national title in five years. PHOTO COURTESY OF GOLDEN BEARS AND PANDAS ATHLETICS
Vermilion’s Jamie Crooks had just scored the University of Alberta Golden Bears insurance marker in the David Johnston University Cup final against the St. Francis Xavier X-Men, but he wasn’t yet ready to tempt the hockey gods.
“It was pretty cool,” said Crooks, 26. “I think there was still a minute-and-a-half or a minute left or something like that, so I didn’t really want to celebrate too hard to jinx it. But, it felt pretty cool to score that. And then once the final buzzer went off that was even better. It was just a good feeling.”
Crooks’ goal helped the Golden Bears skate to a 4-2 win against the X-Men in the gold medal game of the eight-team U Sports men’s hockey championships at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Aitken University Centre on March 18. The national title marked Crooks’ third in five years with the Golden Bears.
The Lloydminster Minor Hockey Association product won his first championship in his rookie season with the perennial U Sports hockey powerhouse in 2014 when the Golden Bears knocked off the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies 3-1. He captured his second title one year later in Halifax thanks to 6-3 finals’ win against the UNB Varsity Reds.
Crooks, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Kinesiology this spring, said having four forward lines, six defencemen and two goalies who can contribute every night is the key to the Golden Bears continued success.
He said putting points on the board was his role as a top-six left wing, but thanks to their depth, he wasn’t the only player tasked with that challenge.
“The biggest thing is if one line is not going, the other two or three can step up,” he said. “It’s really good to know there is no pressure on one certain line or one certain guy to contribute and have all the success.”
After picking up the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League’s goal scoring and points total crowns as a member of the Bobcats in 2008-09, Crooks skated for a short stint with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades before moving on to the Chilliwack Bruins. He completed his four-year WHL career as an assistant captain with the Victoria Royals in 2012-13.
Crooks noted the Golden Bears rich history of success coupled with the chance of gaining a quality post-secondary education at the University of Alberta made the decision to come back home a no-brainer. He said most of the athletes playing U Sports hockey also have WHL backgrounds making for a style of play he was used to, but the addition of four or five university classes to his schedule did prove an eye opener.
“Sundays are your catch-up day to do whatever you need to do to get ready for the next week,” said Crooks, adding they would practise Monday to Thursday and usually play games on Friday and Saturday. “It can get a little hectic, but you learn how to manage through it over the years. Obviously, my first year I was a little bit overwhelmed, but just learning from the older guys how to manage your time and whatnot I (picked it up) pretty quick.”
The Golden Bears had to claw back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Huskies 3-2 in overtime during a David Johnston University Cup semifinal to punch their ticket to this year’s gold medal game against the X-Men.
Crooks said their opponent then skated past them to an early two-goal lead in the final, but they kept their calm, stuck to the game plan and continued to press until the championship was theirs.
“It means a lot because my first year I came in and won and the last year I won,” he said. “There are not a lot of guys who can say they’ve won three in five years. It’s a credit to the program and the players that they’ve recruited throughout the years and the restocking of the guys they’ve lost.”