The NCAA ice hockey championship team has a Kimberley connection.
Matt Wilkins, who was born and raised in the community, is a Division I champion after helping the Union College Dutchmen to a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
In front of 18,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Centre—home of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers—the Dutchmen scored four goals in the first period and added another three in the final frame to lock up the title for the first time in the institution’s history.
“It’s been about a week now,” said Wilkins, in a phone interview. “I think it’s finally sunk in. It’s pretty surreal, just to be at the Frozen Four then to bring it home, it’s pretty special.”
The Dutchmen finished on top of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference with an 18-3-1 record, ending their season with an overall team performance of 32-6-4, which ranked them third overall in the NCAA.
With single-elimination games in a field of 16 teams, the Dutchmen blew through the first two rounds, defeating the University of Vermont Catamounts and the Providence Friars, which set up a semifinal match against the Boston College Eagles—the top-ranked hockey team in the country.
“BC and Minnesota, they’re two pretty storied programs and we were sort of looked at as the underdog, but we’ve been up there in that third spot basically all year,” Wilkins said.
“Our programs are smaller, and people don’t know much about us, but I think we did a good job in changing that.”
The Dutchmen edged the Eagles with a 5-4 upset, scoring three goals in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and earn a berth into the NCAA final against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Not bad for a small-town kid in the Canadian Rockies.
“It’s hard to imagine even going to play hockey somewhere, so there’s a lot of people who helped along the way,” said Wilkins.
Wilkins played two seasons with the Kimberley Dynamiters of the KIJHL before jumping up to Junior A with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL for a year. He then headed into the AJHL with the Brooks Bandits for two seasons, winning the league title in his final year of eligibility in 2012.
He also racked up some individual honours, such as being named to all star teams in both years with the Bandits, as well as leading the AJHL in points in the regular season before capturing the league title in his final year.
After fielding a few offers from other post-secondary institutions, Wilkins settled on Union, based on the hockey and academic programs and is in the middle of majoring in history.