Daxon Rudolph’s overtime heroics secure club’s first-ever Western Championship
Just over a minute into overtime, No. 4 Northern Alberta Xtreme defenseman and leading scorer Daxon Rudolph collected a loose puck following a failed 3-on-1 rush from No. 16 RINK Hockey Academy Kelowna. With a burst of speed, he beat a lone Kelowna defender and fired a wrist shot just over the pad and under the glove of Steele Bass. The goal secured NAX’s first Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) U15 Prep Western Championship.
Road to the Final
Heading into this year’s playoff tournament, NAX were seen as favorites to win it all. Finishing first in league play with a 28-1-1 record, one of their two losses on the season came at the hands of RINK Kelowna. The team had a Top-10 scorer in Tucker Tullikopf, a dynamic two-way defender in Rudolph and a potent pairing of Parker Snell and Taylor Raynard in the crease. With not many weaknesses in their game, it would have come as a surprise not to see NAX run the table yet again in the playoffs.
Northern Alberta got its undefeated run off in stellar fashion, beating Delta Hockey Academy Black 11-0. Tullikopf set the score sheet on fire, tallying seven points, six of which were goals. Rudolph got out to a decent start as well, recording one goal and two assists. Raynard pitched a 14-save shutout. Following that were three consecutive victories over BWC Academy, Delta Hockey Academy Green and Edge School. Across those three matchups, NAX outscored its opponents 21-7. Only one hurdle was left, as the club had Kelowna waiting for them in the championship game.
Iginla, Bass were consistent throughout tournament for RINK Kelowna
Finishing third in the regular season behind the NAX and Edge School, Rink Kelowna was considered a dark horse to contend for the prep title. The second of only two teams to beat NAX in the regular season, they were victorious in a 4-3 shootout. Consistent play from forward Joe Iginla and Bass in net were two large factors in Kelowna’s success. If both of these players were on their game, Kelowna would prove to be a tough out for any opponent; a fact that was true this postseason. In six games, Iginla scored 12 points (6G, 6A), second on the team behind Cage Smith (3G, 10A). Getting the majority of the workload as the team’s goalie, Bass recorded a 4-0-1 record, with a 2.30 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
U15 Prep championship is an instant classic
Brody Gillipsie put RINK on top just 1:50 into the championship game. Iginla would increase Kelowna’s lead by two when he finished a 2-on-1 rush with a slick back-hand shot past Snell. Iginla and company had gotten out to the start they needed in order to upset the tournament favorite.
However, with one minute left in the frame, Rudolph would net one back for NAX. He scooped up a failed clearing attempt that deflected off the skate of Cage Smith, and wired a perfect shot from the slot to get his team on the board. NAX has cut the deficit to 2-1 to end the first period.
Riding that momentum, Maddox Rose evened up the score at 2-2 a mere 44 seconds into the second period. The game would remain tied for the next 13 minutes of action before Smith tallied his third goal — and 13th point — of the playoffs for RINK. He danced around numerous NAX players with a gorgeous toe drag before shooting the puck into a gaping net for the 3-2 lead. RINK had once again taken the lead over top-seeded NAX.
Brek Liske made sure his team didn’t trail for long, though, scoring less than three minutes later. He would deposit a rebound chance off a shot from Rudolph to square things up once more, this time at 3-3. Both sides pushed hard for the winner in the third period, but both goaltenders stood firm. Overall, Bass would end up making 34 saves while Snell stopped 36.
A scoreless third period pushed the championship game to overtime. Once the extra period began, Rudolph made quick work of deciding the game by burying a breakaway opportunity to send the NAX bench and fans into a frenzy. The golden goal would be Rudolph’s fifth of the playoffs, giving him 12 total points. None bigger than his game-tying and game-winning goals against Kelowna.
After the game, head coach Brayden Toma shared his thoughts on the victory.
And if things couldn’t get more memorable, NAX’s U15 team won its championship the previous day, marking the first time in CSSHL history a team has won both the U15 and U15 Prep division in the same season.