‘It’s all about the people’: Gardiner MacDougall collects 600th U SPORTS win

Still of Gardiner MacDougall, the coach for the University of New Brunswick Reds Men's Hockey Team during the event of 'Skate withe the Reds,' held on January 6th, 2024. (Submitted: UNB Reds)

On Jan. 20, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) REDS men’s hockey team picked up their 24th straight victory of the season against the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, defeating their opponents 7-1. 

But this victory felt different for UNB’s head coach Gardiner MacDougall, who picked up his 600th career U SPORTS win. 

It’s safe to say that reaching the 600-win plateau is a mere drop in the bucket for MacDougall, who has captured eleven Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championships, eight National championships and sixteen first-place pennants.  

Despite coaching for a decorated club like UNB, MacDougall believes it is not just him who has helped make the team successful. Instead, he believes it’s the people around him, such as the coaches and players who have come through the program and the support that the community of Fredericton has given the team.  

“Rob Hennigar [was] a former player of mine for four seasons. He was our MVP for four years and then signed an NHL deal out of UNB … We had a full-time position come up and he’s been with me going on his 10th year. Brad Goods, I think, is in his 11th or 12th year with us [and] Charlie Cameron’s been here for about eight years,” he said when remembering important people on his team.  

 “It’s all about the people,” he said. 

MacDougall also alluded to the fact that the team has gotten great support from UNB’s faculty as well as athletics department citing how Paul Mazerolle, the current president of the university and former UNB Red Devils goaltender, has been an “avid supporter and an avid fan” of the team.  

The pressure doesn’t get to MacDougall, though.

“This group this year is off to a fantastic season and we’ve had a lot of great teams at UNB … this group could be the most special.” 

This season, UNB has been the class of the AUS. With just a few games left, the team has a chance to accomplish a feat that has not been done since 1957-58 have an undefeated regular season.

“When we talk to recruits, [we tell them] ‘you’re not coming to UNB to be the underdog,’” said MacDougall.

“We know it goes with the territory and the standards, but guys buy into it and I think it’s the unified team approach that helps us be successful. They all play for one another.”   

Two key contributors to UNB’s historic season have been Jason Willms and Austen Keating. Willms has 27 points in 26 games this season, which has put him in a tie for 12th in AUS scoring with his teammate, rookie forward Sean McGurn.

“This is my fourth year having Gardiner as my coach [and he] definitely has had a positive influence on my life,” said Willms. “Something he brings every day is his energy and he brings a passion to want to get better in his own life.”

He added that MacDougall’s passion and work ethic rubs off on the players.

Austen Keating, a fourth-year winger on the REDS, echoed the same sentiments as MacDougall. The former forward for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League leads the AUS in scoring with 42 points in 26 games.

“We have a little saying [at UNB], which is to leave the program better than when you started when you got to it,” said Keating. 

“That’s why there’s been so much success with this program.”

He credits his coach for finding personalities that will bring success to the team. 

“G Mac [is] a big part of bringing in so many key players and not just great hockey players, but great people,” said Keating. “I think that goes a long way to on-ice success.”   

As for whether the 600th win had any extra lustre coming in his home province, MacDougall said he, at the time, didn’t realize that the win was the 600th win of his coaching career.

However, when UNB won the U SPORTS National Championship in Charlottetown last March, he said that the win was “pretty darn special.”