NANAIMO, B.C. – James Mallard’s collegiate soccer career ended the same way as his university career did – with a bronze medal around his neck at nationals.
The centre back scored the only goal of the game Saturday as the Holland College Hurricanes defeated the Keyano Huskies 1-0 at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship in Nanaimo, B.C.
Mallard helped the UPEI Panthers win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) bronze medal when they hosted the championship in 2014.
Hurricanes head coach Jonathan Vos reached out to Mallard after he finished his degree with the idea of joining them.
“When Vos came to me a couple of years ago he kind of had this day in mind,” Mallard said Saturday night. “It was a great decision and I’m thankful for Vos and all the guys that helped out along the way.”
Mallard and strikers Ibra Sanoh and Charles Aondo capped their five-year careers with medals that will hold special meanings for years to come.
“It’s satisfying to know they have something to hang on their mantelpiece, to show for the commitment and sacrifice those guys have put in,” Vos said.
Mallard, a 24-year-old Charlottetown resident who lived in Souris for the first eight years of his life, scored the winner in the 79th minute off a free kick taken by Alexanros Iatrou just inside the Hurricanes half.
“(The keeper) punched it and it went off my back,” Mallard explained. “I was on the ground and I didn't even know until it went in and everyone was screaming already.
“It was awesome. I haven’t experienced anything like that before.”
Rookie Brandon Lund earned the clean sheet.
“He was just phenomenal — rock steady,” Vos said.
He noted Lund’s work with goalie coach Brandon Eagle during the season to continue to improve, his decision-making and maturity.
Mallard said Lund turned in strong performances during the regular season and elevated his play during the playoffs and nationals.
“He made some huge saves for us,” he said. “He’s a young guy, but he’s got a lot of experience, whether it was from the Canada Games or his youth (soccer days). . . Brandon is an awesome keeper and I think he has a great future.”
The win capped off three straight victories at the nationals for the Hurricanes, who dropped their opener 2-0 to the Huskies on Wednesday.
Vos said it is a struggle for teams losing their opener at the CCAA nationals to turn the page and get ready for a new path with a new goal.
“Everyone is disappointed they no longer have that shot at the gold medal,” he said. “But with this group of players it was almost easy to get refocused because they have good character and they have lot of pride and were ready to change their focus after the first game.”
The Hurricanes kept getting better and growing with each game, the coach said. By the time the bronze medal match was set, the men in maroon and white had plenty of confidence.
“There was no doubt that we could take them,” Mallard said.
“I’m really proud of the boys,” added Vos. “All week, they just took care of themselves, didn't complain or keep their heads down.”
Eberechi Okwuwolu was the Hurricanes player of the game while Sanoh and Mallard made the all tournament team.
The host Vancouver Islander University Mariners defeated the Douglas Royals 1-0 to win gold.
The Hurricanes hope to make it back-to-back national titles for the host squad when the event comes to P.E.I. in 2018.
The players, coaches and staff left British Columbia on Sunday and were expected to arrive back in P.E.I. in the wee hours of Monday morning.
There won’t be a lot of down time for the Hurricanes, as they will begin the recruiting process in order to field a strong team for next year’s championship.
“We’re going to have a lot of turnover and a lot of gaps to fill,” Vos said, while noting returnees now know what it takes to get to the medal round and have a year of work ahead of them to earn another shot to add to their collection.