The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men's hockey final was a tight race. At the end of game four, SAIT and Mount Royal University had collected two games each, sending them into a do-or-die fifth game on Mar. 27. MRU scored the lone and decisive goal to win it 1-0, or so they thought.
During the fourth game of the men's final, MRU's goalie was injured and was replaced by their backup goalie. Teams are required to have a backup goalie on the bench, but with their starting goalie out injured MRU found themselves in desperate need of a new backup goalie for game five, said MRU athletic director and ACAC director of non-court sports Karla Karch.
"Mount Royal had about 20 hours to find a backup goalie," said Karch. "There's paperwork to be filed, but because it was a Saturday night to a Sunday night, typically what happens with that is that it's filled, but it doesn't get reviewed until Monday morning."
MRU was advised by the ACAC to fill the spot with an eligible Mount Royal student. In order to be eligible, students must be enrolled in a full course load, which at MRU in a minimum of three courses. However, the student selected as the new backup goalie was only a part-time student, said Karch.
When MRU became aware of the violation on Monday morning, they self-reported it to the ACAC, said Karch.
"What typically happens when a school plays an ineligible player, they forfeit the game and they're fined," said Karch. "Because of the enormity of the game, the acting commissioner ruled to replay the game. Then Mount Royal appealed that decision."
Appeals are directed to the president of the ACAC, who is then responsible for forming a tribunal composed of various athletic directors. The tribunal overturned the decision to have game five replayed and ruled that the MRU win would stand, said Karch.
The ineligible backup goaltender had no ice time during the game.
"Part of the reason they ruled the way they did is because he had no bearing on the game at all," said Karch. "He was there as a body."
Karch said that she believes that had he seen ice time, the ruling would have been different.
"There was some concern about pushing it back another week and the student academic success, we're two weeks out from having exams. To push it another week could've interfered," said Karch. "At the end of the day, 50 student athletes could've been affected."
Since MRU self-reported the violation, SAIT was not directly involved in the process, said SAIT marketing and communications coordinator Billie Rae Busby.
"We weren't involved from a protest stand point or anything like that," said Busby. "Because we were not involved with the appeal process we were not in those meetings, we were not asked to present. We were more just a team affected by it."
Busby said the decision might set a precedent for ACAC eligibility issues in the future.
"We need to understand, okay is there a grey area now or is this just a one time thing that happened and find out how does this affect all the sports for all the student athletes down the road," said Busby.
Busby noted that rules are strictly enforced in other college athletic leagues like the NCAA, where a violation would likely have resulted in a forfeit regardless of the importance of the game.
Busby said that SAIT accepts the decision and congratulates MRU on the win.
"I don't believe anyone does it on purpose," said Karch. "It happens. It's a lesson learned by all of us. There's the letter of the law that happens with the codes that we go by, but there's also the spirit of sport and sportsmanship. In this case I believe the tribunal made the correct decision in their final analysis of the appeal."