Chris Culligan wasn't entirely sure if he'd return for his fifth and final season at the end of last season, but the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds men's hockey team certainly benefitted from its captain on the ice Saturday night.
Culligan capped a four-point weekend for the Varsity Reds, scoring a hat trick in a 5-3 win over the Saint Mary's University Huskies in a rematch of last year's University Cup final.
"I honestly came back because of the group we had last year because we had such a good time," Culligan said. "It's not so much that I came back to do something personally. Sure I would like to have better offers at the end of the year and sure I would like for the team to win back-to-back championships, but that's a long way away from being decided. Right now I'm happy with the wins. It build good chemistry."
But Culligan clicked with Antoine Houde-Caron Saturday night. After the Huskies took a 2-0 lead with first-period goals from Kyle Pereira and Lucas Bloodoff, Culligan and Houde-Caron broke out on a 2-on-1 to start the second period. Culligan fed Houde-Caron across the slot, who one-timed in his first of the season to get UNB on the board, only 36 seconds into the period.
Culligan added two power play goals later in the second to give UNB a 3-2 lead, with Houde-Caron grabbing another assist, as the pair led the Atlantic University Sport conference in scoring by night's end.
Culligan capped the hat trick with an empty netter with less than two seconds to go.
"That's what a captain's all about, he just finds a way," said V-Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall. "We reloaded after the first and your leader's going to lead. I thought he played very well."
Culligan debated whether or not to return this season after fielding professional offers. Ultimately, his decision came down partly due to the great group of teammates in the dressing room.
"I didn't really like the rush to make a decision [of playing pro]," Culligan said. "It was hard to leave [the guys] a little bit. But if we didn't have such a good group last year I probably wouldn't be back. It was such a fun year and obviously winning helps that, but at the same time just the atmosphere and the chemistry we had amongst the team helped my decision a little easier."
Culligan formerly captained the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and captained UNB to its fifth CIS national championship last season where he tallied 4 goals and 27 assists in 26 regular season games.