Adam Dauda Captures AIHL Championship with Sydney Bears

Adam Dauda ’19 left Hamilton, New York after a disappointing senior season. Both personally and for the Colgate Raiders, Dauda felt like there was more that could have been accomplished.

After tallying 11 points in 34 games in his senior campaign, Dauda signed with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers—his first professional contract—and skated in five games without registering a point.

“After I played with Newfoundland, I felt like I could actually do a good bit of damage. I didn’t do so hot over there, but it was a sick team so it was hard to get good looks,” Dauda said.

Newfoundland, the newest addition to the ECHL and Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate, had Vegas Golden Knights-like success in its inaugural season. Plunging through the regular and post-season, the Growlers reached the Kelly Cup and hoisted hardware on June 4 after defeating the Toledo Walleye in six games. Dauda, though, did not play in the series and missed out on celebrating the championship.

The summer was underway and Dauda was without a team, so he took some time to celebrate graduation with a trip around Europe. The Bratislava native has traveled to some cool places before, with one standout experience facilitated by Colgate’s Center for International Programs and the Economics department.

After the Spring 2017 semester, Dauda went on an 11-day cultural exchange trip to Xiamen, China with a group of Colgate students led by Assistant Professor of Economics Yang Song to hear lectures, visit companies and work with Xiamen University economics students.

But this summer’s trip was for fun; a reward for the past four years of working hard in Hamilton. He is a two-time ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team member, after all.

One day, Dauda got a push notification from way down under that would change the course of his summer and cut the vacation a bit short.

“While I was in Europe I got a Facebook message from a guy I didn’t know. He said, ‘Would you want to come to Australia to play hockey?’ I’m like, sure buddy, Australia?” Dauda said.

Commonly, undrafted, high-end college seniors have professional playing opportunities in Europe after graduating. But often times, leagues have hidden features that cause complications for import players.

Import players are out-of-country skaters. Like in international basketball, a certain number of roster slots are reserved for imports in international hockey. The Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) permits four imports per team. Imports are typically the top performers in many statistical categories, especially ice-time and points.

Sometimes it boils down to sheer logistics; flights and housing could be too expensive to make the dream of playing professionally a reality. Other times, the schedule may be obscure or the language burden too much to manage.

Dauda received a few of these offers; a team in the Dutch BeNe League reached out, but he was not going to step into an unknown situation simply because he was offered the chance to play; it had to be the right fit.

But when he heard from a team in Sydney called the Bears, Dauda did his research and reached out to Ryan Lough, a St. Lawrence graduate who had played for the Bears, to see if the team asking to sign him over Facebook Messenger could be the ideal spot.

In Australia, Dauda was promised housing accommodations, a roundtrip flight and the Bears would pay for gear and even a gym membership.

The two-practice, two-game a week schedule was appealing; visiting and living in Sydney for the first time, while getting to visit different Australian cities playing hockey, might have been a draw for Dauda too.

“I was pretty lucky that a team in Sydney happened to call. The city is beautiful; the beaches are amazing,” Dauda said.

Dauda arrived midway through the AIHL season, but he adjusted to the freeness of the new league and points started piling up.

Dauda posted 29 points in 14 games, finishing fourth on the team in points after playing only half the regular season. Linemate, leading scorer and fellow import forward Danick Gauthier, who played alongside the 2018-19 Art Ross Trophy winner Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov and New York Rangers forward Vladislav Namestnikov in the AHL for the Syracuse Crunch in 2013-14, recorded 53 points in the regular season in 23 games. The pair, though lighting up scoresheets during the regular season, would typically withhold celebrating too much after goals.

“It’s like I could almost do no wrong. Obviously I wasn’t out there to just mess around and do whatever, we still needed to win games and it mattered, but it was just nice. I didn’t have to worry about making a turnover and the coach would never freak out on me or anything.” Dauda said.

There was a rediscovered confidence in his game sustained by a continuous flow of scoring, which Dauda attributed to a few things.

Dauda raved about his new coach Ron Kuprowsky, who made the transition to the team seamless. An immediate sense of trust was apparent, and Kuprowsky’s role, by virtue of AIHL competition, did not require a Herb Brooks a la “Miracle on Ice” style and temper of coaching in games or at practice.

“[Kuprowsky] was just a huge beauty. Basically like a player, just chilling,” said Dauda.

Knowing every detail is not meticulously analyzed in film review sessions, Dauda’s game opened up on the ice. Division I hockey demands detail and analysis, Australian hockey has a bit more openness to the game.

“My senior year at Colgate wasn’t that great and I was really in my own head. Playing without any confidence and always worrying about mistakes is a bad way to play, so I knew going there I would have plenty of opportunity and I would be able to play loose,” Dauda said.

Dauda also credited success to chemistry with teammates. The imports and locals blended.

“I think everyone bought in. Even guys that didn’t play as much took a role, [sometimes] just trying to fire people up. We hung out quite a bit [off the ice]. We had some good team bonding stuff, a few of us went fishing together,” Dauda said.

The Sydney Bears finished fourth in the regular season with 49 points and earned a bye to the semi-finals played on August 31.

Their opposition, the CBR Brave, faced no adversity during the season and routed AIHL teams on their way to a 26-1-0-1 record—good for 79 points. Brave superstar forward Jesse Gabriel put on a Wayne Gretzky act in Australia, posting 39 goals and 28 assists in 20 regular season games.

In the semis, the Brave took a comfortable two-goal lead into the third period after getting one by net-minder Anthony Kimlin just seconds before the second intermission.

The Bears were on the brink: down three to the best team in the league with 20 minutes to go.

But the Bears broke out in the third, with an unexpected second-line contribution at the 18:38 mark starting the comeback.

“[Jeremy Brücker] gets this out of nowhere snipe, so we started losing it. It was about two minutes into the third and 4-3, and we were pressuring pretty hard,” Dauda said. You could tell the other team was getting so rattled.”

With 13:59 to go, Dauda found Ryan

Annesley and the Bears tied it up. The Brave were at a loss. Gauthier buried the game-winner with 3:03 remaining; Brücker sealed the upset by sending one into the empty net with three seconds left. The giant was slain and the Bears marched on to the finals.

The thrills of “playoff hockey,” that glorious time, unsurprisingly and perhaps irresistibly found its way to the Australian continent.

“Most of the season too, the imports, me and [Gauthier], we didn’t really celly after goals. But these two games, we were just going nuts. We would score and it would be pretty intense,” Dauda said.

On September 1, the Sydney Bears defeated the Perth Thunder 5-2 to win the Goodall Cup. This time, Dauda was on the ice and a main contributor; he netted two goals and tallied two assists, most critically scoring the ultimate Cup-clincher.

“The ne that turned to be the game-winner was just gritty, going to the net. It was pretty exciting stuff,” said Dauda.

Upon reflection, the experience in Australia was special, but not because of the ending.

“We wanted to win, but it was an Australian championship — it wasn’t anything. But it was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey because I just missed that joy of hockey,” Dauda said. “Like with my senior year at Colgate, it was a bad year personally and team-wise, so [it was] just kind of depressing. Then [to] go out and play hard and have a team [like] that — those guys were super nice in Sydney and super supportive — so we all came together at the end.”

Dauda’s stint in a setting frequently associated with paradise — with a “beauty” of a coach and hospitable teammates — could be just the summer experience his mindset needed before taking another shot at the ECHL.

While the championship win was nice, Dauda could not call it his biggest achievement.

“It was nice but it definitely wasn’t like scoring against Q-pac or something in a tight game,” Dauda said.

However, the seismic difference an adopted mindset can make in an athlete’s performance has always been intriguing.

It seemed for Dauda that the highlight of the summer was finding love and passion in playing hockey, again; get back to enjoying the game for the game’s sake and letting results follow.

In Australia, where Colgate students seem to flock to every semester, the stars aligned in the summertime.

Now, Dauda is back in North America and preparing for training camp with the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, the Vancouver Canucks affiliate. Though he signed a contract, earning a spot on the roster will be the first goal.

The Kalamazoo locker room will have some familiar faces, namely Tyler Ganly and Mitch Atkins, when camp begins at the end of the month.

Ganly played 48 games for Kalamazoo in the 2018-19 season. He and Dauda competed as teenagers growing up in Ontario, so reaching out was a clear first step to the transition.

“I got his number and asked him what the deal is like over there and he had good things to say, so I’m excited,” Dauda said.

Atkins, a Kitchner-native and longtime buddy of Dauda’s, will be in Kalamazoo on a professional tryout. The two have spent time training together in Kitchner for over 10 years.

“I’ve had a pretty good summer; I’ve been playing a lot, working out a lot. So I think if I have a good start to the season I could do some damage and maybe get a call-up, hopefully. But one thing at time. First, I have to have a great camp before all of that,” Dauda said. “I really wanna just light it up.”

The AHL’s Utica Comets are one step up from Kalamazoo. If things go according to plan, Dauda could be back in upstate New York.

“It would be sick to go to Utica and be close [to Colgate]. It could be kind of cool,” Dauda said.