Monday, March 18, 2019

REDS ARE CHAMPIONS ONCE AGAIN!

(Photo Credit - UNB Athletics Twitter)

There will be another National Championship banner to hang from the rafters of the Aitken Centre in September. The University of New Brunswick Reds capped a memorable season by defeating the defending champion Alberta Golden Bears 4-2 in a heavyweight match-up tonight in Lethbridge to capture their 8th University Cup in school history - and their 3rd in four years.

The Reds came out strong and dictated play for the majority of the game's opening minutes, but the Golden Bears got a power play - which would be the theme of the opening period - at 3:53 and they only took 40 seconds to strike with Brandon Magee finding Steven Owre all alone at the backdoor for a shot into a gaping cage that Alex Dubeau had no chance on. It was Alberta's first shot of the game. The Reds quickly responded, however, when Mark Rassell intercepted a break out pass just inside the Bears blue-line and fed Samuel Dove-McFalls down low. The rookie forward made a quick deke and slid the puck between Zach Sawchenko's pads to knot the game at one. The Bears suffered a huge blow mid-way through the period when U Sports player of the year Luke Philp crashed hard into the boards and left the game without putting any pressure on his left leg. He would not return and his absence was immediately felt as the Reds were assessed eight minutes of penalties - including a controversial double minor for high-sticking - in just under five minutes late in the period, giving the lethal Golden Bears power play a golden opportunity to take the lead. The Reds penalty kill was put to the test and they rose to the occasion just like they have so many times this season. Although Alberta generated a number of shots on goal, they could not solve Dubeau and the game remained 1-1 through twenty minutes. UNB out-shot Alberta 16-12 in an exciting opening period.

Each team came up empty on abbreviated power plays early in the second period and the game would remain deadlocked until late in the frame. At 14:27 Matthew Boucher and Oliver Cooper did some good, hard work behind the Golden Bears net, which resulted in Boucher winning the puck and getting it back to Randy Gazzola at the blue-line. Gazzola floated a wrist shot towards the net that Cooper was able to get a stick on to deflect it past Sawchenko for the tie-breaking goal. The Reds then got a rare power play just under three minutes later and it only took them 12 seconds to extend their lead with Kris Bennett (Simpson, Boland) getting the puck at the goal line, spinning to his forehand, and putting it upstairs. Bennett's 5th goal of the tournament gave UNB a 3-1 lead and that is how it would remain after 40 minutes. Shots in the period were 13-12 for the Reds.

As expected, Alberta threw everything they had at UNB in the 3rd period with their season on the line. They made thing interesting at 6:47 when Grayson Pawlenchuk stole the puck from a fallen defender in the Reds corner and got it out front to Brandon Magee, who shot back against the grain as Dubeau was moving from his left to right. At 10:57 the Reds got a huge insurance goal to give them some breathing room. Mark Rassell broke down the left side and took a sharp angled shot that found the top corner to make it 4-2. From there it was all about protecting the lead and milking the clock. The Reds seemed perfectly content to slow the game down and take as many icings as necessary over the last five minutes to drain the clock, relying especially on Mark Simpson to win the ensuing offensive zone face-offs. The Bears pulled Sawchenko with over two minutes remaining, but couldn't muster much more than a couple of scrambles in front of Dubeau before the clock hit 0:00, giving the Reds an 8th University Cup championship. Alberta held a 10-2 shot advantage in the period.

Here are the final few seconds of the game courtesy the U Sports Hockey Twitter:
- The Reds went with their usual line-up, meaning Noah Carroll, James McEwan, and Patrick Watling were scratched.

- Alberta ended up out-shooting UNB 34-31 in the game. The Reds had more shots (10) in the opening 12 minutes of the game than they did in the entire 2015 final against Alberta (9).

- UNB was 1 for 3 on the power play. Alberta was 1 for 7.

- Alex Dubeau was sensational once again in goal, including making a huge sliding glove save at the left side of his net to keep the score 3-1 early in the 3rd period.

- Rassell and Magee were the players of the game.

- Attendance was 1593.

- After playing the best hockey of his UNB career this weekend, Alex Dubeau was named the recipient of the Major W.J. 'Danny' McLeod Award as the tournament MVP.

- Joining Dubeau on the tournament all-star team were defenceman Marcus McIvor and forwards Kris Bennett and Chris Clapperton. Alberta's Jason Fram and Luke Philp were the other two players named to the team.

- This is the first time in four tries the Reds have beaten Alberta in a gold medal game.

- This is the second time they have defeated the top seeded team in the final. They also accomplished this in 2007 against Moncton.

- Seniors Randy Gazzola, Cameron Brace, and Matt Boudens cap their excellent five year UNB careers with a 3rd national title. They also have a silver medal and bronze medal to their credit.

- Gazzola and Boudens played in the maximum 15 University Cup games over their university careers.

- UNB's 15 goals scored this weekend are the most they have ever potted in a University Cup-winning tournament. They netted 17 last year, giving them 32 in their last six tournament games.

- They out-scored the opposition by 11 goals (15-4), which is their best ever at the tournament. 

- UNB has now won a University Cup in five different provinces - New Brunswick (3), Saskatchewan (2), Ontario, Nova Scotia, and now Alberta.

- This is Gardiner MacDougall's 100th career postseason victory, which includes 69 AUS playoff wins plus another 31 University Cup wins.

- The Reds went 8-0 in postseason play this year. It is the first time they have ever gone undefeated through the AUS playoffs and University Cup.

- Of course, this now begs the question - Is this the best UNB team of all-time? A 4-2-0 exhibition record, a first place 25-2-3 regular season record, a 5-0 playoff record and an AUS title, and a 3-0 University Cup record with a gold medal for an overall record of 37 -4-3 this season. It is certainly in the conversation.

- Next up for the Reds is the offseason, but keep checking in for the latest news and updates throughout the summer.

- Hockey season is only six months away!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

X-Men Rebound, Take Bronze

The #6 seeded St. FX X-Men shook off a disastrous outing last night to capture the bronze medal at the 2019 University Cup, handing the #5 Saskatchewan Huskies a 5-1 loss this afternoon. Given all the drama and adversity they have faced this season, this is an impressive outcome for the X-Men. For the Huskies, this is their 3rd bronze medal game loss in the last four years. They lost the gold medal game in the other year.

The Huskies were the victim of a typical St. FX game that UNB - and AUS - fans have grown accustomed to over the years. The X-Men scored twice on their three power play chances and raced out to a 5-0 lead while the Huskies came up empty on seven opportunities with the man advantage and didn't find the back of the net until their 49th - and final - shot of the game.

- The X-Men got first period power play goals from defencemen Adam Holwell and Cole MacDonald. They doubled the lead in the second period on markers from Holwell and Matt Needham. Matthew Graham added their final goal early in the third period. 

- Parker Thomas' goal with 31 seconds remaining prevented Saskatchewan from getting shut-out for the 4th time in their last five games. 

- Shots in the game were 49-16 for Saskatchewan, but Chase Marchand rebounded in a big way to lead the X-Men to victory. The Huskies went with their back-up, Travis Child, who played sparingly this season. 

- Attendance was 923.

- St. FX lost 7-3 to Acadia in 2017 in their lone previous bronze medal game appearance. 

- The Huskies have lost in the bronze medal game in 2016 (5-2 to Saint Mary's), 2018 (5-4 in overtime to UNB), and now 2019.

- There is just one game left in the 2018-2019 U Sports men's hockey season and it is tonight's gold medal game between the #1 Alberta Golden Bears and the #2 UNB Reds. Game time is 9PM AST and it will be broadcast live across the country on Sportsnet 360. 

UNB vs. Alberta: Preview, Prediction, Poll

The University Cup will be on the line tonight when the sport's two powerhouse programs - the University of New Brunswick Reds and the Alberta Golden Bears - clash in the gold medal game at the ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge. The game is scheduled for a 9PM AST start and will be broadcast live nationally on Sportsnet 360.

For the Golden Bears (30-4-1), they will be looking to defend their title they won at the Aitken Centre last season. For UNB (32-2-3), they are going for a 3rd championship in four years.

It was a another typically great year for the Golden Bears this season. Although they finished a point behind the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West standings with a 24-3-1 record, the Bears would ultimately get the last laugh. After earning a first round playoff bye, the Bears swept a good Calgary Dinos squad 3-1 and 6-3 to move on to the final against the Huskies in Saskatoon. Alberta dropped the first game 4-2, but then pitched back to back shutouts - 3-0 and 1-0 - to capture their 28th Canada West title. This allowed the Bears to enter the University Cup as the top seed and earned them a date against the severely over-matched Lethbridge Pronghorns in the quarter-finals. Alberta, as predicted, had little trouble in a 7-1 rout of Lethbridge to set up another game against their rivals from Saskatchewan. In the semi-finals Alberta scored three third period goals to break a scoreless tie and Zach Sawchenko did the rest, blanking the Huskies for a third consecutive must-win game to send the Bears to the finals against UNB.

As one could imagine, Alberta has sparkling numbers across the board this season. They ranked only behind UNB in the country in goals scored per game (4.78 to 5.00 for UNB) and had just a tick better goals against average as the Reds (1.964 vs 1.966), which was only behind Saskatchewan. The Bears also feature a lethal power play, which clicks 29.2% of the time, and a stifling penalty kill (89.8%).

Individually, the Bears are the only team in the country that can match up with UNB's depth. They are led up front by U Sports player of the year Luke Philp (21 goals, 24 assists in 24 games), but also receive significant contributions from Canada West second team all-star Cole Sanford (39 points), Brandon Magee (28 points in 22 games), Trevor Cox (28 points), captain and Canada West second team all-star Riley Kieser (24 points), Canada West rookie of the year and all-rookie team member Grayson Pawlenchuk (22 points), and Steven Owre (22 points).

On defence, Alberta might not have the same offensive ability the Reds have from 1 through 6, but they feature Jason Fram (30 points), who has been named the U Sports defenceman of the year for the past two seasons. Clayton Kirichenko (20 points) and veteran Graeme Craig (16 points) are their only other rearguards that topped double digits in points this season. By comparison, UNB had four defenceman register at least 18 points.

Between the pipes, Canada West second team all-star Zach Sawchenko has taken the reigns as their go-to guy this season and has proven to be one of the best in the country. Following up on a strong University Cup semi-final and final performance last season, Sawchenko put together a regular season that saw him post a 16-2-1 record with a 0.926 save percentage and an absurd 1.46 goals against average. He was equally as good in the playoffs with a 4-1 record, 0.927 save percentage, and 1.61 goals against average - including back to back shutouts in do-or-die games in the final. Incredibly, he has been even better in the University Cup - 2 wins and one goal allowed on 46 shots.

On paper this is probably about as even as a championship game match-up can get. These two are easily the top two teams in the country this year and it would be shocking if it wasn't a tight game. Unlike in 2015 when a veteran Golden Bears team completely stifled a young Reds squad that had many players playing in their first University Cup, this game appears to feature the two teams at the height of their powers.

However, the Bears do have a few slight advantages:

- The biggest being that they opened the tournament on Thursday and had Friday off while UNB will be playing their 3rd game in three days, something they have yet to do this season.

- Secondly, as the top seed Alberta will be the home team and get the last line change.

- Also, although the Reds have a lot of players with University Cup experience, the Bears will have more players with championship game experience. Alberta will most likely only have two guys in the line-up that have not played in a University Cup final - rookies Grayson Pawlenchuk and Curtis Miske. On the other hand, the Reds could have up to ten such players - Alex Dubeau, Tyler Boland, Kris Bennett, Alexandre Goulet, Mark Rassell, Matthew Boucher, Samuel Dove-McFalls, Olivier LeBlanc, Tristan Pomerleau, and Joe Gatenby. It might not matter, but it could prove to make a difference.

Ultimately, as with most games that are expected to be close, it will probably come down to special teams, goaltending, and perhaps a fortunate (or unfortunate) bounce. The Bears have been on a roll since the early part of the regular season, going 26-1-1 in their last 28 games, but the Reds were on a similar streak in 2008 before Alberta got them in the final. The Bears are due for a loss and UNB is due to beat them in a National Championship game. The Reds take this one in a nail-biter.

Your turn: Who do you got?

Who wins gold?

UNB
Alberta

UNB In The University Cup Final

The #2 seeded University of New Brunswick Reds will be looking to win their 8th University Cup in school history this evening when they face the defending champion and top seeded Alberta Golden Bears at the ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge. Game time is scheduled for 9PM and will be broadcast live nationally on Sportsnet 360.

Overall, UNB will be making their 13th appearance in the National Championship game, including their 9th in the last 13 years. It will be the 10th appearance since Gardiner MacDougall took the helm in 2000/2001.

Here is a breakdown of their previous 12 appearances:

1997: Lost to Guelph 4-3
1998: Defeated Acadia 6-3
2000: Lost to Alberta 5-2 in OT2
2004: Lost to St. FX 3-2 in OT
2007: Defeated Moncton 3-2 in OT
2008: Lost to Alberta 3-2
2009: Defeated Western Ontario 4-2
2011: Defeated McGill 4-0
2013: Defeated Saint Mary's 2-0
2015: Lost to Alberta 6-3
2016: Defeated St. FX 3-1
2017: Defeated Saskatchewan 5-3

A few notes of interest:

- UNB's 13 title games will tie Toronto for the second most all-time. Alberta will be appearing in their 22nd.

- UNB has seven University Cup championships, only behind Alberta (16) and Toronto (10).

- Both teams have 5 losses, which is one behind Saskatchewan for the most all-time.

- The Reds and Golden Bears have accounted for the last six University Cup titles with UNB winning in 2013, 2016, and 2017 and Alberta taking the crown in 2014, 2015, and 2018.

- 14 out of the last 15 gold medal games has involved either UNB or Alberta. The only one that didn't during that span? McGill's overtime win over Western at the AUC in 2012.

- The last six title games have featured only four different teams - UNB, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and St. FX. The last team besides those four to make it to the final was Saint Mary's in 2013.

- This is UNB's 4th University Cup appearance out west and they have made the final each time. The previous three were all held in Saskatoon and the Reds came away with a gold (1998), silver (1999), and gold (2013).

- Matt Boudens and Randy Gazzola will join Cam Braes, Josh Hepditch, and Lachlan MacIntosh as the only Reds players all-time to play in four gold medal games. Senior Cameron Brace was injured for the 2017 tournament so this will only be his 3rd championship game appearance.

- This is the second time UNB has played four title games in a five year span. They also accomplished the feat from 2007-2011.

- This is the 4th time UNB and Alberta have played in the championship game. The Golden Bears have won all three previous encounters - 5-4 in overtime in Saskatoon in 2000, 3-2 in Moncton 2008, and 6-3 in Halifax in 2015. The Reds also dropped a bronze medal game to Alberta in Fredericton in 2003.

- Interestingly, UNB has beaten Alberta in each of their four "non-medal" University Cup games - 4-3 in overtime in Toronto in 1997, 5-2 in Saskatoon in 1998, 6-5 in an epic overtime game in Fredericton in 2004, and 6-3 in Thunder Bay in 2009.

- This proves to be a fitting match-up as UNB was the #1 ranked team for the first 13 polls of the season before conceding the top spot to the Golden Bears for the last six polls.

- Since the University Cup expanded to the six - and then eight - team format, this will only be the 4th instance of the top two teams playing each other. The other three occurred in 2008 (#1 UNB vs. #2 Alberta), 2011 (#1 UNB vs. #2 McGill), and 2015 (#1 Alberta vs. #2 UNB).

Reds Trounce X-Men, Advance To Final

Kris Bennett ensured there would be no overtime heroics from the X-Men this season. The second year forward lit the lamp four times as the #2 seeded University of New Brunswick Reds overwhelmed the #6 seeded St. FX X-Men in a dominant 9-1 victory tonight in the University Cup semi-finals. UNB are back in the gold medal game after a one year hiatus and will now play the Alberta Golden Bears for the National Championship tomorrow evening. St. FX will look to regroup in time for a bronze medal match versus the Saskatchewan Huskies tomorrow afternoon.

It was a dream start for the Reds as they scored three goals in the opening seven minutes to put the X-Men immediately on their heals. Just like in game 2 of the AUS Final, it was Cameron Brace getting the scoring started early and setting the tone. Kris Bennett provided some nice work in the X-Men corner, protecting the puck and eventually spinning away from a defender just as Cameron Brace got loose in front of the net. Bennett feathered a pass out to Brace, who beat Chase Marchand with a shot just inside the far post at 1:36. Tristan Pomerleau also picked up an assist on the opening goal. Bennett then took a penalty, giving the X-Men power play a chance to get the equalizer. However, it was UNB taking advantage. Alexandre Goulet won a race to a loose puck just inside the St. FX blue-line, fended off a defenceman, and snapped the puck low glove side past Marchand to make it 2-0 with an unassisted marker at 6:07. It only took 51 seconds for the Reds to strike again thanks to a great individual effort from Bennett, who was just out of the penalty box. The second year forward got the puck in the X-Men zone and showed great puck protection as he maintained possession through a number of attempted checks before toe-dragging around a defenseman in the low slot and scoring. The unassisted goal made it 3-0 for UNB. They would not be done though. At 12:59 Samuel Dove-McFalls (Boucher, McIvor) got on the score-sheet with a goal off a nice rush only moments after a Reds power play expired. Dove-McFalls took a pass from Marcus McIvor deep in his own zone, chipped the puck to himself around an X-Men player at the Reds blue-line, skated into the offensive zone and put a wrist shot from the high slot through a screen to give UNB a commanding 4-0 lead, which they would take into the intermission. Shots in the period were 24-8 for the Reds, which were very indicative of the play.

The X-Men looked much better in the early parts of the second period and they were able to get on the board thanks to a fortunate bounce at 5:47. Adam Laishram took a shot from far out that hit a UNB stick and took a wicked ricochet downwards off the ice and into the top corner, past Alex Dubeau. St. FX had a chance to really make it interesting a few minutes later as UNB took a pair of penalties 31 seconds apart, but they only managed one shot on goal during the lengthy two man advantage despite having plenty of zone time. Shortly after successfully killing off the penalties UNB made sure there would be no miraculous comeback on this night as they struck for two goals in 67 seconds to put the game out of reach. At 10:37 Bennett (LeBlanc, Gatenby) notched his second of the night after coming hard down the right side and lifting a backhanded shot into the top right corner. Then, at 11:44, Chris Clapperton (Boland, Gazzola) took a pass off the side boards and got in behind a defenceman before slapping the puck between Marchand's legs. UNB would hold a 6-1 lead after two periods. They out-shot the X-Men 14-8 in the period.   

The Reds would add another three goals to their total in the 3rd period to turn this one into a laugher. At 4:14 Marchand stopped two shots in quick succession, but Bennett (Dove-McFalls, LeBlanc) was able to pounce on a rebound and get the third one past him for his hat-trick goal. Joe Gatenby (Boucher, Goulet) would make it 8-1 on a shot from the blue-line at 12:39 and then Bennett would add his fourth of the game at 14:12, keeping the puck on a two-on-one and putting a well-placed shot off the post and in. That would finally wrap up the scoring - much to St. FX's delight I suspect - as UNB out-shot the X-Men 16-4 over the final twenty minutes.

- UNB went with the same line-up as yesterday. Noah Carroll, James McEwan, and Patrick Watling were all scratched.

- Shots in the game were 54-20 for the Reds.

- Neither team scored a power play goal even though there were 15 opportunities in the game - nine for St. FX and six for UNB. As the game got increasingly out of hand on the scoreboard the refs became a lot less lenient, no doubt as a way to keep control of the game and avoid a situation like we saw at the end of the Alberta/Saskatchewan game.

- Bennett (4 goals, 1 assist) and Laishram (1 goal) were named the player's of the game.

- Alex Dubeau stopped 19 out of 20 shots, although he wasn't forced to make as many tough saves like he was against Carleton.

- Attendance was 1021.

- UNB set school records for the most goals (9) and largest margin of victory (8) in a University Cup game.

- UNB improves to 2-2 all-time against the X-Men in University Cup play.

- The Reds have outscored the X-Men 29-5 in winning the last four head-to-head meetings between the two this season.

- Bennett is the first Reds player to have five points in a UCup game. His four goals match Cam Braes (twice) and Philippe Halley for the most by a UNB player.

- With the victory, it guarantees 5th year players Randy Gazzola, Matt Boudens, and Cameron Brace will finish their UNB careers with five University Cup medals. They will be looking to add a 3rd gold medal (2016, 2017) to a collection that also includes a silver (2015) and bronze (2018).

- This is the second time in three years St. FX has been blown out in a national semi-final game. They lost 8-0 to Saskatchewan in 2017.

- UNB will now focus their attention on the Alberta Golden Bears in what will be the first meeting between the two powerhouses since the 2015 title game. Game time is 9PM and it will be broadcast live on Sportsnet 360.