Friday, October 12, 2012

Season Kicks Off With 178th Battle Of The Hill

The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds begin defense of their 2011-2012 AUS Championship tonight when they host cross-campus rival St. Thomas at the AUC to kick off the regular season. Game time is scheduled for 7PM.

UNB, ranked #1 in the first top ten poll of the season that was released on Tuesday, will be looking to extend two lengthy streaks. They are currently riding a 31 game winning streak over the Tommies dating back to a 3-1 loss on October 20th, 2006. They have also won 23 straight home openers going back to a 6-5 overtime loss against Saint Mary's on November 5th, 1988.

This will mark the 199th meeting all-time between the two teams, which also includes 21 exhibition games. The Varsity Reds are 136-54-8 in those games.

KEY STATS: In winning 20+ games for the 5th straight season UNB led the AUS in a number of key categories last year. Some of these included goals per game (4.29), goals allowed per game (2.54), shots per game (36.0), shots allowed per game (22.5), shorthanded goals (12) and face-off percentage (57.3). They also finished in the top half of the conference in penalty killing percentage (3rd at 82.9), shooting percentage (3rd at 11.9), and save percentage (4th at 0.892). Maybe the area they will be most looking to improve on this season is the power play, ranking only 6th in the league with a 17.6 success rate.

St. Thomas will be looking to improve on a 5-18-5 record last year that placed them in last place in the AUS. Despite their record they made some very noticeable and encouraging improvements in their first season under Troy Ryan, despite some terrible luck. They improved by 5 points from 2010-2011, but lost a staggering 10 games by a single goal. The Tommies gave up 28 fewer goals than the year before and improved their goal differential by an almost identical 27. They were also the least penalized team in the conference. They will most likely need to improve their special teams this year if they intend on contending for a playoff spot as they finished last in the league in both power play percentage (13.9) and penalty killing (75.0).

HEAD TO HEAD: This will be the first of four regular season games played between UNB and St. Thomas this season. They will meet again on November 9th in a game that will be highly anticipated as it will mark the V-Reds first appearance at the brand new Grant-Harvey Centre. The two will also play on January 16th at the AUC and on February 1st at the GHC for the 21st Mark Jeffry Memorial Game and 19th Lou Chabot Memorial Game, respectively.

LAST SEASON: The Varsity Reds swept the season series last year for the 5th straight year. In their first meeting on November 25th at the LBR the V-Reds stormed back from a 3-0 third period deficit to win 5-3 on the strength of four shorthanded goals. UNB also prevailed 3-2 in overtime a week later at the AUC with Bretton Stamler providing the heroics, 5-1 on January 18th in the 18th Lou Chabot Memorial Game, and 5-0 on February 8th in the 20th annual Mark Jeffry Memorial Game behind a shutout by Travis Fullerton.

LAST WEEK: Both teams wrapped up their exhibition schedules last weekend with their annual trip to the United States. The V-Reds played three tough games, losing in a shootout to the AHL's Portland Pirates, getting defeated handily by the defending NCAA Champion Boston College Eagles 6-0, and tying Maine 2-2. UNB finished the pre-season 4-2-1 with one tie, including 4 wins in 5 games against CIS competition.

STU finished 1-2 in exhibition play. They lost 4-3 to St. FX in their first game before falling to Holy Cross 2-1 and defeating Sacred Heart 4-3 last weekend.

WHO TO WATCH FOR ON STU: The Tommies return  their top four scorers from last season in Randy Cameron (22 points), Felix Poulin (20), Jonathan Bonneau (19), and Steven Sanza (18). New recruits Colin Martin from the OHL champion London Knights and Alexandre Leduc will also be counted on to provide offense. STU did lose goaltender Charles Lavigne, who kept them in many games and stole many points over the three seasons he wore the green and gold, but new recruit Jon Groenheyde has stepped right in and has looked sharp in his first few outings.

WHO TO WATCH ON UNB: The Varsity Reds have lost 5 of their top 8 scorers from last year, but still possess an abundance of firepower up front. Chris Culligan (30 points), Tyler Carroll (26), Thomas Nesbitt (21), Nick MacNeil (16) will be complemented by new recruit Cam Braes (5 goals in 8 pre-season games) and 5th year transfer students Colby Pridham and Bryce Swan to form what should be one of the most dangerous top-9's in the country. The loss of their top three defencemen means returning blue-liners such as Marc-Antoine Desnoyers, Ben Shutron, Josh Kidd, Daine Todd, and Chad Denny will be more heavily relied upon. Travis Fullerton and Dan LaCosta both return and should provide solid play between the pipes.

FOLLOW ALONG: If you can't make it to the AUC tonight there will a variety of ways to follow the game. It will be broadcast on Rogers TV in New Brunswick (channel 10), web-cast here, and broadcast by CHSR-FM either by tuning to 97.9 on your radio dial or listening online. You can also follow UNBHockey on Twitter for updates.

Moncton at UPEI
Dalhousie at Saint Mary's
St. FX at Acadia