Saturday, October 20, 2012

V-Reds Continue Road Trip Tonight

The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds look to pick up their second road win of the weekend when they visit the St. FX X-Men at the Keating Millenium Arena. Game time is 7PM.

The Varsity Reds (2-1-0 conference record, 7-2-0 overall CIS record) fell out of the top spot in the latest CIS rankings released on Tuesday and are currently sitting in 2nd. The X-Men (3-0-0, 7-0-1), on the other hand, moved up from 9th to 7th.

A night after former Saint Mary's star Colby Pridham made a successful return to the rink he called home for four years by scoring two goals fellow transfer student Bryce Swan will play against his former team for the first time.

KEY STATS: Although they led the AUS in goals per game (4.29) and and shots per game (36.0) last season the Varsity Reds have regressed in both categories through the first three games of the season. They are averaging 3.67 goals scored per game and only 29.33 shots per game. However, their special teams have been slightly better through the first handful of games this season compared to last. The penalty killing is about even at 83.3 percent (compared to 82.9 last year) but, maybe more importantly, the power play has clicked on 4 of their first 18 opportunities, good for a 22.2 success rate after operating at only 17.6 percent last season. Although penalties have been a problem in the early going, with an average of 26.7 penalty minutes per game, the V-Reds were much more disciplined last night against SMU, accumulating only 10 minutes in penalties.  They will need to stay out of the box against an X-Men team that is very dangerous on the power play.

The X-Men were expected to improve on an impressive 2010-2011 campaign (17-10-1 conference record) last year, but things did not go according to plan. St. FX pushed the V-Reds to overtime in the 5th and deciding game of the 2011 AUS Championship, had a good showing at the University Cup (loss to McGill, win against Alberta), and returned many of their core players, but they were never able to get on track last season, finishing 10-14-4 to secure the 6th, and final, playoff berth. They were then disposed by Moncton 2 game to 1 in the first round of the playoffs.

As their record might indicate the X-Men finished near the middle to bottom of the league in most categories, such as goals per game (6th at 3.25), goals against per game (6th at 3.71), shots per game (5th at 30.46), and penalty killing (5th at 81.3). Two things they did excel at, however, was converting on the power play (1st at 22.3) and staying out of the penalty box (2nd at 18.32 penalty minutes per game). Through three games this year they scored more goals (4.33 per game), given up fewer goals (3.0 per game), and lead the league by taking only 12.67 penalty minutes per game. They are also one of the better teams in terms of shooting percentage (2nd at 17.1 percent) and save percentage (2nd at 91.6) thus far. Their special teams could stand to improve though, placing 6th in both power play percentage (15.4) and penalty killing percentage (76.9). 

HEAD TO HEAD: This is the first meeting of the season between the two team. The X-Men will visit the AUC on November 2nd and January 26th. The V-Reds will return on January 11th. All games are scheduled for 7PM.

Perhaps no AUS team has given UNB more trouble in recent years than the X-Men. Since the 2008-2009 season the Varsity Reds have a 12-3-1 record against St. FX in the regular season, but have won only 3 out of the 8 playoff games between the two in that span. Of course, we are sure no one forgets the X-Men putting an end to UNB's 27 game winning streak in 2009-2010 as well the shocking playoff sweep that followed weeks later.

LAST SEASON: The Varsity Reds received 7 out of a possible 8 points against the X-Men last year. In the first game of the season on October 14th UNB raised their 4th National Championship banner and followed that up with a solid 3-1 victory at the AUC. A week later the two teams met in Antigonish, with the V-Reds falling behind 3-1 in the first period only to storm back and win 7-6. UNB would win their third straight over the X-Men, 5-2, on January 6 at the AUC only for St. FX to reply with a 5-4 shootout victory on home ice eight days later.

RECENT GAMES: The V-Reds are coming off of their best game of the young season as they shutout the Saint Mary's Huskies 4-0 in Halifax last night. Dan LaCosta stopped 26 shots and Colby Pridham scored 2 goals against his former team as the Varsity Reds pulled away with 3 goals in the final 10 minutes of the game. This came on the heels of an up and down opening weekend on home ice. They extended their winning streak against STU with a 5-2 win on opening night only to turn around the next night and get out-skated and outplayed by Moncton, losing by an identical 5-2 score.

Meanwhile, the X-Men are the only AUS team yet to suffer a loss after beating the previously unbeaten UPEI Panthers last night at home. The Panthers tied the game at 2 with only 7 seconds left in regulation but Brad Cuzner's goal 2:44 into the extra session sent the hometown crowd home happy. Last weekend seen St. FX hold on for a 5-4 victory on the road against Acadia on opening night, despite being out-shot 43-19 (including 19-0 in the final period) and then beat Saint Mary`s 5-3 the next evening in their first home game of the season.

During pre-season play the X-Men posted a 5-1-1 record. They fell 2-1 in overtime against SMU in their first game only to rebound with wins over Acadia, Moncton, UPEI, and St. Thomas. They then split two games against NCAA teams - losing 5-2 to New Hampshire and then topping Northeastern 4-3.

WHO TO WATCH FOR ON ST. FX: The X-Men return their top two scorers from last season in Jason Bast (16 goals, 14 assists) and AUS Rookie of the Year Michael Kirkpatrick (15g, 15a), but lost their 3rd (Bryce Swan, 25 points), 4th (Brett Morrison (23), 5th (Kevin Undershute, 18), and 7th (Scott Brannon (14) highest point-getters. Despite these losses St. FX has tallied 13 goals in their first three games with rookies Cory McIntosh and Cole Grbavac leading the charge with three and two goals apiece, respectively. Veteran forward Brennan Wray (3 points after only 10 last year) and defenceman Derek Claffey (2 points this year, 5 last year), as well as sophomore Ted Stephens (2 points after 5 this year) have also got out to good starts this year. Spencer MacAvoy (3g, 14a last season), one of the top defencemen in the conference, is also back to anchor a defensive corps that returns all but one player from last year. They have also added another potential top pairing blue-liner over the summer with Bronson Maschmeyer joining the team after three consecutive seasons of 35+ points with Kamloops of the WHL. He has already notched a goal and assist thus far. Expect him to see plenty of time on the power play. Goaltender Joey Perricone is back between the pipes and will look for a return to his 2010-2011 form, in which he posted a 2.37 GAA and 0.925 save percentage. If he struggles like he did for most of last season (3.57, 0.874) expect to see rookie Drew Owsley, who put up solid numbers the last 4 years in the WHL, get a lot of playing time. So far Perricone has started 2 of the first 3 games, giving up only 5 goals on 64 shots in the process.

WHO TO WATCH FOR ON UNB: It will no doubt be an emotional night for Bryce Swan. The St. FX graduate, who scored 107 points over the previous 4 seasons with the X-Men, will be playing against his former team for the first time. It will be interesting to see the reception he receives from the crowd, especially considering he now plays for one of St. FX's bigger rivals.

The V-Reds got a great start from Dan LaCosta last night so it will be interesting to see if he is back between the pipes against the X-Men. It has been a long time since Travis Fullerton has sat on the bench for two consecutive games, but the coaching staff may want to ride the hot hand. The defence, which was exposed against a speedy Aigles Bleus squad last week, had some adventures in the first two periods last night as the Huskies hemmed them in the defensive zone for extended stretches at time as well as forcing some turnovers, but fortunately LaCosta was there when called upon to bail them out. They did put together a good final period, really clamping down and limiting SMU`s shots and scoring chances to preserve the shutout. The challenge may be tougher tonight against an arguably more talented X-Men squad.  

FOLLOW ALONG: The game will be web-cast on SSN. You can also check UNBHockey on Twitter for updates.

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