Thursday, November 1, 2012

V-Reds Back At Home This Weekend

After playing four consecutive games in Nova Scotia the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds return to the friendly confines of the Aitken Centre for a pair of games this weekend, beginning tomorrow night against a visiting St. FX X-Men team that is currently tied with both UNB and Acadia for 2nd place in the AUS. Game time is scheduled for 7PM.

The V-Reds (4-2-0 conference record, 8-3-0 CIS record) find themselves in an unfamiliar position as their 4th place showing in the latest CIS Top Ten marks the lowest UNB has been ranked since January 2009. The X-Men (4-2-0, 8-2-1), meanwhile, dropped two spots from 5th to 7th.

KEY STATS: The Varsity Reds continue to hover near the top of the league in both goals scored per game (3rd at 3.50) and fewest goals allowed per game (t-1st at 2.50). However, they are still having trouble getting the puck on net as evidenced by their 5th place ranking in shots on goal (26.50), a figure that is almost 10 shots per game lower than what we have been accustomed to seeing the last 4 or 5 years. After failing to produce at least 30 shots in a game only 6 times last season, the V-Reds already have 5 such games this year. A shooting percentage of 13.2% (2nd) has off-set the lack of shots thus far. The V-Reds have still been doing an exceptional job of limiting their opponent's chances, though, as they have allowed a league-low 21.33 shots per game. Another bright spot has been a much improved power play, which sits 2nd in the conference with at 23.5% success rate. This is boosted by a 3 goal performance against the X-Men in their first meeting two weeks ago. However, the combination of taking lots of penalties (3rd most with 52 - 12 more than their opponents) and a poor penalty killing percentage (6th at 78.6%) means the V-Reds have given up a league-high 9 power play goals.

Despite finding themselves in a tie for 2nd place with a 4-2-0 record the X-Men sit in lower half of the league in a number of categories through 6 games, including goals per game (t-4th at 3.33), goals allowed per game (6th at 3.17), shots per game (t-6th at 25.83), power play goals (t-6th with 5), shots allowed per game (6th at 31.3), power play percentage (6th at 16.1%), and penalty killing percentage (7th at 75.0%). They have survived mainly due to three things - being disciplined (league-low 12.67 penalty minutes per game), being opportunistic (t-3rd with a shooting percentage of 12.9%), and good goaltending (3rd with 0.899 save percentage).

HEAD TO HEAD: This is the second meeting of the season between the two teams, and the first at the AUC. The V-Reds prevailed 4-2 on October 20th in Antigonish behind a 3 point (1 goal, 2 assists) performance by Chad Denny. The win improved UNB's record to 11-1-1 over the last 4 seasons against St. FX in conference play. They are also 7-0-1 in their last 8 visits to the Keating Millenium Centre. Of course, as we all know, the playoffs have been an entirely different story.

The two teams will meet twice more in the regular season - January 11th in Antigonish and January 26th in Fredericton.

RECENT GAMES: The V-Reds are coming off of a 1-1 road trip to Acadia and Dalhousie last weekend. On Friday night the Axemen scored 3 power play goals in the first period and UNB was never able to recover, dropping a 4-2 decision. The following night the V-Reds found themselves trailing 2-1 late in the 3rd period to the Tigers before scoring 3 unanswered goals to pull out a 4-2 win. Cam Braes led the attack with 2 goals and an assist.

The X-Men also split their two games last weekend. They were in Fredericton on Friday to face St. Thomas and got a goal with under 3 minutes remaining to escape with a 3-2 victory. On Saturday they traveled down the Trans-Canada to Moncton where they fell by a 4-2 count to the Aigles Bleus in a game they never led. 

WHO TO WATCH FOR ON ST. FX: Through 6 games the X-Men have been led offensively by 2010-2011 CIS Rookie of the Year Jason Bast (2 goals, 6 assists), who also leads the team by a wide margin with 25 shots on goal - 10 more than the next closest player,  Brennan Wray (1g, 5a), rookie Cory MacIntosh (3 goals on 4 shots, 4 points in 5 games), and 2011-2012 AUS Rookie of the Year and former Saint John Sea Dog Michael Kirkpatrick (2g, 2a). Defencemen Spencer MacAvoy (2g, 2a), R.D. Chisholm (1g, 3a), Josh Day (1g, 2a), and highly touted rookie Bronson Maschmeyer (1g, 1a) form one of the most dangerous bluelines in the conference. Joey Perricone has been the majority of time between the pipes (240 minutes, 3.00 GAA, 0.893 save percentage) but rookie Drew Owsley has arguably outperformed the veteran thus far proven to be a very capable back-up so far with a 2-0 record, 3.00 GAA, and 0.919 save percentage in 120 minutes. 

WHO TO WATCH FOR ON UNB: The V-Reds feature a balance scoring attack with 12 different players finding the back of the net already. Cam Braes (4g, 2a), Thomas Nesbitt (2g, 4a, team-high 18 shots), and Colby Pridham (2g, 4a, +5) have led the way thus far, but have received plenty of support from Tyler Carroll (3g, 2a), Nick MacNeil (3g, 2a), Chad Denny (1g, 3a), and Chris Culligan (4a in 4 games). Matt Fillier (1g, 2a) and Antoine Houde-Caron (1g, 1a) have provided a spark on the 4th line while defencemen Ben Shutron (1g, 1a) and Marc-Antoine Desnoyers (1a) have helped out in other ways besides scoring, as evidenced by their +4 and +5 ratings, respectively. Goaltender Dan LaCosta (1.33 GAA, 0.939 save percentage) continues to make his case for more playing time going forward, while Travis Fullerton (3.72 GAA, 0.823 save percentage) continues to endure his worst stretch since coming to UNB, to the shock of many.

FOLLOW ALONG: If you can't make it out to the game it will be shown live on Rogers TV in New Brunswick (channel 10 on cable), web-cast here, and broadcast on CHSR-FM either by tuning to 97.9 on your radio dial or listening online. You can also follow UNBHockey on Twitter or updates.

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