Thursday, November 22, 2012

V-Reds Look To Continue Winning Ways

The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds are back on the ice this weekend for a pair of games as they try to extend their four game winning streak. On Friday night they host the UPEI Panthers for their final home game of the first half before traveling down the highway for a date with the Universite de Moncton Aigles Bleus on Saturday evening. Both games are scheduled for a 7PM puck drop.

The V-Reds (9-3-0 conference record, 13-4-0 overall record) gained a share of first place in the AUS after recording home victories over the Dalhousie Tigers and Acadia Axemen last weekend. They also moved up two positions to 2nd place in the CIS men's hockey rankings that were released on Tuesday.  

This will be the 2nd regular season meeting of the season between UNB and both UPEI and UdeM. On November 10th the V-Reds skated to a 3-2 victory over the Panthers in Charlottetown while they dropped a 5-2 decision to Moncton on October 13th. The Aigles Bleus also defeated UNB 6-2 in each team's first exhibition game of the season back in September.

The Varsity Reds go into the weekend sporting a 4-2 record at home and 5-1 on the road. As the season has progressed they have slowly climbed up the rankings in a number of statistical categories. They now lead the conference in goals per game (4.00), power play percentage (23.0%), shots allowed per game (20.8) and goal differential (+18), and sit second in goal allowed per game (2.50) and 3rd in shots per game (31.7). Meanwhile, they continue to struggle with penalties (worst with 287), penalty killing percentage (6th at 81.0%), and save percentage (last at 88.0%). They also continue to perform much better on the road, despite their success at the AUC last weekend, as they have a much better power play (31.2% on the road vs. 13.8% at home), goals against average (3.17 at home, 1.83 on the road), and save percentage (85.6% at home, 90.7% on the road) away from Fredericton.

The V-Reds continue to be led by captain Chris Culligan, the reigning AUS Athlete of the Week, who is tied for second in the conference in scoring with 4 goals and 11 assists, despite missing two games earlier in the season. They have also received big contributions from Colby Pridham (4g, 8a), Cam Braes (6g, 5a), Tyler Carroll (3rd in the AUS with 7g, conference best 4 power play goals), Thomas Nesbitt (6g, 4a), Nick MacNeil (4g, 5a in 11 games), and Bryce Swan (3g, 4a in 10 games). Daine Todd (1g, 6a), Marc-Antoine Desnoyers (5a, league-leading +13), Ben Wright (1g, 4a in 10 games), and Chad Denny (2g, 3a in 9 games) have all shown they can chip in offensively if needed. Dan LaCosta continued his strong season last weekend as he picked up the victory over Acadia and now has a 6-0 record to go along with a sparkling 1.83 GAA and 0.920 save percentage on the year.

The Panthers, who won both of the regular season match-ups at the AUC last season, are on a three game losing streak but are still holding on to the 6th, and final, playoff spot with a 5-6-1 record, only a single point ahead of Dalhousie. With the off-season departure of top scorers Matthew Carter and Jared Gomes it shouldn't be surprising to see UPEI ranked 7th in the league in scoring (2.67), 5th in shots per game (28.2), and 6th in power play percentage (17.7). They have particularly struggled on the road, averaging only 2.40 goals per game and a paltry 4.2% success rate with the man advantage (1 for 24). However, a strong penalty kill (3rd at 82.1%) and one of the best goaltending tandems in the league (3rd with a 0.906 save percentage) has kept the Panthers in most games.

Despite their offensive struggles thus far UPEI features a fairly balanced attack, with 11 players recording at least 5 points so far. This includes veterans Jordan Knox (3g, 7a) and Mike MacIsaac (5g, 4a), along with rookies Mason Wilgosh (4g, 5a) and Tyler Brown (4g, 5a). Chris DeSeousa (4g, 4a in 9 games) has returned from an AHL try-out and has picked up right where he left off after an impressive rookie campaign. The Panthers also have two of the most dangerous defencemen in the conference in Reggie Traccitto (4g, 4a in 11 games) and Matthew Maione (2g, 5a). Wayne Savage and Mavric Parks have split duties in net thus far, although Savage, who has returned to the team after two years away, has been much better so far with a 4-2 record, 2.45 GAA, and a league-leading 0.928 save percentage.

The Aigle Bleus enter the weekend with a 7-3-2 record, good enough for sole position of third place. They sit two points behind the first place Varsity Reds and Acadia Axemen, but only one point up on both Saint Mary's and St. FX. They have stumbled a bit of late though, with only two wins in their last five games.   

Moncton, ranked 7th in the country, are 3rd in the conference in goals per game (3.58), 4th in power play percentage (20.7%), 3rd in goals against average (2.83), and 1st in save percentage (0.915). They are particularly dangerous when they are down a man as they not only rank 1st in penalty killing (86.8%), but also 1st in shorthanded goals for (4). They are also much more dangerous offensively at home as they have averaged 4.40 goals per game and operate at 30.4% on the power play at home compared to 3.00 and 14.3%, respectively, on the road.

The Aigles are also capable of getting offensive contributions from a number of players, as evidenced by the 9 players who have already registered 7 points. Eric Faille (6g, 8a) remains one of the most dangerous players in the AUS and is joined by Guillaume Parenteau (5g, 7a), Francis Rochon (5g, 5a), rookie Alex Emond (6g, 1a), and Christian Gaudet (2g, 5a). Moncton is also one of the top teams in terms of getting production from their back-end, with Remi Blanchard (2g, 5a), Mathieu Bolduc (2g, 5a), Samuel Groulx (1g, 6a), and Simon Lacroix (7a) all among the top scoring d-man in the conference. It appears that rookie goaltender Andre Lemay has secured the number one starter role for the time being as he has outplayed veteran Andre-Michel Guay in every aspect, posting a better record (5-2-2 vs. 2-1-0), goals against average (2.51 vs. 3.98), and save percentage (0.927 vs. 0.867). He was also in net for Moncton's victory over UNB on opening weekend, making 24 saves on 26 shots.

If you can't make it to either game this weekend they will be web-cast here (vs. Panthers) and here (vs. Moncton). You can also follow UNBHockey on Twitter for updates