Thursday, February 26, 2015

UNB Outlasts X-Men To Advance

The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds advanced to the AUS Final after a 6-3 victory over the visiting St. FX X-Men tonight at the AUC in a game that they never trailed. More importantly, the V-Reds have also clinched a berth at the University Cup in Halifax next month, returning to the tournament after a one year absence. 

UNB got on the board first just 6:41 into the contest when Alex Wall circled behind the X-Men goal, back out to the blue line, and then found Dana Fraser near the St. FX bench for a shot that got past Drew Owsley. Philippe Halley, who had to perform some painful looking acrobatics to keep the play onside, received a much deserved secondary assist on the goal. A potential turning point occurred just under three minutes later when Brad Cuzner was given a 5-minute major and game misconduct for charging against Halley, which sent the V-Red forward to the dressing room for the rest of the period. With a chance to put the game away early the opportunity turned out to be a nightmare as not only did UNB fail to generate much in the way of offense, the X-Men tied the game on a breakaway goal just under the crossbar by Adam Stevens at 12:51. However, in a series that has been defined by the X-Men's quick response offense it was the V-Reds who answered only 1:09 later when Philippe Maillet (Braes, Suellentrop) was camped in front and took a nice pass from behind the net from Braes and quickly put it 5-hole on Owsley. The physical period continued to take its toll on UNB as defenseman Adrian Robertson took a hard, legal hit into the boards behind his own net and never returned. The period would end with UNB leading 2-1 and holding a 15-6 advantage in shots.

The V-Reds were able to extend their lead 4:21 into the 2nd period when Randy Gazzola flipped the puck out of his own end and found Matt Boudens, who was joined by Dylan Willick as well as Cameron Critchlow, who just stepped out of the penalty box, for a 3-on-1 that was executed to perfection. Boudens patiently waited as Willick drove the net and took the defenceman out of the play before sliding a pass across to Critchlow for the one-timer goal. The X-Men once again had a quick answer. After UNB iced the puck St. FX won the ensuing face-off and only seconds later ex-Saint John Sea Dog Michael Kirkpatrick roofed the puck up and over David Shantz's shoulder. The goal cut the lead to 3-2 just 90 seconds after UNB scored. The V-Reds were able to restore their two goal lead at 9:27 thanks to a persistent shift by the top line. After a number of opportunities from in close in quick succession it was Halley (Maillet, Gazzola) who was finally able to slide the puck past a sprawling Owsley for the "garbage" goal. As we have seen time and time again, the X-Men would not go down easily. They once again made it a one goal game at 15:11 when Gabriel O'Connor flipped the puck into the top right corner from in close. That would finally be the end of the scoring in a period in which UNB out-shot St. FX 13-8.

As expected, the 3rd period proved to be nerve-wracking, even as UNB held the territorial advantage and controlled the puck the majority of the time. They were finally rewarded at 10:02 after a great forecheck by Chris Caissy forced a turnover behind the X-Men net. He skated out in front and threw a pass across the crease to Matt Boudens. Even though Boudens had a defender draped all over him he was able to find the puck and backhand it into the net before Owsley could get across to make it 5-3. The V-Reds successfully killed a penalty a few minutes later in what proved to be the X-Men's last great opportunity to get back into the game. St. FX pulled Owsley with a couple minutes remaining but it quickly backfired when Rob Mignardi chipped the puck out to Dylan Willick in the neutral zone. Willick only had one defender in front of him and a quick move to go wide gave him a clear shooting lane. He made no mistake in finding the empty cage from just outside of the blue line. Shots favoured UNB 12-7 in the period and 40-21 in the game.

- UNB made a few line-up changes for the game. R.D. Chisholm replaced Matt Petgrave and Rob Mignardi returned from his one game suspension, replacing Francis Beauvillier. Peter Trainor was once again out.

- Boudens, Wall, and Halley were the game's three stars.

- After a slow start to the series the top line of Fraser, Maillet, and Halley all had a goal in the game. They combined for 5 points on the night.

- UNB won 40 out of 70 face-offs with Willick winning 14 out of the 21 he took.

- Robertson did return to the ice at the end of the game for the celebration.

- Attendance was 3011.

- UNB went 0 for 2 on the power play. Although they struggled mightily with the man advantage in the series (2 for 21 with both goals coming in the first game), they were absolutely outstanding in shutting down St. FX's power play. The V-Reds killed off all 6 X-Men power plays tonight and only allowed one goal on 21 chances in the series.

- UNB out-shot St. FX 177-100 in the series.

- The V-Reds opponent in the best-of-3 AUS Final will be the Acadia Axemen. Acadia defeated Saint Mary's 3-2 in game 5 of their series tonight in Wolfville to also clinch a berth in the University Cup.

- It is a fitting match-up as the teams finished 1st and 2nd in the regular season this year. Acadia took 3 out of the 4 meetings with 3 of the games going to overtime.

- Before tonight there had been only 4 series in AUS history go to a 5th and deciding game. Interestingly, in all four previous instances the 5th game went into overtime with the home team only winning once (UNB against St. FX in 2011).

- It appears that game 1 of the AUS Final will be Monday night at the AUC. Game 2 will be Wednesday in Wolfville and game 3, if necessary, will be Friday night back in Fredericton. All games are scheduled for 7PM puck drop.