As mentioned earlier this week the V-Reds and X-Men are certainly no strangers to one another at this time of the year. Although UNB has come out on top in 5 of the last 6 playoff meetings, the last two - 2011 and 2015 - have both gone the distance. We can probably expect something similar this year as three out of the four regular season games were decided by a single goal, with two going into overtime. Overall, the Varsity Reds went 3-1-0 against X this year while St. FX went 1-1-2 against UNB. On October 16th Randy Gazzola scored the OT winner to lift UNB to a 4-3 home win. The X-Men prevailed 6-5 at home on November 20th as the V-Reds were going through a tough stretch due to a number of injuries at the time. UNB swept both 2nd half meetings. This included a 6-2 home win on January 9th in a game that was marred by 192 minutes in penalties and a 3-2 OT win in Antigonish on January 16th with Jordan Murray getting the winner.
Despite losing arguably their top two players from last year's squad - former Saint John Sea Dog Michael Kirkpatrick and former AHLer Robert Slaney - due to graduation this year's edition of the X-Men might be their best in recent memory thanks to the improvement of many of their returning players and a strong recruiting class. Although they only ranked 4th in the conference with 105 goals scored, this was their highest total since 2008-2009 season. They are led up front by a pair of sophomores in AUS MVP Eric Locke (35 points, 3rd in AUS) and Kristoff Kontos (27 points) and a trio of freshmen - Holden Cook (27 points), Michael Clarke (21 points), and Nathan Pancel (18 points). They also feature 8 others who posted 10+ points this year. Surprisingly, they feature one of the weakest power plays in the conference as they finished only 7th in the regular season with only a 13.4 success rate
Defensively, the X-Men also ranked 4th with 75 goals allowed. This was higher than last year but as many AUS fans know, goaltender Drew Owsley (24 GP, 2.54 GAA, 0.914) is more than capable of stealing a game. The X-Men also struggled on the penalty kill this season, again placing 7th in the conference with a 81.7% percentage. The X-Men will also have to make due without the services of defenceman Max Iafrate for the duration of the series as he was given a 4 game suspension after picking up a major penalty in game 3 of their semi-final series against Saint Mary's.
Overall, the X-Men will undoubtedly provide another stiff test for the V-Reds thanks to their improved offense and always strong defensive play. They key for UNB, like it always is against St. FX, will be to get the lead and force the X-Men to play their style of game. If the X-Men take a lead and go into a defensive shell we have all seen how effective and frustrating that can be for the V-Reds. I don't expect the X-Men to generate the same number of shots and scoring chances as UNB so the Varsity Reds - and goaltender Etienne Marcoux - will need to ensure St. FX doesn't take advantage of their limited opportunities to give them any confidence and momentum. I expect the series to be tightly contested and would not be surprised to see an overtime game (or even a 3rd game), but the V-Reds are just on too much of a roll right now and appear to be as healthy as they have been in quite sometime. As long as UNB plays their game they should prevail and capture another AUS Championship.
UNB IN 2
What do you think?