Wednesday, March 16, 2016

UNB vs. Western: Preview, Prediction, Poll

Although the 2016 University Cup kicks off tomorrow afternoon in Halifax, the #5 ranked University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds won't be hitting the ice until Friday when they entertain the #4 ranked, and OUA runner-up, Western Mustangs at 4PM.

This will be the 5th meeting all-time between the schools, all of which have taken place at Nationals. UNB has won 3 out of the 4 previous meetings.

March 23rd, 2000: Won 3-2 OT (Colin Beardsmore scored the overtime winning goal in UNB's opening game at Nationals in Saskatoon. It was UNB's 3rd of 5 straight overtime games, ultimately losing to the Alberta Golden Bears 5-4 in double overtime in the championship game.)

March 29th, 2009: Won 4-2 (Lachlan MacIntosh scored a hat-trick as UNB captured their 3rd University Cup in Thunder Bay.)

March 26th, 2011: Won 4-0 (Travis Fullerton recorded the shut-out, and UNB's special teams were clutch as they contributed two power play goals, a shorthanded goal, and killed off 10 Western power plays as the V-Reds advanced to the finals before a raucous AUC crowd.)

March 24th, 2012: Lost 3-2 (The Mustangs got their revenge the next year, jumping out to a 3-0 1st period lead and holding off a late charge to end UNB's season on home ice.)

This year's edition of the Mustangs finished the season 18-10-0, which was good enough for 2nd place in the OUA West division, just one point behind the division-leading York Lions. In some ways their season resembled that of the V-Reds. They won their first five games - and 9 out of their first 11 - before hitting a rough patch before the Christmas break where they lost 6 out of 7 games. They eventually recovered to go 8-2-0 to end the season. The Mustangs hovered in and out of the top ten rankings all season. They received votes in all but one poll but were only ranked higher than 8th twice all year (5th on October 27th and 6th on March 8th).

The Mustangs opened the playoffs with a sweep of Laurier, but then lost their first game against Toronto to push them to the brink of elimination. They came back with consecutive wins to knock off the Varsity Blues, including an overtime win in the 3rd and deciding game. They also needed three games to dispatch Guelph in the division finals, which advanced them to the Queen's Cup against UQTR. Despite taking a 3-1 lead into the 3rd period the Mustangs fell to the Patriotes 4-3 in overtime.

Western has kind of flown under the radar all season long, as evidenced by the fact they did not have one single player named to the OUA West 1st all-star team, 2nd all-star team, or all-rookie teams. This is not entirely surprising given they did not have anyone rank among the top-50 point producers in the country. They are led offensively by Matt Marantz (5 goals, 21 assists in 24 games) and Shaun Furlong and Andrew Goldberg, each of whom had a team-high 9 goals. They also feature former St. Thomas Tommie Stephen Sanza, who collected 5 points in 11 games after joining the team at the Christmas break for his final season of eligibility. On defence Alex Micallef led the way with 15 points in 26 games. Alex Dodda has carried the bulk of the load in net, appearing in 17 games and going 11-4-0 with a 2.64 GAA and 0.919 save percentage.

Looking at the Mustangs team stats, they appeared to have a decidedly average season. They ranked 10th (out of 37 teams) in the country in goals scored (3.68), 16th in goals against (3.00), 18th in power play (17.7%), and 18th in penalty killing (84.4%). By comparison, UNB ranked 2nd in goals scored (4.64), 2nd in goals allowed (2.18), 20th in power play (17.1%), and 11th on the penalty kill (84.8%).

Overall, much like last year against Windsor and Guelph, the Varsity Reds should emerge victorious in this game as the Mustangs have less impressive numbers despite playing in an easier conference than UNB. This might be game that remains close for awhile, but UNB's depth and relentless attack should eventually prevail. However, as we saw when these two teams met in 2012, anything can happen in a one game situation. The Varsity Reds have had a tendency this season to make some glaring defensive gaffes as well as take a high number of penalties. If those problems arise again for UNB, they will have a battle on their hands. In fact, the Mustangs only accumulated 339 penalty minutes this season to UNB's CIS-leading 720. The X-Men won the special teams battle in the AUS Final and it was probably the biggest reason - along with goaltending - why they won the series. Although Western is ranked higher going into this game - and will be the home team as a result - everyone is predicting an easy UNB victory with a Western win being seen as a monumental upset. However, if the Mustangs can take advantage of their chances and maybe get a break or two this could be one of those games where the score is tight, but the shots are 38-23 for UNB. I'm not counting on it though. The V-Reds have historically dominated OUA teams and they will be motivated by their loss to St. FX to show everyone why they should be considered one of the teams to beat this weekend.


Who wins?

UNB by 1-2 goals
UNB by 3+ goals
Western by 1-2 goals
Western by 3+ goals