Friday, February 9, 2018

V-Reds Make It 11 Straight Pennants

In a game that featured a playoff-like atmosphere and intensity, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds overcame a slow start to defeat the visiting St. FX X-Men 5-2 on the 4th annual Military Appreciation Night tonight at the AUC. The win clinches an impressive 11th straight regular season title for the 23-2-4 Varsity Reds while the second place X-Men fall to 22-3-4.

The game began tentatively as both sides felt each other out and failed  to get a single shot on goal through the first 3-4 minutes. As the game began to open up slightly, the X-Men broke through at 5:19 when Mark Tremaine got the puck at the hash marks in the slot and put the puck off the post and past Alex Dubeau. After a UNB power play just after the goal failed to yield anything, St. FX was awarded a 26 second 5-on-3 advantage midway through the period. In what may have been the turning point in the game, the V-Reds not only killed it off, but also got a few decent chances themselves. Although they took the 1-0 deficit into intermission - and only mustered 6 shots on goal in the period to the X-Men's 5 - the penalty kill seemed to give them momentum as they started to tilt the ice in their favour.

UNB took this energy into the 2nd period and exploded for three unanswered goals. At 6:01 Stephen Anderson (Clapperton, Bennett) knotted the game while on the power play when he backhanded a shot from in close that got past Chase Marchand. This was followed up at 12:47 when Mark Simpson (Gazzola, Caissy) was able to bang the puck in after it looked like Marchand had it covered to give the V-Reds a 2-1 lead. Just under two minutes later UNB's power play struck for a second time in the period after Alexandre Goulet (LeBlanc), parked at the side of the net, knocked in the puck out of midair to make it 3-1. The Varsity Reds out-shot St. FX 15-5 in the frame.

Even though they were down by a pair of goals heading into the final twenty minutes, if there is one thing the X-Men have been great at this year is finding a way to come back in the 3rd period. So perhaps it wasn't surprising when Jagger Dirk's point shot caught the inside of the post to make it 3-2 only 82 seconds into the period. However, the V-Reds responded 2:21 later when Tyler Boland first made a nice back check and steal of the puck to break up a potential 4-on-2 rush up the ice and then - with a defender draped all over him in front of the net - was strong enough to swipe in a loose puck for a huge goal that restored UNB's two goal lead. An Olivier LeBlanc (Boland, Bennett) power play goal at 15:07 put the finishing touches on this one. UNB held a 16-9 shot advantage in the period.

- Marcus McIvor was out for a second straight game. Peter Trainor was also scratched.

- Shots in the game were 37-19 for UNB.

- The special teams played a key role in this game with UNB giving the X-Men a taste of their own medicine. St. FX entered the game with the league's best power play (27.6%) and penalty kill (92.6%) yet went 0 for 5 with the man advantage while surrendering 3 power play goals in 7 chances.

- There were a total of 28 penalties and 152 penalty minutes doled out in the game. Oliver Cooper and X-Men defenseman Aaron Hoyles combined for 64 penalty minutes alone and each received a game misconduct.

- The officiating was "interesting" to say the least. Late in the game Matt Murphy skated the puck behind the X-Men net only to be slashed, which drew a penalty, and then took a blatant stick across his head, which was somehow missed. Fortunately, after being down on the ice for a few moments he was able to skate off with what appeared to be no issue.

- UNB won 42 out of 78 face-offs with the usual suspects - Dylan Willick (14 out of 24) and Mark Simpson (9 out of 15) - once again leading the way.

- Randy Gazzola was named the recipient of the Fallen Soldier Award as the game's first star. Alexandre Goulet and X-Men Mark Tremaine were the game's second and third star, respectively.

- Attendance was 3372.

- This was defenceman Colin Suellentrop's 100th career regular season game. Over that time he has amassed 2 goals, 30 assists, and a remarkable plus/minus of +80. This includes a ridiculous +72 over his last three seasons spanning 74 games.

- Cameron Brace also played 100th regular season game. He has 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) over that span.

- By virtue of finishing in first place. the V-Reds have assured themselves of home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. After previously securing a first round bye, they will play the lowest surviving seed from the quarter-finals in the best 3-of-5 semi-finals. Their first two playoff games will take place at the AUC on Thursday, February 15th and Friday, February 16th. St. FX also has a first round bye and will play the highest seed remaining after the quarter-finals.

- In the 11 straight seasons UNB has finished in 1st place, this is only the 2nd time St. FX has finished 2nd. They were also the runner-up in 2015-2016. The only other teams to finish 2nd have been Saint Mary's (5 times) and Acadia (4 times).

- In other AUS action tonight, Acadia pulled within two points of 3rd place Saint Mary's with a 3- 0 win over the Huskies in Wolfville and UPEI clinched 5th place after a 6-3 home win over Dalhousie.

- The only playoff positioning left to be determined is the race for 3rd place. With Acadia holding the tie-breaker over Saint Mary's, if they get two points against Moncton tomorrow night they will leapfrog the idle Huskies.

- The regular season concludes tomorrow night with a match-up against the Dalhousie Tigers. Game time is 7PM.