Wednesday, March 14, 2018

UNB vs. Concordia: Preview, Prediction, Poll

The AUS Champion and #1 seeded University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds will begin their quest for a University Cup three-peat tomorrow night when they battle the OUA bronze medalists and #8 seeded Concrodia Stingers. Game time is 7PM.

The Stingers hovered just inside and outside of the top ten rankings for much of the year after putting together an 18-7-3 regular season and 6-3 playoff record, eventually falling to the OUA champion McGill Redmen 2 games to 1 in the OUA East final. They rebounded to defeat the York Lions 3-2 in the OUA Bronze Medal game to earn their first berth at the University Cup since 1983-1984.

The Stingers are primarily known for their offense as they tied for 5th (out of 35 teams) in the country with 3.93 goals per game and 8th with 34 shots per game. However, much like the Varsity Reds, their explosive offence did not translate to the power play as the Stingers only connected at a 16.3% clip during the regular season, good for 24th in the country.

Concordia is slightly above average when it comes to keeping the puck out of the net. They surrendered 2.93 goals per game (tied for 14th) and posted a save percentage of 0.910 (tied for 13th). Their penalty kill ranked only 19th at 81%, although they did strike for 5 shorthanded goal during the year. They also gave up an average of 32.5 shots per game, placing them in the lower half of all teams. By comparison, UNB gave up a U Sports-low of 20.9 shots per game.

Much like Queen's last year, it appears the Stingers rely heavily on 4-5 guys to do most of the heavy listing offensively. Unlike the Golden Gaels though, one of those guys is the nation's leading scorer. OUA East MVP and first team all-star Anthony Beauregard finished 2nd in the country in 19 goals and led everyone with 41 assists. His 60 points on the year lapped the field as they were 14 higher than anyone else. Other forwards to keep an eye on include all-rookie team member Massimo Carozza (15 goals, 20 assists), Philippe Sanche (15 goals, 22 points in 21 games), and former Saint John Sea Dog Scott Oke (20 points in 25 games).

Their offensive production from the back-end comes almost entirely from all-rookie team member Carl Neil, who posted 31 points (5 goals, 26 assist) in 28 games from the blue line. Matthieu Desautels (2 goals, 11 assists) was their only other defenceman to reach double-digit points.

In net, Marc-Antoine Turcotte has been their number one guy all year, playing over 90% of their minutes between the pipes. Turcotte had a solid season with 15 wins, a 2.71 goals against average, and 0.915 save percentage.

Some other fun facts about the Stingers:

- This is their 10th appearance a the University Cup. Interestingly, their previous 9 all came consecutively - from 1965 to 1984.

- They have never won a University Cup, finishing 2nd on two separate occasions.

- They are 9-12-2 all-time at the tournament, getting out-scored 94-77 in the process.

- UNB and Concordia have never met at the University Cup. They have previously played 7 exhibition games. After dropping the first two (14-0 in 1978 and 6-3 in 1985), UNB has won the last 5 match-ups. This includes a 4-2 win in Montreal in the fall of 2012 and 7-3 and 5-1 wins in the Pete Kelly Cup in January 2016.

- Dustin Kagan-Fleming of Concordia's The Link newspaper has a game preview.

The Stingers will offer an interesting match-up for UNB with their offensively-focused approach. Most AUS teams that find success against the V-Reds do it by getting out to a lead and then clamping down defensively, keeping the V-Reds attack primarily to the perimeter and limiting quality scoring chances. Very rarely does getting in to a back-and-forth, wide open style of game work for the opposition as the V-Reds can typically more than keep up offensively, but have the defence to limit the other team's shots on goal and possession.

Simply looking at the stats shows us that UNB scored more goals and took more shots on goal than Concordia while giving up fewer goals and significantly fewer shots. They had a slightly better power play, but hold a large advantage on the penalty killing side. We all saw in the AUS Final against St. FX how important special teams can be in game's like this. The one advantage the Stingers may have - at least judging from the regular season - is in goal. Turcotte's numbers were better than Alex Dubeau's, but this does not take into account the fact Dubeau played easily the best hockey of his UNB career during the playoffs.

Simply puy, this is a game UNB should win. A loss would be disastrous. While the Stingers may have the best player in the country in Beauregard, they do not have the depth up and down the line-up to match the V-Reds. If UNB can neutralize the Stingers top line, it could be a long night for Concordia. It should be noted that Beauregard only put up up a single goal to go along with 6 assists  in 7 games against McGill this season, so he may not find the same time and space against a similarly strong Varsity Reds defense that he is used to against some of the lesser OUA teams.

Another factor in play is that none of these Stingers have ever played at the University Cup before, let alone against the host team in what is sure to be a loud, sell-out crowd. By contrast, the V-Reds line-up is littered with guys who have won a National Championship, and some who have already played in 3 national finals. We have saw in the past how much playing in your first University Cup can impact your performance.

Of course in a single elimination tournament anything can happen. The opposing goalie might stand on his head, Dubeau might have an off-night, the V-Reds lack of discipline may finally catch up to them, their penalty kill may let them down etc., but ultimately, expect UNB's depth and relentless fore-check - aided by a hostile environment - to eventually wear down the Stingers and guide them to an opening game victory.

Now it's your turn, who do you think takes the quarter-final match-up?

Who wins?
UNB in a close one (1-2 goals)
UNB in a blowout (3+ goals)
Concordia in a close one (1-2 goals)
Concordia in a blow out (3+ goals)