Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reds vs. X-Men: Round 4

In what has become an annual occurrence, the University of New Brunswick Reds and the St. FX X-Men will meet with the AUS Championship on the line, adding yet another chapter to their storied history. This is the 4th straight year the two teams will face each other in the best 2-of-3 final

Here is everything you need to know to get ready for yet another battle between the two rivals.

- The schedule for the series is as follows:

Game 1 - Monday, March 4th at UNB
Game 2 - Wednesday, March 6th at St. FX
Game 3 - Friday, March 8th at UNB (if necessary)

All games will be streamed live at www.AUStv.ca

- After receiving a first round bye, the regular season champion Reds (25-2-3) defeated the UPEI Panthers in three straight games in a semi-final series that was much closer than a sweep would generally indicate. The Panthers pushed the Reds in each of the first two games at the Aitken Centre, falling 3-1 and 2-1 in overtime, before running out of gas in a 5-0 loss last Monday night in Charlottetown.

- The X-Men have taken more of a scenic route to the finals. By virtue of finishing 3rd in the regular season with a 15-12-3 record, St. FX needed to play a best 2-of-3 quarter-final series against the Acadia Axemen. They were pushed to the limit, but emerged victorious after a 4-1 win at home in the third and deciding game to move on. In the semi-finals they faced the 2nd seeded Saint Mary's Huskies and quickly fell into a 2-0 hole. However, as has been their trademark over the years, the X-Men showed their resiliency by winning the next three games - including 3-1 in Halifax last night - to earn a berth in the AUS Final for a 4th straight year as well as at the University Cup in Lethbridge for a 5th straight season. To make this even more impressive, the X-Men played the final three games of that series without a couple of their regular, including their leading scorer Holden Cook.

- These two have met in the last three AUS Finals with St. FX winning the first two in two game sweeps before the Reds turned the table last season, winning 6-3 in game 1 and 5-0 in game 2 to capture their 7th conference title under Gardiner MacDougall and their 15th all-time.

- While the Reds rebounded from those AUS Final loses by capturing the University Cup both years, including defeating the X-Men 3-1 in the 2016 National Championship game in Halifax, it was the X-Men who got the last laugh last season as they went on to defeat the Reds 5-4 in an overtime thriller at the University Cup at the AUC.

- This is the 12th time under Gardiner MacDougall the V-Reds have faced the X-Men in the playoffs, with five of those meetings occurring in the finals.

2001 - Lost 2 games to 1 in semi-finals
2003 - Won 3 games to 1 in finals
2005 - Won 2 games to 0 in quarter-finals
2006 - Won 2 games to 1 in quarter-finals
2007 - Won 3 games to 1 in semi-finals
2010 - Lost 3 games to 0 in semi-finals
2011 - Won 3 games to 2 in finals
2015 - Won 3 games to 2 in semi-finals
2016 - Lost 2 games to 0 in finals
2017 - Lost 2 games to 0 in finals
2018 - Won 2 games to 0 in finals

- UNB has won seven out of the previous 11 series.

- Although they a slight 19-16 record overall, UNB has lost 11 out of their last 19 playoff games against the X-Men.

- The Varsity Reds will look to have better success in Antigonish, where they are only 5-11 in the playoffs under MacDougall. By comparison, they are 14-5 in games played at the AUC.

- St. FX has a conference leading total of 26 AUS banners. UNB ranks 2nd with 15 all-time.

- The two teams played five regular season games, with UNB winning three of those meetings. They won each of the two first half match-ups quite handily - an 8-1 evisceration at the AUC on November 9th in a game in which UNB out-shot the X-Men 55-19 and then followed that up exactly a week later with a 5-1 road victory. The second half was a completely different story though as St. FX handed the Reds their only two regulation losses of the season, both in Antigonish, with a 4-2 win on January 12th and a 3-2 decision on January 26th. The Reds rebounded with a 8-2 win on their final meeting on February 8th in a game that no one is going to take too seriously given the severely depleted bench the X-Men were forced to play with.

- St. FX struggled to score for most of the year as they ranked only 5th in the conference with 90 goals scored (compared to UNB's 150). However, they still possess a very dangerous power play, clicking 33 times with the man advantage this season at a rate of 20.8%. Both numbers ranked 3rd in the league. Furthermore, the X-Men get 36% of their goals on the power play, tops in the AUS, and they received a league-high 159 power play opportunities. Needless to say, staying out of the penalty box will go a long way towards getting the desired outcome in this series.

- In fact, St. FX's special teams are great across the board. In addition to their outstanding power play, the X-Men killed off penalties at a clip of 85.2% this season, ranking only behind UNB's 89.%. They also scored a league-high seven shorthanded goals.

- Although St. FX didn't put up big goal scoring numbers, they still feature a number of dangerous players. This includes Holden Cook (10th in the AUS with 13 goals, 16 assists in 25 games), 5th year forward Adam Stevens (10 goals, 14 assists), Mark Tremaine (9 goals, 15 assists), and Matt Needham (9 goals, 13 assists). On the back-end they are led by Cole MacDonald (19 points in 20 games) and impressive rookie Adam Holwell (16 points).

- It should be noted that Cook, along with fellow forwards Bryson Cianfrone (10 points in 21 games) and Anthony Difruscia, have been out of the line-up recently. There has been no word on their status moving forward. This has prompted some of their depth players and other seldom-used players to be thrust in to bigger roles and given more ice-time and, so far, they have responded in a big way to help St. FX make it this far.

- Of course, the biggest reason the X-Men have gotten to the final has been the play of last season's AUS MVP and U Sports Goaltender of the Year, Chase Marchand. After a bit of an uneven regular season - 7-8-3 with a 2.90 GAA and 0.910 save percentage - Marchand has been locked in all postseason, kicking out 301 out of the 317 shots he has faced (0.950 save percentage) while sporting a 2.00 GAA. He has been the primary reason for many of St. FX's victories this playoff as they have been heavily out-shot. He will most likely need to remain lights out if the X-Men hope to make it three AUS titles in four years.

- Unlike most years, where we have a pretty good idea where UNB could be seeded at the University Cup (depending on the outcome of the AUS Final), there are a number of viable options this year. A big part of this uncertainty is due to the ongoing Canada West final between the #1 nationally ranked Alberta Golden Bears and #3 Saskatchewan Huskies. If UNB (#2 nationally in the latest poll) wins they will almost certainly be seeded either #1 or #2 with the Canada West winner taking the other spot. If Alberta wins they most likely stay at #1 with UNB #2. If Saskatchewan wins it makes things a but more complicated. UNB would probably enter at #1 with Saskatchewan #2, but it would not be completely out of the question for the voters to deem a series win over Alberta to be more impressive than a series win over St. FX (especially if it is a sweep vs. a three game series win) and bump the Huskies ahead of the Reds. However, if UNB were to lose to St. FX, the best they can hope for is the #5 seed and it wouldn't be out of the question for them to slip to 6th, especially if Alberta loses to Saskatchewan. So there are a few different scenarios still in play here and we probably won't know for sure what the seeds are going to be until the committee announces the UCup draw next weekend

- Speaking of the Alberta Golden Bears and Saskatchewan Huskies, they faced off in game 1 of their best 2-of-3 Canada West Final last night in Saskatoon. The Huskies took the opener by a 4-2 score, snapping the Bears 23 game streak without a regulation loss. Both teams have already guaranteed a spot at the University Cup but, just like the AUS Final, the outcome of this series has wide-ranging ramifications on the University Cup seeding.

- In the OUA, the Queen's Gaels polished off a two game sweep of the Carleton Ravens last night with a 4-1 win to advance to next Saturday's Queen's Cup game and punch their ticket to Lethbridge. Game 2 of the West division final goes tonight in Guelph with the Western Mustangs holding a 1-0 lead in that series. The winner will travel to Kingston to face Queen's for the OUA Championship and also book their trip to the UCup. The loser will face the Ravens next Saturday in a bronze medal game to decide the OUA's third representative in Lethbridge.

- Prediction time: Who do you think will win the 2019 AUS Championship?


Who wins?
UNB in 2
UNB in 3
St. FX in 2
St. FX in 3
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