Monday, March 11, 2019

UNB vs. Carleton: Preview, Prediction, Poll

The University of New Brunswick Reds quest for their 8th University Cup begins Friday at 4PM against the OUA's Carleton Ravens.

The AUS Champion Reds (25-2-3 regular season/5-0 playoffs) enter the tournament ranked #2 - behind only the Alberta Golden Bears - while the OUA Bronze medalist Ravens (18-5-5/5-3) are ranked #7. It is a bit of an unfortunate break for the Reds as the Ravens posted a better regular season record than four other teams in the tournament - Queen's, Guelph, St. FX, and Lethbridge - and have consistently been ranked in the U Sports top ten since late November, reaching a high of 4th two weeks ago.

This will be the 4th match-up all-time between the two schools with UNB emerging victorious in each of the previous three - 7-0 on September 19th, 2008, 3-1 on September 20th, 2012, and 3-2 on September 27th, 2013. However, no current player for either team played in those games. This will be their first meeting in the University Cup.

As previously mentioned, the Ravens - coached by former NHLer Shaun Van Allen - had a strong regular season with an 18-5-5 record, which ranked them 2nd in the OUA East division. They ended the regular season on a five game winning streak and kept that momentum going in the first round of the playoffs, sweeping their long-time nemesis the UQTR Patriotes. After dropping the first game of their second round series against the McGill Redmen, the Ravens rallied with a pair of close wins, including a thrilling overtime victory in game 3. They then faced the Queen's Gaels in the OUA East division final and, despite heavily out-shooting their opponent, were on the wrong side of a 3-2 overtime decision in game one and a 4-1 outcome in game 2 to get eliminated from title contention. However, with the OUA now receiving three berths at the University Cup the Ravens had a second chance to punch their ticket and they took full advantage, defeating the Western Mustangs 3-0 to claim the conference's bronze medal.

As expected, given their success this season, the Ravens were pretty strong statistically across the board. They ranked 9th in the country in goals per game (3.50) and 8th in goals against per game (2.53) while averaging 33.9 shots per game and 28.9 shots allowed per game. Their power play was solid, operating at a 19.4% success rate (7th in the OUA out of 20 teams), but their penalty killing is arguably their biggest strength, ranking 3rd in the OUA at 87.2%. However, they needed it to be as the Ravens were shorthanded more than all but one team in the conference.

Individually, the Ravens offense is driven primarily by four players. OUA East Rookie of the Year Jacob Smith led the team in regular season scoring with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 27 games with 4th year veteran and 2nd team all-star Alexandre Boivin closely behind with 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists). Their other main offensive threat up front comes in the form of Brogan O'Brien who had 11 goals and 14 assists. The postseason was a different story though as they got scoring from a number of unexpected sources. Unsung heroes Dalen Hedges (8 points after 4 in 9 regular season games), Matthew Forchuk (7, 14 in the regular season), and Jared Steege (7, 13 in the regular season) all stepped up to lead the team in scoring.

On defense, 2nd team-all star Joshua Burnside (3 goals, 18 assists) is by far their biggest threat from the blue-line as he had nine more points than their next closest defenceman. He added another six points in the postseason. All-rookie Darian Skeoch (6 points in 22 games) is also a player to watch on the Ravens back-end.

In goal, the Ravens rely almost exclusively on veteran Francois Brassard, who was named the OUA East division goaltender of the year and a 1st team all-star for his efforts this season. Brassard started 22 games this year, going 15-4-3 with a 2.33 goals against average and 0.918 save percentage. He played every minute in the playoffs, posting a 2.51 GAA and a 0.919 save percentage.

Interestingly, the Ravens somewhat resemble the Reds last two quarter-final opponents - Queen's in 2017 and Concordia last season - in that they get the majority of their scoring from a trio of forwards and a single defenceman, while also featuring a very good goaltender. While UNB easily disposed of both the Gaels and Stingers (and the Western Mustangs and Windsor Lancers in 2016 and 2015, respectively), this big and physical Ravens team is arguably their toughest first round match-up since the tournament moved to the current eight team format in 2015. While it would be surprising to see a lopsided score like in those games - and we all know how anything can happen in a winner-take-all game - the Reds skill (8 10+ goal scorers vs. 3 for Carleton), depth (13 18+ point scorers vs. 4 for Carleton), experience (five straight University Cup appearances vs. first for Carleton since 2016), and relentlessness should prove to be too much for the Ravens to handle for 60 minutes and lead them to a victory.

POLL: Who do you got?

Who wins?

UNB in a close one (1-2 goals)
UNB in a blowout (3+ goals)
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