Saturday, March 16, 2019

UNB vs. St. FX: Preview, Prediction, Poll

For a second consecutive year, the AUS Champion UNB Reds will meet the team they beat in the conference final - the St. FX X-Men - in the University Cup semi-final. The Reds will be looking to avenge last season's heartbreaking 5-4 overtime defeat on home ice while St. FX will be looking to advance to their third national final in four years. Game time is 9PM AST and will be broadcast nationally on Sportsnet 360.

This will be the 16th meeting between the two teams in the last two years so there really isn't too much to say about this one. Both teams probably know more about the other than they do any other opponent so there shouldn't be any surprises or secrets at this point.

UNB have won five out of the seven match-ups against St. FX this season with their victories all coming in blowout fashion - 8-1, 5-1, and 8-2 in the regular season before posting 5-1 and 7-1 wins in a two game sweep in the AUS Final. Of course, those two losses (4-2 and 3-2) represent the only regulation set-backs suffered by UNB so far this season so that should give the X-Men some confidence, as well as their 5-3 comeback win over Queen's last night.

For the Reds to be successful they will need to up their game after yesterday's good, but not great, performance against the Carleton Ravens. Some keys:

- A good start will especially be important. In their five wins over the X-Men this season UNB scored the first goal while they fell behind 3-0 in each of the losses. The Reds will want to dictate the play and force St. FX to play their more uptempo style of game and try to wear out an X-Men team that has played a ton of playoff hockey this year, much like they did in the AUS Final.

- St. FX relies on their power play for offense more than any other team in the conference so an air-tight penalty kill and another strong game from Alex Dubeau will be paramount.

- The X-Men are also particularly dangerous at taking advantage of turnovers and counter-attacking to create offense. This means the defense will need to be more careful with the puck and maybe avoid taking the same risks they would take against most opponents.

- On offense, they have been able to pepper X-Men goaltenders with a high volume of shots this season. This has been due, in part, to the X-Men icing a young defence that the Reds have been able to expose at times. Chase Marchand is a great goalie, but if UNB can generate another 40-50 shot game they should be able to get enough by him to win.

- The X-Men got forwards Holden Cook - who has had some big games against UNB in his career - and Bryson Cianfrone back last night. However, they were still without Anthony Difruscia. Puck moving defenceman Santino Centorame also missed last night's game so the X-Men are still a bit banged up. The Reds had all their injured players back yesterday afternoon and appear to be relatively healthy given the time of year.

At the end of the day, the Reds have to be considered a fairly heavy favourite but, as we saw last year, anything can - and usually does - happen in a one game showdown. A hot goalie, lucky bounce, or an off-night by your special teams can be the difference between playing Sunday night for a gold medal or Sunday afternoon for a bronze.

POLL: Who do you got?

Who wins?

St. FX
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