Sunday, April 21, 2019

POLL: What Is The Best UNB Team Of All-Time?

April tends to be the slowest month of the university hockey calendar so we thought we would help pass the time with a question that has undoubtedly been argued amongst fans many times.

University of New Brunswick hockey fans have certainly been spoiled as they have had the pleasure of enjoying a number of high quality teams throughout the years. But what one is considered the best of all-time? It’s always complicated to compare teams that played in different eras due to such things as advancements in equipment, an increased focus on conditioning, and the higher quality of players in the league today compared to earlier years. Although it is likely a modern team would defeat a team from 20-30 years ago because of those reasons listed, essentially what we would like to know is what is the best UNB team ever assembled relative to the competition they faced that season.

Since it is such a tough question, we thought we would take the easy way out and leave it up to you, the fans, to decide.

Here are the nominees:

After a number of lean years throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Don MacAdam was appointed the UNB Red Devils head coach prior to the 1977 – 1978 season. The losing continued in his first two seasons with only seven wins in 40 games, but he then guided the team to a 51-44-3 mark over the next four years, which included three straight postseason appearances after a five year drought. This set the stage for the 1983 – 1984 season, which proved to be UNB’s most successful in years.

The team began its season by winning all seven of its pre-season games by multiple goals, including an 8-6 home win over Maine in the Black Bears first visit to the AUC.  They then posted a 19-5-0 regular season record that was later adjusted to 21-3-0 due to Saint Mary’s having to forfeit all of their wins because of an ineligible player, including two versus the Red Devils. The additional wins proved critical for UNB as it broke a first place tie with Moncton and gave the Red Devils the AUAA regular season title with 42 points to the Aigles Bleus 38. UNB out-scored their opponents 118-77 during the 24 game regular season schedule.

In the playoffs the top seeded Red Devils dispatched the fourth ranked Acadia Axemen (15-9-0) two games to one in the semi-finals and then swept Moncton (19-5-0) in two games in the AUAA Final for their first conference championship in 20 years.

Unfortunately, the dream season would end at the hands of the powerhouse Toronto Varsity Blues. The Blues were coming off of a 20-1-3 regular season and a 4-0 postseason and had been ranked as the #1 team in the country for the all but three weeks that season, but they had their hands full with the upstart Red Devils in the Eastern Canadian Regionals, held at the AUC . Toronto emerged with a close two game sweep – 3-2 and 5-2 – to advance to the University Cup, where they would go on to outscore UQTR and Concordia 23-5 over three games to win their 10th – and, to date, last – championship.

Although their season ended just short of the ultimate goal, the 1983 – 1984 team remains one of the most revered in school history as they helped bring UNB hockey back to prominence.

KEY STATS: 4.92 goals scored per game, 3.21 goals allowed per game

KEY PLAYERS: Mike Kelly (31 points), Mark Welton (25), Steve Adams (23), Mark Jeffrey (21), Dave Bluteau (21), Kevin Rochford (3.10 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #4 (4 times), #5 (1 time), #6 (4 times), #7 (2 times)

FINAL RECORD: 32-6-0 = 7-0 Exhibition + 21-3-0 Regular Season (Pennant) + 4-1 Playoffs 
(AUAA Championship) + 0-2 Regionals

After the magical 1983 – 1984 run UNB endured another five year stretch of mediocrity. This changed under head coaches Mike Johnston and Danny Grant as the two guided the now-Varsity Reds to seven straight playoff appearances from 1990 and 1996. However, neither coach was able to get back to the University Cup. This changed when Mike Kelly took over the program before the 1996 – 1997 season. In his first season at the helm UNB made it all the way to the national championship final for the first time in school history, ultimately losing a tough 4-3 decision to the Guelph Gryphons despite holding a significant advantage in shots on goal. The bitter defeat provided motivation and meant the 1997 – 1998 edition entered the season on a mission.

Although the team lost their leading scorer from the previous season in Bill Wright (and their 4th leading scorer Toby Burkitt), the 1997 – 1998 squad was arguably the most offensively-gifted UNB team of all time. The addition of Ryan Lindsay and Ryan Burgoyne to go along with the returning Dax MacLean, Jeff Andrews, Jason Campbell, Peter MacKellar, Jason Campeau, and Daryl Rivers propelled the V-Reds to 167 goals scored during a 24-3-1 regular season, including 14 straight to kick off the season. They scored at least seven goals on 13 different occasions and were held below three goals only twice. The offensive juggernaut featured nine players who average more than a point per game and eight players who scored 10+ goals. Their defensive game wasn’t bad either as they only surrendered 68 goals thanks to the play of sophomore goaltender Ken Carroll.  The Varsity Reds finished the regular season 17 points clear of St. Thomas (14-10-4) to finish atop the MacAdam Division and ten points ahead of the St. FX X-Men (18-7-3) to capture the AUAA Pennant.  

Despite rolling through the regular season, the postseason proved to be a bit more difficult. The V-Reds found themselves behind the eight-ball almost immediately after getting blown out 9-4 at home in the opening game of their best-of-3 quarter-final series against the UPEI Panthers (11-14-3). However, they rebounded to win the last two games of that series by 4-2 and 5-4 counts and then swept STU in the MacAdam division final by the same two scores. They also dropped the first game of the AUAA final against Acadia (17-10-1) in Wolfville before taking game 2 and 3 at the AUC by identical 3-2 scores to capture their second consecutive conference title under Kelly.

At the University Cup in Saskatoon Ryan Burgoyne scored the OT winner to give the #1 ranked Varsity Reds an opening 3-2 win over Windsor. They then took down the Alberta Golden Bears 5-2 in the semi-final to get back to the championship final, where they met a familiar foe. In the title game, UNB once again got the best of the Axemen, defeating Acadia 6-3 for their first University Cup in school history.

KEY STATS: 5.96 goals per game, 2.39 goals allowed per game

KEY PLAYERS: AUS all-star Dax McLean (49 points), AUS all-star Jeff Andrews (48), Jason Campbell (43), Ryan Lindsay (36), Peter MacKellar (34), Jason Campeau (34), Ryan Burgoyne (32), AUS all-star Daryl Rivers (29), Bill Lang (26 in 10 games), AUS all-star Ken Carroll (2.38 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (17 times), #2 (1 time)

FINAL RECORD: 36-6-1 = 3-1 exhibition + 24-3-1 regular season (Pennant) + 6-2 playoffs (AUS Championship) + 3-0 University Cup (National Championship)

After guiding the Varsity Reds to their first University Cup championship, head coach Mike Kelly moved on and was replaced by Tom Coolen, who enjoyed two slightly above average regular seasons in addition to an AUS title and University Cup silver medal in 1999 – 2000. He was then replaced by Gardiner MacDougall in the summer of 2000 and, after a handful of 13-15 win regular seasons and another University Cup runner-up finish (in 2004), "Coach Mac" finally broke through in 2007, leading UNB to their second National Championship after a 3-2 overtime victory against Moncton.

While the 2007 team started this current run of championships, it was the 2008 team that really took the program to the dominant level that they have maintained to this day. It all started with one of their most impactful recruiting classes ever as MacDougall brought in the likes of Hunter Tremblay, Kyle Bailey, Luke Gallant, Kevin Henderson, and Derek Yeomans to team with returning players Rob Hennigar, John-Scott Dickson, Lachlan MacIntosh, Dustin Friesen, and Michael Ouzas.

The 2007 – 2008 squad opened the pre-season in dominating fashion, reeling off six straight wins – including one over the New York Islanders rookies - in which they out-scored their opponents 38-8.  Their 10-2 exhibition record also featured wins over three NCAA teams - the University of New Hampshire, the University of Maine, and Union College.

Beginning the season as the #1 ranked team in the nation, the Varsity Reds never let go of the top spot all year. They set a new standard of regular season excellence in the AUS by going 26-1-1 with the only blemishes being a pair of losses to Moncton nine days apart at the end of the first half after an 11-0-0 start. A season after finishing in 2nd place to the Aigles Bleus, UNB claimed the AUS pennant by ten points over the Saint Mary’s Huskies, outscoring teams 136-59 in the process. This began a streak of 12 straight first place finishes that continues to this day.

The V-Reds entered the playoffs on a 16 game winning streak and kept it going with a three game sweep of the St. Thomas Tommies (11-11-6) in the semi-finals. They battled the 2nd place Saint Mary’s Huskies (20-5-3)  in a nail-biter of an AUS Final, winning the first game 3-2 on rookie Hunter Tremblay’s overtime goal and the second game by the same score thanks to a penalty shot goal by fellow freshman Kyle Bailey in double overtime. This gave UNB a two game sweep and their first AUS title in five years. The intensity of the series was further magnified due to the fact that only the winner would be moving on to the University Cup in Moncton.

At the University Cup, the top seeded V-Reds rolled over an upstart Brock Badgers team 6-1 in their opener. In the de-facto semi-final they defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 4-0 for their 23rd straight win to earn a date with the Alberta Golden Bears. Despite setting a school-record with 43 victories, which still stands, the season would end one victory short as the Golden Bears survived a Tremblay blast off the post late in the game to squeak out a tight 3-2 win to capture the University Cup.  

KEY STATS: 4.86 goals per game, 2.11 goals allowed per game, 35.6 shots per game, 25.7 shots allowed per game, 29.1% power play, 87.1% penalty kill

KEY PLAYERS: CIS Player of the Year Rob Hennigar (58 points), AUS Rookie of the Year Hunter Tremblay (50), John-Scott Dickson (33), Lachlan MacIntosh (29), Kyle Bailey (28), Michael Ouzas (1.91 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (15 times)

FINAL RECORD: 43-4-1 = 10-2-0 exhibition + 26-1-1 regular season (Pennant) + 5-0 playoffs (AUS Championship) + 2-1 University Cup

The Varsity Reds rebounded from the disappointment of losing in the 2008 University Cup final to win their 3rd championship the next year in Thunder Bay with a 4-2 win against the Western Mustangs. They not only entered the 2009 – 2010 season as defending champions, but they also brought in a loaded recruiting class that included Chris Culligan as well as former NHL Draft picks Ben Shutron, Josh Kidd, Ben Wright, and Matt Fillier. They also got the services of Daine Todd for a full year after he missed his entire rookie season due to injury. These players combined with established stars such as Hunter Tremblay, John-Scott Dickson, Luke Gallant, and Kyle Bailey to, once again, produce a record-setting regular season.

They began the year with five straight pre-season victories before dropping a 4-2 decision to the AHL’s Portland Pirates. They rebounded to defeat a trio of NCAA teams on the road to post an 8-1 pre-season record.

Of course, we all know how the regular season went. The V-Reds opened the season with a 10-0 win over UPEI and that proved to be a harbinger of things to come as they rattled off 26 straight wins to open the season – half of which came by more than three goals – before coughing up a 3-0 lead at home to St. FX to lose 4-3 in the penultimate game of the regular season. They ended the year with a near-perfect 27-1-0 record, which put them 13 points clear of the 2nd place Acadia Axemen. They out-scored the opposition 143-56 during the regular season, including 82-28 in the first half of the season when they were firing on all cylinders. Remarkably, they nearly scored as many goals while shorthanded (8) as the opposition scored on the power play (12). Their average of 5.11 goals per game is a number that they have yet to achieve since.  

However, all the regular season success was for naught and everything came crashing down in the playoffs against an 11-12-5 St. FX team. UNB dropped three consecutive 3-2 decisions – including a game 2 loss that saw the V-Reds out-shoot the X-Men 31-6 – in one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory. As a result, UNB fell to #2 in the final top ten poll of the season after spending the first 15 weeks at #1 and would miss the University Cup for the first time in four seasons.

Although the lack of playoff success is a huge knock on their claim as the best UNB team of all-time and, unfairly or not, is probably what this team is most remembered for, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that the 2009 - 2010 edition of the V-Reds were an absolute buzz-saw for the first five months of the season. So much so that it could be argued that they were the best UNB team of all-time despite never winning a single postseason game. 

KEY STATS: 5.11 goals per game, 2.00 goals allowed per game, 37.4 shots per game, 22.9 shots allowed per game, 26.6% power play, 91.5% penalty kill

KEY PLAYERS: CIS Player of the Year Hunter Tremblay (57 points), John-Scott Dickson (40), Luke Gallant (36), AUS all-rookie team member Chris Culligan (32), CIS Godfrey Award winner Kyle Bailey (31), Daine Todd (28), CIS all-rookie team member Ben Shutron (27).

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (15 times), #2 (1 time)

FINAL RECORD: 37-6-0 = 10-2-0 exhibition + 27-1-0 regular season (Pennant) + 0-3 playoffs

Just like the 1997 – 1998 team was looking to take care of some unfinished business from the year prior, the 2010 – 2011 squad was in a similar situation. They knew they would be in the University Cup as the tournament was back in Fredericton for the first time since 2004 but, given how the 2009 – 2010 season ended, there was no doubt they wanted to earn their spot. They only lost one key player from their record-breaking regular season team in power forward John-Scott Dickson, replacing him with an almost identical player in Nick MacNeil. With veterans Hunter Tremblay, Chris Culligan, Kyle Bailey, Jonathan Harty, and Travis Fullerton back in the fold, the team was destined to make up for the disappointing end to the previous season.  

This was evident in the pre-season as the team ripped through their eight game exhibition schedule undefeated. This included an impressive three game western roadtrip in which they out-scored Calgary and Alberta by a combined 22-5 score, a 10-3 win over Saint Mary’s in the now-defunct Fall Classic, and three road wins against NCAA competition.

Despite one of their best pre-seasons ever, the V-Reds stumbled a bit in the first half, only going 11-4 before Christmas, which caused them to alternate between #2 and #3 in the top ten rankings. However, a 7-1 rout of the 3rd ranked McGill Redmen, as well as a two game split against Providence College, over the holiday break propelled UNB. They began the second half of their schedule with back to back shut-outs and it would prove to be a sign of things to come. Unlike most years where the V-Reds would dazzle with offense, the success of the 2010 – 2011 team was predicated on defense and goaltending. They out-scored their opposition by a 114-43 count and only surrendered 16 goals in going 12-1 to close out the regular season. They finished with a 23-5-0 mark, nine points clear of the second place Saint Mary’s Huskies.  After claiming the #1 ranking on January 11th they held it for the final 11 polls of the season.

The playoffs began with a three games to one victory over Acadia (14-11-3) in a series that featured the longest game in CIS history – a 3-2 quadruple overtime win in game 2. This set-up a playoff rematch with rival St. FX in the AUS Final and it produced an epic, back and forth, five game tilt that finally ended with Kyle Bailey’s overtime winner in front of a sold-out AUC crowd.

At the University Cup, the top ranked Varsity Reds continued to play stifling defence as they limited their opponents to a single goal, which game in their opening game – a tighter-than-expected 2-1 win against Calgary that was won on a Josh Kidd point shot with 4.1 seconds remaining. Travis Fullerton would shut the door the rest of the way, posting identical 4-0 wins over Western and then #2 ranked McGill in the gold medal game to not only give UNB its 4th title – and first on home ice – but also to complete a season of redemption. Their 42 wins on the season are second only to the 2007 – 2008 team for the most in program history.

KEY STATS: 4.07 goals per game, 1.54 goals allowed per game, 36.8 shots per game, 21.9 shots allowed per game, 18.7% power play, 90.5% penalty kill

KEY PLAYERS: AUS scoring leader Hunter Tremblay (44 points), Chris Culligan (38), Kyle Bailey (29), Lachlan MacIntosh (20), University Cup MVP Luke Gallant (15 in 19 games), Travis Fullerton (1.60 GAA, 9 total shutouts), Derek Yeomans (1.26 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (11 times), #2 (2 times), #3 (6 times)

FINAL RECORD: 42-9-0 = 10-1 exhibition + 23-5-0 regular season (Pennant) + 6-3 playoffs (AUS Championship) + 3-0 University Cup (National Championship)

Coming off of their 6th National Championship, the UNB Varsity Reds entered the 2016 – 2017 season looking to do something that they had never done before – repeat – and expectations were high. Once again, the University Cup was being held in Fredericton and UNB was returning an experienced team that featured two of the most decorated players in their history in eventual U Sports Player of the Year Philippe Maillet and two-time U Sports Defenceman of the Year Jordan Murray – as well as established stars Cam Braes, Stephen Anderson, Randy Gazzola, Philippe Halley, Matt Petgrave, and Etienne Marcoux. They brought in three new additions – power forward Oliver Cooper, face-off and two-way ace Mark Simpson, and puck-moving defenceman Matt Murphy – to replace the similarly graduating styles of Tyler Carroll, Taylor MacDougall, and Alex Wall.  

This was the first year that featured a 30 game regular season schedule and six game exhibition schedule. They split their four pre-season games – shutouts against UPEI at home and in Montreal against McGill, but losses to a pair of NCAA opponents – before opening the season 12-0-2.  This included a dominant three week stretch beginning in late October which saw them reel off seven consecutive wins by a combined score of 43-8. They suffered consecutive one goal regulation losses in late November to Acadia and Saint Mary’s, but those were their only two regulation time setbacks until the postseason.  Including two exhibition wins over eventual University Cup participant York, the V-Reds went 15-0-1 to close out the season to wrap up a 4-2-0 exhibition schedule and a 25-2-3 regular season. This left them 11 points clear of Acadia for their 10th straight AUS pennant. During the regular season they out-scored teams 148-61. They were particularly dangerous on the power play, converting 51 times with the man advantage. They were especially dominant on home-ice, going 18-0-0 and out-scoring teams 99-24 at the AUC up to this point.

The playoffs saw UNB extend their home-winning streak to 20 with a pair of four goal wins over Saint Mary’s (15-14-1) to begin the best-of-5 semi-finals. A 3-2 loss in game 3 was their first in regulation time in three months, but they rebounded and closed out the series with a 2-1 win the next night. However, for a second straight year they hit a speed bump against St. FX (16-12-2) in the AUS Final, losing in two straight to the X-Men. This included a 2-1 loss at home in game 1, which would turn out to be their only loss at the Aitken Centre in 24 games that season. After being ranked the number one team in the country for all but one week, the V-Reds fell to #3 following their loss to St. FX.

The V-Reds entered the University Cup as the 5th seed, but it hardly mattered as they had everything clicking in front of the hometown crowd that weekend. They easily disposed of #4 Queen’s 5-1 thanks to a Philippe Maillet hat-trick, shut-out conference rival Acadia – who had upset #1 Alberta earlier in the tournament – 3-0 in the semi-finals, and then got an all-time performance from Cam Braes in the gold medal game as the 5th year forward scored four goals in his final university game – a 5-3 win over #3 Saskatchewan to give UNB a second consecutive championship for the first time ever.

KEY STATS: 4.93 goals per game, 2.03 goals allowed per game, 38.2 shots per game, 19.3 shots allowed per game (their lowest ever), 26.6% power play, 89.3% penalty kill

KEY PLAYERS: U Sports Player of the Year and University Cup MVP Philippe Maillet (55 points), Cam Braes (42), U Sports Defenceman of the Year Jordan Murray (40), Stephen Anderson (25), Chris Clapperton (24), Rob Mignardi (24), Etienne Marcoux (1.59 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (17 times), #2 (1 time), #3 (1 time).

FINAL RECORD: 35-7-3 = 4-2 exhibition + 25-2-3 regular season (Pennant) + 3-3 playoffs + 3-0 University Cup (National Championship)

With a number of veteran players moving on following the 2016 – 2017 championship season, the 2017 – 2018 team fell just short in their bid to three-peat, but the season proved critical as a new core began to emerge. As the 2018 – 2019 season dawned UNB was relying on younger players such as Kris Bennett, Tyler Boland, Matt Murphy, and Olivier LeBlanc to take the next step and compliment veterans such as Chris Clapperton, Stephen Anderson, Cameron Brace, Mark Simpson, and Randy Gazzola. While the team lost some grit and toughness in Dylan Willick, Mike Thomas, and Trey Lewis head coach Gardiner MacDougall opted against the familiar strategy of replacing graduating players with those with similar skill-sets. Instead, he brought in more skill-oriented players such as Mark Rassell, Matthew Boucher, Samuel Dove-McFalls, and Joe Gatenby to give UNB as deep a line-up as they have ever had.

The new strategy seemed to pay off immediately. After going 3-1 during the pre-season, the Reds went 15-0-3 prior to the Christmas break, scoring 5+ goals in eight of their last nine games. This was followed by a convincing 8-3 win over University Cup hosts Lethbridge over the holiday break and then three more wins to begin the second half, improving their regular season record to 18-0-3, which marked their second best start to a season ever. The streak would end with a 4-2 loss at St. FX. They then suffered another loss in Antigonish two weeks later, but those were the only blemishes on an otherwise outstanding 25-2-3 regular season, which paced the conference by 13 points. They out-scored teams by an impressive 150-59 margin in the regular season. Once again, they were particularly dominant on home-ice, with an 84-23 goal differential. The Reds began the year by being ranked #1 for 12 straight polls, but the two late season losses pushed them to #2, where they would stay for the remaining seven polls.

After a pair of scares in their first two AUS playoff games – 3-1 and 2-1 in overtime against the UPEI Panthers (15-14-1) – the Reds found another gear. They wrapped up a three game sweep against the Panthers with a 5-0 road win and then blasted the St. FX X-Men (15-13-2) 5-1 at home and 7-1 on the road to clinch their second AUS Championship sweep in as many years against St. FX. 

At the University Cup in Lethbridge, the #2 ranked Reds’ closest game was their opening one as they survived a scare from the Carleton Ravens to prevail with a 2-1 win that was made possible by some great goaltending from tournament MVP Alex Dubeau. UNB was clicking on all cylinders in their semi-final game against St. FX, exploding for an emphatic 9-1 win that erased the heartbreaking defeat the X-Men handed the Reds the previous year and set-up a showdown with the top seeded Alberta Golden Bears, who were the only other team to be ranked #1 all season. It was a true “battle of the heavyweights” and, after coming up empty in three prior gold medal games versus the juggernaut Bears, the Reds finally got over the hump, claiming their 8th National Championship by a 4-2 final. The win also wrapped up an undefeated postseason for the Reds, something they had never done before.

KEY STATS: 5.00 goals per game, 1.97 goals allowed per game, 43.2 shots per game (their most ever), 22.0 shots allowed per game, 25.3% power play, 89.7% penalty kill

KEY PLAYERS: AUS MVP Chris Clapperton (47 points), Tyler Boland (38), AUS Playoff MVP Kris Bennett (35), Stephen Anderson (33), AUS all-rookie team member Mark Rassell (29), U Sports all-rookie team member Matthew Boucher (28), U Sports Top Student-Athlete Randy Gazzola (20), University Cup MVP Alex Dubeau (1.97 GAA)

TOP TEN RANKINGS: #1 (13 times), #2 (7 times)

FINAL RECORD: 37-4-3 = 4-2 exhibition + 25-2-3 regular season (Pennant) + 5-0 playoffs (AUS Championship) + 3-0 University Cup (National Championship)

What Is the Best UNB Team Of All-Time?

1983 - 1984
1997 - 1998
2007 - 2008
2009 - 2010
2010 - 2011
2016 - 2017
2018 - 2019


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

News And Notes: Clapperton, Gazzola, Boucher, MacDougall, McEwan

- The UNB Reds held their annual Awards Gala last night and four members of the men's hockey team took home hardware. Among those honoured were Chris Clapperton (James Downey Shield as the male Athlete of the Year + men's hockey MVP), Randy Gazzola (Garnet Copeland Award as the top all-around student-athlete + men's hockey Red & Black award), Matthew Boucher (men's hockey Rookie of the Year), and Gardiner MacDougall (Dean's Award for Coach of the Year).

- Ian Kennedy of the Chatham-Kent Sports Network talks with freshman forward James McEwan about the experience of winning a University Cup in his rookie year as well as his expectations for next season.