Friday, January 31, 2020

Reds Clinch Pennant

The University of New Brunswick Reds clinched first place for the 13th consecutive year after a big 3rd period propelled the team to a hard-fought 4-2 comeback victory over the 2nd place Acadia Axemen tonight in Wolfville. UNB's 11th win in a row moves their record to 23-4-0 while the Axemen fall to 18-8-1.

The Reds entered the game having dropped both previous games in Wolfville this season and this one got off to an ominous start. Operating with an early man advantage, a turnover in the high slot of the Axemen zone led to a 2-on-1 the other way. Rodney Southam got the puck over to Johnny Corneil just inside the Reds blue line and when Corneil attempted to return the favour with a cross-ice pass in tight, the puck deflected off of the UNB defenceman and between the legs of Samuel Harvey. The goal came 2:45 into the contest and would be the only marker of the period as UNB out-shot the Axemen 13-10.

It's not very often a four minute penalty kill proves to be a turning point in a game, but that may have been the case tonight. A double-minor to Ben Hawerchuk early in the 2nd period gave the Axemen an excellent opportunity to create some cushion on the scoreboard, however they couldn't generate much offensively against the Reds aggressive penalty kill and the game remained 1-0. Although there was no scoring in the period - thanks in large part to a pair of massive glove saves by Logan Flodell on Tyler Boland - the ice tilted significantly in UNB's favour for the remainder of the game. The Axemen escaped the period with their lead intact despite being out-shot 16-7.

Needing a big final twenty minutes, the Reds stepped up. An early power play for Acadia looked like it would stall the comeback attempt momentarily, but it was UNB striking for a shorthanded goal of their own. Mark Simpson forced a turnover in the Axemen corner and got the puck out front to Kris Bennett. While stretching out to get a handle on the puck, Bennett was not only able to gain control of it while keeping his balance, but also negotiate it around Flodell's right leg to tie the game 1-1 at 1:41 of the period. UNB would then take their first lead of the night at 7:48 when a big rebound came out in the slot to Samuel Dove-McFalls (Hawerchuk, Murphy), who was able to one-time the bouncing puck over Flodell's shoulder. The Reds kept the pressure up and it was their power play coming through to increase their lead at the 11:09 mark. Brady Gilmour (Boucher, Simpson) took a feed at the top of the left face-off circle, skated in, and sniped a shot into the top corner, making it 3-1. It looked like UNB would have no trouble finishing out the victory as they were seemingly in complete control of the game with a two goal lead. However, a misplay by Harvey gave the Axemen some life. Ross MacDougall put a harmless backhanded shot from the neutral zone on Harvey that the Reds netminder bobbled. MacDougall raced in after his own shot and collected the loose puck, roofing the puck from in tight to cut the lead to 3-2 with six minutes remaining. Acadia was unable to do much with the momentum gained from the goal though, even with the extra attacker, as UNB locked it down the rest of the way, salting it away when Bennett's (Dove-McFall, Hall) backhander from the centre-ice boards found an empty net with 41 seconds remaining. Shots over the final twenty minutes favoured the visitors by a 16-5 count.

- UNB mixed up their line-up quite a bit tonight, largely due to the one game suspensions earned by Alexandre Goulet and Tristan Pomerleau from last weekends game against St. FX. In addition to those two, Marcus McIvor remained sidelined and Oliver Cooper was out for the first time this season. Everyone else was in the line-up with Mark Simpson returning after missing four games and Dylan Seitz dressing for the first time, though he did not see much, if any, ice time.

- Shots were 45-22 for the Reds.

- UNB went 1 for 4 on the power play. The Axemen were scoreless on five chances.

- The Reds won 43 out of 71 face-offs. With Goulet out that meant Simpson (20 out of 30) and Dove-McFalls (13 out of 24) were leaned on more heavily than usual. Those two, along with Tyler Boland (9 out of 14), took all but three face-offs in the game.

- Bennett was named player of the game. Flodell and Dove-McFalls were the other two stars.

- Harvey improves to 13-2-0 on the season with a league-leading 1.86 GAA and 0.912 save percentage, which is second in the conference.

- Attendance was a sold-out 2100.

- With the win, UNB takes the season series against the Axemen for a 5th straight season. They went 3-2-0 record against Acadia, with one of those wins coming in a shootout. The Reds out-scored the Axemen 16-15 (4-6, 4-3, 2-3, 2-1 SO, 4-2).

- In a rare occurrence, both of the other games tonight took place in Halifax. The Saint Mary's Huskies took a big step towards clinching 3rd place with a 5-1 home victory over Moncton. SMU is now four points up on the Aigles Bleus with both teams having three games remaining. In the other contest, the UPEI Panthers clinched the 6th and final playoff berth with a 4-3 overtime win against the Dalhousie Tigers.

- Tomorrow night the Reds are in Halifax themselves for a match-up against the Saint Mary's Huskies. Game time is 7PM and all the action can be viewed at AUStv.ca.