Wednesday, February 19, 2020

UNB vs. Moncton: Preview, Prediction, Poll

The #1 ranked University of New Brunswick Reds begin defence of their back-to-back AUS Championships tomorrow night when they welcome the 4th place Universite de Moncton Aigles Bleus to the AUC for game one of their best 3-of-5 semi-final series. Game two goes Friday night in Fredericton before the series shifts to Moncton for game three on Monday and game four, if necessary, on Tuesday. A potential game five would take place next Thursday back at the Aitken Centre. All games are scheduled for a 7PM start with the winner earning a berth at next month's University Cup in Halifax.

The Reds and Aigles Bleus are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 AUS Final. By comparison, UNB has faced St. FX five times, Saint Mary's four times, UPEI three times, and Acadia once since last facing Moncton. Overall, this will only be the third time since Gardiner MacDougall became head coach the two teams will face off in postseason play. In 2006 UNB swept a semi-final series with 5-3 and 4-1 wins. Moncton returned the favour the next season in the AUS Final with a 4-2 win at home before clinching the title with a 3-2 overtime win at the AUC. Of course the Reds would get the last laugh that season when they defeated the Aigles Bleus 3-2 in overtime in the National Championship game in Moncton. In their last playoff meeting UNB swept the 2012 AUS Final with 8-3, 4-2, and 4-0 victories. 

Of course, none of those previous results have any bearing on this season. Moncton is riding high after following up a 13-11-6 regular season with their first playoff victory since 2013-2014 when they swept the St. FX X-Men in two straight close games. Although they have had a successful season thus far, they have struggled mightily against UNB in recent years. The Aigles Bleus lost all five games against the Reds this season - 4-0, 4-2, 4-1, 7-3, and 8-2 - and only have one shootout victory against UNB in their last 22 meetings. They have dropped their last 17 games at the AUC.

While the Aigles Bleus only found the back of the net 92 times this season - the second fewest in the league - and generated only 29.2 shots/game (also the second fewest in the league), they have one of the most dangerous lines in the conference, consisting of first team all-star Maxime St-Cyr (t-1st with 20 goals and t-4th with 40 points), 5th year veteran Robbie Graham (12 goals, 27 points, team-high +11) and Vincent Deslauriers (24 points in 28 games). They also received solid contributions from forwards Alexis Roy (20 points) and Joey Richard (17 points). On the back end they are led offensively by Danick Crete, who had 6 goals and 10 assists this season. However, they will be in tough to generate offense against a UNB team that once again led the conference in goals against average (1.86), shots allowed per game (20.7), and penalty killing (86.8%). The Reds also ranked 2nd in save percentage (0.910).

Without a doubt the strength of this Moncton team stands between the pipes where 2nd team all-star Etienne Monpetit played a league-high 29 games and 1698 minutes. Despite the work load, Monpetit had a 0.907 save percentage, which was good for 3rd in the conference, and the 4th best goals against average at 3.04. As a team the Aigles Bleus surrendered 98 goals this season, the 3rd fewest goals in the league. Monpetit will need to stand on his head to keep a UNB team that led the league in goals per game (5.33), shots per game (41.7), and power play percentage (30.5%) at bay. Unlike Moncton, who rely on a handful of players to generate the majority of their offense, you can't take a break against the Reds as they feature seven players who potted 10+ goals and 11 players who put up 20+ points.

At the end of the day it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Reds don't emerge victorious in this series. UNB have been on a roll for almost three months and while Monpetit may be able to steal a game for the Aigles Bleus, the Reds offensive depth, sound defensive play, solid goaltending - whether it be Samuel Harvey or Rylan Parenteau who get the nod - and home-ice advantage should prove to be too much for a Moncton team that, while on the upswing in recent years, aren't quite there yet.

PREDICTION: UNB in 3, booking their spot at the University Cup.

POLL: Who do you got?

Who wins?
UNB in 3
UNB in 4
UNB in 5
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