Friday, March 6, 2020

Reds Get It Done

(Photo credit - UNB Athletics Twitter)

The road to the 2020 University Cup will go through the defending champions.

The University of New Brunswick Reds captured their third straight AUS title with a 5-1 victory over the Acadia Axemen before a sold-out crowd in the deciding game of the AUS Final tonight at the Aitken Centre. The win almost certainly ensures UNB will enter next week's University Cup as the number one seed and the team to beat.

It was a tight-checking and tentative first period as both teams seemed to be feeling out the other and weary of making a costly mistake. The Reds out-shot the Axemen 9-6 over the scoreless opening twenty minutes as neither side was able to generate much in the way of offense.

UNB stormed out of the gate in the 2nd period and started to assert control of the game. They were rewarded at the 2:51 mark when an extended shift in the offensive zone ultimately led to the puck coming out from behind the net to Oliver Cooper (Dove-McFalls, Rassell), who was all alone in the slot. Cooper fired a wrist shot that beat Axemen goaltender Logan Flodell, bringing the sold-out crowd to its feet with the game's opening goal. After a pair of unsuccessful power plays mid-way through the period the Reds were able to extend their lead at 15:48. Alexandre Goulet (Pomerleau, Simpson), who somehow missed a wide open net earlier in the period after Flodell had lost track of the puck, got the puck out near the blue-line and let a shot go that eluded traffic in front and found the back of the net. UNB would take the 2-0 lead into the final period.

Down to their final twenty minutes of the series, the Axemen came out strong in the 3rd period as they not only limited the Reds to a single shot over the first eight minutes, but also got back into the game when Ross MacDougall's point shot along the ice beat Samuel Harvey, ending Harvey's shut-out streak at 145 minutes. The goal, which came at the 1:08 mark, quieted the crowd and created some nervous energy in the building. This was heightened a few shifts later when the Axemen came perilously close to tying the game on a goalmouth scramble. The Reds power play would again get back to back chances - their 4th and 5th straight power play of the night - to extend their lead, but once again it came up empty. They were finally able to add some insurance at 14:27 with Goulet (Pomerleau, Boucher) hammering home a one-timer. Only five seconds later the Axemen got an opportunity to get that one back when they were given a power play of their own. As the man advantage ticked down Acadia elected to pull Flodell for an extra attacker, however this quickly backfired when Mark Simpson (McIvor) won a race for a loose puck and guided the puck into the empty net. The back-breaking goal gave the Reds a 4-1 lead with 3:37 remaining. After the goal frustrations started to boil over for the Axemen as Cristiano Digiacinto, who is no stranger to playing on the edge, cross-checked Connor Hall. The cheap-shot cost the Axemen's leading scorer two minutes in the penalty box and the Reds power play finally came through when Goulet (Simpson) pounced on a rebound to complete his hat-trick and make it 5-1 at 16:52. That's how the game would end as UNB held a 14-8 shot advantage in the period.

- After a one game absence Ben Hawerchuk was back in the line-up, replacing James McEwan, and Noah Carroll saw his first postseason action, taking the spot of Olivier LeBlanc. Benjamin Gagne and Dylan Seitz both remained out.

- Shots ended up 44-19 for UNB.

- The Reds got the late power play goal and were 1 for 6 on the night, but for the most part it still looked disorganized and sloppy. The Axemen went 0 for 2 on the night and were 0 for the series with the man advantage.

- UNB won 51 out of 88 face-offs. Mark Simpson (15 out of 20) was the top performer.

- Alexandre Goulet and Ross MacDougall were named the player of the game for their respective teams.

- Attendance was 3374.

- Samuel Harvey was named the AUS Playoff MVP. He was 4-1 with a league-leading 1.21 GAA and 0.946 during the postseason. He was at his best with UNB's back to the wall as he only gave up one goal on 55 shots over the last two elimination games.

- A strong MVP case could have also been made for both Stephen Anderson (2 goals, 7 assists) and Alexandre Goulet (9 goals, including two hat-tricks, +6).

- This is the first time since Gardiner MacDougall's very first playoff series at UNB - the 2001 quarter-finals - that the Reds rallied to win a series. Coincidentally, that series was also against Acadia. UNB lost the first game 5-1 in on the road before taking game two (4-3) and three (3-1) on home ice.

- The four goal victory is UNB's largest in a deciding game since 2006 when they beat St. FX 9-3 in game three of the quarter-finals.

- With the Reds entering the University Cup as the number one seed they will likely face the OUA bronze medalist in their opening game. That team will be determined tomorrow afternoon when the Western Mustangs host the Concordia Stingers.

- For Acadia, they will probably be seeded fifth and face the OUA runner-up in their first game, which has already been announced as taking place on Friday night. The OUA Championship will be determined tomorrow night as the Guelph Gryphons host the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the Queen's Cup.

- Up next for UNB is the 2020 University Cup in Halifax. The on-ice action gets underway at 2PM on Thursday. The seedings and full schedule are usually announced on Sunday so stay tuned.