Six of the eight AUS teams hit the ice last week, but the focus (certainly on this blog) was on UNB’s highly anticipated tour into oily beef country. The two games against Calgary were bookends to the main event between the V-Reds and the Alberta Golden Bears. Between them UNB and Alberta have won five of the last six University Cups, and until their upset by StFX last spring in the playoffs, the V-Reds were heavy favourites to repeat as CIS champs.
The games at UofC on Wednesday and Saturday night ended up being penalty filled blowouts, with 10-2 and 6-1 scores respectively. However in the end they were costly games for UNB, as defenceman Ben Wright left the first game after an unpenalized knee-on-knee hit and is expected to be out for several weeks, and fellow d-man Ben Shutron, named to last season’s CIS All-Rookie Team, left the second game on a stretcher with apparently a serious leg injury (that might rhyme with token lemur) that forced him to stay behind in a Calgary hospital for surgery. Fears now are that Shutron might be gone for most of this season, let alone how many classes he might miss this academic year.
[Update: Talking to UNB coach Gardiner MacDougall today it sounds like Wright might be out until Christmas and there is no ETA on Shutron, although apparently his surgery went well. UNB is not happy about the "dirty" hits that have cost them two of their top-four defencemen.]
On a sunnier note, the battle of the titans at Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton was a gentler affair, except that the second period of the game was a revisit of the nightmare the Golden Bears went through in the first period of their game against UNB two years ago in Thunder Bay. Four goals on five or six shots in less than six minutes and the V-Reds broke the game open against Alberta ‘tender Real Cyr, who wasn’t getting a lot of help from his teammates in slowing down the freewheeling visitors. One stat that jumps out after the game is that Alberta were 1 for 10 on the power play, and gave up two shorties, while UNB scored once on their two man advantage opportunities in the 6-2 victory.
So was this a statement game, and a preview of the next University Cup final? I believe the answer is yes, and no. Certainly UNB wanted to send a message on their first-ever visit to Clare Drake, and I think we can agree they succeeded. However, the Golden Bears have 11 new players this year and are still working everyone into the fold, while UNB fielded essentially the same team as last season, minus their All-Star two-way forward John Scott Dickson (who has graduated) and utility man Alex Aldred. Last season UNB was the team trying to work 11 new players into the line-up. Perhaps more importantly in these preseason matches is that fact that probably no one in the CIS has a stronger off-season conditioning program than the V-Reds, so they tend to get the early jump on their opponents.
There were other games in the AUS. Defending CIS champions Saint Mary’s had a 4-2 win over Dalhousie and a 3-0 blanking of StFX to capture the annual Don Wells Memorial Tournament in Wolfville over the weekend. Host Acadia had a tough weekend, losing 2-1 to StFX in their first game, and then blowing a 3-0 third period lead on Dalhousie in the consolation final, a game the Tigers won 5-3. In Fredericton Saint Thomas got an early lead on UQTR Friday night, and held on for a 6-2 win. The next afternoon the touring Patriotes came out with more jump, and cruised to a 7-5 win in the rematch.
Looking ahead to this weekend, SMU and UPEI will be in Fredericton for UNB’s annual Fall Classic Tournament. Joining the hosts, this year's non-AUS invite is Guelph. For their part the Gryphons are fresh off defending their RBC Steel Blade Tournament trophy in St. Catharines last weekend where they had 3-0 and 5-1 victories over host Brock and a 5-1 win over Wilfrid Laurier. In Wolfville Acadia is hosting UQTR for two games and Moncton's first preseason game comes Friday against St. Thomas.