Those of us who follow AUS men's hockey game have probably driven everyone else nuts with our constant refrain of “parity” while waxing on about the CIS's most competitive conference. And now I'm going to take another walk down that well worn path. This past weekend only one team won both of their games. Great! Except that one team was UNB who perhaps may be beginning to put some distance between themselves and the peloton. Or not. One weekend does not a season make, but it might be a big hint! Especially since the Varsity Reds are starting to get healthy.
The “Battle of Halifax” Friday night was anything but. Well maybe that's not true, as there were buckets of penalties. The big difference was special teams. The Huskies went 3-for-9 on the power play, while the Tigers went 0-for-9, and gave up a shorthanded goal. Colby Pridham had two power play markers to lead Saint Mary's to the 5-0 win. Huskies goaltender Neil Conway got the shutout, his third. Only UNB's Travis Fullerton has more – four.
The game in Wolfville was much closer. Acadia had a two-goal first period lead. StFX battled back late in the first (goal at the 20:00 mark!) and in the second period. The Axemen took the lead back in the third period, only to see the X-Men tie it up 38 seconds later. The ten-minute overtime solved nothing, so they went to a shootout and Scott Brannon got the winner for StFX to make it a 5-4 final.
The surprise of the night came in Fredericton, and it had nothing to do with UNB. Last place St. Thomas scored seven straight goals against UPEI, with Matt Carter, who leads the AUS points race, breaking Charles Lavigne's shutout bid with less than five minutes to play. STU only scored one power play goal (unlike when they went 6-for-8 on the PP in that 9-2 exhibition upset of UPEI). While Panthers coach Forbie MacPherson said the next day that they “didn't bring it” against the Tommies, they did outshoot them 44-32 in the 7-1 loss. The STU offence was led by a hat trick from Devan Praught and two goals and two assists from Randy Cameron. Kinda interesting that both Tommies are natives of Prince Edward Island. Get up much for the game boys?
UNB was in Moncton Friday night, to play their fourth and final game of the regular season against les Aigles Bleus. The Varsity Reds controlled this game almost completely for two periods, outshooting UdeM 29-14 and leading them 5-2 after 40 minutes. To Moncton's credit, they battled in the third period as they outshot the V-Reds 14-8 (with 8 shots coming on their four power plays) and both teams scored two goals. Hunter Tremblay is getting his groove back, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the 7-4 UNB win.
Saturday night I will argue that the most exciting game in the CIS was in Fredericton. 3232 fans at the AUC, a big chunk of them screaming school kids. The surprise of the home team giving up an early shorthanded goal to UPEI's Matthew Brenton (ending UNB's four-game home ice shutout streak), and then unable to score on Mark Guggenberger despite firing 18 shots his way in the first period. Tremblay scored in the first minute of the second period to tie it up and relieve some of the tension in the house. Then almost 40 minutes of UNB driving the UPEI zone and the Panthers playing rope-a-dope, with Guggenberger standing tall, more than making up for the night before down the hill at the LBR. At the end of regulation the score was tied 1-1 despite UNB outshooting UPEI 48-17. The overtime however was all UNB, as they took advantage of the extra time and space that comes with four-on-four hockey. The V-Reds had several gilt edged scoring chances, including a clanged crossbar and post, before Taylor Procyshen flew down the right side on a two-on-one and beat Guggenberger low, blocker side, at 8:10 of the extra period. For Procyshen it was a redemption of sorts, as he missed the whole first half with post concussion symptoms. Good time to get your first goal of the season!
There were other big games Saturday. Dal snapped a four game losing streak, and ended StFX's four game winning streak. Five different scorers counted in the 5-2 win. Josh Disher was a big difference in the Dal net, as once again the Tigers were outshot, this time 46-31. STU's one game winning streak ended in Moncton. The Tommies were up 2-1 early in the second period, but UdeM scored two in the third period for the 3-2 win. Christmas pickup Alexandre Quesnel was key to the UdeM offence, with a goal and two assists, and les Aigles Bleus stopped their losing streak at 8 games. Thanks to Jonathan Laberge's two goals, Acadia beat Saint Mary's 4-2 in Wolfville for a big, big win for the Axemen who have been very inconsistent for a team who were expected to compete with SMU and UNB for the AUS championship this season.
So UNB finally has some breathing room atop the standings, albeit only three points on Saint Mary's. This sets up well for this coming Friday night, when the Huskies will visit the V-Reds. UPEI has slipped back a bit, and are now tied with StFX for third place. The X-Men take their turn at the V-Reds on Saturday night. Can we say big weekend in Fredericton? Can't wait.
Friday's other games see Moncton@Acadia, StFX@UPEI, and STU@Dal. Saturday has UdeM@Dal, STU@Acadia and SMU@UPEI.