So what's the bigger story in AUS men's hockey this weekend? UNB with their back-to-back (and “to-back” if you go back to the end of the first half ...) shutouts? Two-way forward Cory Tanaka leading Saint Mary's in two wins to keep pace with the V-Reds? Or the once hot Dal Tigers dropping two games on the road? How about StFX with two decisive home wins to draw within a point of third place and nationally ranked UPEI in the standings? Or is it that bottom of the bracket Moncton and St. Thomas only have seven wins combined?
No question UNB had a good weekend. They hammered McGill and split close games with the NCAA's Providence Friars the previous week, and welcomed two injured players (All-Canadian Luke Gallant and Taylor Procyshen) back into the line-up (although the apparent deal with the devil cost them the services of veteran forward/defenceman Josh Hepditch who was injured in practice). On Friday Travis Fullerton shutout a slightly short-staffed Dal team 5-0. It is Fullerton's second shutout in a row, third in a row at home, and fourth of the season. Leading Tigers forward Ben Breault was benched for breaking team rules, as was apparently the case for prized Christmas recruit Josh Harnden. Adding to the mystery however, the Chronicle-Herald reports today that “head coach Pete Belliveau said Harnden is taking classes at Dal but added that 'it’s 50-50' whether he will play for the team. Belliveau expected a decision on Monday.”
On Saturday playoff rival Acadia were in Fredericton. This was a fiercely contested playoff-style game between two proud teams, who don't normally take a lot of penalties unless they play each other. The referee never had a handle on this game, and his decision to keep the whistle buried in his pocket only made the situation worse. It was a physical and at times nasty game. All of the scoring came in the second half of the game, as UNB scored four times in the latter part of the second period and twice in the final period. Derek Yeomans got the shutout for UNB this time in the 6-0 win, and Hunter Tremblay led the UNB offence with two goals and an assist. I agree with Acadia coach Darren Burns that this was actually a close game and basically the V-Reds did a much better job burying their opportunities than the Axemen.
Moncton had three new recruits in the line-up for their game at Saint Mary's Friday night, and two of them – Eric Faille and Alex Quesnel – assisted on captain Dean Ouellet's goal. But is was all downhill after that as SMU scored five unanswered goals, including two goals by Cory Tanaka (who also had two helpers) to win 5-1. The next night at the Halifax Forum it was STU's turn to take their lumps. The Tommies did have an early two-goal lead, but that just seemed to wake up the Huskies who outshot St. Thomas 36-19 on their way to a 6-3 win. Cam Fergus and defenceman Andrew Hotham each had two goals and Tanaka has two assists for SMU, while Jason Cassidy was the STU offence with two goals and an assist on the Randy Cameron goal. It may be worth noting, or not, that SMU's Mike Danton did not register a point and was -2 for the weekend.
The UPEI offence was überhot going into the Christmas break, but the Panthers only managed two goals in losing 4-2 at home to Acadia on Friday night. They rebounded nicely Saturday night, scoring six first period goals – three on the power play – and coasted to a 9-4 win over Dalhousie. Matt Carter had a goal and an assist and Cory Vitarelli had two goals and two assists to remain one-two in the AUS scoring race. Chad Locke and Dana Fraser also had a pair of goals for the Panthers.
Hot and cold StFX was hot on the weekend. Maybe it is home cooking, or the cafeteria food? The X-Men scored three power play goals to beat STU 4-1 on Friday night, and Brett Morrison assisted on all four X goals. The X-Men got another three power play goals on Saturday night, as they knocked off Moncton 6-3. StFX had six different goal scorers, including Morrison.
Next weekend's key match-ups will be the Battle of Halifax (SMU-Dal) on Friday night, and then the Saint Mary's at Acadia game on Saturday night. StFX will try to stay hot with games against Acadia and Dal. UPEI is off to Fredericton to play STU on Friday and UNB on Saturday. Moncton will try to rebound by hosting UNB on Friday (good luck with that ...) and St. Thomas on Saturday.