Monday, February 14, 2011

So in the spirit of Arcade Fire's spectacular win at the Grammy Awards last night, we're Ready to Start the AUS playoffs this week.

[Update: Despite the original schedule that said that the quarter-finals start Wednesday and finish Sunday, that's not what's gonna happen. StFX hosts Dal Thursday at 7 pm, then the series moves to Halifax for Saturday at 2 pm, then back to Antigonish Monday at 7 pm if necessary. The other series will open Friday in Wolfville at 7 pm, Saturday at 7:30 pm in Charlottetown, and then if necessary Acadia will host game three Tuesday at 7 pm.]

[Update #2: I've been thinking about the playoff schedule changes, and the more I think about it, the more it smells of gamesmanship. Acadia who had a bye last year, have a rink on campus, come close to sell-out most games, and yet want to delay until Friday to market the game, as they told the Guardian. Then the two teams travel to Charlottetown to play the next night. What happened to travel days in the playoffs? This is going to be the first time in something like 11 years that the playoffs haven't opened on the Wednesday after the regular season. Just how banged up are the Axemen? StFX is a little less suspect, only pushing the schedule a day and leaving the travel day in. Why is the AUS going along with this?]

The final week of the regular season started early, with two games on Tuesday night. In a near-must-win for Dal, the Tigers tried putting second year forward Shea Kewin on the top line with Ben Breault, and they were rewarded: Kewin scored a career best five goals with Breault assisting on every play in the 5-4 win over a lackluster Acadia squad. At the same time in Charlottetown, Moncton had to win to stay in a sixth place tie with Dal for that last playoff spot, but they were down 4-2 after two periods against UPEI. Les Aigles Bleus scored twice in the third period to tie it up, but it was Panthers veteran Cory Vitarelli scoring the winner at 1:10 of OT to give UdeM's playoff hopes a real jolt. Now Moncton needed some help to erase the one point deficit against Dal, with only two games left in the season.

Wednesday night in Fredericton was the 19th annual Mark Jeffrey Memorial game at UNB, with the V-Reds riding a 26 game winning streak against cross-campus rivals St. Thomas. It was also the first ever "Pink in the Rink" night at the AUC, but the Tommies might as well have brought white flags instead of sporting pink hockey tape. Even without an ill Hunter Tremblay in the lineup, the V-Reds dominated the Tommies, despite taking their feet off the gas a bit in the third period. Shots were 41-12 in the 3-1 win and only STU goalie Charles Lavigne kept this one from being a blowout.

So Friday night was a definite must-win for Moncton at home to StFX ... and they dropped a stinker. The X-Men were up 3-0 after the first period and cruised to a 5-1 win, outshooting UdeM 46-31. The last nail in their coffin was driven from Halifax, where the Tigers came back from a 2-1 deficit with four unanswered goals to beat the Panthers 5-2 and secure sixth place, and their first playoff date in six years. Breault had a hat trick for the Tigers.

In Wolfville Friday UNB got revenge for their first half loss to Acadia with a decisive 4-0 win. All-Canadians Hunter Tremblay and d-man Luke Gallant were well rested after not playing Wednesday and had a goal and an assist each, while Travis Fullerton efficiently picked up his conference leading fifth shutout of the season, setting a new UNB season record. The other game Friday saw the last place Tommies have a good first half of the game against the Huskies, but then SMU closed them out with three goals, including an empty netter for the 5-1 win. Worse for St. Thomas, goalie Lavigne appeared to have pulled his groin trying to make the save on SMU's second goal in the second period. He was in audible pain, and had to be eventually carried off the ice by four of his teammates.

So Saturday was a bit anti-climatic, with the only thing left up for grab second place and the other first round playoff bye. SMU only needed a point to edge out StFX, and they got two in a 4-1 win in a relatively tame game against Moncton. Similarly the StFX vs. STU matchup had a lot less edge than normal, with the X-Men coming away with the 6-3 win. On a night that the Tommies presented jerseys to eight graduating players the highlight might have been X-Men defenceman Sean Donovan scoring with 9 seconds left in the game, notching his first goal in five seasons with StFX.

In Halifax, UNB came out slow but eventually got going and cruised to a 5-2 win over Dal. Hunter Tremblay led the charge with two goals and two assists and set another UNB record with now 216 total career (regular season + playoffs) points. He can expand on that school record in the playoffs. Underrated backup goalie Derek Yeomans got the win, and finishes the season with an 8-1-0 record, .939 save percentage and a sick 1.26 goals against average and one shutout. Travis Fullerton is 15-4-0 with a .928 save percentage, 1.60 GAA and the already mentioned five shutouts. And just because they face the least shots in the AUS this is a goaltending tandem that can't seem to get any respect, even from their own fans.

The other game Friday was a meaningless match between Acadia and UPEI. The Axemen had already beaten the Panthers in their three previous meetings, so even if they lost the game and finished in a tie with UPEI, they had the tiebreaker. Which of course is what happened. The Panthers won 5-1 and both teams finish with identical 14-11-3 records, but the Axemen get the nod for fourth place. UPEI's Matt Carter did score in the game, which means he finishes the season with 44 points and a first place tie with UNB's Hunter Tremblay in the AUS points race. However Tremblay wins the AUS goal scoring title, with 22 to Carter's 20.

This week we get the best-of-three quarter-finals, with 3rd place StFX getting home ice against 6th place Dal and 4th place Acadia getting the extra home game versus 5th place UPEI. Those series are scheduled to start Wednesday. 1st place UNB will await the lowest seeded survivor while 2nd place SMU gets the other quarter-final winner. Their semi-final series's will be best-of-fives, and if UNB is one of the winners the other would be joining them at the University Cup, making the AUS finals redundant except for pool seeding purposes.

By the way, in case anyone is keeping score, here is how back in October I predicted the AUS would finish:
  1. UNB
  2. Acadia
  3. Saint Mary's
  4. StFX
  5. UPEI
  6. Dalhousie
  7. STU
  8. Moncton
I picked the non-playoff teams in the wrong order, and inconsistent Acadia finishing in fourth threw off me otherwise getting the top six in order, so I'm pleasantly surprised, especially considering how much position jockeying was going on in January.

13 comments:

  1. I know I'm not alone when I say "you make me shake my head and wonder." If you are the so called AUS Hockey reporter - for this very worth while blog BTW -, you personally are a disappointment. I am just going to leave it at that and walk away from the computer before I type something I'll regret. UGHHHHHHH!!!!!

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  2. Around the DMA on saturday night all the pundits and followers were picking UPEI to beat Acadia in the quarter finals. Tough call..Acadia has lost 3 in a row but PEI has lost of 5 last 7.
    Dal and X has the potential to be a dandy. Both teams have speed to burn but X is much stronger on defense. The emergence of the Breault/Kewin combo this past weel could give Dal a legitimate chance. I think both series will go to 3 games and Acadia and X advance. Right now I'm seeing X as the best chance to break up the UNB/SMU pairing in the AUS championship.

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  3. While it is great to see Dal back in the playoffs, I believe the X-Men are built for the playoffs (just ask UNB ...) and that series may only go two games.

    Neither Acadia or UPEI has had a great second half, and the Axemen didn't exactly close out the regular season on a high. I'm going to take the traditional out and predict that the home teams will win their games in this one.

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  4. One of the challenges of following AUS hockey in Fredericton is that there only seems to be two accepted states: either you follow a zero sum game and cheer for your team (UNB or STU) and cheer against the other, or you carefully sit on the fence and give equal praise and encouragement to both programs - the politically safe move that the local media are forced into.

    Stray from either of these two states and you risk a backlash. See Comment 1 in this thread as an example.

    The reality is that my butt is getting sore trying to stay on the fence. You cannot compare the UNB and STU hockey programs right now, as they have been going in opposite directions for several years now. It is extremely disappointing, considering that this used to be the best hockey rivalry in the CIS. Their games used to be sellouts; now they draw significantly smaller crowds.

    In hindsight, could I have used used a little less snark in describing the UNB-STU game. Certainly. Outside of the game they certainly embraced the Pink in the Rink theme, including decorating sticks and uniforms with pink tape to complement UNB's pink jerseys, and they made a contribution to the fund raising drive. All very admirable. But the Tommies didn't deliver on the ice - only 4 shots per period and next to no intensity.

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  5. Talked to Pete Belliveau today on my radio show and he said Shea Kewin will not play vs X due to concussion suffered vs. UNB. Also no Dan Joyce, Pat Daley, and Jordan Skillett.

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  6. It is too bad that the Spencer Corcoran hit to Kewin has him out of the lineup. The Tigers are really going to have to dig deep now ...

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  7. Dave the comments about STU/UNB were fair game. My beef is with your obvious disregard for the "big news" that came from St. Thomas last week that will have some impact on STU Hockey, which by my understanding of things, are still part of the AUS.

    Since, as I understand it, you are to report/comment on AUS hockey some people may think that should have been discussed, maybe even mentioned? But no, no mention. If this would have happened at UNB you would have probably submitted a paper to the Globe and Mail.

    I'm sorry, you baffle me. You didn't stray, you did nothing. I don't understand, perhaps you could explain? Thanks.

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  8. You raise a good point. I was holding off because there was a rumour that there might be another development in that situation early this week. That rumour/speculation hasn't panned out, so I should give the story the treatment it deserves.

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  9. The vast majority love the work you do Dave. Keep it up! And sorry STUTOMMIES.COM, it will take more than a new coach or AD next year to take the Tommies from a DISTANT last to meaningful playoff contender.

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  10. I appreciate the work you do too, Dave, but as the AUS reporter, your bias should not be so obvious. Appreciate your affiliation and affinity for the UNB program, but does that mean you have to be condescending and demeaning to the STU program in doing so? They "might as well have brought white flags?" There's a talent disparity there, everyone acknowledges that. But they made a classy move in participating in the cause and making a donation.
    As for "next to no intensity" -- that takes two. It was not a very good hockey game.

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  11. And Bill you have to sit on the fence because you work for a newspaper that covers both programs equally.

    You just confirmed my point made in an earlier comment.

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  12. My point is that, if you're writing exclusively for a UNB audience, fine, let the laundry hang out. You're writing for a blog that is national in scope. Your musings should reflect that. UNB runs a classy program. You don't need to belittle others.

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