Hockey: AUS Championship Starts Friday

[Update: March 10, 3:42 pm AST - Apparently there is still a chance that this might turn into a best-of-three. I thought it was resolved. I was wrong. Stay tuned.]

[Update #2: March 10, 8:20 pm AST - I've just heard from a source with the V-Reds. The series WILL be a best-of-five. Not sure what all the drama was about ... guess I don't need to know.]

Despite the fact that StFX's win Tuesday night over Saint Mary's put them into the University Cup, we still have the little matter of an AUS championship to decide, which does mean something to these teams. StFX has won the banner 24 times since 1929, and most recently in 2004 (and that was the first time since 1978); UNB has won it 10 times, most recently in 2008.

Turns out, surprisingly, that I predicted the outcomes of both of the AUS semi-final series correctly, including "I can see this going like their season series, 3-1, with lots of bruises on both sides" for the UNB-Acadia series and "I can see this series going five games, and maybe the X-Men even squeaking out the win" for the other. Double OT in game 5 fits the bill, doesn't it? Guess I better run out and buy some lottery tickets before this prescience/blind luck runs out.

The AUS championship will be a best-of-five series. There were some rumblings earlier in the week that the Nova Scotia schools wanted to reduce the schedule to a best-of-three to minimize potential injuries to players heading into the University Cup, but the AUS has stayed with Plan A. Game 1 goes Friday at 8:00 pm - the one hour later start allows fans to head to The Pit to watch the UNB women's basketball team attempt to beat Western at 6:00 pm and advance to Saturday's 4:00 pm Eastern Regional Championship game against the winner of the Toronto-Fraser Valley match. The winner of this new regional format play-in will advance to the CIS championship next week in Windsor, along with the 4 conference champs, the two other regional winners, and a wildcard.

Game 2 of the AUS hockey championship is Saturday at 7:00 pm at the AUC, after the basketball is all over, with Game 3 in Antigonish on Tuesday, March 15. Game 4 if necessary would be Wednesday in Antigonish with Game 5 back in Fredericton (but not yet scheduled).

So how will this series play out? I think StFX is playing with house money now and should be loose as a goose (metaphor max reached ...). Knocking off Saint Mary's gets them back to the University Cup for the first time since 2007 when they were eliminated in pool play by Moncton in Moncton. The X-factor for this team is Joey Perricone - the goaltender has probably been better than any of his peers at keeping his team in games when they were being outplayed, if not outright stealing wins. Recent evidence? Game 1 of the SMU-StFX series the X-Men were badly outplayed territorially, and outchanced, but still won 5-3 and Tuesday the Huskies dominated the first period, outshooting the X-Men 14-6 and scoring two goals, but Perricone didn't give up another goal the rest of the way. The strong play of the StFX goaltender allows the X-Men to come out flat, and yet still recover or in other cases play rope-a-dope all game, and wait to cash in on the scoring opportunities presented to them.

So how will this series turn out? UNB's depth will be tested again - d-man Ben Wright didn't finish the Acadia series nor did sniper Taylor Prochyshen. V-Reds goaltender Travis Fullerton had perhaps one sub-par period in the whole series, which sets up a nice duel with Perricone. UNB's two best forwards, linemates Hunter Tremblay and Chris Culligan, have been their best forwards while rookie Nick MacNeil leads the team in goals with three. For StFX, rookie Jason Bast and veteran Chris Hulit lead the AUS playoff points race with 13 and 12 points respectively. They each have scored five goals in seven playoff games played. StFX has had arguably some of the best recruiting in the conference over the last two years, and now it looks to be paying off.

UNB won all four of their regular games this season against StFX (6-2, 6-1, 4-1, 2-1), and has the home ice advantage in this series, so logic might dictate that UNB is favoured to win. But that's what a lot of us thought last season when these two teams met in the playoffs, and look how that turned out ...

Familiar Foes Meet (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)
OT victory sends X-Men to nationals (Glenn MacDonald, Chronicle-Herald)
Clendenning wanted another shot at X (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)
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