Hockey: AUS Weekly Update

After a few post-Christmas exhibition games the AUS men’s hockey conference got back at ‘er this past weekend. First place UNB had a big second half opener against their two big playoff rivals while Acadia kept pace and climbed into second place. Third place Moncton split and Saint Mary’s lost two close ones to slide into fourth place. UPEI won two home games to draw within a point of SMU while StFX fell back even further after a tough weekend. STU dropped two close games of their own and Dal finally ended their losing streak.

What UNB goalie problem and who’s on first?

There’s only two points of drama this season with the powerhouse V-Reds. One is the health of their goaltenders, and the other is a problem probably every other coach would like to have: who are going to be the healthy scratches? Veteran netminder Travis Fullerton, undefeated this season, returned from that Nov. 4 emergency appendicitis operation with a win against STU in the last game of the first half. He looked especially good in the first two periods in the Pete Kelly Cup game against uOttawa on Jan. 30, a 7-4 win. However he “tweaked something” in the game and hasn’t played since. Short time NHLer (3 games) Dan LaCosta, who battled a groin injury much of the first half, didn’t look especially sharp in the second game against the Gee-Gees, a matinee game on New Year’s Eve which saw UNB win 8-4 and uOttawa’s Russell Abbott get the tourney goaltender award with a 48 save performance. However this past weekend LaCosta looked very good, especially in UNB’s close win over Saint Mary’s.

UNB added two highly-touted forwards over the break. Abbotsford native Geordie Wudrick played five years in the WHL, and had 43 goals in 71 games with Kelowna last season. He was linked to UNB over the summer, but opted to try pro hockey in Germany in the first half. He played the two holiday exhibition games against uOttawa, and picked up his first V-Reds assist against StFX and first goal against SMU. Shayne Wiebe was captain of his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings last season, where he scored 44 goals in 72 games. Wiebe played for the Winnipeg Jets’ new AHL team in St. John’s in the first half, where he managed four assists in 12 games. His first game was Friday, and Wiebe was assigned Hunter Tremblay’s (now with Edmonton’s AHL team) old spot on the first line to the right side of Chris Culligan, who by the way looked better against Ottawa than he looked all first half.

The dilemma, drama and debate for UNB fans now is about who should be on the ice. Sans Tremblay, this is probably the deepest ever V-Reds team. Opposing coaches agree with me that UNB’s healthy scratches would probably be regulars on the other teams in the conference. With good players, and fan favourites, in the stands, many V-Reds diehards now act like beat writers with the Habs – constantly dissecting imperfect shifts by players on the ice and opining who REALLY should be in the line-up instead of those that coach Gardiner MacDougall selects. A nice problem to have I guess.

Friday – StFX 2 @ UNB 5
Saturday – SMU 2 @ UNB 3

Axemen on the hunt.

Acadia had two exhibition wins over the holidays – 4-2 vs. STU on Dec. 30 and 4-0 over StFX on Jan. 2, a game played in Berwick, the Apple Capital of Nova Scotia. Friday, the AUS’s leading scorer, Andrew Clark, led the Axemen with two goals and an assist in the convincing 5-2 win against Moncton. Jonathan Laberge also has a pair of goals. Chris Moulson, brother of the NHL Islanders’ Matt, made his debut for Acadia and picked up two assists. Saturday night they dominated the Tommies in shots (41-23) but only squeaked out a win thanks to a third period power play goal from Spencer Jezegou, and another assist to Moulson.

Friday – UdeM 2 @ Acadia 5
Saturday – STU 2 @ Acadia 3

Aigles Bleus not going away.

UdeM split their holiday exhibition games, both on the road: a 4-3 loss to UPEI and a 3-2 win over STU. While they didn’t have a great game Friday against Acadia, Moncton did bounce back with a convincing win over Dalhousie (okay, it’s Dal …). Francis Rochon had a hat-trick for le bleu et or. You gotta wonder what a difference Christian Gaudet would make to this line-up. The former pro hasn’t played since getting concussed eight games into the season, and he was leading the team in points most of that time.

Friday – UdeM 2 @ Acadia 5
Saturday – UdeM 5 @ Dal 1

Tough weekend for the Huskies.

On Dec. 30 Saint Mary’s played a neutral-site exhibition game against StFX in Truro, NS. The game went to an overtime shoot-out that X won 5-4, but maybe more importantly the game raised $10,000 for the local minor hockey association, the same amount as last year.

Friday night on the Island the Huskies battled back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game in the second period. UPEI retakes the lead 14 seconds later. Early in the third SMU on the power play ties it up again, only to see the Panthers get their own PP goal to take the lead back for the final time, and then add an insurance empty net goal. Saturday in Fredericton the Huskies played the V-Reds tough with an aggressive forecheck. However SMU squandered a long 5-on-3 in the second period and several PP’s in the third as opportunities to build on a one-goal lead. UNB’s d-man Jonathan Harty had a crappy game until a great shift midway in the third when he saved a goal at one end of the ice and then went up ice to score and tie the game. UNB’s power play, which was 0-for-the-weekend, finally connected with 19 seconds left in the game when captain Kyle Bailey redirected a Harty slap-pass. UNB’s LaCosta was tested all game in nets, especially by Cory Tanaka, who was probably the best forward on the ice and did beat him once on the power play. So close games and no points on the weekend cause the Huskies to drop from second into fourth place.

Friday – SMU 3 @ UPEI 5
Saturday – SMU 2 @ UNB 3

Panthers keep pace.

Two games and two wins didn’t change UPEI’s position in the standings, but they did draw closer to some of the teams ahead of them. Saturday night the Panthers used a third period power play to win a close game for the second time in two nights. Actually all of the goals in the game against StFX were on the power play.

Friday – SMU 3 @ UPEI 5
Saturday – StFX 1 @ UPEI 2

Is StFX officially struggling, or just their star goalie?

Last season the X-Men rode goalie Joey Perricone all the way to the University Cup. This season the California native and AUS 2nd team all-star is 3-8-2, and has lost the last three straight games. He’s got a 3.86 GAA and .864 save percentage. Last season? 14-4-0 with 2.37 GAA and .925 save percentage. AUS playoffs? 7-5-0, 2.48 GAA and .912. You can’t put it all on the goalies (four of the teams ahead of them in the standings have scored more goals, and UPEI just one less), but only Dalhousie have given up more goals than the X-Men so far this season.

Friday – StFX 2 @ UNB 5
Saturday – StFX 1 @ UPEI 2

Improving Tommies lose ground.

In sort of a must-win on Friday, STU lose a goaltending duel to Dalhousie thanks to a third period power play. The good news is that rookie d-man Chris Van Laren has finally finished his lengthy suspension for that first half high hit on Moncton’s Gaudet, and former pro Sebastien Bernier is now finished red-shirting and was eligible to play defence Friday. Saturday night goalie Charles Lavigne kept them in the game as Acadia outshot STU 41-23, yet needed a third period power play to get the winning goal.

Friday – STU 0 @ Dal 1
Saturday – STU 2 @ Acadia 3

Dal wins! Dal wins! Dal wins!

Sure, it was only one win on the weekend, but a now-healthy Bobby Nadeau battled Lavigne Friday night and came away with the shutout to end an eleven game Tigers losing streak. Saturday night the Dal male-athlete-of-the-week couldn’t be quite as masterful as they got predictably shelled by Moncton.

Friday – STU 0 @ Dal 1
Saturday – UdeM 5 @ Dal 1

Coming Up

Everyone has the same dance partners as last week but in the other team’s barn. Thus a lot of pressure on the Three Saints to have big home stands.


Photo courtesy of Brian Smith.
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