Men's Hockey: AUS Update

The Acadia Axemen demonstrated how tight the AUS men’s hockey standings are this past weekend – two losses saw them drop from first to third place, and Tuesday their CIS ranking plummeted from #2 to #6. The same thing could conceivably happen this coming weekend to new first place (and #2 ranked) UNB, as they will be on the road to play 4th place StFX and 2nd place Saint Mary’s. With only ten games remaining now in the regular season schedule, the top four spots are very much up for grabs.

UPEI and Moncton seem fairly comfortable in the final two AUS playoff positions, but Dalhousie is still in striking range, especially if UdeM continues to slump. Only the rebuilding and short-staffed STU Tommies are truly out of playoff contention.

Varsity Reds had a good Christmas

It must be frustrating for their competitors to watch UNB often use the Christmas break to add players to patch perceived gaps in their perpetually strong roster (most likely a contributing factor to the new AUS roster limits coming next season). This time coach Gardiner MacDougall added two veterans: 5th year forward Dion Campbell who returns to the team after taking the first term off from hockey to focus on his second degree in Education while former Guelph Gryphon defenceman Tim Priamo joins the V-Reds after a brief pro career and long injury rehab. Campbell brings hustle and grit that UNB has been lacking up front while Priamo shores up the once vaunted UNB defensive depth that has been depleted through graduations and injuries.

On the ice Campbell showed he hadn’t missed a beat in picking up MVP honours in UNB’s two-game tourney, the annual Peterbilt NB Pete Kelly Challenge Cup, played on Dec. 30th and New Year’s Eve against the touring Russian Red Stars (an “all-star” team selected from the top Russian junior league). The series was promoted as honouring the 40th anniversary of the ’72 series and the V-Reds wore Team Canada inspired jerseys with the ’72 players’ names on the back. Phil Esposito even showed up to drop the puck for the first game in Saint John. UNB jumped out to an early lead and won the first game 7-3, while the next day back in Fredericton they won a closer-played game 5-2 in the sold-out Aitken University Centre. Both games were very much “men against boys” as the older and stronger V-Reds dominated the skilled Russian juniors.

Four days later the Varsity Reds hosted then first-place Acadia in the biggest game of the AUS season to date. The Axemen had taken over first place in the AUS on the last game of the first half, when they beat UNB 3-2 at home on Dec. 1. The V-Reds drew first blood, on a Nick MacNeil power play goal, but then the home squad got into penalty trouble, an all too common occurrence this season. Mike Cozzola tied the game on a 5-on-3 Acadia power play and Liam Heelis put the Axemen ahead with a power play goal late in the 1st period. UNB rookie Cam Critchlow tied the game in the second, and Tyler Carroll redeemed UNB’s unimpressive penalty kill with a shortie in the third period to put the V-Reds back in front. MacNeil secured the win with a last-minute empty net goal, you guessed it, while shorthanded.

There was a lot less drama the next night against the Dalhousie Tigers. UNB scored three goals in the first nine minutes (two from Carroll and the other from MacNeil), and then spent the rest of the game trying unsuccessfully to get another past Wendell Vye. Vye made 48 saves in the loss while at the other end of the ice Travis Fullerton made 17 saves for his first shutout of the season. Another positive for UNB was that they successfully killed off a requisite 5-on-3 shorthanded situation.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday - Dal 0 @ UNB 3

Beware the charging Huskies

The hottest team in the AUS is Saint Mary’s, who now hold a seven-game win streak in conference play. Friday night they blew out a close game against the depleted Tommies in the third period, scoring five unanswered goals for a 7-1 win while outshooting STU 55-22. The Huskies had another big third period against les Aigles Bleus the next night, scoring four times for the 6-2 win. Lucas Bloodoff scored three times on the weekend, and now has 15 goals to lead the AUS and CIS in scoring, and earn AUS male athlete of the week honours. Who would have predicted that the Huskies would score more goals (74) than the V-Reds (72) at this point in the season?

Friday - STU 1 @ SMU 7
Saturday - UdeM 2 @ SMU 6

Tough weekend for Axemen who didn’t play badly 

After their loss Friday night to UNB, Acadia head coach Darren Burns was nonplussed, stating that it was one of his team’s better games at the AUC (they’ve now lost 19 straight there going back to March 2006, and no, he didn’t mention that …) and said that you have to play “perfect” against a team like UNB, and they didn’t. Evan Mosher stood on his head in nets to steal the win for Acadia against UNB on Dec. 1, but he couldn’t repeat the same performance on Friday.

I wonder if Burns was a little more worked up after Saturday’s loss to UPEI? The two teams traded goals in the first period, and the Axemen went ahead in the second period on a 5-on-3 power play goal from Andrew Clark. Just over a minute later Harrison McIver scored shorthanded to re-tie the game. The Panthers scored later in the period to retake the lead, and McIver’s second goal in the third period gave them insurance. This time is was Peter DiSalvo getting tagged with the loss.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday - Acadia 2 @ UPEI 4

X-Men back in the hunt 

StFX struggled to find consistency in the first half, but they took advantage of two slumping teams to pick up two wins and put themselves within striking range of the conference leaders. Friday night they were led offensively by rookie Brad Cuzner’s two goals and the strong play of linemates Steven Kuhn and Murdock MacLellan. 20-year-old Cuzner spent his Christmas break playing four games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads (who of course were missing Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin). Saturday night they beat the game Tommies 3-0, with Joey Perricone only needing to make 10 saves to earn the shutout.

Friday - UdeM 1 @ StFX 5
Saturday - STU 0 @ StFX 3

What’s happened to Moncton? 

After a promising start, les Aigles Blue have now lost seven in a row. Injuries are an obvious issue right now. Moncton only had 15 skaters dressed for the weekend, and they were bombed with 49 shots in the lopsided 5-1 loss. It was no better Saturday, as SMU upped the attack to 57 shots on goal. Is Moncton one of the teams that voted for the roster limits?

Friday - UdeM 1 @ StFX 5
Saturday - UdeM 2 @ SMU 6
 
Panthers prowling 

UPEI squeezed out a victory against Dalhousie Friday night. The teams traded single goals in the middle period, but it took Travis MacIsaac’s goal at 5:53 of overtime to win it for the home squad. Saturday’s win against Acadia was bigger, and more unexpected, and apparently didn’t have the nastiness like the last time the two teams played. The Panthers are waiting for the result of their appeal hearing of the 12-game suspension handed out to Mason Wilgosh after his hit on Acadia’s Chris Owens back on Nov. 30.

Friday - Dal 1 @ UPEI 2 - OT
Saturday - Acadia 2 @ UPEI 4 


Can the week get any worse for Dalhousie? 

Hot on the heels of the suspension of the Dal women’s hockey team for the rest of the season for a hazing incident back in the fall, CTV News has added to the buzz about the ongoing CIS investigation of the men’s hockey team by intimating that some players were promised or paid money above the allowable limits of AFA’s (Athletic Financial Awards, the CIS’s version of sports scholarships).

Friday night’s game against UPEI was a must-win if Dal has hopes of making the playoffs, and they did come away with one point. Saturday in Fredericton was a different matter, and only goaltender Wendell Vye prevented the loss to UNB from becoming a complete rout.

Friday - Dal 1 @ UPEI 2 - OT
Saturday - Dal 0 @ UNB 3 

Tommies forced to suck it up 

St. Thomas is in rebuild mode, and didn’t start the season with a large roster as coach Troy Ryan was looking ahead to next season when many of his veterans will have graduated and moved on – freeing up scholarship spots. Therefore injuries and defections have even more impact this season. Talented but mercurial Alex Leduc was an unwanted distraction in the first half, and he’s gone now. Veteran Mike Reich had enough credits to graduate at Christmas, and has moved on. Backup goalie Justin Collier also left the team over the holidays.

The last weekend of the first half STU played through their injuries and pushed both SMU and StFX to overtime, coming away with the win versus the X-Men. They couldn’t repeat the same results this past weekend. With only 16 skaters the Tommies stayed with the Huskies for two periods, but penalties were their undoing in the third period as SMU broke it open. Jon Groenheyde was lifted after the fifth SMU goal, and newly added Tyler Piercy, a diminutive former Junior A goalie from Fredericton, came in for relief and gave up two goals.

STU could only muster 13 skaters the next night against StFX, and by all reports played well in the loss.

Friday - STU 1 @ SMU 7
Saturday - STU 0 @ StFX 3

This weekend

Most of the attention will be on UNB’s road games versus StFX and Saint Mary’s with travel partner UPEI. Acadia and Dalhousie get to host the struggling Tommies and Aigles Bleus.
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