[Ed. note: John, previously the sports information officer at Bishop's and Queen's universities, joins us to cover news from Quebec and elsewhere. His first piece here looks at the RSEQ basketball semifinals. -RP]

It was a sweep by all four home teams on Wednesday night in the Quebec basketball semifinals, setting up a championship doubleheader at McGill on Saturday. On the women’s side, the Concordia Stingers held off the UQAM Citadins 65-62 while McGill eased past Laval 54-47. In the men’s semifinals, Bishop’s dropped the Stingers 70-63 and will face the Redmen, who had little trouble with the Citadins, winning 72-43.

WOMEN’S SEMIFINAL #1 – McGILL 54, LAVAL 47

In the first women’s semifinal, the McGill Martlets got a late scare from the fourth-seeded Laval Rouge et Or, but survived to advance to the league championship game after a defensive struggle in Montreal.

The Martlets led through most of the contest, but were never able to put Laval completely away. The Rouge et Or tied the game at 41-41 very early in the fourth quarter, but McGill responded with a 6-0 run to foil the visitors’ upset bid as they held Laval to only six points through the last 9:30 of the game.

Rookie Marie-Pier Bastrash led the Martlets (19-9 CIS, 13-3) with ten points, while Mariam Sylla and Dianna Ros scored nine. Sylla, the conference rookie of the year, also grabbed a game-high ten rebounds.

Laval (14-13 CIS, 8-8) was led by 11 points each from Elyse Jobin and Gabrielle Girard.

McGill advanced despite shooting only 28% from the field. They held Laval to 34% overall, and outrebounded the Rouge et Or 41-31.


WOMEN’S SEMIFINAL #2 – CONCORDIA 65, UQAM 62

Concordia led by as many as 18 points, but had to hold off a late UQAM comeback attempt to escape with a 65-62 win at the always-cozy Concordia Gym.

The Stingers led 54-36 with two minutes left in the third, and appeared to be cruising to their second straight championship appearance, however the Citadins went on a 12-0 run over 3:16 early in the fourth quarter to get to within four points at 56-52. A three-pointer by Camille Michaud brought UQAM to within two points at 62-60 with 90 seconds left, but a triple by Ashley Clarke clinched the win for the Stingers.

Kaylah Barrett, the conference player of the year, led the Stingers (21-11 CIS, 11-5) with 17 points, while Richelle Gregoire had 15 points and Tina Mpondani had ten. Clarke had nine points, all on three-pointers.

UQAM (11-15 CIS, 8-8) was led by Michaud, who scored 18 points. Valerie Gauvin added 16, while Emie Simard and Qu├ęteline Celestin had 11 each.

Concordia shot only 28% from the field, but attempted 21 more shots than the Citadins did, 74-53. While the rebounds were even overall, Concordia did grab 22 offensive boards.

The final, set for Saturday at 2 p.m. at McGill is a rematch of last year’s league championship, which McGill won 56-49. Concordia last won the league crown in 1999.


MEN’S SEMIFINAL #1 – McGill 72, UQAM 43

UQAM kept it close early, but were eventually overwhelmed by the top-seeded (and CIS No. 10) Redmen, who advanced to the league’s championship for the first time since 2002. Vincent Dufort had a double-double for McGill with 16 points and ten rebounds, while Adrian Hynes-Guery scored a game-high 24 points. The only other Redmen in double figures was Winn Clark, who had ten.

For UQAM (11-19 CIS, 6-10), Alexandre Bernard had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Vincent Lanct├┤t-Fortier had nine points.

McGill (20-7 CIS, 11-5) led 18-15 after the first quarter, and UQAM briefly took a 22-21 lead early in the second. However, the Redmen held UQAM to only one field goal in the final 6:30 of the half and took a 34-25 halftime lead. The hosts took complete control in the third quarter, holding UQAM to only seven points and opening up a 19-point edge.

McGill shot 38% from the field and held UQAM to 31% shooting. The Redmen were strong from outside, hitting 8 of 19 from downtown, while UQAM — never a strong three-point team — went 2 for 13. McGill outrebounded UQAM 41-30.

MEN’S SEMIFINAL #2 – Bishop’s 70, Concordia 63.

The Gaiters used a balanced attack to pick up their first playoff win since 2004, with four players in double figures. Mike Andrews, who was named the league’s player of the year earlier in the day, and all-rookie team member Jonathan Bermillo each came off the bench to score 14 points and lead Bishop’s (18-8 CIS, 10-6 Quebec). Fifth-year forward Tim Hunter scored 13 points, while Onnex Blackwood added 12.

For Concordia (14-11 CIS, 9-7 Quebec), Kyle Desmarais scored 21 points in 37 minutes, with Jerome Blake and Morgan Tajfel adding 11 each.

Bishop’s led 37-33 at halftime and 49-48 after three quarters in a game that featured eight ties and seven lead changes. After Desmarais tied the game at 51-51 early in the fourth, a 9-3 Gaiters run put the game away, sending Bishop’s to McGill for Saturday’s league championship.

Bishop’s shot 39% from the field, and held Concordia to only 31%. Both teams struggled from outside the arc, with Concordia going 7-for-26, and Bishop’s hitting only 3 of 14 three-point attempts.

Whichever way Saturday’s final goes, a long championship drought will come to an end. Bishop’s has not won the conference title since 1999, the last of three straight league crowns, while McGill is hoping to win their first crown since 1986. The two teams split their four meetings this year, and split the pair of games in Montreal. The final is set for Saturday at 5 p.m. at McGill.
Our panel of eight have provided their first guesses at the men's basketball Final 8 seedings ten days in advance of the tournament.

SACKVILLE, N.B. — The Huskies didn't win, but their coach still had the line of the night: "I've never lost and seen so many smiles."

This loss was in the AUS championship — to the first-place and favoured St. Francis Xavier X-Women. X and league MVP Alex Normore had trampled their AUS opponents all season, and their opponents in Sunday's final were these Saint Mary's Huskies, the Huskies who two years ago nearly lost their program and did lose their coach to Ryerson, the Huskies who are one year removed from a one-win season.

There wasn't much reason to smile in the south end of Halifax until things turned around this year. A talented crop of rookies, including goaltender Sienna Cooke and forward Brianna Soper, took hold of the program and ran with it. They even racked up an early win over these same X-Women — as it turns out, the only time X would lose in conference play.

And yet, it was still an uphill battle for SMU. They tried to match up against the X-Women but faced several obstacles, running into penalty trouble and struggling to build on their game-opening goal, ultimately losing by a score of 4-1. After giving up that early goal, the X-Women reeled off four straight unanswered, from four different players, en route to their ninth AUS championship and berth in nationals two weeks from now.

The game was marred by both teams' inability to stay out of the penalty box. The two sides combined for fifteen infractions throughout the game; however, only three of them led to powerplay goals. The game started with Kira Dube being forced to watch from the box while Soper fed Caitlyn Schell. 1-0 SMU.

Brittany Perkins knotted the score up just over three minutes later, and then with the Saint Mary's power play clicking, the X-Women proved they were equal to the task. The Huskies had forward Maggie Poliseno in the box, and Erin Brophy took a feed from captain Jenna Downey and put the X-Women up by one heading into the second frame.

"We asked them [the Huskies] one thing, and it's the same thing I've been asking them from my first days here, demand for nothing but their very best, and today I really think we got it," said SMU head coach Chris Larade after the game.

Larade also noted that the chances could have gone either way. The Huskies came close to evening up the score several times in the early stage of the second period. At one point, captain Rebecca Mosher beat X goaltender Katie Greenway but the puck ricocheted off of both posts and stayed out. After the Huskies got their chances, the X-Women set to work again: Molly MacDonald found the back of the net just past the halfway mark of the second period.

The third period was met with a sense of urgency and undisciplined play from Saint Mary's. The Huskies took four penalties over the course of the period, and also squandered a 1:34 five-on-three power play. Towards the end of the game, with Sarah Maynard in the box for Saint Mary's and Cooke pulled, Normore was sprung with a great pass and fired home the empty netter that clinched the victory for the X-Women.

Chris Larade had a lot of encouraging words for his players. "I think they gained two or three years of experience from this weekend alone."

**

The AUS also announced the tournament All Stars after the game. As a part of the committee that selected the All Stars and tournament MVP I can say there was a large amount of agreement between myself and the other members. The all-stars were as follows (with some assorted observations from the weekend):

Tournament MVP: Jenna Pitts (defence, St. FX) — an incredible offensive presence on the blue line for the X-Women, she also led a defence that stifled opponents and made the job of Katie Greenway very easy.

Alex Normore (forward, St. FX) — Didn't have to put the team on her back this weekend but took charge and was (pardon the pun) an X-factor when her team needed her to be.

Brianna Soper (forward, Saint Mary's) — Confident and composed out on the ice; did a great job setting up her teammates and finding the lanes for them.

Jordan Miller (forward, St. Thomas) — A reliable presence on offence throughout the tournament and worked well at getting in tight on her opponents and getting the puck to the net.

Rebecca Mosher (defence, Saint Mary's) — A leader for a very young team this weekend. Scored twenty seconds in against St. Thomas, and while she wasn't on the scoresheet aside from that, she led all players in shots and did well to create momentum for the Huskies.

Sienna Cooke (goaltender, Saint Mary's) — The goals she allowed were in close but she saw a lot of shots well throughout the tournament. Great positioning.
SACKVILLE, N.B. — Saturday's results saw Saint Mary's and St. Francis Xavier punch their tickets to Sunday's championship final.

Cooke-ing up a win

There are moments in a championship tournament when one player rises to the occasion. Saturday night, that player was Sienna Cooke.

Described by her head coach Chris Larade as a "diamond in the rough that landed in our laps," Cooke stopped 36 shots in a 3-1 victory over the St. Thomas Tommies.

The game started off with a bang as Rebecca Mosher and the Huskies crashed the net 20 seconds into the game. With the ice still fresh, Mosher fired a shot past a stunned Julia Sharun.

While there was to be no scoring until the start of the third period, the Huskies and Tommies traded chances. An issue for the Huskies was staying out of the penalty box — they accumulated 22 penalty minutes throughout the game. After first-year forward Brianna Soper put the Huskies up by two, the Huskies took four minors including two five-on-threes as Mosher was called for a double minor for contact to the head. Maggie Poliseno and Chelsea Osbaldeston took the other penalties for Saint Mary's. Somehow, the Tommies failed to score throughout this stretch.

Jordan Miller was the first and last Tommie to solve Cooke as she scored with just over two minutes left in the game. The Tommies made a last stand pulling Sharun in an attempt to tie the game up but Carly Gray scored into the empty net.

After the game, Soper spoke about the team's focus while shorthanded. "We do have an excellent penalty kill so we're just trying to stay focused and maintain our own end."

X-Women silence Panthers

Throughout the weekend, the UPEI Panthers' presence was established in the Tantramar Civic Centre thanks to the presence of several cowbells.

Unfortunately for them, the bells were silenced Saturday evening as the St. Francis Xavier X-Women pulled out a last second 3-2 win. The win also served as a means of revenge for the X-Women who fell victim to the same Panthers team in last year's semi-final.

The Panthers came into the game with one requirement: win by two or more goals. The task wouldn't be easy as they had to face X-Women goaltender Kristy Garrow. Garrow led the league this year with a 0.80 goals against average and .950 save percentage. After losing to Mt. A Friday, Marie Soleil Deschenes was replaced with Kristy Dobson in net for UPEI.

The Panthers came out flying just like the Huskies, desperate to throw Garrow off her game. Just two minutes into the game, they succeeded. With X-Women captain Jenna Downey in the box serving an interference penalty, Kiana Strand fired the puck past Garrow to put the Panthers up by one.

Thirteen minutes later, Samantha Sweet got the Panthers to the threshold for goal differential as she slipped the puck past Garrow. After that goal, Garrow settled down and the always-dangerous X-Women offence got to work. With Lindsay Oakes in the box on a hooking call, Jenna Pitts continued her fantastic tournament, scoring with just over a minute and a half left in the first frame.

The second period featured a single goal but it was a highlight for the entire season. 2013 AUS MVP Alex Normore broke down the wing on a partial breakaway, wound up and fired a shot through the five hole of Dobson.

The Panthers and X-Women played to a stalemate until the final moments of the third period. Needing to win by two goals with the game tied, UPEI pulled Dobson in favour of an extra attacker, but they wouldn't score. And with two seconds left, Daniela Falconio tallied the empty-netter, giving the X-Women the victory on top of their ticket to Sunday's final.

After the game Normore noted that the team didn't change their approach in the final minutes as the Panthers looked for the extra goals. "We weren't trying to play overly defensive or anything, we just wanted to win that game."

She also commented, "All we had in our mind was to win that game."

The stage is now set. The St. Francis Xavier X-Women will face the Saint Mary's Huskies Sunday afternoon in Sackville. The game will see the depth of the X-Women pitted against first-year standout goaltender Cooke. Puck drop is at 4:00pm AT.

SACKVILLE, N.B. — Friday's results put an end to Moncton's and Mount Allison's seasons, Moncton's not so nicely.

Ugly end for Eagles

Coming into their match with the Saint Mary's Huskies, the Moncton Aigles Bleues needed a big win to remain in contention. They held on for two periods but things unravelled for them in the third, leading to an ugly end to a disappointing season, and a 4-1 loss.

In her final AUS playoff game, Moncton captain Genevieve David was kicked out along with teammates Marie-Pier Arsenault and Natacha Bergeron. At the 11:25 mark of the third period, Monika Cormier was called for a double minor for contact to the head which led to the final Huskies goal from Sarah Maynard, at 14:17. It was at that point when David shot the puck in the direction of the referee. That led to her being handed a ten minute misconduct and leaving the ice angrily. Denis Ross was absolutely irate on the bench and Moncton's crowd were hurling insults at the referee.

In the final 5:43 of the third period, Moncton took three ten-minute misconducts and two additional minor penalties.

Meanwhile, during the game that preceded that, it appeared as though a goaltending battle was brewing between the Huskies' Sienna Cooke and Moncton's Jenna Van Belois, with scoreless first periods on both sides. Moncton fell behind 2-0 in the second early, though, after goals 28 seconds apart from Kaitlyn Abbass and Brianna Soper. Moncton attempted a comeback of sorts as Arsenault scored an incredible shorthanded goal, bringing the puck out front and snuck it past Cooke short side to pull Moncton within one.

The Huskies restored the two-goal lead before the end of the period as Soper scored her second of the game.

Moncton is now officially eliminated while the Saint Mary's Huskies will move on to face the St. Thomas Tommies in the semi-final with a championship game berth on the line.

Mounties win, but season ends

The Mounties got the victory over UPEI that they were looking for on Friday night, in front of a supportive home crowd. However their offence came up short and they didn't win by enough goals to stave off elimination, winning just 2-1.

Mount Allison's Ashlyn Somers took a feed in the first period from Kara Anthony and drove it home past Marie Deschenes to give Mt. A a 1-0 lead after one period of play. In the second frame, Kierstin Visser fired a shot past Megan Corley-Byrne to tie the game up. To her credit, Corley-Byrne played the game of her life, making 42 saves on 43 shots.

Coming into the third period, the Mounties needed at least two goals to stay in contention due to the goal-differential tiebreaker. Captain Lauren Oickle took matters into her own hand in what would be her final game as a Mountie firing a laser over Deschenes' glove hand to put the Mounties up 2-1 early. The Mounties continued to press for the rest of the period but the Panthers stifled their chances to enter the zone. Eventually, pressed for time, the Panthers pulled Deschenes with 1:48 left for the extra attacker. The Mounties had a golden opportunity to get the goal they needed but UPEI held the puck in Mount Allison's zone until the final buzzer went.

The Mounties season is now over while the Panthers will play the St. Francis Xavier X-Women in a rematch of last year's semi-final. The situation is very clear for the Panthers: if they win by two or more goals, they will face the winner of Saint Mary's and St. Thomas in the final on Sunday.
SACKVILLE, N.B. — The AUS women's hockey championship began Thursday without any upsets, but it would be difficult to ask for a pair of closer games to open the tournament.

Tommies survive close one

It couldn't have been drawn up better. In the first game of her final AUS championships, St. Thomas Tommies captain Kayla Blackmore scored the game winning goal with just under two minutes left in the second period. The Tommies then shut down Moncton the rest of the way to take the 3-2 victory.

After the Tommies built a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, Moncton came roaring back in the second. Elisa Savoie banged the puck home past a scrambling Julia Sharun around seven minutes into the second period. Despite the raucous Moncton players and bench following the game-tying goal, St. Thomas took over from there. The Tommies capitalized just over ten minutes later with Blackmore firing a shot from the slot that beat Jenna Van Belois.

For their part, the Tommies' defence took over after Blackmore's goal. They forced action to the outside and gave their veteran goaltender the clear lanes she needed to easily stop the shots from the point. While the game was tied, Moncton was applying pressure attempting to seize momentum but came up flat, unable to penetrate the St. Thomas zone, managing only six shots on goal in the third (and only 14 all game).

During the third period, Moncton had an opportunity to tie the game up on a 64-second five-on-three power play with Caley Steinert and Cassidy McTaggart both in the box. The Tommies were the more dangerous team during that time, however, as Blackmore and Kelty Apperson each got quality chances to force pressure back on Moncton.

Moncton will now face Saint Mary's on Friday at 3:00pm AT while St. Thomas will have a day off. The Tommies then play the Huskies Saturday, in what figures to be a de facto conference semifinal.


X marks the shots, but not that many goals

It wasn't pretty but it still counts.

Jenna Pitts scored two goals, the game-winner and an empty-netter, as the St. Francis Xavier X-Women escaped an opening night scare with a 3-1 win over Mount Allison. X won only by two despite outshooting the host Mounties 37 to 12 and scoring at least five goals against them in every regular-season game.

The first period saw the X-Women flexing their muscles as the early favourites in the tournament. The X-Women came out flying applying pressure to goaltender Megan Corley-Byrne and the Mounties. Schyler Campbell broke through for the X-Women just past the half-way make of the first period, firing the puck home off a face-off in the Mount Allison zone.

At the end of the first, Mt. A rookie Sarah Hubble was tossed into the boards, hard. Although it was initially thought that she might have a concussion from the hit, she returned for the start of the second period and managed a +1 in the game.

The Mounties turned the tide in the second period. Not to be denied, the X-Women still maintained a strong presence on the ice, however Mt. A did not allow the X-Women to enter their zone easily. The momentum reached a climax at the start of the third when Lindsay James found herself in the slot and fired the puck home to tie the game.

The Mounties and X-Women continued to battle all over the ice but an incident in the neutral zone ended up costing the Mounties. On what looked like a normal play, Mount Allison's Lauren Oickle was called for interference after fighting for the puck along the benches. The play appeared to be harmless with one of the linesmen falling down as well but at the end of the scrum, Oickle was the only one in the box.

Fourteen seconds into the power play, Jenna Pitts fired home a shot from the point past Corley-Byrne to put the X-Women up 2-1. The Mounties continued to work tirelessly on defence, blocking shots (in addition to the 37 SOG they allowed) and forechecking well to keep the X-Women out of their zone. However, time was not on the Mounties' side. Corley-Byrne was pulled late in the third period; then, with a clear shot at her second goal of the night, Pitts fired the puck into the empty net to end it.

The Mounties fight for their playoff lives Friday against UPEI. Anything less than a regulation win would officially eliminate Mount A, who finished second-last in the conference in the regular season. The X-Women will have a day off before returning to the ice on Saturday to face the Panthers, also at 6:00pm.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Playoff Upsets

Sport would be nothing without the classic playoff upset. Mount Allison will be in tough against the X-Women on Thursday but defeated them in the playoffs last year so anything is possible. Hosting the tournament on home ice, the Mounties could get a boost from the expected crowds, and it might be what the team needs to succeed. Moncton was in a heated battle with mediocrity all season that featured both high and low points. While they have yet to prove it, they should never be taken lightly and could provide a shock to the Tommies or Huskies. UPEI is hungry to atone for last year's showing at nationals but will need to get their scoring going and consistent goaltending to make it happen.

Mounties edge Huskies in home finale

It wasn't pretty but the Mounties put the finishing touches on a regular season that most would like to forget. The Mounties held their ceremony for graduating players, featuring standout players such as team captain Lauren Oickle and goaltender Megan Corley-Byrne. The impact of losing these players next year has yet to be seen but they will still face a number of questions in the off-season. Kate O'Brien looked confident in net against a potent Tommies offence last Wednesday while the Mounties will look to veterans such as Lindsay James and Megan Cameron to pick up the slack on offence.

Season reflection

At the beginning of the year I predicted where each team would finish in the AUS standings. Let's see how I did.
  1. St. Francis Xavier (predicted finish: 1) — The X-Women were an easy pick after taking first place in the standings the past two years.
  2. St. Thomas (5) — Powered by their veterans, the Tommies made me eat my words week after week ever since the beginning of the season.
  3. Saint Mary's (7) — Two words to explain my error of putting the Huskies seventh: Sienna Cooke.
  4. UPEI (3) — This pick was hit or miss. I assumed that the Panthers would experience some sort of championship hangover but they finished in the same spot as they did last year.
  5. Moncton (4) — Moncton was hard to read and ended up slipping a position from my predicted finish. They can still compete with the best of the teams in the AUS but need to find consistency against the lower tier teams.
  6. Mount Allison (2) — A shoulder injury to returning captain Lauren Oickle was hard to predict. A 46 goal drop in offensive production was even harder to imagine.
  7. Dalhousie (6) — It's hard to predict a program getting suspended but I still wasn't that far off as the Tigers were 2-8-2 before having their season cut short.


Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Feb. 14 in parentheses)

  1. St. Francis Xavier (1) — Sunday's game was close but Kristy Garrow stopped everything she saw for the X-Women's third shutout of this season.
  2. Saint Mary's (2) — Two goals in three games isn't the best way to end the season but the Huskies will be a threat against St. Thomas and Moncton in Pool B play.
  3. St. Thomas (3) — The Tommies closed out their season at home with a strong win over Moncton. Graduating players Kayla Blackmore, Courtney Fox and Julia Sharun will be looking to earn the Tommies' first ever AUS Womens' Hockey Championship.
  4. Moncton(4) — A horrendous January (1-4-2) was followed by a so-so February in which they lost to the lowly Mounties on home ice. It gets worse: 2 of their 3 wins in February came as a result of forfeits to the suspended Dalhousie Tigers.
  5. UPEI(5) — The Panthers were on the losing end of two shutouts but on the winning end of another. Kristy Dobson was in net for the win and the 1-0 loss to the X-Women. She'll be looking to regain her form in the AUS Championships.
  6. Mount Allison (6) — The Mounties ended their season on a winning note in the shootout thanks to Megan Cameron but will need much more if they are to get past the X-Women in the championship.
  7. Dalhousie (7) — Technically they tied Moncton for goals against. That's one positive to take away from this season.
The Carleton Ravens have nabbed an All-Star guard who had fallen out with his OUA West team ... again.

Two years after Clinton Springer-Williams transferred to Carleton, former McMaster Marauder Victor Raso will do so next season, per recruiting guru Barry Hayes (and, for that matter, the man himself). A first team OUA West All-Star in 2011-12, Raso joins Carleton after speculation about where he would land following his departure from McMaster, a school with deep family ties for the Hamilton native.

The official transfer to the Ravens is not exactly a surprise. It's likely a perfect fit for both Raso and the Ravens, where emphasis on three-point shooting and ball movement help produce the country's top offence. Raso shot 40% from deep in his last season with McMaster and is an unselfish passer who can play on and off the ball (he played point guard in his first two seasons at Mac before excelling off the ball last year).

The 6'3" guard joins an already deep backcourt and will notably share two remaining years of eligibility with CIS Player of the Year basketball robot Phil Scrubb. It's notable that Raso could basically have started for every team in the country — and it looks like he did his homework on where he'd continue to play and study — but chose to join a team where he won't be the best player.

"There are other schools I could’ve chosen that would have provided me with more minutes but it’s about meaningful minutes for me, something I’m willing to sacrifice to win," Raso told NorthPoleHoops last week.

One can already see Scrubb penetrating off pick-and-rolls and finding Raso to rain corner threes on teams. Carleton lives off finding open shots and knocking down threes — the best of Raso's skills.

The 2013-14 Ravens are going to be terrifying, by the way. Carleton has just one fifth year (forward Kyle Smendziuk) on the roster, and could return a veritable All-Star group of Scrubb, Springer-Williams, former Player of the Year Tyson Hinz, Raso and Thomas Scrubb ... yikes.

The official transfer also brings an end to Raso's awkward and tumultuous departure from Mac. As summarized by the Silhouette's Scott Hastie back in November, Raso's relationship with Amos Connolly, the man who replaced Victor's father Joe Raso at the helm of the program, deteriorated. It was already a somewhat delicate situation with Raso bearing the name of the school that unceremoniously dismissed his father.

“I felt like Victor and I were in this together, because of the situation here. Him playing with his dad not being here and trying to follow his dad is tough on the kid. He’s someone I really cared about. Basketball or not, there’s a relationship that’s been lost that went through some pretty hard times together," Connolly told the Silhouette in November.

But now, the period of talking about Raso's departure is (thankfully) over. The era of Carleton's dominance? Looks like that won't end any time soon.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Finding Nemo

The playoff race was about as clear as Atlantic Canada was this past weekend, as winter storm Nemo wrecked havoc on AUS Women's hockey and university sport across Atlantic Canada. After three makeup games were played on Wednesday, the standings are a little clearer. St. Thomas' last minute goal by Kenya Marcelline against Mt. A gave them the clinching victory for second place. The Saint Mary's Huskies' 2-1 loss in OT to the X-Women gave the Huskies a valuable point, but not the two they were looking for; they remain in third place. On the island, UPEI had a chance to end Moncton's hopes of finishing in fourth place or better but fell 4-0. Moncton will occupy the fifth spot permanently if they do not beat St. Thomas this weekend.  

O'Brien makes debut for Mt. A

With nothing to play for until the playoffs except pride, the Mounties started second-year goaltender Kate O'Brien against the second-place St. Thomas Tommies on Wednesday night. The result was not that bad for a goaltender making her debut against the league's second ranked offence. 21 saves on 22 shots with the only goal coming in the final ninety seconds during a mad scramble in front of the net. For her efforts, she was named second star of the game by Argosy Sports ahead of opposing goaltender Kristin Wolfe. Mt. A Athletics staff member Wray Perkin noted that it was the first debut for a goaltender in Mt. A uniform since Nov. 9, 2009 when current Mounties back up Jenelle Hulan made her debut. The future for the Mounties in net looks solidified for now with Corley-Byrne graduating in May. 

Who could challenge for the AUS title?

All eyes will be on Alex Normore and the St. Francis Xavier X-Women next Thursday when the AUS Women's Hockey championship kicks off in Sackville, NB. There are five other teams who could make a run at the title. Saint Mary's has the edge of being the only team to beat the X-Women this season, and Sienna Cooke has proved that if needed, she can steal a game in net for them. St. Thomas has cooled off recently, but with goaltending depth and scoring coming from all angles, they can't be taken lightly. Last year's championship game finalists, UPEI and Mount Allison faltered early this year and subsequently recovered to different degrees of success. Both teams will be hungry to get back to the title game. Moncton has had an up and down season. On the upside, they beat St. Thomas and held the X-Women to two goals in a game. On the downside, they've been beat by Mount Allison twice and also suffered large defeats by the X-Women and Tommies. They'll be a threat, but it's just a question of which team will show up.

Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Feb. 5 in parentheses)

  1. St. Francis Xavier (1) — They were pushed to overtime by the Huskies on Wednesday night but still found a way to win. That's 16 wins in a row for those of you counting.
  2. Saint Mary's (2) — Sienna Cooke has been rock solid in net this year but the team's success will rely on their ability to give Cooke some help on the scoreboard.  
  3. St. Thomas (4) — Big wins this week against UPEI and Mt. A allowed the Tommies to clinch second place.
  4. Moncton (5) — A big win on the Island kept their hopes for fourth place alive. 
  5. UPEI (3) — A tough loss at home to Moncton and on the road against St. Thomas didn't help the Pathers but they are still in the thick of things.
  6. Mount Allison (6) — A big win on the road in Moncton was what the doctor ordered for the Mounties. The team played well against the second place Tommies Wednesday night but lost on a late goal. 
  7. Dalhousie (7) — Stay the course.
Exciting news out of Halifax: Monty Mosher of the Chronicle-Herald reports that the Saint Mary's Huskies filled their vacant defensive coordinator position on Monday with the hiring of former CFLer Marcello Simmons.

Simmons is replacing Devin Murphy, who left the same role at the end of the 2012 season. It was rumoured that Murphy and head coach Perry Marchese were not on good terms throughout the season.

This new hire should continue the SMU tradition of strong defence based around match coverage principles. While Murphy and Simmons run different concepts, the Huskies should be able to hit the ground running and build on what should be considered a disappointing season, largely so because of their troubles on offence.

One of the issues that SMU had last year in the secondary was how Murphy's system forced the defence to tattle on itself by moving Neil King out of the free safety position when running the match. Simmons' defence relies more on the strong side linebacker being the adjuster. (Of course this all comes down to personnel: Murphy could have been forced to use King due to the lack of depth they had after their tumultuous offseason. Previously Jeff Hecht was used in this role.)

Simmons, a former defensive back himself in the CFL for seven seasons, mostly in the late-90s, also played for the Southern Methodist Mustangs which puts him on a very short list of people involved with both SMU football programs. He has spent the last decade coaching in the CIS and CFL with the most notable stop in Toronto, where he was special teams coordinator with the Argonauts from 2003 to 2008, including their 2004 Grey Cup win. After a brief hiatus he joined the Acadia Axemen in 2010* and then the Guelph Gryphons in 2011, both times coaching the defensive backs. He went back to the CFL last year as the DB coach for Edmonton, and now moves on to a new challenge in Halifax.

* In the interests of full disclosure: I played under Marcello Simmons during my 2010 season at Acadia.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Playoff race heating up

We already know that the X-Women will finish first and the Mounties will finish sixth but second through fifth are still wide open. What looked like a sure lock on second place for the Tommies at the beginning of 2013 for the Tommies has evaporated going into the final two weekends of regular season play. The Tommies still sit second with 27 points but identical 8-2 runs by the Huskies (26 points) and Panthers (25 points) have them both breathing down the Tommies' neck. Moncton is sitting not too far behind with 22 points but Saturday's games (St. Thomas at Mount Allison and Moncton at UPEI) should mathematically take them out of the running for second place.

Disappointing end of sorts for Mt. A

After a somewhat surprising 4-0 blanking of Moncton just a week earlier, many in Sackville were hopeful that the Mounties might climb into fifth and salvage some pride before hosting the conference playoffs. Despite battling hard against Saint Mary's last Saturday, that dream died with a controversial goal allowed by Meghan Corley-Byrne. Early in the third, both a Mounties player and Huskies player collided into Corley-Byrne who was holding the puck on the goal line and subsequently got pushed into the goal. Despite her obvious objection to the call, the score stood and Sienna Cooke stonewalled each chance Mt. A got after that. Note: It didn't show on the scoresheet but Mounties forward Ashlyn Somers was a workhorse, constantly applying pressure in the neutral and defensive zone. She'll be a treat for Mt. A in the playoffs.

The key to beating the X-Women?

It's hard to predict how to stop a team that is riding a 15-game winning streak but it's at least fun to try to form an educated guess. Like any team, home ice advantage is huge and the X-Women have showed this, building a perfect home record at 12-0. Away from Antigonish, they are only 8-1 — worse, but not appreciably so. In their first of two games in Sackville against Mount Allison this season the X-Women made themselves comfy to the tune of a 6-0 win, with only 14 shots allowed all game. If it counts as bad news, AUS leading scorer Alex Normore is only slightly above a point-per-game player (8 points in seven games) on the road, compared to 19 in 11 at home. In net, Kristy Garrow's goals against average more than doubles when playing away from Antigonish (rising from a 0.65 to 1.35) and her save percentage is only .926 on the road compared to .959 at home. However, both of these "increased" totals would still be among the best in the league. It's hard to find cracks in a team that has only allowed more than two goals in a game once all season -- and that was a last-minute powerplay goal.

Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Jan. 23 in parentheses)

  1. St. Francis Xavier (1) — The only challenge the team might face is which goalie to start in the playoffs. Back-up Katie Greenway has a 1.45 GAA and .925 save percentage to compliment her 7-1 record.
  2. Saint Mary's (4) — Sienna Cooke looked solid on Saturday against a hungry and offensively minded Mounties team desperate for a win. She's only allowed four goals on her last seventy-six shots against.
  3. UPEI (3) — 8-2 in their last ten, the Panthers are ready to pounce and try to be the first team to repeat as champions since the 05-06 X-Women. Consecutive wins by the Panthers this coming weekend could see them jump from fourth to second place.
  4. St. Thomas (2) — The Tommies play two of their final three regular season games this weekend. They are also clinging onto second place by a single point so every game from here on out is a must-win.
  5. Moncton (5) — Same situation as the Tommies, playing two of their final three regular season games this coming weekend. Playoffs are already guaranteed for the Eagles but the math is against their best intentions to move into third or fourth.
  6. Mount Allison (7) — A weekend that featured a huge shutout over Moncton was followed by a weekend with two crushing road losses to Saint Mary's and St. Francis Xavier.
  7. Dalhousie (6) — Stay the course.
In weekend play in AUS men's hockey the upcoming playoff picture got a little clearer. Saint Mary's locked up second place to capture the other first-round playoff bye alongside UNB. Acadia will finish third, and becomes the team no one wants to meet in the first round. Fourth place, currently held by StFX, will be decided on the last night of the regular season as a UPEI win and X-Men loss would flip fourth and fifth place (Panthers holds first tie-breaker between the two teams). Moncton, in a tie with UPEI for fifth place in the standings, (but not really, as the Panthers also hold the edge in this tie-breaker) needs to win and hope the Panthers lose in order to move into fifth place. The AUS schedule is not helpful, as none of the teams close in the standings are playing each other next Friday, so all of them will be scoreboard watching.

Off the ice, the AUS decided this week at their winter meetings that the new roster cap for next season will be raised from the originally announced 21, to 22 skaters, and unlimited goalies.That of course is just four more skaters than the usual 18 who are allowed to dress for each game. Normal injury attrition during the season means that the AUS could be putting themselves at quite a manpower disadvantage when they play teams from the other two CIS conferences at the University Cup.

V-Reds cruising to bye break

UNB had a relatively easy go against cross-campus rival St. Thomas on Friday night. While the short-staffed Tommies kept the V-Reds off the scoreboard in the first period, UNB kept rolling their lines and wore down STU and the goals eventually came. The Tommies only cracked double-digits in shots on goal in the last minute, when a beauty goal by captain Felix Poulin spoiled Travis Fullerton's shutout bid.

Back in their own rink on Saturday, it was a much more intense game against UPEI. The V-Reds saw their two goal lead evaporate in the second period when they got into penalty trouble (as has happened so often this season) and the Panthers took advantage. Third periods are a source of pride for UNB, and it went pretty much by the book as the V-Reds put the game away with three goals, including a shorty. However, despite the pink-tinged ice, pink UNB socks and other feel-good events surrounding Pink in the Rink Night, near the four minute mark emotions boiled over when Antoine Houde-Caron (who already had two goals in the game) took exception to a faceoff slash from UPEI provocateur par excellence Mike McIsaac and chased him down and jumped him at the blue line. Although neither participant dropped their gloves they both rightfully earned fighting majors and were ejected and Houde-Caron will pick up an extra game suspension for being named the instigator.

Friday - UNB 5 @ STU 1
Saturday - UPEI 2 @ UNB 5

Huskies get hot at the right time

Saint Mary's ended their three-game losing streak Friday night as they cruised to a 5-2 win over Dalhousie, their co-tenant at the Halifax Forum. Saturday was the most anticipated game of the weekend as the Huskies traveled down Highway 101 to decide second place against the Axemen. There was no scoring until  Matt Tipoff scored just over four minutes into the second period, and the Huskies added two more unanswered goals as Anthony Peters earned his conference-leading fifth shutout of the season in the big SMU win. With one game left in the season power forward Lucas Bloodoff has a 7-point lead on Acadia's Andrew Clark in the AUS points race, and his 20 goals have him five ahead of UNB's Nick MacNeil and the injured Tyler Carroll. Huskies defenceman Michael D'Orazio leads all d-men with 30 points, and he's tied for second overall in points with Clark and UNB's Colby Pridham and Chris Culligan.

Friday - Dal 2 @ SMU 6
Saturday - SMU 3 @ Acadia 3

Acadia slides into third

The Axemen were in first place in the AUS standings at the Christmas break, but their not so great second half (4-6-1) has dropped them into third place and missing out on a first-round playoff bye. Friday night they outshot StFX by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the game, but still lost. The X-Men had a two goal lead thanks to power plays and Acadia answered with two of their own on the PP in the second period to tie the game. However StFX rookie Brad Cuzner scored the only goal in the third period as the X-Men stole the win.  Saturday was a must-win for Acadia for any hope at finishing in second place, but they couldn't find the back of the net against the Huskies.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ StFX 3
Saturday - SMU 3 @ Acadia 3

X-Men also getting hot at the right time

After getting out-shot badly and winning Friday, the X-Men pulled off a similar trick Saturday night against the Tigers, winning 2-1 and moving past UPEI for fourth place.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ StFX 3
Saturday - StFX 2 @ Dal 1

Panthers pick poor time to cool off

The hottest team since Christmas came to a screeching halt Friday, when they lost 5-0 to arch-rival Moncton. The shots were even in the game, but UdeM was up 3-0 before the midway point of the third period, and then added two shorthanded goals to add insult to injury. The next night in Fredericton they weren't able to bounce back against UNB, who didn't ease up much despite already having clinched first place last weekend.

Friday - UPEI 0 @ UdeM 5
Saturday - UPEI 2 @ UNB 5 

UdeM still looking to move up standings

That blanking of UPEI Friday night was huge for Moncton, as it was the first time they've beat them all season. After  les Aigles Bleus cruised to a win over STU on Sunday afternoon, both UdeM and UPEI now have 30 points, but the Panthers own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Moncton needs to beat UNB next Friday (a tall order) and UPEI had to lose to STU (an unlikely outcome) in order to finish in fifth place and avoid Acadia in the first round of the playoffs.

Friday - UPEI 0 @ UdeM 5
Sunday - UdeM 6 @ STU 2 *

Dal playing out the string

Give the Tigers credit. After being beat soundly by the Huskies, Dal bounced back and played well enough to probably deserve a win the next night against StFX. The ramifications of the CIS investigation are still hanging over the heads of the Dal men's team, with no firm ETA on when the CIS will announce their results and any repercussions (my guess is sometime after Dal's last game Friday and my hunch, if the facts match the rumours, is that it will cost them a hefty fine and perhaps a reduction of their team AFA cap, which in unprecedented to my knowledge).

Friday - Dal 2 @ SMU 6
Saturday - StFX 2 @ Dal 1

Tommies going out on their shields

STU once again was only able to dress 15 skates against UNB on Friday night, and as is the case for all teams this time of year, the guys on the ice weren't all 100%. Rookie goaltender Jonathan Groenheyde continues to do his best to keep his team in games, but the rebuilding Tommies just don't have the horses to keep up with the teams ahead of them.

Saturday on Senior's Night they had one more skater dressed, as former captain Matt Eagles (wearing the #22 of friend and ex-Tommie Mike Reich) surprisingly took the opening faceoff and won it, leading to the first STU goal. Eagles, who had his hockey career ended last season due to post concussion symptoms, immediately skated to the bench for a line change after winning the draw and spent the rest of his last game in uniform sitting with his teammates. Moncton took over the lead in the second period and pulled away in the third period for the comfortable win.

Friday - UNB 5 @ STU 1
Sunday - UdeM 6 @ STU 2 *

One game left for each team

Friday night UNB host UdeM, SMU hosts StFX, Dal is at Acadia and STU is at UPEI. As discussed at the top of this post, Moncton, the X-Men, and the Panthers all need wins to keep or improve their playoff position. 


* Correction: In my haste to post I originally had the UdeM-STU game listed as a Saturday game, but the match was actually played on Sunday afternoon.
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