Men's hockey: No lack of excitement in first UNB-UPEI matchup of regular season

In a top-10 matchup that did not disappoint, the Varsity Reds kept their season-opening winning streak alive with a 3-2 shootout win over rival UPEI.

UNB has been known to field a competitive team year in and year out and 2013-14 appears to be no different. Gardiner MacDougall’s boys have already established themselves as front runners to repeat as CIS champions.

Meanwhile on the island, the Panthers are enjoying early-season success and were ranked 4th in the national rankings going into Wednesday night’s game in Charlottetown.

The home squad started off the contest with loads of pressure and peppered goalie Charlie Lavigne with shots.

However, it would be the Varsity Reds who opened the scoring. Matt Petgrave broke out of his zone with Dylan Willick and Antoine Houde-Caron on an odd man rush. Petgrave fanned on his shot but it beat goaltender Wayne Savage 5-hole. Savage will no doubt want that one back.

Even after the goal, UPEI kept the hammer down and it nearly paid off. Defenseman Matthew Mainone made a P.K. Subban-like spin-o-rama at the red line and sprung Jordan Mayer all alone on a breakaway. Unfortunately for the rowdy crowd of 1050 at MacLauchlan Arena, Mayer was just a step too quick and was offside. He took the shot anyway, much to the disdain of his opponents, and some pushing and shoving ensued.

The Varsity Reds headed to the dressing room with a 1-0 lead.

Their lead would not stand for long, as the Panthers had many golden opportunities on the power play and Tyler Brown finally broke through with his fifth of the season. Mayer and Dana Fraser were credited with assists.

It appeared as though the game was going to tighten up but then the Varsity Reds showed why they were the three-time defending AUS champions. Petgrave cut into the slot and backhanded home his second of the game over the blocker of Savage.

The Panthers would respond before the period was out, though. Mayer and Mason Wilgosh were on a two-on-one and Mayer attempted to step inside to his backhand, but lost control of the puck and it somehow ended up in the back of net. It was ugly, but it counted and that’s how the second period would end.

The third frame began with more chances for the Varsity Reds and Savage had to be called on to make some spectacular saves. It seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before the number two team in Canada broke through.

The Panthers were determined not to let that happen. They let fire a good five shots in the span of about ten seconds. Lavigne turned away all of them however, including going post-to-post to stone Mayer with what was the save of the night, hands down.

Back and forth hockey followed. In the final minute, Brown dangled around Lavigne and tried to flip the puck over him. Lavigne managed somehow to get his blocker on it and Petgrave carried it right back down the ice. He saucered the puck in front of the net and it was whacked towards goal. Savage was sliding the wrong way in his crease but threw out the pad to toe-poke it wide and send this contest to overtime — the first time this year an AUS team has taken a point against UNB.

While the overtime period did yield some great chances for both sides, it would not break the dead-lock and a shootout was required. UNB got up 2-1 and Cody McNaughton needed to score to extend it, but couldn’t get it past Lavigne and the Reds were victorious.

The game lived up to its billing and the fans probably went home happy to have seen such a great display of hockey, despite the result.

Up next for the UPEI Panthers (now 4-1-1 and 3rd in the AUS with 9 points) they will be visiting Saint Mary’s on November 15th while the Varsity Reds (7-0-0, 1st in the AUS with 14 points) will be welcoming Acadia on the same night.
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