(Longtime AUS hockey follower Eric Drummie has noticed that I have been very remiss with AUS men's hockey updates and volunteers his own report this week. Thanks Eric.)
Two weeks ago the Acadia Axemen visited UNB for their second-half return trip with a three point lead over UNB in the AUS standings; however when they returned to Wolfville after their New Brunswick road trip they were tied for the lead. Not much has changed since then and the two remain atop the AUS standings.
The numerous hockey games his season that were rescheduled due to bad weather have all now been made-up and each team have now played 22 games with six to go in the regular season. Acadia and UNB have clinched playoff spots. No first-round byes have been clinched and the remaining playoff spots are up for grabs (except in Dal’s case, as they have been eliminated from the playoffs).
V-Reds play to their opponents' level
Still without UCup MVP Tyler Carroll, the V-Reds are the hottest team in the AUS and currently on a 7 game winning streak, but it hasn’t been easy of late. In the Acadia game awhile back UNB laid claim as the better team that night and pulled to within one point of first place, but had to climb back from two one-goal deficits on the way. With four goals in the 3rd period – the last three by UNB – they went on to win 5-3. The clincher for UNB was a short-handed goal by captain Chris Culligan. UNB has seen a dramatic increase in the number of SHG's – with none in the first 16 games of the season they now have recorded 4 in their last 6 games.
The following Tuesday, UNB was in Orono to play the University of Maine Black Bears. Unlike when StFX visited UMaine the previous week and lost 4-1, UNB got out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period. The Black Bears battled back with one goal in the second and two goals in the third to tie the game and force overtime. UNB took a penalty late in the 3rd that carried over to OT which saw Maine captain, and Hobey Baker Candidate, Devin Shore score. Chris Culligan and Adrian Robertson only played the first period; red-shirt Ben Duffy played in Culligan’s place on the top line with V-Red rookies and former Junior teammates Phillipe Maillet and Phillipe Halley.
Last weekend UNB needed two come-from-behind efforts to win against both STU in the 22nd annual Mark Jeffrey Memorial Game and on their road trip to PEI (in overtime) to keep pace with Acadia. Before the Jeffrey game Nick MacNeil was the recipient of UNB Hockey’s most prestigious award named after the former player and coach of UNB, but the star of the game was Maillet who scored UNB’s first goal and assisted on the next three. A slow start for UNB saw them down two goals after the first period. A goalie change didn’t appear to help as rookie Joel Vienneau replaced veteran Charles Lavigne to start the second period and gave up a goal on STU’s first shot of the period. UNB would battle back with two power play goals and a shorty the rest of the way – taking the lead with four minutes remaining and sealing the victory with an empty net goal – the first UNB goal for rookie Dylan Willick. Shots were 38-12 for UNB.
On the Island the story was much the same. UNB erased four one-goal deficits to force OT with 0.8 seconds left in the third (with Vienneau off for the extra attacker after making his first start against a team other than Dal). Jordan Murray scored the tying goal, and leads all AUS rookie D-men with 15 points to date (4h overall among D-men). Cam Braes scoring his conference-leading 6th game winning goal in OT. The night was a battle of specialty teams, or failure there-of, as UPEI had 3 power play goals on 8 tries while UNB was 0-8 on the PP. UNB is home this weekend to host SFX and SMU. UNB’s only lose this half was in their first game against SFX in Antigonish (where the team says they didn’t have a good game). The games won’t be easy as StFX is tied with SMU for 6th spot with 22 points – 3 points behind UPEI for 4th place.
Friday - STU 4 @ UNB 6
Saturday - UNB 5 @ UPEI 4 (OT)
Axemen hit a bump on the road
At one point, prior to their visit to Fredericton two weeks ago, Acadia was on the road to being crowned AUS champions – well maybe the 2014 pennant winners. All that changed in a spirited and energized game. This night was one of UNB’s two Elementary School nights with the Aitken University Centre sold out and full of kids pumped up on sugar. Mike Cazzola and Liam Heelis each had a goal and assist to maintain their scoring leads in the AUS conference. This was a physical game as UNB’s Adrian Robertson delivered a hard check to former Junior teammate Heelis, resulting in a bloody nose and some heated exchanges between the benches (there was no penalty on the play). Coach Darren Burns mentioned after the game that "it definitely had a play-off feel".
The following night in Moncton was close to a disaster for the Axemen as they fell down 3-0 and 4-1 in the first period alone. Acadia would battle back and take the lead with 10 minutes left in the 3rd period, forcing UdeM to play catch up. Moncton scored two minutes later and would score early in OT, leaving Acadia with one point for the weekend and tied for 1st place. Blowing a chance to take control of the pennant race Acadia is now in a dog-fight with UNB.
Last weekend Acadia had an easy win over Dalhousie and the next night protected a 3-2 lead over StFX until the last minute of the game. The Axemen scored a short-handed goal (their conference-leading 8th) and the X-Men countered on the same power play 16 seconds later (with 13 seconds left in the game) to end the game 4-3.
Friday - Acadia 7 @ Dal 2
Saturday – StFX 3 @ Acadia 4
StFX home-ice disadvantage?
Since their big weekend to start the second half with wins over UNB and Moncton, StFX has dropped faster than Wile E. Coyote’s anvil. They have one win in their last six games (plus a 4-1 loss to UMaine on the road in Orono) and where once their home record was 7-2 it is now 8-5 with their only win coming at home vs STU. They were a step ahead of Moncton for 3rd place at the Christmans break, but they are now tied with SMU for 6th, having been passed by both Moncton and UPEI. Unless STU catches lightning in a bottle, StFX will make the playoffs, but they will probably need to improve on their offense or tighten up on defence if they want to make it into the second round.
Last weekend they lost two tight games; SMU (in OT) and Acadia, with both ending 4-3. A 3-goal lead evaporated in the 3rd period in the SMU game and they were shutout during the shootout. Jason Bast leads the X-Men with 23 points, and Christmas addition Brandon Hynes has 11 points in 8 games bringing some much need offence for a team that has only one player with 20+ points. Acadia has four, Moncton has 4 and UNB has close to 4.
Friday - SMU 4 @ StFX 3 (OT-SO)
Saturday - SFX 3 @ Acadia 4
Weather and home-ice woes
The Panthers had a good streak going in the middle of the month with wins over StFX, SMU and Moncton, but that all stopped when they ran into UNB on Saturday night. Despite having four UPEI leads in the game, UNB tied it up late and won it in overtime. This night was UPEI’s Alumni Night with a full rink and at times it looked like it was going to be UPEI’s game, but UNB ruined the party.
The weather hasn’t been very helpful for UPEI in their games against Moncton. The two games in the first half were moved to the second half due to the Confederation Bridge being closed. UPEI has lost both of these games (the first one at home on the 15th and the second one this past Wednesday in Moncton). These four points are the difference between UdeM and UPEI for 3rd place in the standings. UPEI’s home record is 5-6 while their road record is 6-5 leaving them at .500 with an 11-11 record. It doesn’t get any easier for the Panthers this weekend as they host Acadia and Dal. They will need the same effort they showed against UNB if they hope to defeat Acadia.
Friday – UdeM 1 @ UPEI 2
Saturday – UNB 5 @ UPEI 4 (OT)
Wednesday – UPEI 2 @ UdeM 4
Who are those guys in Bleu et Or shirts?
With all the attention UNB and Acadia have been getting Moncton has been ‘under the radar’ and sits comfortably in third place. They are 5-1 in their last six games including an OT win over Acadia two weeks ago and most recently on Wednesday night over UPEI (a rescheduled game from the first half due to weather closure of the Confederation Bridge). They have climbed back onto the CIS Top 10 at spot #10. Eric Faille leads the team with 31 points, but interesting enough has no game winning goals.
This coming weekend UdeM play StFX and SMU (the same teams that UNB will be playing on opposite nights) and wins would solidify them in 3rd place. It won't be easy – as mentioned for UNB – these two teams are tied for 6th and need wins if they hipe to pass UPEI for 4th place.
Friday - UdeM 1 @ UPEI 2
Saturday – UdeM 5 @ STU 1
Wednesday – UPEI 2 @ UdeM 4
Does the dog bite?
SMU is 4-4 after the break and is stuck as a result – not moving up or down. Their big game this past weekend was a 4-3 overtime-shootout win over StFX. SMU trailed by 3 at the start of the 3rd period. They scored in the first minute, at the five minute mark and again with only 20 seconds left (with an extra attacker). They played through the full ten-minute OT and won the shootout 1-0. When added to the win over Dal on Saturday it leaves SMU in a tie with SFX for 6th place. The win on Friday night gives them the tie-breaker over StFX despite one game left in the season series which might be needed to determine who finishes 5th.
This coming weekend they are on the road against Moncton and UNB which will be real tests. The team that can find a split (SFX or SMU) this weekend will have the upper hand going into the last two weekends.
Friday - SMU 4 @ SFX 3 (OT-SO)
Saturday - SMU 3 @ DAL 0
St. Thomas loses tough one
The AUS is a tough league to play in and no one knows that more than STU. Two weeks ago they had a chance to close the gap on SMU but lost 4-0 on the road. This past week they had 3-0 and 4-2 leads over UNB only to see it disappear in the third period where the Tommies only had 1 shot to the V-Reds’ 16. Things didn’t get better when they hosted Moncton on Saturday with a 5-1 loss. STU isn’t eliminated yet from the playoffs but they will need a lot of help if they are to pass StFX or SMU. This weekend they are on the road to play Dal and Acadia.
Friday - STU 4 @ UNB 6
Saturday - UdeM 5 @ STU 1
Nowhere to go
The Dalhousie Tigers are having a bad year; there is no way to sugar-coat it. They are have been eliminated from the playoffs and are now playing for pride, such as late last season when they nipped UNB 3-2 in a shootout. Dal may have played spoiler with a 5-3 win over StFX two weeks ago, but since then they have only scored a total of four goals in their last four games. Top scorer for Dal is Patrick Daley with 14 points, and he hasn’t played the last four games. The battle for the basement happens on Friday when they are in Fredericton to play STU, then off to the Island to play UPEI.
Friday – Dal 2 @ Acadia 7
Saturday - Dal 0 @ SMU 3