(Longtime AUS hockey follower Eric Drummie has volunteered another report this week. Thanks Eric.)
With one week left, and only two games, we all know who is in the playoffs and who has the byes. But, we have no clue who will play who. Yet. We do know where each pair of teams sits – UNB and Acadia sit at the top with first-round byes, but first place is still up for grabs. UdeM and UPEI sit in third and fourth spot with UdeM having a one point lead and StFX and SMU sit fifth and sixth with StFX having a one point lead. So the playoff combinations are all still up for grabs.
V-Reds in cruise control
Another weekend and another two wins for the Varsity Reds. UNB drove uptown to play STU at the Grant*Harvey Centre on Friday where specialty teams was the order of the day. UNB scored two power-play goals and a shorty in a 6-1 win. STU spoiled the shutout bid for UNB rookie Joel Vienneau with five minutes to go in the first. UNB broke open the 1-1 first period tie with a 4-goal second period and added another in the third. V-Red rookie sensations Philippe Maillet & Philippe Halley were the 1st and 2nd stars with three points each (2G,1A & 1G,2A respectively). Maillet leads all rookies with 37 points. The game went off the rails late in the third with 1:09 left. Once the roughing, hugging and #@* had finished, including a thrown water bottle from the STU bench to the UNB bench, each team had amassed close to 100 minutes in penalties. In the end, each team would lose a player for their next game (Mike Thomas for UNB and Ian Saab for STU).
The next night UNB was hosting a depleted UdeM team missing Alex Quesnel and Kevin Charland (who each have missed over half the season), Remi Blanchard, and Maxime Pilon and Jean-Marc Leger who were injured the night before in their game against UPEI. UNB outshot Moncton 15 to 5 in the first period but had nothing to show for it, but they would solve Adrien Lemay in the second with two goals and two more in the third period (two of which were on the power-play – a sight for sore eyes at the AUC). Final shots were 41-18 and the second shutout for returning veteran netminder Charles Lavigne. The win was Lavigne’s 15th of the season – one more than his 3-year career total at STU.
UNB ends the regular season on the road, and looking past their Friday match-up versus Dal, the final game of the season against Acadia is likely for first place in the AUS. With a 2-point lead, a UNB win or overtime loss will give them 1st; an Acadia win in regulation gives them 1st (Acadia has the tie-breaker). UNB lost their last game in Wolfville (5-1 on Nov. 30th ) and since these teams are likely to meet in the conference finals home ice might be the difference.
On the team front, recruited forward JP Labardo did not play in the second half and has officially left the team for “other options” and University Cup MVP Tyler Carroll took the pregame skate versus UdeM, but did not play, but looks to be close to game shape. Defenceman Tim Primao has being playing forward on the 4th line as UNB goes with 3 pairs of D in the home stretch.
Acadia returns to form
There have been some bumps on the road for Acadia, but last weekend they returned to form with a win on the road in Halifax versus SMU and returned home to easily defeat last place Dalhousie. The Axemen were down 2-0 early in the 2nd period on Friday night, but three unanswered goals later they were in the lead 3-2 and added two more in the 3rd for a 5-2 win. An easy 6-1 win on Saturday over Dal allowed them to keep pace with UNB and sets up the final game of the year as a winner take all (almost: a UNB loss in OT gives them first).
Liam Heelis and Mike Cazzola remain 1-2 in scoring with 42 and 40 points respectively, and are the first to cross the 40-point mark. UNB’s Maillet and Chris Culligan are tied with 37 points for 3rd spot going into the last weekend of the season.
UdeM looking for some cat-nip
A short 2-game losing streak now has les Aigles Bleus looking in their rear-view mirror as UPEI has cut their lead to one point for third place in the standings. Their biggest loss came at home on Friday as they lost a tight game to rival UPEI. Moncton scored first early in the third period, but were unable to hold on and the Panthers scored three goals (one at 12 minutes and the last two in the last 3 minutes of the game) to win it 3-1. Moncton lost two players to injury during the game and neither returned the next night to play against UNB (Pilon and Leger).
The next night a depleted roster had to take on UNB and strong play of Lemay kept them in it, but it’s hard to with a short bench and only 18 shots in the game. If there is an ‘up’ side to their woes it is that UPEI has the potentially harder final weekend. Moncton has to play Acadia on Friday, in Wolfville, but have taken their last two games against the Axemen (a 6-5 OT win at home and a 4-3 OT win back in November in Wolfville). They end the season against lowly Dal, which might be the two points they need to stay in third place.
Regardless, they do have home ice wrapped up for the first round and they will play either SMU or StFX. The advantage of third place is that if you advance to the second round of the playoffs you don’t have to play the #1 team coming off their bye. If Moncton should end-up tied with UPEI, they would have the same 2-2-0 record and the same GF/GA of 10/10. The third tie-breaker is … well, the AUS is working on that as we type.
Panthers finally purring?
A uncharacteristic loss to Dal two weeks ago is the difference for UPEI; a win in that game and they would be in third place by one point, but instead they sit behind Moncton by one point. This came after a great effort versus Acadia, in Wolfville, which gave them a 5-2 win (and handed a two-point lead to UNB for first place).
Last weekend they did what they had to do in Moncton, winning a tight 3-1 game with three goals in the third period after Moncton had taken the lead two minutes into the period. The next night they were in Fredericton to play STU. Despite out-shooting the Tommies 51-23 (15-5 in the first periods) UPEI didn’t open the scoring until the second periods. STU would counter and they would enter the third period tied. UPEI scored two goals on 18 shots in the period and won 3-1.
This weekend UPEI is hosting StFX and SMU, who are fighting for 5th spot. So, while PEI is fighting to get ahead of Moncton, StFX and SMU are fighting to get ahead of each other. No easy games here - the nod has to go to UPEI who are tough at home. In order to move up in the standings UPEI will likely have to win both games, as they have to expect Moncton to defeat Dal on Saturday.
StFX – where did those mutant powers go?
The X-Men have faltered in the second half with only four wins and have only one win in their last six games (and that was agaisnt last place Dal). They are fighting off SMU for the last playoff spot. They are guaranteed a playoff spot, as DAL and STU have been eliminated, but they don’t have much to hang their cape on at this stage.
There is no single element that is wrong with the X-Men: they averaged just under 3 goals a game in the past six games, but their defense is giving up close to 4 goals. They are middle of the pack for stats and such a team should probably be higher in the standings. Interesting to note that they have lost five 1-goal games to go along with their 2 OT losses.
SMU – mush, mush, there is still work to be done.
Saint Mary’s will finish in 5th or 6th place and most of that depends on how they play this weekend against STU and UPEI. SMU hasn’t had the best schedule recently, having to play Moncton, UNB and Acadia over the past two weekends (all losses). But, the fourth game in their weekend series was a convincing 7-3 win over StFX to cut the X-Men’s lead to one point for 5th place as StFX has also been having a tough two-week stint.
The possible key to SMU’s success, or the reason for their fall from last year’s AUS runner-ups and U-Cup silver medalists, could be their power play. Last year they were tops in the conference with a PP% of 23.1 for 37 goals; this year it’s in last place - 10.4% and 14 goals. A 23-goal difference is close to a goal-a-game not on the board (important when you have four 1-goal losses on your season).
Tommies keep pushing, but pushing up hill is always hard
STU played the cross-campus rivals last weekend and lost 6-1 to UNB. The first period (which was called extremely tight by the officials) ended tied 1-1, but a four-goal 2nd period ended STU’s night (with UNB scoring again in the 3rd). Tempers flared late in the third period with close to 100 minutes in penalties. Ian Saab will miss the game against UPEI as a result of a match penalty . STU did a good job of forcing UNB to outside and blocking the cross ice passes that the V-Reds prefer to make. They held UNB to 22 shots in the game, which is something when you consider UNB averages 35 shots per night.
It was a far different game the next night as STU gave up 51 shots to UPEI, but had a better overall result. There was no score in the first, and a 1-1 tie going into the third period. The Tommies just couldn’t hold on as they gave up 2 goals on 17 shots in the period. STU had their changes in this one. The game got chippy in the second period - halfway through the period a pushing–and–shoving match resulted in two 10-minute misconducts for both teams. Later in the period UPEI rookie forward Brock Beukeboom was assessed a five-minute major for charging and STU was on a five-minute power play. The period ended with Jonathan Bonneau getting a two-minute call at the horn which nullified the PP and the teams would start the 3rd period 4-on-4. UPEI scored 1:34 into the 3rd period while 4-on-4 and would increase their lead with a PP marker at 10:11. Would’a, could’a, should’a: a STU power play goal during that major would have given them the lead and then you’re in a new game.
STU ends the season hosting StFX and SMU. Could STU be a spoiler be in the making? This season STU has four wins over Dal, a surprising win over UNB and a first-half win at home versus StFX. Both StFX and SMU are in race for 5th place, so nothing is going to come easy for STU on the last weekend of the season.
Tigers with few claws
The Dal Tigers lost a close game against StFX on Friday night. They scored first only to end the period tied. They took the lead again in the third only to have StFX tie it again then take the lead two minutes later with seven minutes left in the game. Dal had just 6 shots in the 3rd period.
The last weekend of the season will likely not be kind to the Tigers. They first play UNB on Friday then Moncton on Saturday. #1 (CIS #2) and #3 (CIS #10), back-to-back, with both opponents needing wins over Dal to maintain their slim points leads over their rivals in the standings. Dal upset UNB two years ago in the second last weekend of the season (3-2 in an overtime shootout that went eight rounds), but their win over UPEI on Feb. 1st might have been their last hurrah this season.