X-Men off to 2-0 start on the AUS season with win over Axemen

Courtesy Nic Latulippe
Courtesy Nic Latulippe

Antigonish, NS - The StFX X-Men (2-0) skated to a 4-1 home-opening win over the Acadia Axemen (1-1) in AUS hockey action Friday night at the Keating Centre.

The visitors opened up a 1-0 lead but the defending AUS champion X-Men scored four answered goals to take the win and improve to 2-0 on the weekend in the opening weekend of AUS regular season play.

Just eight seconds into the first period, the X-Men garnered a four-minute power play, but they came up empty.

The first big save of the match-up came from Acadia freshman goaltender Devin Williams (Saginaw, MI), who steered aside a Max Iafrate (Livonia, MI) shot from just inside the blue line.

On the first Axemen man advantage, forward Mark Tremaine (Dartmouth, NS) made a sliding shot block on Brett Thompson (Sault Ste. Marie, ON). During the same power play, freshman Nick Betz (Detroit, MI) made a couple backhand centering passes, from behind the net, but they did not connect with any of his teammates.

At 11:00, sophomore forward Michael Clarke (London, ON) of the X-Men capitalized on an Acadia turnover, but Williams made a glove save on the blast from the top of the slot.

Freshman forward Bryson Cianfrone (Stoney Creek, ON) went cross ice to a pinching Iafrate, who ripped a shot off the left shoulder of Williams.

At 9:39, the visitors opened the scoring when Chance Braid (Provost, AB) rushed down his wing and made a centering pass to Brendan Childerley (Stratford, ON), who deposited a shot behind X-Men goaltender Brandon Hope (Canton, MI).

With Acadia on their second power play, Hope made a sharp save on Thompson to keep the X-Men deficit at one goal.

A couple minutes later, junior defenseman Jagger Dirk (Penticton, BC) found X-Men captain Eric Locke (Toronto, ON) with a lead pass. Locke gained the zone, on a two-on-one with Holden Cook (Oshawa, ON), but the sophomore forward had the puck roll off his stick, before he could get a shot away.

With less than five minutes left in the opening period, freshman forward Anthony Difruscia (Thorold, ON) found Clarke for a one-timer, but Williams steered it aside.

On the power play, Locke went short side on Williams, who made the save, while hugging his near post.

In the second period, StFX killed the rest of an Acadia power play, which started late in the first stanza, with the best chance coming off the stick of Kyle Farrell (Howie Centre, NS), whose wrap-around attempt trickled across the crease, before Boston Leier (Saskatoon, SK) put a shot over the glass.

The X-Men's first chance of the middle frame came off the stick of forward Nathan Pancel (Ottawa, ON), whose backhander, from in-close, went just wide of the left post.

After an Axemen power play came up empty, the X-Men knotted the score with the man advantage. At 8:42, Dirk roofed a hard wrist shot, from the face-off circle, under the cross bar behind Williams. Cook and Kristoff Kontos (Penetanguishene, ON) collected the helpers.

With the momentum, the X-Men's line of Clarke, Pancel and Adam Stevens (Bedford, NS) went to work, penning the Axemen in their own zone.

Eventually, StFX went back to the power play during a sequence of play in which Williams was injured. Junior Robert Steeves (Moncton, NB) replaced him between the pipes.

At 13:38, just 18 seconds into the man advantage, Cook walked off the boards and beat Steeves, on the first shot he faced. Clarke and Kontos, with his second of the game, notched the assists.

With Acadia looking for the equalizer, on the power play, StFX continue its stingy penalty kill. Thompson had the best chance, with a shot from the slot, but freshman defenseman Cole MacDonald (Wetaskiwin, AB) blocked the effort.

Betz, again from behind the net, engineered some Acadia offense, but Hope got the right pad down, on his wrap-around chance. He also turned aside the rebound attempt.

With 20 seconds remaining in the period, the X-Men skated in on a four-on-two, but Steeves made a glove stop on a Tremaine shot.

The X-Men led 2-1 heading into the third period.

In the final 20 minutes, StFX thwarted another Acadia power play in the early going, with Hope making a save on Thompson, from the side of the net, after he took a cross-ice point pass from Geoff Schemitsch (Thornhill, ON). Betz couldn't corral the rebound to test Hope.

At 3:36, three X-Men freshman combined to double the home team's edge. Cianfrone showed soft hands, when he re-directed a MacDonald point shot behind Steeves, who had no chance. Matt Needham (Penticton, BC) garnered the other assist.

On another Acadia power play, Leier tried to complete a tic-tac-toe passing play, in the StFX zone, but his shot sailed into the stands.

A short time later Michael Clarke (Halifax, NS) of the Axemen got a dangerous backhander away, but Hope made the save.

Locke almost gave the X-Men a three-goal lead, after he undressed an Axemen defender at the blue line, before getting in alone on Steeves. When he went to the backhand, the puck rolled of his stick.

Hope was sharp, again, when he smothered a Marc McNalty (Medicine Hat, AB) point shot, while being screened by Betz.

With the X-Men on another power play, in the last two minutes, Craig Duininck (St. Cloud, MN) scored, unassisted, with the Axemen net empty for an extra attacker.

Cook collected the first star and Subway player of the game nod, while Kontos and Childerley received second and third star selections, respectively.

Hope made 32 saves for the win, while Steeves made six stop, in relief, for the loss.

The teams will return to the ice Friday, Oct. 14, when the Axemen host the Dalhousie Tigers, in Wolfville, while the X-Men will travel to Halifax to face the Saint Mary's Huskies. Puck drop for both match-ups is 7 p.m.