Antigonish, N.S. - In a late-season battle for second place in the conference, the StFX X-Men (18-6-3) skated to a 4-1 win over the visiting Acadia Axemen (18-7-2) in AUS hockey action Wednesday night at the Keating Centre.
Coming into the mid-week match-up, the CIS #4-ranked Axemen led the X-Men (#8) by one point in the standings. With the victory, the X-Men kept their hopes alive of securing a first-round playoff bye. If StFX wins its regular season finale Friday night over the visiting Dalhousie Tigers, they will clinch second place in the league.
In the opening five minutes of the first period, the Axemen garnered a power-play chance, but the X-Men - led by goaltender Drew Owsley (Lethbridge, AB) - kept the game scoreless.
A couple minutes later, at 7:20, the X-Men jumped to a 1-0 edge on a Max Iafrate (Livonia, MI) goal with the man advantage. After faking a pass from just inside the blue line, the first-year defenseman re-loaded and beat a screened Brandon Glover (Victoria, BC) high to the glove side with a wrist shot. Kristoff Kontos (Penetanguishene, ON) collected the helper on the opening marker.
At 12:58, also on the power play, Sam Fioretti (Calgary, AB) evened the contest, when he collected a rebound on the lip of the crease before roofing a backhander over a sprawled Owsley, who had made the initial save on an Axemen shot from the blue line. Boston Leier (Saskatoon, SK) and Matthew Pufahl (Saskatoon, SK) notched the assists.
Later in the period, the Axemen looked to take their first lead, on a three-on-two rush, but Owsley made a great save on a wrist shot from Stephen Woodworth (Middleton, NS). With an extra player on the ice because of a delayed penalty call coming to the Axemen, the X-Men went to the counter-attack, with Locke streaking down the wing before feeding a charging Craig Duininck (St. Cloud, MN) who deflected a picture-perfect pass behind Glover. Locke and Kontos assisted at the 14:46 mark.
In a scoreless second period, both sides flexed their muscles on the penalty kill, with the Axemen thwarting a four-minute man advantage for the X-Men. During that double minor, Woodworth made a key play when he blocked a blast from Iafrate, while Glover and Owsley both made important stops with their respective teams shorthanded.
With the second period winding down, the X-Men had a golden opportunity to take a two-goal advantage, when Nathan Pancel (Ottawa, ON) got behind the Axemen defense and broke in on the left wing. His shot trickled between the legs of Glover, but it softly hit the far goal post.
A short time later, Kyle Farrell (Howie Centre, NS) skated down his off wing before cutting in front of the net, but Owsley stacked the pads and turned aside the chip shot.
Early in the third period, the X-Men had a chance to extend their edge, when Pancel fed defenseman Jagger Dirk (Penticton, BC) for a one-timer, but Glover stretched to make a stellar glove save.
Brett Thompson (Sault Ste. Marie, ON) looked for the equalizer, but Owsley turned aside the screen shot and then smothered the rebound.
With the teams playing four-on-four, Locke darted down the right wing, stopped on a dime and fed Kontos, who raced around the Axemen net before trying a wrap-around shot, but Glover hugged the goal post and made the save.
Moments later, X-Men defenseman Bronson Maschmeyer (Bruderheim, AB) came off the blue line and took a feed on the doorstep, but he couldn't solve Glover. Seconds later, on the same sequence, forward Michael Clarke (London, ON) collected the puck just outside the crease and deposited an insurance marker for the X-Men at the 7:26 mark. Dirk and Holden Cook (Oshawa, ON) set up the goal that made it 3-1.
With the Axemen trying to rally, as regulation time ticked away, the X-Men defense tightened, with Owsley barring the door on several occasions, including on back-to-back shots from Michael Clarke (Halifax, NS) and Remy Giftopoulos (Ancaster, ON).
With 43 seconds remaining in the third period, on the power play, Holden Cook (Oshawa, ON) sealed the deal, with Kontos and Locke both securing their third assists of the contest.
The Subway player of the game and first star was Clarke, while Locke and Owsley collected second and third star selections, respectively.
Owsley made 26 saves for the win, while Glover turned aside 21 shots in the loss.
Both teams will wrap up the AUS regular season with home games Friday, Feb. 12, with the X-Men battling the Tigers and the Axemen hosting the Saint Mary's Huskies.
Puck drop for both tilts is 7 p.m.