Antigonish, NS – It appears the StFX X-Men may have found the secret to beating the U SPORTS No. 1 ranked UNB Reds – score early and score often. The X-Men defeated the Reds 3-2 on Saturday night in front of over 1300 fans at the Charles V. Keating Centre. All three goals came early in the first period.
For the Reds it was like déjà-vu all over again as they found themselves fighting off an early first period deficit, same as two weeks ago when StFX handed them a 4-2 loss, their first and only in regulation play this season, until tonight when they received their second.
Freshman goaltender Blade Mann-Dixon (Antigonish, NS) had a stellar night in goal for the X-Men with 38 saves in the game.
The X-Men opened up the game with three quick goals before seven minutes had clicked off the clock. Will Bower (Saint John, NB) scored the first X goal 3:51 into the game. He brought the puck into the Reds zone and wristed a low shot from the top of the face-off circle past Alex Dubeau (Mascouche, QC) in the UNB net. Will Thompson (Fredericton, NB) and Regan Spears (Port Hood, NS) had helpers on the goal.
Just 45 seconds later the X-Men tallied again, this time from veteran captain Mark Tremaine (Dartmouth, NS) on the power play. Cole MacDonald (Westaskiwin, AB) fed the puck to Tremaine in the slot who redirected it past Dubeau.
Two minutes later at 6:36, Holden Cook (Whitby, ON) gave the X-Men a 3-0 lead on a pretty play that saw him bring the puck into the UNB zone then beat a Reds defender before a deke and fake that had Dubeau fooled. He then deposited the puck high into the open mesh.
Both teams then settled in and UNB fought back to score one goal before the first period expired. After continued pressure in the StFX zone and several shots directed towards Mann-Dixon, Chris Clapperton (Cap d'Espoir, QC) banged in a rebound at the 11:02 mark. Joe Gatenby (Kelowna, BC) and Stephen Anderson (Mortell, PE) were credited with helpers on the play.
With shots at 13-8 in favor of UNB in the opening period, the 20 minutes expired with StFX still holding the 3-1 advantage.
The fast-paced second period brought ample scoring chances from both sides including several power play opportunities. With no love lost between the AUS rival squads, the period also saw more physical play develop with increased trips to the penalty box.
The Reds were unable to convert on consecutive power play chances late in the period, and the X-Men also had a man-advantage that carried over into the third where they were held scoreless.
Shots in the middle period favoured the visiting Reds 12-7.
UNB was not going down without a fight in this game and forward Kris Bennett (Brampton, ON) brought the game to within a goal as he converted a Cam Brace (Etobicoke, ON) pass in the slot to wire a goal past Mann-Dixon just under five minutes into the third period.
The Reds continued to press but freshman netminder Mann-Dixon was up for the task, keeping the X-Men lead intact with several key saves.
Mark Simpson (Rothesay, NB) and Bennett almost connected for the tying goal with just over six minutes to play as they came down on a 2-on-1 while shorthanded, but Bennett ripped the puck high over the X net.
With continued UNB pressure late in the third period, they appeared to be heading to the power play with just over two minutes to play, but while Dubeau was out of the Reds net on the delayed penalty call, UNB were called for a goaltender infraction, negating their power play opportunity.
In an intense final two minutes of play, including Dubeau out of the Reds net with 1:29 left to play, the X-Men were able to hold off the Reds final attack and preserve the 3-2 victory.
The first star and Subway player of the game, Mann-Dixon earned his eighth win of the season with 38 saves on the night. Mann-Dixon stepped up replacing the injured Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS).
UNB's Clapperton was the second star and StFX's Bower took home third star honours.
With the win, the X-Men improve to 14-9-3 on the season and move into second place. The first place Reds (21-2-3) have already secured a first round playoff bye with two weekends of play left in the regular season.
The Reds are back in AUS action on Wednesday, January 30th when they travel to Moncton (13-9-4). StFX next plays on Friday, February 1st when they host second place Saint Mary's (18-7-1).
Courtesy Krista McKenna, StFX Sports Information