Antigonish, NS – The UNB Reds successfully defended their AUS title with a 7-1 victory over the StFX X-Men Wednesday night, winning the best-of-three Subway AUS championship final series in two straight games. The title marked the Reds' sixth one in the past nine years.
The series marked the fifth consecutive year that StFX and UNB have played for the AUS banner. The Reds were also conference champions in 2018 and 2015, while the X-Men won in 2017 and 2016.
Veteran Reds coach Gardiner MacDougall noted that the key in Game 2 to get the lead early, especially when playing on the road in front of an enthusiastic crowd. "We wanted to try to get the lead and protect it as best we could. We had a couple key penalty kills in the first period and then were able to extend the lead as the game went on."
He continued, "We have to give a lot of credit to our opponent for their resilience and what they've gone through and I am sure they will be ready to go to Lethbridge next week as both teams are looking forward to representing the AUS conference as best as possible."
Both the Reds and X-Men have clinched berths in the U SPORTS national championship taking place March 14-17 in Lethbridge, Alta.
Despite the lopsided score, X-Men head coach Brad Peddle noted that "I am extremely proud of our team for where they are and the fact that we're still here. It's been quite the adversity that we've had to deal with over the last 5-6 weeks. Its been a tough grueling schedule against three very good teams and we've had to do it with significant bodies out of line-up."
Coach Peddle said "It was a tough loss in front of a big crowd at home and its tough to lose like that at home especially when we've had such great crowd support throughout this playoff run but we've got to give credit to a good UNB team as well."
The Reds wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard as Cam Brace (Etobicoke, ON) potted one past Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS) just 51 seconds into the first period. After picking up a loose puck in the X zone he brought it into the slot area uncontested and beat Marchand.
UNB added to their lead when Olivier LeBlanc (Quebec City, QC) scored a power play marker with five minutes left in the period. He blasted a shot from the point through traffic that found the back of the X net.
LeBlanc then assisted on the Reds third goal three minutes later. He had another big point shot which Marchand saved, but the rebound came right to the stick of Tyler Boland (St. John's, NL) who deposited it into the open StFX net.
Despite shots being fairly even at 8-7 for UNB in the first period they came out on top with the 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.
UNB went up 4-0 on an Oliver Cooper (Fredericton, NB) goal 4:34 into the second period as his wrap-around from behind the StFX beat Marchand down low.
The X-Men finally solved Alex Dubeau (Mascouche, QC) while on the power play when captain Mark Tremaine (Dartmouth, NS) pounced on a rebound in front and shoveled a backhander high past Dubeau.
The Reds went up 5-1 when Mark Simpson (Rothesay, NB) fed Kris Bennett (Brampton, ON) the puck just inside the StFX blue line and he broke in alone on Marchand and beat him blocker side with under three minutes to play in the period.
The Reds outshot the X-Men by a lopsided 17-4 margin in the middle period.
Boland scored two third period goals to give him a hat trick on the night. He scored four minutes into the period on a 2-on-1 with Stephen Anderson (Morell, PE), then potted yet another loose rebound in front of Marchand at 11:25 to give the Reds the 7-1 lead.
He received Subway player of the game honours for his three-goal effort. Tremaine was named Subway player of the game for the X-Men.
Final shots in the game were 34-18 for UNB. Dubeau posted a perfect 5-0 record in the 2019 playoffs.
Second year Reds forward Kris Bennett was honoured as the AUS championship most valuable player. He racked up nine playoff points in five games to lead the conference in playoff scoring, including a goal and two assists in Game 2.
As the AUS playoff schedule wraps up, both teams now look ahead to the U SPORTS national championship next weekend in Lethbridge.
Coach MacDougall noted, "The national championship is the next step and we will see how the rankings go. We'll get in a couple good days of practice and we've got an opportunity in front of us but it is all about being best prepared for Game number one."
Reflecting back on his AUS playoff run, Coach Peddle commented, "There's only so much you can do and so much they can push and I think in this series you began to see a lot of fatigue set in and obviously some guys out of our line-up who are big parts of our game plan."
"I can't say enough about the group in terms of their resolve and resiliency and the character that they've shown through this playoff run to get us a chance to play for a national championship next week and we are looking forward to a competitive championship."
The tournament draw and schedule for the U SPORTS eight-team championship will be released in the coming days.
Courtesy Krista McKenna, StFX Sports Information