Antigonish, NS – After three consecutive years as AUS finalists, the X-Women can hoist the championship trophy as 2020 champions.
StFX skated to an exciting 5-3 victory over the U SPORTS No. 1 ranked Saint Mary's Huskies Thursday night at the Keating Centre to win the Subway AUS championship series in two straight games.
Third year defenseman Amy Graham (Nepean, ON) scored the game winner at 15:28 of the third period to send the crowd of over 1300 fans into a frenzy. It was her second goal of the game.
The X-Women overcame a 2-0 deficit in claiming their 11th AUS conference banner in team history and first since 2015. With a 4-0 playoff record, StFX are riding a 16-0 winning streak in playoffs and regular season, dating back to November 29th.
It was the Huskies who were the better team to start the game. They got on the board just 34 seconds into the first period as Jamie Johnson (Victoria, BC) made a save off a shot by Mary MacDonald (Calgary, AB), but Miranda Hatt (Eastern Passage, NS) was on the doorstep to tuck in the rebound between her pads.
Saint Mary's came out on a mission, intent to avenge their 4-2 loss in Game 1 of the series as they controlled possession in the early minutes of the first period. They held StFX without a shot until the ninth minute of play.
Each team had a power play opportunity in the opening period but were unable to score. SMU forward Aimee O'Neill (Glace Bay, NS) rang one off the cross bar while shorthanded.
Tyra Meropoulis (Edson, AB) had the best scoring chance for the X-Women late in the period but was stopped by Rebecca Clark (Keswick, ON).
Saint Mary's outshot the X-Women 17-5 in the first period as Johnson made several key saves to keep the X-Women in the game.
Regarding the opening period, X-Women head coach Ben Berthiaume noted, "We needed to calm down and play our game. We knew they were going to come out on fire as it was an elimination game for them and they did that, they are a real good hockey team. They're big and strong and pushed us on our heels and we were fortunate that Jamie Johnston stood tall for us in the first."
The Huskies ramped up the physicality in the second period, but were called for consecutive body checking and boarding calls, giving the X-Women a 5-on-3 power play for 1:22. The home squad was unable to capitalize, however as the Huskies penalty kill came up big.
Special teams were key as SMU scored on the main advantage then the X-Women scored shorthanded.
The Huskies tallied at 8:09 while on the power play as veteran fifth year and AUS first team all-star Kiana Wilkinson (Prince George, BC) lifted a shot high towards a screened Johnson and it beat her over the shoulder.
The X-Women replied with a shorthanded marker at 12:02 as AUS first team all-star defense Lindsey Donovan (Mirimichi, NB) took a pass from Lydia Schurman (Summerside, PE) and beat Clark on the short side.
They then tied it up with 1:50 left in the period as Kaya Brossard (North Vancouver, BC) potted a rebound past Clark after she made a save on a Chloe Vukosa (Mississauga, ON) shot.
Shots in the middle period were 16-10 in favour of the Huskies.
"I thought in the first five minutes of the second period we were still a little back on our heels," commented Berthiuame. "But then we started to gather some momentum and got some more confidence as the game wore on we got better and better."
The X-Women carried that momentum into the third period as Graham scored her first goal of the night on a blast from the point at 4:43 to give the X-Women their first lead in the game. Fifth year captain and AUS defensive player of the year Lydia Schurman was key on the forecheck leading up to the goal.
The Huskies were not rolling over however, and they silenced the X crowd with a power play marker with 7:20 left in the period to knot the game at 3-3. Hatt passed across the point to Carleigh Meraw (Red Deer, AB) whose high shot through traffic beat Johnson.
As intense action followed, Graham scored the game winner just after an X-Women power play expired. She let loose a shot that was redirected in front of Clark and trickled through under her the pads.
The Huskies continued to pressure for the tying goal and pulled Clark in favour of the extra attacker with 1:55 left to play. The X-Women held their ground and Emerson Elliott (Aurora, ON) sealed the win with an empty netter with only three seconds left on the clock.
Final shots were 38-25 for Saint Mary's as Johnson played a strong game for X with 35 saves for the win.
Graham, with her two-goal effort, was named Subway player of the game for the X-Women while Wilkinson took home the same honour for the Huskies.
AUS most valuable player Tyra Meropoulis (Edson, AB) was named the AUS playoff MVP, leading the conference in playoff scoring with eight points (4G, 4A).
With the win the X-Women have punched their ticket to the U SPORTS national championship being hosted by UPEI in Charlottetown March 12-15.
Looking ahead to the eight-team national event, Coach Berthiaume commented, "We need to focus on not getting away from the game and focus on what got us here. Our constant forecheck, using our speed and playing the right way."
Courtesy Krista McKenna, StFX Athletics