The UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey team grinded out a pair of wins over the weekend, and with some help from the UPEI Panthers who beat Acadia Friday night, the V-Reds took over first place in the Atlantic University Sport conference after it was all said and done.
Philippe Halley was the hero Friday night, dangling around the St. Francis Xavier defence before going top shelf on his backhand for the overtime winner, as UNB topped the X-Men 3-2 before 1,927 fans at the Aitken Centre on “Pink at the Rink” night.
Halley, who joined the V-Reds at Christmas after 15 games with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League, has scored eight points in his first 10 games with the V-Reds. None of his goals were more pretty than the overtime winner though.
“It’s probably once in a lifetime,” Halley said on the game-winner. “I just faked the slapshot and then toe-dragged. I don’t really know what happened. It seemed like everybody cleared out in front of me. It looked pretty simple maybe at first but at the end of it I think it was a pretty nice goal.”
V-Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall said goals like that are part of the reason why he brought Halley to UNB.
“He’s a gamer. He works so hard,” MacDougall said. “It’s just his compete level and his work ethic. He’s just finding ways to get better every practice and every game. You have to have some trust and if [a play like that] works, you do. If he turns it over and they go the other way then yeah. But you can’t take that element out of skilled hockey players.”
StFX opened the scoring late in the first period, with Jason Bast wiring a shot wide open in the slot for his seventh of the season. Bast has scored three goals in two games against UNB since being left off of the AUS all-star team, which won gold at the Winter Universiade in Italy over the Christmas break.
Rookie defenseman Matt Petgrave tied it for the V-Reds midway through the second, taking a Nick MacNeil drop pass and wiring it top corner for his third of the year.
Maillet gave UNB the lead two minutes into the third, but it was short-lived as UNB fell into a lengthy 5-on-3 after Petgrave went off for interference and Keevin Cutting for tripping.
Rob Slaney capitalized just 20 seconds into the power play, ripping a shot past UNB netminder Joel Vienneau, sending it to overtime.
Halley played on the top line this weekend with Chris Culligan, and former Victoriaville Tigers linemate Philippe Maillet, and said it felt good that coach MacDougall had confidence in him to send him out to start overtime.
“I think I gained his confidence last weekend when I played with Culligan and Maillet. I think the chemistry is going pretty well together and I think that’s how I gained his confidence,” Halley said.
Vienneau made 22 saves in his first back-to-back start of his CIS career, and followed it up Saturday night with a 19-save performance in a 6-5 win over Saint Mary’s.
Halley and Petgrave put UNB up 2-0 within the first five minutes, but SMU fought back with four unanswered goals to pull ahead 4-2 after the first period.
But the V-Reds responded with four unanswered of their own to open the second period courtesy of MacNeil, Maillet, Halley and Cam Critchlow on a penalty shot. On Critchlow’s goal though, Taylor MacDougall was called for goaltender interference, giving SMU a power play after the penalty shot, and the Huskies capitalized less than a minute later with Matt Tipoff scoring his ninth of the season. But that’s as close as the Huskies would get as UNB stretched its winning streak to nine games.
Speaking of streaks, Cam Braes picked up a pair of assists Friday, and another Saturday to stretch his point streak to nine games – 10 if you count the exhibition game in Maine two weeks ago. He’s now scored 13 points in his last nine regular season games.
With Acadia’s 5-2 loss to UPEI on Friday night, UNB took sole possession of first place in the AUS with a two-point lead over the Axemen.
The V-Reds are in town this weekend Friday against St. Thomas at the Grant*Harvey Centre, before taking on the Moncton Aigles Bleus Saturday at the Aitken Centre. Both games are 7 p.m. starts.