Mitchell Maynard may have just landed himself as a full-time defenceman on the banged-up Saint Mary’s Huskies.
The rookie forward and former Memorial Cup champion slid back on defence Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey semi-finals and scored the game-winner in double-overtime as the Huskies upset the UNB Varsity Reds 2-1 before 2,671 fans at the Aitken Centre.
“We’re down guys so we need to fill in those spots,” Maynard said. “[Going back on defense] is something I’ve been able to do in my career and feel confident in the position. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team in the playoffs so we can go as far as we can.”
Maynard’s goal came on the power play five minutes into the second overtime. Steven Johnston won the draw following a Marc-Antoine Desnoyers high-sticking penalty and Maynard wristed it far-side top corner for the winner.
Aside from rolling five defencemen, the Huskies found out just before arriving to the arena that they’d be without head coach Trevor Steinburg, who was suspended one-game for comments he made in a local Fredericton newspaper. Steven Beyers, who was tied atop the team’s regular season point lead, was also scratched.
Assistant coach Tyler Naugler stepped in behind the bench, as he had in the first half of the season as Steinburg was on medical leave, and said gaining that experience in the first half was the biggest reason why he wasn’t nervous.
“That’s probably my most exciting win as a coach, in history,” Naugler said. “I’ve coached a lot of games, I’ve had a lot of good players and I’ll tell ya, as a head coach that’s probably the biggest one that I’ll celebrate.”
Steven MacAuley – another of Naugler’s pupils in minor hockey – opened the scoring midway through the first period, cashing in on a loose puck by the post for his fourth goal in the last three games.
After a scoreless second period UNB cashed in on the power play and again it was the “Victoriaville Connection” leading the charge.
Chris Culligan slung a cross-ice pass to Philippe Maillet who one-timed a shot on goal, and Philippe Halley was right there to bank in the rebound with just under nine minutes to go in regulation.
That was the only time UNB beat Huskies goaltender Anthony Peters, who made 50 saves to earn first star honours.
“He’s unconscious. Every time our program faces a little bit of adversity, we have the character in that dressing room to step up and ‘Petey’ really led the charge for us tonight,” Naugler said.
UNB forward Tyler Carroll made his return to the V-Reds lineup on a line with Cam Critchlow and Dylan Willick. Carroll has missed 22 games this season because of various injuries, and hadn’t played since Jan. 4.
He put up a game-high nine shots on goal in his return, including a great chance in the second period on a breakaway but was turned aside by Peters’ toe.
“He’s quite the hockey player that guy,” Willick said on his new linemate. “He knows where to put the puck, he knows where to be to get the puck and it’s pretty easy to play with a guy like that. He’s very good about talking to me and keeping me honest and letting me know what he saw out there as well. So a bit of a teacher like that as well so I was really happy to have somebody like that on my wing.”
UNB has ran into a hot goaltender like Peters before – who’s now riding a 1.42 GAA through four playoff games – but Willick said the key is to keep trying to make the most of their chances.
“We gotta be happy with the fact that we are getting those chances and we have to realize that the puck is going to go in and we have to stay away from being frustrated and just keep on playing like that,” Willick said.
Both teams will have less than 24 hours to regroup with Game 2 set for 7 p.m. Thursday night at the Aitken Centre.