It’s only November, but one of the biggest weekends of the UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey season is here.
The Varsity Reds, 8-1-1, host the Saint Mary’s Huskies, 8-1-1, on Friday and the Acadia Axemen, 7-3-0, on Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m. at the Aitken Centre.
UNB and Saint Mary’s sit in a tie for first in the AUS standings with 17 points each. Acadia, after losing back-to-back games, now sits in third with 14 points. Although it’s still early in the season, the points gained or lost from these head-to-head matchups could prove to be pivotal come playoff time.
The Reds improved to 8-1-1 with a 7-2 win over the Aigles Bleus in Moncton this past Friday and a 4-2 victory over the UPEI Panthers on Saturday at the Aitken Centre.
On Friday in Moncton, UNB scored two power play goals, two shorthanded goals and three even strength goals in a 7-2 win.
Tyler Carroll opened the scoring just 2:57 in on a power play to make it 1-0 Varsity Reds. UNB took a 2-0 lead at 15:18 of the first when Rob Mignardi connected. Shots were 19-10 in favour of UNB in the opening frame.
2:06 into the second period, Cam Critchlow scored to give UNB a 3-0 advantage. Moncton then started to make a game of it as Allain Saulnier and Jean-Francois Plante scored less than four minutes apart to make it a 3-2 game. But a Cam Brace goal at 14:10 gave UNB some insurance heading into intermission. Shots were eight apiece in the second.
Jordan Murray scored a shorthanded marker at 3:08 of the third and a power play goal a little over three minutes later to make it 6-2 V-Reds. Taylor MacDougall rounded out the scoring with UNB’s second shorthanded goal of the game at 12:45 to make it a 7-2 final. Shots were 11-4 in favour of the Reds in third for a game total of 38-22.
Goaltender David Shantz made 20 saves for the win while defenseman Randy Gazzola had three assists.
On Saturday, after a scoreless first period, Critchlow tipped the puck past UPEI goaltender Matt Mahalak on a power play at 1:35 of the second period to make it 1-0 UNB. A little over four minutes later, Carroll ripped a shot past the Panthers net-minder to make it 2-0.
The Panthers got on the board at 13:59 when Reginaldo Traccitto scored from the high slot on a five-on-three power play.
There was a scary moment with 4.1 seconds left in the second stanza when UPEI’s Tyler Brown was injured behind the UNB net. Lying on the ice and clutching his leg, he immediately yelled for medical assistance. After being looked at by both team’s training staffs, paramedics came onto the ice and carried Brown off.
The final 4.1 seconds of the second period were played at the start of the third. At 4:18 of the final frame, UPEI’s Mason Wilgosh tied the game with a power play goal.
UNB retook the lead at 6:37 when Phil Halley scored to make it 3-2. It was Halley’s first goal of the season.
“You try not to think about it but in the back of your mind it’s always there. But finally its done, its over,” said Halley about getting his first of the year.
“The chemistry is going very well with me, Phil [Maillet] and [Tyler Carroll].”
Halley scored an empty net goal with 29 seconds remaining to make it a 4-2 final. Shots were 35-30 in favour of UNB in the game.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall. “We have a great rivalry with PEI and we knew both teams were coming off big Friday nights. You need these tests along the way. You don’t always paint a Picasso every night.
“In this league, if you can hold your opponent to two goals you should give yourself an opportunity to have success on a nightly basis.”