In a first half filled with ups and downs, the UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey team enters the holiday break on a high note.
Dylan Willick, Cameron Brace and Taylor MacDougall all scored twice in UNB’s 9-2 victory over the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus on Friday night at the Aitken Centre.
Philippe Halley, Tyler Carroll and Jordan Murray also scored in the win while Peter Trainor added three assists. Goaltender David Shantz, who wasn’t very busy for much of the game, made 15 saves to earn the win.
“I thought we had a good jump,” said Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall. “You want to try and finish strong at home.
“When you look at our own group, we’ve been getting input from all four lines. I thought [Philippe] Maillet played very well tonight – he had a lot of energy. Our D is down a little bit in numbers and I thought our forwards really helped out tonight.”
The V-Reds enter the holiday break with a 12-2-2 record for 26 points, placing them in first place in the Atlantic University Sport standings, a single point ahead of the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Acadia Axemen.
It certainly wasn’t the smoothest first half UNB has had over the past several seasons, losing back-to-back games on two separate occasions. The team now enters the break a four-game winning streak.
“There’s lots of positives,” said MacDougall about the team’s first half.
“But we’ve got a lot of work to do as well. You know how competitive the league is.”
Pier-Antoine Dion and Remi Blanchard each scored for UdeM while Brandon Thibeau allowed nine goals on 41 shots. The Aigles Bleus, who got their season off to a great start, have now lost six straight games.
“The first five games I thought were the best team in the league,” said Aigles Bleus head coach Serge Bourgeois. “[Over the] last couple weeks I think we’re one of the bottom ones. We have to readjust. We have to get our players healthy and try to add some depth to our team right now.”
The Varsity Reds had a terrific first period, scoring five times and outshooting UdeM 17-4. UNB could have easily had a few more goals.
“That’s not something that even we expected,” said Willick about the team’s first period offensive outburst. “We’ve been talking this week about how our first periods need to be a little bit better. I think we started doing that on Wednesday night [in a 6-4 win at St. Thomas] and tonight.”
Carroll opened the scoring just 1:45 into the game, taking a pass from the slot from Maillet and ripping the puck upstairs and past Thibeau.
39 seconds later, Halley scored to give UNB a quick 2-0 lead.
UNB kept pouring on the offensive pressure in the opening half of the period. At 11:33, Brace quickly streaked into the zone, took a pass from Cam Braes and scored to make it 3-0.
MacDougall kept things rolling at 12:55 with a shot from the slot that went under Thibeau’s blocker and arm and in. Then, less than a minute later, Willick fired a low, innocent looking shot that snuck under the UdeM goaltender to give UNB a commanding 5-0 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
UdeM took the first penalty of the game at 2:36 of the second as they were called for too many men. UNB applied some good pressure during the man advantage but were unable to score.
At 9:21, the Aigles Bleus managed to get on the board thanks to a power play goal from Dion. The Varsity Reds retook a five-goal lead at 16:26 as Willick netted his second of the game and fourth in four games.
“I’m feeling great right now,” said a grinning Willick after the game. “I won’t change anything about the game but it’s almost disappointing to go into the break right now when you’re playing like that.”
“He gets better each day,” said MacDougall. “He’s got a great skill level and great speed but he’s just one of those guys – he’s a very coachable player. He allows himself to be coached, he makes good decisions and he’s got great confidence. He’s just a great person.”
UdeM quickly responded to the goal though with Blanchard firing a hard shot past Shantz and off the iron and in to make it a 6-2 Reds lead after two. Shots were 16-7 V-Reds in the second stanza.
In the third, while on a power play at 5:17, Brace fired a shot on net from along the goal line that went off an UdeM defenceman’s stick and past Thibeau to make it a 7-2 contest.
UNB struck again at 15:31. Murray’s goal was initially waved off by the officials despite the goal light coming on. After some discussion amongst themselves, the officials called it a good goal.
On a power play with 1:59 left, MacDougall rounded out the scoring to make it a 9-2 final. Shots were 8-6 in favour of the Reds in the third and 41-17 UNB overall.
“They’re smart enough to know what’s going on. There’s not much to say,” said Bourgeois about his team’s performance. “We just have to take the Christmas break and regroup, I guess, and see what’s going on. I have to do a good job at evaluating what’s going on and what the problem is.”
UNB has a month to prepare for their next match. The Varsity Reds play two exhibition games against the Windsor Lancers on Jan. 3 and 4 at the Aitken Centre as part of the annual Pete Kelly Cup. Regular season play resumes on Jan. 9 at home against the UPEI Panthers.
Men’s Hockey By The Numbers
Overall record: 12-2-2 (1st)
Home record: 5-1-1
Road record: 7-1-1
Goals for: 73 (1st)
Goals against: 42 (1st)
Power play: 22.7% (2nd)
Penalty kill: 81.9% (4th)
Average Attendance: 2,226 (1st)