The UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey team is moving on.
With a 6-3 victory over the StFX X-Men on Thursday night at the Aitken Centre, the Varsity Reds clinched a spot in both the Atlantic University Sport final and Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s University Cup tournament.
UNB will play the winner of the other AUS semifinal, the Acadia Axemen, in a best-of-three series to determine a conference champion. Game one of that series is on Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Aitken Centre.
UNB and Acadia, along with host StFX, have also earned spots in the University Cup, which takes place March 12-15 at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Advancing to the conference final didn’t come easy for the Varsity Reds, needing all five games to win the semifinal series against the X-Men. Although the score ended 6-3, Thursday’s game five remained very close until the final half of the third period.
“That was a hard fought battle with them, taking that to five games,” said UNB’s Matt Boudens after the game. “We were just fortunate to come out with a strong effort.”
The Varsity Reds won the first two games of the series but dropped games three and four in Antigonish. UNB had one of their better performances of the series on Thursday, scoring six goals on 40 shots.
“With the formatting of [the playoffs], it makes every game so important,” said Boudens. “You can’t take anything lightly right from the get go. We went in with that mentality and we were able to play a strong 60-minute effort here at home to get the win and move on to the next round.”
Boudens added that the team had a meeting to ensure their mentality and focus was in the right place heading in the pivotal match.
“We worked all year to get to where we’re at so we just knew we had to go out and play a strong game – and that’s what we did.”
Boudens, Dana Fraser, Philippe Maillet, Cam Critchlow, Philippe Halley and Dylan Willick all scored for UNB. David Shantz made 18 saves in the victory
Adam Stevens, Michael Kirkpatrick and Gabriel O’Connor scored for the X-Men. Drew Owsley made 34 stops in the loss.
Fraser opened the scoring at 6:41 of the first. At 9:26, Brad Cuzner was given a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for a charge on Halley. The UNB forward was helped off the ice by his teammates and didn’t return until the second period. While down a man, StFX tied it at 1-1 when Stevens scored on a breakaway at 12:51.
Fraser headed off for hooking at 13:43, ending UNB’s power play early. During the four-on-four span, Cam Braes was in the corner and sent a perfect pass to Maillet who beat Owsley five hole to put UNB in front 2-1.
In the second, Critchlow was sent off for tripping 2:15 in. When Critchlow came out of the box, the V-Reds captain scored on a three-on-one to make it 3-1 UNB. 1:30 later, Kirkpatrick scored to get StFX back within one. Once again though, UNB responded as Halley slid the puck under Owsley at 9:27 to make it 4-2 Reds. The X-Men would head to the dressing room down by just one though thanks to an O’Connor goal at 15:11.
After failing to convert on a few solid scoring chances early in the third, Boudens was able to slip the puck past a sprawled out Owsley at 10:02 to make it 5-3 Reds. Willick added an empty netter with 1:29 to play, making it a 6-3 final.
Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall said games like these are the ultimate form of preparation for a national championship.
“We had a lot to prove. We won the first two games and we had two real good battles down there,” said MacDougall. “It’s the response. When you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up.”
The Varsity Reds will be looking to win their fourth AUS Championship in five years while the Axemen will be looking to win their second straight. Acadia won three of the four meetings between the two during the regular season.