The UNB Varsity Reds are heading to the University Cup on a winning note.
The Varsity Reds won their fourth Atlantic University Sports men’s hockey championship in five years last Wednesday in Wolfville, defeating the Acadia Axemen 4-2 to take the best-of-three series 2-0.
Phil Halley scored the series-winning goal with 1:48 remaining in game two, redirecting a Jordan Murray shot. Dylan Willick added an empty net goal while Rob Mignardi and Chris Caissy also scored in the victory. David Shantz made 28 saves.
The Varsity Reds pounded the Axemen in game one, scoring four power play goals in an 8-2 win at the Aitken Centre. The result came as a surprise given that Acadia had won three of the four regular season meetings between the two.
“It’s another step in the process,” said head coach Gardiner MacDougall. “The goal for the team at the first of the year was to try and be the most improved team in our league in the regular season and I thought we achieved that. The playoffs were a similar goal, to try and find ways to get better within a series and often within a game.
“It’s certainly a great accomplishment but we know there’s a lot of work ahead for us.”
The Varsity Reds and Axemen had already clinched spots in the University Cup tournament before the AUS final began. The host StFX X-Men, who were eliminated in the AUS semifinals by UNB, will be the third Atlantic Canadian team at the national championship.
UNB finished first in regular season play with a 22-4-2 record. MacDougall has said all year that he wants the team to get better every day, and after a couple slip-ups in the AUS semifinal, they’ll enter nationals on a three-game winning streak.
Canadian Interuniversity Sport will be introducing a new format for the University Cup this year, ditching the six-team, pool style tournament in favour of an eight-team, single elimination format.
Although the single-elimination format leaves no room for error, the old pool style format didn’t allow for many mistakes either.
“The only difference I look at is that there are two extra teams,” said MacDougall. “Even though it wasn’t a one shot deal you always had to play [as if it was] a one shot deal.”
UNB is no stranger to the national championship, winning four of the past eight. Their last trip to the tournament was in 2013 when the V-Reds defeated the Saint Mary’s Huskies 2-0 in the final. Only four players from that game — Cam Braes, Taylor MacDougall, Adrian Robertson and Tyler Carroll — are still with the team.
“We’ve got some experience at this destination point so hopefully we can use some of that experience and continue on with the progression of our team.”
Along with the three AUS teams, there will be three squads from Ontario University Athletics and two from the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. UNB has seen StFX and Acadia play plenty this season, but preparing for teams the V-Reds haven’t faced is a bit trickier.
“We’ll get some game tape once we know our opponent,” said MacDougall, noting that teams are obliged by CIS rules to send tape of their last game to opponents. “That being said, it’s more about what we want to do.”
The University Cup begins Thursday, March 12 with a pair of quarterfinal games at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. There will be two more quarterfinals on Friday, March 13 with the semifinals taking place on Saturday, March 14. The bronze medal and championship games will be held on Sunday, March 15.