With the exception of celebratory screams from the Alberta Golden Bears, Scotiabank Centre was silent following the final horn of the University Cup gold medal game on Sunday.
Just a few minutes earlier, the UNB Varsity Reds were within a goal of tying the national championship game and were heading to a power play. A shorthanded and empty net goal later, the plethora of V-Reds faithful in attendance watched in silence as the Golden Bears clinched a 6-3 win and their second consecutive Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey title.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt a feeling like this before,” said UNB defenceman Jordan Murray moments after the loss.
“We had so much support from everyone in Fredericton and from our school. It’s heartbreaking to lose like this in the final game of the year. We’ve got to be ready for next year and we know where we want to be — we want to be back on this ice. We want to be over there, doing what those guys are doing right there,” said Murray, signaling to the Golden Bears assembling for a championship photo.
Alberta got off to a good start with Stephane Legault scoring just 2:09 in. Less than eight minutes later, Jordan Hickmott netted a power play marker. Alberta led 2-0 after one and allowed just three shots on goal.
Dylan Willick got UNB on the board at 3:05 of the second thanks to a nice feed from Matt Boudens. The Varsity Reds had almost six minutes of power play time in the period and managed to record just three shots in the frame. With 3.6 seconds left, Johnny Lazo redirected a pass from the corner over David Shantz to give the Bears a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
“That wasn’t our best game, I’ll say that for sure,” said Golden Bears head coach Ian Herbers. “We scored some timely goals, our penalty kill was fantastic — we held a very good power play off the scoreboard.
“It wasn’t our prettiest one but we’ll take it, that’s for sure.”
Phil Maillet cut Alberta’s lead to 3-2 early in the third only to have Kruise Reddick put the Bears back up by two a few minutes later.
Adrian Robertson made it a 4-3 game with 4:10 to play, sending a fluttering puck past Kurtis Mucha. The Scotiabank Centre crowd, mostly cheering for the Varsity Reds, got fired up even more when Jesse Craige was called for interference at 16:51, sending UNB to the power play. But at 17:24, Levko Koper converted on a shorthanded two-on-none to put Alberta up by two. Jordan Rowley added an empty netter to make it a 6-3 final.
There were plenty of things UNB struggled with in the game, but their inability to score on seven power play opportunities was no doubt a major factor in the loss. Meanwhile, Alberta scored two man advantage goals on five chances.
“Your specialty teams have to be a difference maker and create momentum for you,” said Herbers. “That’s what they did — especially our penalty kill at times.”
“The guys all stuck together,” said Reddick. “They were blocking shots and getting pucks deep. It was just a total team effort and I’m so proud of our guys.”
Murray gave credit to the Golden Bears who were dominant throughout the tournament. Alberta, playing their third game in as many nights, outshot UNB 24-9 in the championship game and didn’t allow more than three shots against in each period.
“They just outplayed us tonight and they won the championship. That’s about it,” said Murray, who finished a -1 with one assist.
The loss ends an impressive streak for the Varsity Reds who had won every odd-year national championship since 2007. With the majority of this season’s roster expected to return in the fall, they’ll look to start a new streak next year when Halifax hosts the University Cup again.
In the bronze medal game played earlier in the afternoon, Kyle Neuber scored with 4:29 remaining in overtime to give the Guelph Gryphons a 3-2 victory over the UQTR Patriotes.