With just one week remaining in the AUS men’s hockey regular season, the Varsity Reds are preparing for what may be their most important game yet.
Friday night will see UNB take on St.FX at the Aitken Centre for the fourth and final regular season match between the top-ranked teams in the AUS—and arguably, the top two teams in the country.
The game will be the culmination of an intense race for top seed in the AUS playoffs, which has seen the two evenly-matched teams repeatedly swap places in recent weeks. Both currently sit tied for first place with identical records of 22-2-4, each having gone 1-1 in the penultimate weekend of the season.
The Varsity Reds head into the match coming off an overtime loss on the road to the Acadia Axemen in a game that saw UNB give up the tying goal to Axemen forward Boston Leier with just 12 seconds remaining in the third period. An interference penalty by captain Dylan Willick just seconds later proved costly in overtime, as Remy Giftopoulos capitalized with a powerplay goal to give his team the win and end their five-game losing streak.
Prior to their defeat against Acadia, UNB edged out the third-ranked Saint Mary’s Huskies in a back-and-forth game that saw the V-Reds go from leading 3-1 early in the second period to trailing 4-3 within a matter of minutes; thankfully, Christopher Clapperton scored his third goal of the game to even the score at four apiece just one minute later. Second-year Varsity Red centre Mark Simpson broke the deadlock with the game-winning goal—his sixth this season—at 9:42 in the third period.
St.FX split their two games over the weekend as well. On paper, the home-field advantage and their opponents (both the lowest-ranked teams in the AUS) should have made it one of the team’s easiest weekends of the season. However, on Friday night, they broke down after an early two-goal lead and ultimately suffered a shocking 7-3 blowout loss to the sixth-ranked Dalhousie Tigers. The X-Men were able to rebound on the following night against last placed UdeM by a score of 5-2.
The importance of the upcoming showdown between UNB and St.FX can be made apparent by looking at previous matches between the two teams. The V-Reds have historically had significantly more success against the X-Men when playing them at home rather than on the road—having lost just one regular season home game to them in the past four years. By beating St.FX on Friday night, UNB would guarantee themselves the top seed in the AUS, ensuring that they would have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Following the game against St.FX, UNB will officially close out their regular season against Dalhousie on Saturday night at the Aitken Centre.
Photos by Acadia Athletics.