(Halifax, N.S.) The UNB Varsity Reds are headed back to the AUS Championships after a 6-2 victory over the Saint Mary's Huskies on Monday night at the Halifax Forum.
"It was a hard fought series, (we had) two excellent games up in Fredericton," said Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall. "I think it's a foundation for both teams moving forward."
"It was exactly what our club needed," he said. "We had a great opponent and we found a way. It was good for our guys, we've got a lot of new members who got a taste of what it takes, the work they need to put in and the grit level needed to compete in the AUS."
Christopher Clapperton (Cap d'Espoir, Que.) netted a pair for UNB. Matt Murphy (Woodstock, N.B.), Kris Bennett (Brampton, Ont.), Dylan Willick (Prince George, B.C.) and Tyler Boland (St. John's, N.L) picked up one goal each.
Randy Gazzola (Thorold, Ont.) added three assists.
Alex Dubeau (Mascouche, Que.) made 23 saves in the game to pick up the win
Aaron Berisha (Mississauga, Ont.) and Stephen Johnson (Moncton, N.B.) tallied for Saint Mary's.
"We did not have the night we wanted," said Huskies head Trevor Stienburg. "We had a better showing in Fredericton."
"We believe in each other, and we're going to have to be able to hit the reset button pretty quick to be ready (for the next series)."
Eric Brassard (St. Hubert, Que.) got the start for SMU and was pulled early in the second after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Cole Cheveldave (Calgary, Alta.) came on in relief and gave up three goals on 12 shots.
"I think it's safe to say that our goaltenders struggled tonight," said Stienburg. "They're both great goalies. It's a bit of an anomaly but it is what it is. You don't define anybody by one game."
The pace was fast and frenzied in the first.
Murphy picked a pass off at the SMU blue line and worked a give and go with Boland. Murphy flew in all alone through the left circle and snapped it home low glove.
Trey Lewis (Aldouane, N.B.) picked up a five-minute major and a ten-minute game misconduct for a hit to the head giving SMU an opportunity to take control of the game. UNB used their aggressive kill to smother the Huskies power play. The Varsity Reds generated the best chance of the five-minutes with a Bennett breakaway - Brassard forced him wide.
"We had a miserable time on our power play," said Stienburg.
The shots were close at 8-6 for UNB but it was the Varsity Reds controlling the flow of the game. SMU's shot totals were boosted by nine-minutes on the power play.
UNB exploded on the scoreboard in the second.
Clapperton made it 2-0 just 1:16 into the period. Stephen Anderson (Morell, P.E.I) forced a turnover at the SMU blue-line and it landed on the Stick of Clapperton who took a quick shot that slipped in under the glove.
Bennett pushed it to 3-0 Varsity Reds at the 4:00 mark. Willick picked it up deep in the UNB zone and carried up ice into the SMU zone. He tapped it to Bennett and his shot from the left dot found it's way under the left pad ending Brassard's night.
Willick stretched it to 4-0 UNB at 8:02. Gazzola worked up the right wing wall and got it to Willick inside the Huskie blue line. Willick moved in on goal and snuck it inside the post from a tough angle at the bottom of the right circle.
Clapperton's second of the game made it 5-0 at 14:28. Murphy sent it up the wall in the UNB zone to Gazzola who made a flip pass up ice that sprung Clapperton on a breakaway. He walked in and made a slick move to his backhand.
Berisha put Saint Mary's on the board with a power play goal at 16:19. Coughler sent it to Repaci behind the net. He tapped it to Berisha who picked it up worked out front and sniped just under the bar.
Berisha had a chance at another in the final seconds of the period and Dubeau came up with a pad stack save – perhaps his finest of the night.
It was a sloppy middle period for the Huskies and the third was more of the same.
Boland pushed it to 6-1 with a power play goal 14:01 into the third. Gazzola fed Anderson cutting through the neutral zone and he redirected it with his skate to Boland who flew in up the middle and went backhand shelf from in tight.
Johnson scored on power play with just under two-minutes left. Bronson Beaton (Springhill, N.S.) went across the blue-line to Dylan DiPerna (Nobleton, Ont.) who drove a shot on net and Johnson buried the rebound.
SMU ended up winning the shot battle 25-23 but it was clearly UNB in control throughout.
Up next, the Varsity Reds await the winner of the StFX X-Men and Acadia Axemen series to play for the AUS Championships. The Huskies will play the loser for third in the AUS and a spot at the University Cup. Game five between the X-Men and Axemen is Thursday night in Antigonish, N.S. with a 7:00 p.m. start.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel with nationals in Fredericton this year and we're going to have three battle tested teams from the AUS," said MacDougall.
Photo Nick Pearce