(Halifax, N.S.) The Saint Mary's Huskies are back-to-back AUS Champions.
"It feels awesome," said Huskies head coach Chris Larade. "This is by far and away my favourite part as a coach, not the winning just seeing people get rewarded for doing the right thing all year."
"I can't describe how proud I am of the girls. We faced a lot more adversary than we did last year, had a lot of injuries, the flu bug hit us pretty hard and I'm just so proud of them for coming through."
The Huskies picked up a 3-2 win over the StFX X-Women in triple overtime in the decisive Game-three of the best-of-three Subway AUS Championship finals at Alumni Arena.
"To me if anyone in the rink here didn't like that hockey game, they don't know what hockey is about," said Larade.
"It's quality play and it's pretty obvious that it could've gone either way. X is a great, great program. They're well coached and hopefully both us and X will be able to do some damage at nationals."
Gemma MacDonald (Blooming Poin,t P.E.I.) became a Huskies legend with the game winner 7:17 into the third overtime frame.
"It feels incredible," she said. "It was a total team effort."
"It was insane. Our coach kept telling us 'you're having so much fun, it's not stressful it's fun and that's the game of hockey.' It was such a great experience."
Rebecca Clark (Keswick, Ont.) and Ariana Orasanin (Ancaster, Ont.) were both sensational in goal. They battled each other save for save as overtime kept rolling on.
Clark finished with 43 saves in the victory.
"It's pretty amazing, I'm not going to lie, it's like unbelievably amazing" she said with a laugh. "It can't really get any bigger than this, I mean nationals is amazing but we just won AUS."
"It was unreal. The crowd was loud. I think that's the loudest crowd I've ever played in front of. It was awesome, just so much fun. It was nerve racking but just so much fun."
Orasanin made 51 saves in the loss.
Jenna MacDonald (Osgoode Ont.) and Daley Oddy (Cranbrooke B.C.) tallied for the X-Women.
"We started the season at three and five and found our identity probably late in the first half and early in the second half and we just worked and we did that tonight," said X-Women head coach David Synishin.
"Spoke to the players afterwards and we can't as coaches ask for any more. We had our opportunities just as SMU did."
The atmosphere in the rink was electric as fans from both sides enthusiastically cheered on their teams. Chants of Go-X-Go and S-M-U battled back and forth throughout.
Manning opened the scoring 4:40 into the game. She grabbed the puck at the Huskies blue line and flipped it up ice looking to connect with Breanna Lanceleve (Middle Sackville, N.S.).
The pass was broken up but Manning jumped on the puck again just inside the X-Women blue line. She worked through the left circle and made a toe-drag to wrister move that she buried low blocker.
Jenna MacDonald tied it at 1-1 on the power-play with 1:02 left to go in the first. Lindsey Donovan (Miramichi N.B.) carried the puck into the Huskies zone on the left wing.
She wheeled around behind the net and up the right wall before feeding Nicole Halladay (Smith Falls, Ont.) at the top of the left circle. Halladay sent a one-timer on goal and the rebound went right to Jenna MacDonald at the side of the net and she buried it.
Oddy made it 2-1 X-Women 6:49 into the third. Sarah Bujold (Riverview N.B.) picked up the puck in the right corner and sent it back to Halladay on the point.
Halladay wound up and fired on goal and Oddy got her stick on it in the slot to redirect it five-hole.
Blanche got it back to even 10:34 into the third. Hannah Askin (Waterloo Ont.) jumped up on the puck in the neutral zone, carried it into the X-Women zone and wrung it around the wall.
Blanche got on it in the left corner and drove hard to the front of the net. She was able to cut across the goal-mouth and lift it in glove side.
The overtime action was frenzied and intense, with end-to-end action as the two teams traded chances.
Orasanin made a couple of huge saves in the middle of first overtime period.
Askin saved the game for the Huskies when she picked the puck off the line with just 25-seconds left in the first overtime.
The X-Women went on the power-play twice in the second overtime and Clark made a flurry of big saves during each.
"If you're going to be successful on the penalty-kill your goalie's got to be your best penalty killer," said Larade. "That was no exception tonight. [Clark] is just an exceptional person who gives the rest of our girls so much confidence."
The wild back and forth action carried on into the third overtime where Gemma MacDonald made history.
Askin got the puck in behind the Huskies net and made a breakout pass to Laura Polak on the left wing. Polak raced up ice and into the X-Women zone where she made a feed to Gemma MacDonald in the high left slot.
She took a stride to the hash-marks and ripped a wrister high glove side just inside the post and was quickly mobbed by her teammates in celebration.
"It feels awesome there's no words to really describe it," said Huskies captain Lanceleve. "I think it starts all the way back in September when we started training hard. We did it last year and we knew what it took and we just kept pounding it to them today."
"StFX is an amazing team and an amazing program, it could have went either way. Just reminding each other how far we've come and that we were all in today together is what made us get the winner."
The X-Women were one for four on the power-play, while the Huskies went zero for three.
Shots were 54-45 for the Huskies.
"I think that's a great showcase for female hockey overall with those two teams, it was a faced paced game in a small rink," said Synishin. "As a coaching staff we were having fun."
"It was a great game to be a part of."
Siobhan Birch (Mississauga, Ont.) of the Huskies was named AUS Playoff MVP after the game.
FYI that last night's AUS final was the second longest game in AUS women's hockey history.
- 49:30 of OT (109:30 total): Moncton 2 at UPEI 1 (3 OT) (Feb. 21, 2014, Charlottetown, PE)
- 37:17 of OT (97:17 total): StFX 2 at Saint Mary's 3 (3 OT) (March 7, 2017, Halifax, N.S.)
- 31:39 of OT (91:39 total): StFX 1 at Saint Mary's 2 (3 OT) (March 1, 2016, Halifax, N.S.)
Both the X-Women and the Huskies will represent the AUS at the U-Sports Women's Hockey Championship on March 16-19 hosted by Queens University.
"Our league has made each of us stronger," said Synishin. "We're a little more battle tested going [to nationals] and I think eventually, whether it's this year or not, you're going to see two AUS teams medal at the same nationals."
"It was a game that I think was certainly beneficial to both of us heading into nationals."
By Cam Honey-Webb, SMU Communications
Photo Nick Pearce