AUS Semi Final: No. 10 X-Men defeat No. 2 V-Reds 3-2 to sweep series
ANTIGONISH, NS - The brooms came out at the StFX Keating Centre Tuesday night in Antigonish, NS, as the CIS No. 10 ranked StFX X-Men knocked off the No. 2 ranked UNB Varsity Reds by a score of 3-2 to sweep the best 3-of-5 AUS semifinal playoff series in front of a packed house of close to 1,800 clad in blue and white.
No one could have predicted the three-game sweep, as the Varsity Reds entered the series as the CIS ranked No. 1 team in the country, having been ranked in the top spot since the season opened, save for this week's rankings when they dipped to No. 2.
The X-Men nabbed No. 10 in the rankings, their first time back in the CIS Top 10 since November.
StFX was lead by some clutch goaltending by freshman Bryan Gillis throughout the series, along with tough defense and penalty killing against the relentless V-Reds.
"The difference in the series was how our guys put forth a total team effort," commented X-Men head coach Brad Peddle after the game. "We were able to capitalize on mistakes, make the right plays at the right times and I give credit to my team as they didn't get rattled. We stayed focused and stuck to our game plan. UNB is a very good team so we are obviously very excited about the win."
"We had a tremendous effort in this series from a lot of the unsung heroes on the team, the guys who night after night put forth their best effort, be it killing penalties, blocking shots or laying their bodies on the line to get it done, but those are the guys who step up when we need them to win games."
It turned out that 3-2 is the magic score for the X-Men, as Tuesday's win marked the fifth consecutive playoff game the X-Men have won by that margin. They took Games 1 and 2 in Fredericton by 3-2 scores, along with 3-2 wins in each of their quarterfinal games against the UPEI Panthers.
Game 3 featured the X-Men jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the game. Rob Warner scored the first X-Men goal 8:17 into the first period, following up on a rebound to fire the puck into the open UNB net past netminder Travis Fullerton. Kurt Jerrett and Tyson Aitcheson assisted on the play. The Varsity Reds out shot the X-Men 11-3 in the opening period and had their scoring chances, however the X-Men took the 1-0 lead into the locker room for the first intermission.
The home team increased that lead to 2-0 after two periods of play, the lone goal coming shorthanded off the stick of StFX forward Matthew Bragg. Brett Morrison brought the puck up ice and passed it across the slot to Bragg who made no mistake on the 2-on-1 chance with the X-Men down a man.
The X-Men fought off four Varsity Reds penalties in the second period and also managed to out shoot them by a 15-8 margin.
The top-ranked team did not go down without a fight however, and launched a third period comeback.
Chris Culligan scored 3:03 into the third with two seconds left in a Varsity Reds power-play. The puck bounced onto his stick and he fired it high past Gillis to cut the score in half. Luke Lynes and Bretton Stamler earned the assists. The goal marked the first power play marker of the series for the V-Reds, who were 0-for-10 in extra man opportunities in the previous two games.
UNB continued their third period pressure and thought they had scored the tying goal with 7:34 left to play but Gillis stacked the pads to keep the puck out of the X net. Their persistence did pay off, however, as Lachlan MacIntosh jumped on a loose puck in front of the StFX net with 5:34 left to play and netted it past Gillis. Jordan Clendenning got the helper.
Just 44 seconds after the MacIntosh goal, and amidst chants of 'Go X Go' ringing throughout the Keating Centre, X-Men were able to create traffic and apply pressure in front of the UNB net and forward Phil Mangan plucked the puck form the crowd, found an open lane and fired home what would hold up to be the game-winner past a screened Fullerton. Bryce Swan picked up the assist.
StFX kept up their strong penalty killing efforts as the Varsity Reds had another man-advantage late in the game. Luke Gallant and Jonathan Harty each had good shots on net to try and notch the tying goal for the Varsity Reds to force a Game 4, but Gillis held his ground.
Fullerton was pulled with 1:05 left to play in favor of the UNB extra attacker but it was not to be for the Varsity Reds as they saw their 27-1-0 regular season fall apart as the final buzzer sounded.
Their one regular season loss also came at the hands of the X-Men, a 4-3 StFX victory back on Feb. 12th, the second-to-last game of the season.
Bryan Gillis earned the nod as the Subway Player of the Game, making 31 saves in the StFX net. He posted 91 total saves in the three games against the Varsity Reds.
UNB finished Game 3 with a 33-23 shot advantage over StFX and closed out the series with a 95-54 advantage. The X-Men penalty killers held them to 1-for-18 on the power play over the three games, while they were 2-12 in power play opportunities themselves.
With the 3-0 semi-final series win the X-Men will have a bit of a rest as they await their opponent for the upcoming best-of-five AUS final series. They will take on either the second seeded Acadia Axemen or third seeded Saint Mary's Huskies. The Huskies currently lead their series 2-1 over Axemen as play resumes Wednesday night in Halifax.
The AUS final series may have a scheduling quirk as StFX University is set to host the CIS Women's Ice Hockey Championship March 11-14 at the Keating Centre.
The X-Men, seeded fifth in the regular season will not have home ice advantage for the final and will start the championship series on the road. Games 3 and 4 are likely to be played after the women's hockey national championship back in Antigonish.
The AUS has until March 20th to declare their conference champion, with the winner advancing to the CIS championship March 25-28th at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, ON.
Story courtesy of StFX Sports Information