V-Reds secure 1st place with 4-2 win over Axemen

V-Reds secure 1st place with 4-2 win over Axemen
Fresh off back-to-back wins over Team Russia last week, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds men's hockey team were back to regular season play Friday night at the Aitken Centre against the Acadia Axemen.

Coming into the game one point behind the Axemen in Atlantic University Sport standings, UNB took down the No.2 Axemen 4-2, to take over the top spot in the AUS.

Nick MacNeil netted two goals for the V-Reds, including one empty-netter, with Colby Pridham assisting on both.
MacNeil opened the scoring in the first period, as UNB capitalized on an Andrew Clark hooking penalty. Daine Todd started the play, skating hard up the middle of the ice into Acadia's zone. Just after he crossed the blue line he reversed a drop pass to a trailing Pridham, who quickly fed a streaking MacNeil along the side boards.

MacNeil made no mistake firing a quick snap shot, beating Axemen goaltender Evan Mosher short-side and waist high for his sixth goal of the year.

But the AUS' second most penalized team fell into a quick 5-on-3, as 30 seconds after Thomas Nesbitt picked up a minor for slashing, the V-Reds were called for too many men, giving Acadia a two-man advantage for a minute and a half.

After Jordan Laberge fed Christopher Owens for a one-timer, which UNB netminder Travis Fullerton stopped, Mike Cozzola was on the doorstep to bury the equalizer.

Acadia weren't done on the power play as late in the period after an Antoine Houde-Caron interference penalty, Liam Heelis jumped on a loose rebound from a Cozzola shot, giving the Axemen a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Midway through the second period, UNB tied it up with Cam Critchlow redirecting a Ben Shutron point shot for his fourth of the year.

Later in the third period, UNB fell into more penalty trouble, but managed to make the most of their penalty kill. While clearing the zone, Adrian Robertson flipped a Hail Mary pass through the neutral zone, springing Tyler Carroll on a footrace for a loose puck. Carroll won the race over Cullen Morin, and quickly snapped a shot short-side past Mosher, giving UNB the 3-2 lead.

In the final two minutes of the game, Todd was sent off for slashing, giving Acadia a 6-on-4 with their goalie pulled. However Nick MacNeil sealed the win, backhanding the puck into the empty net after a clearing attempt by Pridham, sealing the 4-2 win.

That was the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this regular season, with both teams sharing similar head-to-head stats. Both teams won their respective home games, while UNB has outscored Acadia 12-11 over the four games.

V-Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall said that his team knew coming into the game that it would be close, and noted that along with Acadia, there are many other teams to be reckoned with.

"Whoever comes out of the AUS this year [to go to nationals] will be battle-hardened," said MacDougall. "It's important to play those minutes and get one-goal leads and protect and expand on them."

Meanwhile Carroll, who also scored the game-winner the last time Acadia played in the Aitken Centre, said while it felt like a playoff game, he found his team came out strong after almost a month-long break.

"That's a tough game to come back to after the break," said Carroll. "We've only been back at it for a week and a half but we put together a good effort and pulled out the win."

Newly acquired Varsity Reds defenseman Tim Priamo made his regular season debut with UNB on Friday, picking up an assist on Critchlow's goal, while the V-Reds outshot the Axemen 32-23. Dion Campbell also made his return to the V-Reds lineup Friday night. The fifth-year walk-on played four seasons with UNB, before opting to sit out the first half of the season to focus on his education program.

UNB also acquired goaltender and Fredericton native Jon Waye, who dressed as a backup to Travis Fullerton.

Paid attendance at the Aitken Centre was 2,406.