FREDERICTON – Despite outshooting their opponent by a large margin, the University of New Brunswick men's hockey team required a third period goal from Chris Culligan to edge the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes 3-2 in a Sunday afternoon exhibition game.
It was a humid early autumn day in Fredericton, with the 96% humidity at game time making it not feel like hockey weather at all for the 1356 who gathered at the Aitken University Centre. The game got off to a great start, with UQTR goalie Marc-Antoine Gélinas forced to make a save off Tyler Carroll on partial break at the first minute mark, and then just a minute later UNB's Dan LaCosta was forced to come up big against Tommy Tremblay at the other end of the ice.
UNB's strong forecheck drew UQTR into two early penalties in their own zone -- Raphael Boudreau at 5:14 for holding followed by Maxime Robichaud with a tripping call at 6:57 to create 17 seconds of 5-on-3 action for UNB. The V-Reds didn't cash in, but shots on goal favoured the home team 11-2 midway through first period. Les Patriotes had an opportunity to stem the momentum when UNB's Antoine Houde-Caron was called for holding in offensive zone at 9:59. However, the best scoring chance for either team was a shorthanded effort by Chris Culligan, and power play evaporated with 29 seconds to go when Olivier Hotte was called for interference in the UNB zone.
UNB's own power play didn't go well either, with Houde-Caron called again for being over-aggressive in the UQTR zone resulting in both the teams with four skaters aside on the ice. Soon after V-Red Nick MacNeil was stopped twice shorthanded trying to go short side on Gélinas during the eventful UQTR power play.
The game's first goal came at 15:19 when UNB rookie Cam Braes was in tight to the net and went backhand-forehand on Gélinas after a good cycle by UNB . Assists on the goal went to Daine Todd and Geordie Wudrick. Shots were 14-6 in favour of UNB at end of the first 20 minutes
The second period got off to an exciting start with a breakaway 30 seconds in by Olivier Donovan, who jumped on loose puck in neutral zone and raced to the UNB net but couldn't beat LaCosta along the ice. Soon after killing off a penalty where the V-Reds had several scoring chances, les Patriotes tied it up at 10:06. After some good corner work, Tommy Tremblay fed the puck to Felix Petit, who was left unmolested in the slot and beat LaCosta with a quick shot.
UQTR was killing off yet another penalty at 11:27 when Wudrick was tripped on his way into the UQTR zone by Olivier Dallaire to create a full minute of 5-on-3 power play time. UNB took just 12 seconds to score with this advantage as Daine Todd skated in just to left of the net to beat Gélinas. The V-Reds were still on the the powerplay and had a missed opportunity to go up by two goals when Braes' shot rang off the goal post at 12:52. Seconds later UQTR's Pierre-Luc Lessard was down on his knees after a scrum in front of the net fighting for the puck. He suffered a facial injury that forced home to leave the game.
Les Patriotes came close to tying the game again at 16:47 when LaCosta made a good save on a partial break by Olivier Donovan. UQTR finished the second period on a power play hat extended into the third period after Thomas Nesbitt was whistled for a late hit along the boards
Although they didn't score, the visitors were soon back on the power play when Marc-Antoine Desnoyers was called for roughing. This led to what would have been an awful flukey power play goal for UQTR being called back. As LaCosta came out of his net to play the puck on the dump-in, it changed direction suddenly and raced LaCosta back to the now-empty net. Fortunately for the UNB netminder the referee waved off the goal, saying the puck had bounced off him along the side boards.
UQTR did score a goal that counted to tie the game at 6:57 of the third period when Maxime Paquet-Gravel took advantage of a UNB turnover in the neutral zone to race in and take LaCosta across his crease before beating him inside the far post. UNB retook the lead at 10:18 when Tyler Carroll retrieved the puck behind the UQTR net and fed the puck to Chris Culligan in the low slot who in turn snapped a quick shot past the surprised Patriotes goalie.
UQTR made a strong push at the end of the game, but just as Gélinas came out of the net in the last minute for an extra attacker Paquet-Gravel was called for holding in the UNB zone. With around 15 seconds to go the UQTR goalie started to come out of the net again, but he was forced to retreat and make a toe save off UNB's Carroll.
UNB outshot UQTR 34-18 in the 3-2 victory, but only by a 8-7 margin in the the final period. The V-Reds were 1-for-7 on the power play while les Patriotes were 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
Coming into the game UQTR had played UNB nine times over the last eleven years, with the V-Reds holding a 9-1-1 record in those games, including a lopsided 6-1 drubbing in their last meeting March 22 at the AUC during the CIS University Cup. The rivalry is all new for new UQTR head coach Gilles Bouchard, taking over behind the Patriotes bench for long-time coach Jacques Laporte. “Today we had some problems with the board work. We had some problems to make sure to get the puck out of our zone. It was a big problem in this game. The whole team was missing cohesion. Maybe because we played two big games at PEI, maybe. It is possible for us to play better the next time.” UQTR was playing their third game in three days, coming off back to back wins (3-2 & 4-1) over the UPEI Panthers on the Island.
For his part, UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall thought his team “had a much better jump to start the game. We set a good foundation in our first ten minutes, eleven to two shots against and one big save when we needed it. Second (period) I thought for the most part was pretty good but I thought we could have been a little better in the third.” Regarding the team goal for constant improvement, MacDougall said, “I like the group a lot better on Sunday than we did on Monday.”
V-Reds veteran centre Chris Culligan isn't ready to offer a rating his team after three preseason games. “There's definitely some room for growth. We lost I think nine guys from last year, a lot of big role guys. So it is going to be a bit of an adjustment and you know right now we're welcoming different guys coming in and take on some new roles. I like how guys are playing. Braes is really standing out right now to come in and play that much. He's doing really well.”
UNB recruit Cam Braes has now scored in each of his first three games in a Varsity Reds uniform, and appears to be adjusting nicely to play in the AUS. “It's different obviously. A little bit faster and the guys are a little bit older and stronger. It's definitely an adjustment, but so far I've liked it. We've got a good group of guys on the team and they've made the transition pretty easy for me. So far I've enjoyed it but I know once regular season starts things will get brought up even another notch.” The British Columbia native did point out one disadvantage to studying and playing in the Maritimes, “I've got a lot of text messages like three in the morning from buddies back home. It is eleven o'clock back home but they don't realize it is three o'clock or three-thirty here.”
UNB will continue their exhibition season with a pair of games in Montreal next weekend: Friday evening versus the CIS Champion McGill Redmen and Saturday afternoon against the Concordia Stingers.