FREDERICTON – Friday night was hockey night in Fredericton as 3310 fans came out to the Aitken University Centre to watch the top-ranked University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds skate to a 5-2 win over cross-campus rivals St. Thomas Tommies in the 178th edition of the Battle of the Hill.. Tyler Carroll led the V-Reds offence with a hat-trick and an assist, while linemates Chris Culligan had four assists and Cam Braes added a goal and an assist on opening night for the Atlantic University Sport men's hockey season.
There were two ceremonies to start the game, with first UNB raising their 12th AUS banner and then a special ceremony for presentations of Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals by the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and MP for Fredericton, Lieutenant Governor Graydon Nicholas, Hon. Troy Lifford representing Premier Alward, Mayor Brad Woodside, and UNB President Eddy Campbell to eight deserving Canadians: UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall, economist Dr. Constantine Passaris, former NHLer and STU coach Mike Eagles, NHL star Danny Grant, Paralympian Hal Merrill, local baseball coach Billy Saunders, baseball star Matt Stairs and broadcaster Dave Morrell.
It didn't take long for the home team to get on the scoreboard after the puck dropped. At 1:22 Colby Pridham (Alberton, PE) kept the puck in the offensive zone and threaded a pass through to Thomas Nesbitt (Ottawa, ON) in behind the STU defence. The second-year forward had then had all the time in the world to go forehand – backhand on rookie Tommies netminder Jonathan Groenheyde (Surrey, BC). At 4:44 STU had a five-on-three power play when Tyler Carroll (Strathroy, ON) was called for interference while helping kill off a slashing penalty to Pridham. The Tommies had two good scoring chances, but couldn't get the puck past Travis Fullerton (Riverview, NB). At 7:20 UNB had their first power play, and right off his faceoff win in the Tommies zone newly christened UNB captain Chris Culligan (Howie Center, NS) fed the puck to Carroll who sped through the STU defenders and scored with some nice puck juggling past the surprised Groenheyde.
Tommies veteran Mike Reich made a nice play on a UNB turnover, but his puck clanged off the outside of the far post at 9:30. Reich did get his goal at 16:28 when UNB got caught running around a bit in their own zone and the Craik, SK native sniped the inside of the other post. UNB restored their two-goal lead a couple of minutes later when Culligan zigzagged his way into the Tommies zone, and after drawing all the green shirts to him, threaded a pass back to the rushing Carroll who had a wide open lane to pick the top corner.
UNB extended their lead at 7:30 of the second period when rookie Cam Braes (Shawinigan Lake, BC) got in behind the STU defence, thanks to crisp passes from Culligan and Carroll, and was able to go backhand-forehand-in as he skated across the front of the Tommies net. Carroll received a bizarre delay of game penalty at 12:55 when his high clearing pass bounced of the centre ice clock, and then Cam Critchlow (Summerside,PE) tripped up his faceoff opponent on the penalty kill to hand STU another 5-on-3 man advantage for 64 seconds. The Tommies moved the puck around well and Stephen Sanza (London, ON) deflected in a Felix Poulin (Ste-Julie, QC) point shot at 14:19. Late in the period UNB was on the attack in the Tommies zone when referee Thayer Doyle whistled play down to assess Carroll a ten-minute misconduct, apparently for chirping.
The V-Reds really controlled play in the third period, limiting the Tommies to only two shots on goal. Carroll's adventures continued. He picked up a slashing penalty seconds after sitting out his misconduct, and then after that penalty kill UNB was soon on the power play and who else but Carroll was in the right spot for a tap-in goal after passes from Culligan and Daine Todd (Stettler,AB).
Shots in the third period were 12-2 for UNB and 34-19 in the game. UNB was 2-for-4 on the power play while STU was 1-for-5 with the man advantage. The V-Reds edged the Tommies 39-31 in faceoff wins in the game.
Tommies head coach Troy Ryan was frustrated with his team's play in the loss, and especially how they got away from their systems. “I think you get a situation where you get a bunch of guys that get on different pages and every year they think they're going to move up that ladder on a team and now I'm going to be an offensive guy because so-and-so is gone and what you end up having is ... we have some guys that could be good players if they stay within our structure but they got off on their own pitch tonight, and that's how ugly it can get. We were lucky to keep it 5-2 to be honest.” Looking forward to Saturday's game against UPEI, Ryan added bluntly, “We won't win the hockey game if we don't play the structure. We don't have that type of talent. I don't know when they're going to get it through their thick heads that they're not that talented of a team.”
Ryan was appreciative of those Tommies who threw their bodies in front of many shots from UNB's heavy shooters, and he “felt bad” for his rookie netminder Groenheyde. “Those guys (UNB) are going to score on any goalie in the league when they are given those opportunities. You just want your goalie to give you a chance to win. He was put in a bad situation and honestly good teams don't put goalies in that situation, especially goalies in their first year. You know he's from out west, he's come here and he doesn't know really what he's getting himself into. He's never seen UNB play. He understands they have talent. And then we give up point blank turnovers in the slot.”
For the game's first star Tyler Carroll it was “a good win, especially a rival like STU, and it was good for us to get off on a good start.” While he played most of last season with Chris Culligan, who is now his roommate as well, new right winger Cam Braes “is just a great addition to our line. We seemed to click pretty well in the preseason and that's carried over to tonight.”
For UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall, “the foundation tonight, any time you can get the lead I think it is important and it's going to be important in this league this year ... to get leads, protect them and try to extend them was the key to our group tonight. We got an early lead, a good powerplay goal early there, a couple of big kills on the five-on-three situations.”
UNB will host provincial rival Moncton on Saturday while STU will travel to the Island to play UPEI.
Game Notes: The three game stars were 1.Tyler Carroll 2.Chris Culligan 3. Jonathan Groenheyde. With a guaranteed payout minimum of $5000, the 50/50 prize ended up being well over $7000 for a lucky winner. The victory was the 32nd straight UNB victory over the Tommies in a winning streak dating back to a 3-1 loss on October 20, 2006. It was also the 24th consecutive V-Reds home opener win since a 6-5 overtime loss to Saint Mary's on November 5th, 1988.