Hockey V-Reds use great start in 5-3 win versus StFX

Hockey V-Reds use great start in 5-3 win versus StFX
FREDERICTON – Friday night the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds jumped out to an early lead and withstood the pushback from the StFX X-Men for a 5-3 win in men’s hockey action. The two nationally ranked teams were tied for second place in the tight AUS conference standings going into the game, just one point back of Moncton, and the loss drops StFX into a tie for fourth place with Saint Mary’s.

After giving up the first goal in both games in Nova Scotia last weekend, the V-Reds were looking to change it up back at home in front of 2437 fans at the Aitken University Centre. And they did just that, scoring three goals on ten shots in the first 7:11 of the game, all before their opponents registered their first shot on goal. Geordie Wudrick (Abbotsford, BC) was in behind the StFX defence when he took a great outlet pass from Taylor MacDougall (New Maryland, NB) and had the time and space to go forehand-backhand-fivehole on rookie X netminder Drew Owsley (Lethbridge, AB) at 1:49. Three minutes later it was Chris Culligan (Howie Center, NS) banging home the rebound after linemate Tyler Carroll (Strathroy, ON) got the puck away from a StFX breakout and drove back into the offensive zone. Two minutes after that it was defenceman Adrian Robertson (Mississauga, ON) being allowed to waltz in from the blue line and snap a seeing-eye shot past Owsley. Interestingly, it was the first goals of the season for all three V-Reds.

StFX head coach Brad Peddle elected to use his timeout after the third goal to settle down his team and refocus their play. Just over nine minutes into the first period the X-Men got their first shot on net as they finally got their legs going, and a UNB gaffe led to their first goal at 11:45. Marc-Antoine Desnoyers (St.Hippolyte, QC) attempted to pass across the UNB zone to his defensive partner and inadvertently put the puck right on the stick of forechecking X-Men Steven Kuhn (Oyen, AB). The first-year forward quickly put the gift puck past surprised UNB netminder Daniel LaCosta (Labrador City, NL).

After one period the home side was up 3-1 and outshooting StFX 17-5. The second period was a different matter as the V-Reds took a string of penalties. During their third penalty kill at 13:47, defenceman Chad Denny (Eskasoni, NS) batted a puck out of the air into the neutral zone and was whistled for closing his hand on the puck, giving the X-Men a five-on-three advantage for 62 seconds. This quickly became a five-on-two stick advantage when Culligan lost his in the neutral zone. UNB survived the scare, and less than 30 seconds after Denny got out of the box the big d-man was on the left point when he one-timed a bouncing puck with a howitzer shot that blew right past Owsley. It is the second time in two games against StFX that Denny has scored with his big slapshot, arguably the heaviest in the AUS. UNB had a power play to close out the second period, and although they showed great puck control in the StFX zone, as much as they moved the puck around they couldn’t find a clear shooting lane through the X defenders.

UNB had the territorial edge in the early part of the third period and around the nine minute mark appeared to score on a Denny point shot through a crowd. The puck bounced around the crease and looked to have crossed the line near the far post, but the goal light never went on. The referee did not indicate a goal either and there is no video goal review in the AUS.  Soon after, Thomas Nesbitt (Ottawa, ON) slashed the stick out of an X-Men’s hands and UNB was shorthanded once again. Late in the StFX power play at 11:01 Jarrad Struthers (Glace Bay, NS) fired a shot from the top of the right circle that LaCosta could only get a piece of. That goal seemed to give the X-Men life, and just 32 second later Brad Cuzner (Glace Bay, NS) put the puck under the UNB crossbar to draw the visitors within a goal. Time flew by in the third period and the X-Men elected to pull Owsley with 1:26 to play and the faceoff deep in the UNB zone. However despite losing a couple of key faceoffs the V-Reds eventually got control of the puck and Culligan was able to feed Matt Fillier (Durham, NS) for an empty net goal at 19:48 to secure the win.

Final shots were 40-27 for UNB, who only edged StFX 23-22 in the final 40 minutes. The V-Reds were 0-for-3 on the power play while the X-Men were 1-for-5 with the man advantage. UNB won 40 of 62 on the faceoff dot, with Cam Braes leading all centres on the night, winning 11 of 15.

“I’d like to take the first ten out of it. For 50 minutes it was a pretty good game,” said coach Peddle outside his team’s dressing room. He added, “But, it’s got to be a learning lesson. I thought the first couple of shifts we got in their end and had some pressure, but then they got a break and scored but we didn’t respond well to that. But that’s why the timeout. We addressed some things after that.”

Not surprisingly, UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall liked his team’s fast start. “You want to try to take advantage of your home rink. I thought we had a really efficient first ten [minutes]. But I thought we dipped a little bit after the timeout. We had one good shift there, but ...” He continued, “The ten minutes was as good a first ten minutes. The second [period] obviously we had to use a lot of energy killing [penalties]. I thought we had a pretty solid start to the third. The one goal that looked like it was in wouldn’t have made a big difference, 5-1, but, you know what, you need those opportunities when you have a one goal lead as well. It’s now how you do it. You want to accomplish and find a way to get the two points. Every night’s a different scenario.”

UNB captain Chris Culligan seemed to be on the same page as his coach. “We wanted to come out with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy, and I think we did that. We had a great start, the first ten minutes. Even when they called the timeout, the first shift after we had another good chance. For whatever reason we kind of tailed off a bit; gave them a little bit of a chance to get back in the game with penalties and stuff like that which has been an issue for us. But we know games like that will build character and going through that adversity is just a learning lesson for us so it is great to come up on top in those games.”

The three game stars were: 1. Chris Culligan 2. Geordie Wudrick 3. Matt Fillier.

Now 5-2-0, UNB will host 4-3-0 Saint Mary’s Saturday night at the AUC while StFX, also 4-3-0,  will travel to Charlottetown to play 3-3-1 UPEI.