By almost all accounts, Friday night's game between the No.3 Acadia Axemen and the No.4 UNB Varsity Reds was nothing short of an Atlantic University Sport playoff game.
UNB erased two, one-goal deficits – both times from Tom Nesbitt – and held on to a 5-3 win in front of a sold-out Aitken University Centre on South Side Elementary School night.
Cam Critchlow scored the game winner midway through the third period, tailing a Marc-Antoine Desnoyers breakaway and netting the rebound, and captain Chris Culligan sealed the win with his 50th career goal – a shorthanded, top corner wrist shot over Evan Mosher's shoulder.
"You know what, I didn't know about [the 50th goal] until the AUS tweeted at me and jinxed me for a couple games," Culligan said, chuckling. "Obviously it was a big goal to get the insurance. There was a lot of emotion in the game so I was pretty happy with it."
Philippe Maillet opened the scoring late in the first period, taking a stretch pass from Culligan, regained his balance, and beat Mosher over the pad with a backhand for his eighth of the year.
Acadia answered with 47 seconds to go in the first as Mike Cozzola buried a rebound off a shot from Liam Heelis.
The Axemen took their first lead of the game three minutes into the second period as Tyler Ferry got a stick on another loose rebound, but a minute later Nesbitt tied it buried a rebound of his own to tie it 2-2.
Heelis put Acadia up again six minutes into the third, capitalizing on a bad turnover by UNB in its own zone, but Nesbitt bailed them out with his second of the game tying it again, this time only 14 seconds later.
UNB regained the lead shortly after with Critchlow's seventh of the season, and Culligan sealed the win with his second point of the night, stretching his team lead to 23.
"It's an exciting game. A great opponent, two quality teams. It's a testament to CIS hockey," said UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall. "Chris had a good goal. He played hard all night. It was a key goal for us but that's what he brings to our group. You go as your leaders go."
The loss was Acadia's first to UNB this season and Axemen head coach Darren Burns said it all came down to them making more mistakes.
"That's all there is to it," Burns said. "I thought our guys played extremely hard. Let's face it, some games we've been getting [those bounces] and tonight we didn't. That's hockey."
The Varsity Reds are back on home ice Saturday night against the Dalhousie Tigers. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. at the Aitken Centre.
Nick Murray for UNB Sports Information
Photo credit Brian Smith