On a chilly Saturday night in front of over 3000 fans, the University of New Brunswick men's hockey team defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies 3-1 in a hard-fought exciting contest for their ninth win in a row in Atlantic University Sport conference play.
It was Military Appreciation Night at the Aitken University Centre to recognize the service, sacrifice and support of everyone at the Canadian Forces base just down the road in nearby Oromoto. In honour of the several hundred Canadian Forces members (in their distinctive green CADPAT camouflage uniforms) and their families in attendance, the V-Reds wore custom sweaters in a red and black digital camo pattern with the new 5th Canadian Division Support Group insignia on the shoulders. The jerseys will only be worn for the one game, and then sold to fans as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors fund and the Gagetown Military Family Resource Centre.
After a short pregame on-ice concert by the 2RCR pipe band, Colonel Jim Goodman, Commander of 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown (what had historically been called "Base Gagetown"), Col. Mike Nixon, Commander of the Combat Training Centre, and Lt. Col. Andrew Lussier, commanding officer of Personnel Support Services were joined for the ceremonial puck drop by UNB president Dr. Eddy Campbell and Dr. Wayne Albert, Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology. Interestingly, Lt. Col. Lussier played hockey for UNB for one season, 1986-87, before leaving university to pursue a military career.
Once play got underway, it was the speed and intensity you expect from familiar rivals in a UNB-SMU hockey game. The Varsity Reds had the early pressure, but on their first power play the Huskies forced V-Reds goaltender David Shantz to make several big saves. UNB's best scoring chance came late in the period, and paid off with a goal, when Maillet, from in tight, got hold of the rebound from an Adrian Robertson point shot and deposited it in the far corner past Huskies netminder Anthony Peters.
While UNB dominated the shot clock 15-4 in the first period, the tables turned in the second period. The Varsity Reds got into penalty trouble, and the Huskies made the most of it. Seventeen seconds away from killing off their second penalty of the period, UNB earned another delayed penalty and in the confusion Matt Tipoff was able to shovel a rebound under Shantz at 8:31 to tie the game up. Despite the 15-9 shot margin in favour of the Huskies in the period, UNB escaped giving up only the one goal.
The second intermission apparently worked out well for the home side, as they come out flying in the third period. It only took 85 seconds for Maillet to work the puck into the corner, draw the Huskies defence to him, and then thread a quick pass to centre Fraser in the low slot, who in turn flicked the puck to trailer Halley who buried it in the open side of the net.
The rest of the period saw UNB dominate the possession game for the most part, with Shantz coming up strong when needed. It wasn't until the final seconds of the game that Fraser was able to hit the empty net and salt away the victory.
UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall was understandably happy with the victory.
"It was a strong conclusion to a special week. It's a sprint in the AUS in the second half the way the schedule works into the playoffs. We knew this would be a key week. If you count Sunday as the first day of the week, we had four games in seven days. It was a good test for a lot of different things."
"I think anytime you have success you go to the goaltending position," MacDougall added. "I thought Chris Carrozzi really started us off positive in Moncton. He had a shutout and played really, really well and then Shantz took the ball and really rode it the last three games. Both of them have found new levels which is important. The whole secret of success is continuous improvement."
Philippe Maillet downplayed his great play on the winning goal. "It's just right place, right moment. I got the puck in the neutral zone and then Dana [Fraser] went to the net well and he made a really nice pass to Phil [Halley] and it worked pretty well."
Asked about the successful chemistry of adding newcomer Fraser to his line, Maillet said "I think we're three smart players and we know to find space and we're obviously capable of putting it in the net, too."
Maillet now leads the AUS points race with 29 points and is riding a 14-game point streak (16 games if you count the two exhibition games against Windsor for the Pete Kelly Cup).
Immediately after the game the Varsity Reds invited all of their military guests down to the ice for a big group photo with the team.
With the win, 17-2-2 UNB maintains their hold on first place, three points ahead of Acadia in the AUS standings, and now seven points in front of third place Saint Mary's.
Next weekend the V-Reds make their final Nova Scotia road trip of the regular season, playing Dalhousie Tigers on Friday and the Acadia Axemen on Saturday.
The Huskies play next when they host the Axemen on January 21 at 7pm.
David Kilfoil for UNB Sports Information.
Photo courtesy Brian Smith.