The UNB Varsity Reds men's hockey team has clinched first place finish in the ultra-competitive AUS for the eighth straight season and a first-round play-off bye for the ninth straight year with a heart-stopping 3-2 victory over the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus in front of 1671 spectators at the Aitken University Centre.
The Varsity Reds move to a record of 22-3-2 with one game remaining in regular season play. Les Aigles Bleus move to a record of 10-14-3.
UNB came out hard early in the first, dominating play with four shots to Moncton's zero in the first six minutes.
The Varsity Reds thought they got up on the board after a scramble in front of the Moncton net around the eleven minute mark, but any possible goal was waved off and play continued.
UNB would have to wait another five minutes before they opened up scoring with the night's first goal. Matt Petgrave fired off a shot through traffic and Rob Mignardi picked up the bouncing rebound to bat it in past Moncton goalie Brandon Thibeau.
Moncton tied it up early in the second, taking advantage of a UNB turnover around two and a half minutes in. Allain Saulnier had the goal, with the assist from Danny Chiasson and Alex Saulnier. Allain Saulnier is currently third in the AUS in points. This is his fourteenth goal of the season.
The V-Reds took back the lead when Francis Beauvillier grabbed hold of the puck after a shot from Taylor MacDougall. Beauvillier put it in the net with a clean beat past Thibeau and UNB was up 2-1.
Moncton tied it up again halfway through the third period courtesy of a fabulous play from Pier-Antoine Dion. Dion got hold of the puck at the blue line, carried it down the lane for a shot and picked up his own rebound for the goal. The assist went to Steve Lebel.
UNB found themselve in a five-on-three situation with less than two minutes to go, but they couldn't beat the Moncton defence and the game headed into overtime.
But just 10 seconds after the puck dropped in extra time, almost immediately after UNB's Dylan Willick won the face-off, Jordan Murray swept in to carry the puck to the net and score the game-winner. Adrian Robertson joined Willick in the assist.
UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall says he's happy with the win, but the year is far from over yet.
"Anytime you face a team in this conference, it's gonna be a good game. And so we have to be out there and playing our best hockey," MacDougall said. "We've got one more game Friday against UPEI, and then it's the playoffs. And once that gets going, that's a whole different thing. So we've gotta come out there and get better every time and make sure we find a way to win every time."
The Varsity Reds play next when they travel to UPEI on Friday, February 6, at 7pm.
Les Aigles Bleus play next when they travel to St. Thomas at the same time.
Photo courtesy of Brian Smith