HALIFAX (CIS) – Led by a four-goal performance by Philippe Halley, the UNB Varsity Reds skated to a 5-2 semi-final victory over the Guelph Gryphons Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Centre to earn a berth in the CIS University Cup men's hockey final.
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"They were great at finding me on the ice and I just had to put the puck in the net," he added.
In a national semi-final, UNB head coach Gardner MacDougall said it is "not supposed to be easy," when asked about the battle with the Gryphons.
After some early offensive pressure from the Gryphons, the Varsity Reds opened the scoring at the 1:45 mark when Halley poked a rebound behind Andrew D'Agostini from the lip of the crease. The tally came after the Gryphon goaltender made a sprawling stick save on a shot from in tight by Dana Fraser. Fraser and defenseman Jordan Murray, who took the initial shot from the blue line, collected assists.
That marker, along with an opportunity on the man advantage in the opening minutes, helped the Varsity Reds not only jump to a 1-0 lead, but also an 11-1 shots on goal edge. With the Gryphons shorthanded, D'Agostini made a handful of key saves to hold the Varsity Reds to a one-goal advantage.
At 8:01, on only their second shot of the contest, the Gryphons knotted the score. After Seth Swenson knocked Varsity Red defenseman Colin Suellentrop off the puck in front of goaltender David Shantz, Nicklas Huard picked it up and made no mistake on the forehand. Swenson garnered the lone assist on the equalizer.
The rest of the first period was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams garnering scoring chances, but each coming up empty.
The Varsity Reds outshot the Gryphons 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes.
In the second period, Axemen forward Cam Braes continued to sizzle with his fifth goal of the tournament. Parked on the door step, he deflected a Murray point shot behind D'Agostini on the power play. AUS player of the year Philippe Maillet collected the other helper.
Just more than 90 seconds later, also on the power play, the Gryphons made it 2-2. After taking a centering pass, defenseman Nicholas Trecapelli beat Shantz with a wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle. Huard, with his second point, and Teal Burns assisted at 7:33.
At 9:16, the Varsity Reds took their third lead of the afternoon, with Halley finding the back of the net for a second time. He made no mistake after taking a pass from Maillet on a two-on-one. Dylan Willick chipped in the other assist.
With just more than eight minutes remaining in the middle frame, Tyler Carroll almost doubled the Varsity Red lead when he hit the goal post short side behind D'Agostini.
In the final three minutes of the second period, the Varsity Reds ramped up the pressure, but they could not solve D'Agostini, who withstood the onslaught. In the final 30 seconds, he and his team-mates did everything they could to keep the puck out of the net – at one point huddled in the crease.
With the late surge, UNB ended up with 18 shots in the period, while Guelph garnered seven.
In the third period, the Varsity Reds had the first quality scoring chance, when captain Cam Critchlow and Maillet broke in two-on-one, with Maillet electing to shoot.
D'Agostini made a blocker save on the wrist shot.
For the Gryphons, Scott Simmonds got off a hard wrist shot while breaking down his off wing, but Shantz made a blocker save with just more than six minutes gone in the period.
With the Varsity Reds starting to press again, Braes almost had his second when he completed a quick transition play, but his shot from the slot sailed over D'Agostini's left shoulder.
On the next shift, Halley had an opportunity for the hat-trick but his attempt was deflected before D'Agostini slid across to smother the puck.
With less than six minutes remaining, UNB had a golden opportunity for an insurance marker when they broke in three-on-one, but D'Agostini robbed Cameron Brace from point-blank range.
Seconds later, the Varsity Reds took a high-sticking penalty, but the Gryphons could not capitalize and pot the tying goal.
On their 39th shot, UNB made it 4-2 when Halley collected his hat-trick when he completed a stellar three-way passing play with Critchlow and Randy Gazzola.
With 38 seconds remaining, Halley, the UNB player of the game, notched his fourth with an unassisted, empty-netter to make it 5-2.
"Maybe peewee," Halley said to laughter during the post-game press conference, when asked if he remembered the last time he scored four goals in a game.
UNB outshot Guelph 40-15.
"We pride ourselves on our third periods, and we got better throughout the game," Varsity Red defenseman Adrian Robertson said.
Shantz made 13 saves for the win, while D'Agostini, his team's player of the game, turned aside 35 shots in the loss.
"We thought we got better as the game went on," Gryphon head coach Shawn Camp said, noting despite what people might think the shots on goal total would indicate.
"We had some quality scoring chances," he added.
The Gryphons will face the loser of the Alberta Golden Bears-UQTR Patriotes semi-final for bronze Sunday at 2 p.m.
"We don't want to go home empty-handed," Gryphon forward Jordan Mock said, when asked about playing for third place.
D'Agostini echoed that thought.
"We want to prove to everyone that we belong here," the goaltender said.
Camp said his team had "several quality scoring chances," but not as many as the Varsity Reds.
"We just didn't have enough against a deep, skilled and fast UNB team," he added.
UNB will clash with the winner of the second national semi-final for gold and the CIS University Cup.
Puck drop is set for 6:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Centre.
"We will be ready," Varsity Red forward Rob Mignardi said.
With files from Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Photo courtesy of Brian Smith.