Action picture courtesy Jessica Pomeroy
Antigonish, N.S. - The CIS #4 ranked StFX X-Men captured their first Subway AUS hockey crown in more than a decade with a 5-3 win over the UNB Varsity Reds, the top-ranked team in the country, Wednesday night at a sold-out Keating Centre.
In 2004, StFX also earned the conference banner with a home-ice victory.
With the win, the X-Men swept the best-of-three conference final series in two straight games.
"I am so proud of this group - the resiliency that they showed again; time and time again," X-Men head coach Brad Peddle said, after the game, amidst the on-ice celebration.
"What a night to show it - down 2-0 - and they fought back, and in the third period they just turned it up another notch. It is hard to put into words right now, but I am so proud of them, with what they have accomplished so far."
More than 2000 fans watched the Varsity Reds jump to a 1-0 lead, at 5:06 of the first period, on a marker from Philippe Halley (Quebec City, QC), with Rob Mignardi (Richmond Hill, ON) and Francis Beauvillier (St. Hyacinthe, QC) notching the assists.
The opening tally came seconds after X-Men forward Brent Turnbull (Stellarton, NS) got in alone on Varsity Red goaltender Etienne Marcoux (Terrebonne, QC), who made a sparkling pad save on a hard wrist shot.
Shortly after UNB scored, Adam Stevens (Bedford, NS) broke free behind his defenders, but he ripped a shot wide.
On the first power-play for either side, the X-Men came up empty; their best scoring opportunity coming on the doorstep, with Michael Clarke (London, ON) unable to get good wood on a shot before UNB defender Jordan Murray (Riverview, NB) cleared the puck from harm's way.
While short-handed, Halley got a breakaway for UNB, but he missed the net with his shot attempt.
On the first man-advantage for the Varsity Reds, the X-Men garnered short-handed opportunities from Steven Kuhn (Oyen, AB) and Nathan Chiarlitti (Maple, ON), but Marcoux made the stops.
At 14:56, Alex Wall (Mount Pearl, NL) scored an unassisted goal, off the rush, beating Owsley with a shot from just inside the X-Men blue-line, to double the visitors' edge.
Less than one minute later, at 15:40, Chiarlitti sliced the deficit in half with a point blast that bested Marcoux. Kristoff Kontos (Penetanguishene, ON) and AUS MVP Eric Locke (Toronto, ON) collected the helpers.
The X-Men outshot the Varsity Reds 17-16 in the first period.
In the second period, Owsley made the first big save, when he smothered a high shot from a streaking Murray, from in tight, on a short UNB man advantage.
Less than one minute later, at 11:02, the X-Men answered on the second of the game from Chiarlitti, who beat Marcoux with a cannon from just inside the blue line, off a feed from Locke.
StFX had 14 shots in the middle stanza, while UNB collected eight.
Early In the third period, at 1:59, the X-Men took their first lead, when Pancel deposited a rebound, under the cross bar, off a Jagger Dirk (Penticton, BC) shot. Michael Clarke (London, ON), who gained the UNB zone, and started the play, collected the other assist.
On the power play, with just more than six minutes remaining in regulation time, the Varsity Reds pushed for the equalizer, but the X-Men defense held strong. Owsley made a pair of key saves, including crossing his crease in lightning-quick fashion to rob Maillet.
The X-Men sealed the deal, with just over 19 seconds left in the third period, when Clarke found the back of the net off a goal-mouth scramble. Brad Cuzner (Glace Bay, NS) collected the lone assist.
Owsley made 35 saves for win, while Marcoux turned aside 23 shots in the loss.
Stevens earned Subway player of the game honours, while Halley received the nod for UNB.
Chiarlitti was named play-off MVP.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said of the title victory, noting the parity and competitiveness of the AUS. "It feels surreal right now."
Both the X-Men and Varsity Reds will represent the AUS in the 2016 CIS University Cup, which is scheduled for March 17-20 at Halifax Scotiabank Centre.
"I feel like we deserve it. We played well all season long," Chiarlitti said. "At the end of the day, we were not intimidated; we thought we could do this."
The host Saint Mary's Huskies will also represent the conference in the eight-team national championship tournament.
"It feels great. We wanted to go in the front door - that's been kind of our mantra here all along, and they weren't going to be denied tonight," Peddle said, when asked about entering the tournament as conference champions.
"We will certainly start focusing on the nationals, after tomorrow, but for tonight we are certainly going to enjoy this. It is a well-deserved celebration for these guys."
For more information, visit UCupHFX.ca