For the second year in a row, the UPEI Panthers will play underdogs to the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey semifinals.
With the Acadia Axemen knocking the Moncton Blue Eagles out of the quarter-finals Sunday with a 4-3 double overtime win, the stage has been set for a Panthers-Varsity Reds showdown to begin Thursday night in Fredericton.
The Axemen will face the Saint Mary’s Huskies in the other semifinal, which will get underway Wednesday and Thursday in Halifax.
UPEI assistant captain Chris DeSousa said the team knows the challenge it faces when playing against UNB.
“We have to (beat UNB) eventually if we want to win this league, so why not do it now?” said DeSousa. “We know we have a good team to go up against . . . we definitely believe in ourselves and this dressing room.”
The Varsity Reds, coached by Bedeque native Gardiner MacDougall, are recognized as one of the elite programs in the country.
The squad was more often than not voted at the top of the weekly countrywide top-10 list throughout the season and finished the regular season 23-5.
In last year’s semifinal, UPEI lost the opener 4-3 in Fredericton as UNB rallied late. That was followed by a 4-1 loss in Game 2 in Fredericton.
The final game saw an overtime 3-2 UNB series-clinching win at MacLauchlan Arena.
The Varsity Reds swept UPEI in this year’s regular- season series, but DeSousa pointed out three of the four games were decided by one goal.
Two of those happened during a UPEI slump in the first half of the season, while another was ended on a Panthers’ penalty-kill in overtime, he added.
The most recent meeting was a 5-2 loss in Fredericton.
It was a loss which snapped the Panthers back to reality.
“It was almost a joke in our dressing room because we lost it for ourselves,” said DeSousa.
“That’s not taking anything away from UNB, but we’ve gotten a lot better and we know we can beat them.”
Schedules for the Subway AUS men’s hockey semifinal series:
UNB (1) vs. UPEI (5)
Thursday, UPEI at UNB, 7 p.m.
Friday, UPEI at UNB, 7 p.m.
Monday, UNB at UPEI, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 26, UNB at UPEI, 7 p.m. (if needed)
Thursday, Feb. 28, UPEI at UNB, 7 p.m. (if needed)
Saint Mary’s (2) vs. Acadia (3)
Wednesday, Acadia at Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Acadia at Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Saint Mary’s at Acadia, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Saint Mary’s at Acadia, 7 p.m. (if needed)
Tuesday, Feb. 26, Acadia at Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m. (if needed)