© Andy Campbell/UNB Athletics
Sam Aulie of the UPEI Panthers battles for the puck in the corner with Jordan Murray of the UNB Varsity Reds in Game 1 Thursday of the Atlantic University Sport men's hockey semifinal. The Reds went on to take the opener 4-1.
The UNB Varsity Reds, playing for the first time in 13 days, didn’t pick up where they left off but they got there eventually.
The V-Reds, who ended the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey conference regular season on a 14-game winning streak, beat the pesky UPEI Panthers 4-1 in the AUS semifinal opener in front of 2,838 fans at the Aitken University Centre.
Game 2 goes Friday at 7 p.m. at the AUC before the scene shifts to Charlottetown on Monday.
The V-Reds outshot the Panthers 36-13 through two periods but were clinging to a 2-1 lead until Francis Beauvillier gave them some breathing room 3:17 into the third, then hit the empty net with 24 seconds remaining.
Cameron Brace and Phil Maillet, on the power play, also put the puck past stingy veteran Mavric Parks. Sam Aulie had the lone goal for the Panthers on Etienne Marcoux.
“It’s hard to play the first game after 13 days,” Beauvillier said, “but I thought after the first period we were stronger and we deserved that win.”
The sixth-place Panthers finished three games below .500 but swept the third-place Acadia Axemen, winning 6-3 in Wolfville and 4-3 in overtime on the Island.
“We’ve been underdogs all year; we kind of thrive on that,” Aulie said. “We know we don’t have any pressure at all to win or lose (this series). It’s all on them.”
The V-Reds outscored the Panthers 18-6 in sweeping the four-game season series.
“You’ve got to keep them from coming in on the rush,” Aulie said, “because they’re so good getting pucks to the net and hitting the open guy. You’ve got to try to slow them down as much as you can.”
The Panthers did that for the first half of the game.
“They’ve worked hard every game we’ve played against them this year,” Beauvillier said. “I think the team that works the hardest is going to win the series.”
“We had lots of shots,” UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said, “but I don’t think we had as much structure (early). You have to play hard minutes and you’ve got to get the puck to hard areas. We got better as the game went. I thought we were a little sluggish in the first.”
UNB jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 6:02 when Brace snapped in a rebound after Matt Petgrave’s shot from the left point was stopped by Parks. Parks had robbed Beauvillier on a clear-cut breakaway seconds earlier.
The Panthers tied it at 9:36 when Aulie beat Marcoux from the lip of the crease.
The V-Reds outshot the Panthers 17-7 in the opening period and 19-6 in the second.
UNB went up 2-1 just 26 seconds into a power play, at 8:51 of the second period, when Maillet’s 30-foot wrist shot somehow eluded Parks.
“Our goalie could have got that one,” Aulie said, “but he’s been playing real good for us. We’ve got to help him out more.”
“We’ve been underdogs all year; we kind of thrive on that. We know we don’t have any pressure at all to win or lose (this series). It’s all on them.” UPEI Panthers centre Sam Aulie
Aulie almost did minutes later, but Marcoux robbed him to preserve the 2-1 lead.
“I honestly don’t know how he got a glove on that,” Aulie said.
The V-Reds pressed hard for the insurance goal but Parks made huge stops off Maillet, Chris Clapperton and Taylor MacDougall, and Dylan Willick hit the crossbar on a short breakaway.
The Panthers tried to regroup during the second intermission.
“When it’s 2-1 in any playoff game on the road, you’re giving yourself a chance,” UPEI bench boss Forbie MacPherson said. “And the second period wasn’t a great period for us, so you add that to the equation ... 2-1, yeah, we’d take that.”
But Beauvillier created the two-goal gap when he cut in off the wing and slipped the puck past Parks.
“Brace made a pretty good play,” Beauvillier said. “He chipped me the puck on the wall and I just beat the d-man wide. I didn’t know it went in, but I got lucky when it went five-hole.”
The V-Reds kept Marcus Power, Brent Andrews and Mason Wilgosh – let’s call them the Panthers’ PAW line – off the scoresheet.
UNB’s most efficient line was the hustle and muscle trio of MacDougall, captain Cam Critchlow and Mike Thomas. They combined for 12 shots and lots of disruptive shifts – although the Reds had to kill off Critchlow’s double minor for spearing six minutes into the third.
“I thought they were outstanding,” coach MacDougall said. “They were the one line that was consistent right from the first to the third. They had quality minutes for us and lots of good opportunities as well.”
“They’re guys who’ve been around for a long time and we have a lot of respect for,” MacPherson said. “They’ve earned their stripes and they’re all obviously very good hockey players.”
UNB scratches included defenceman Randy Gazzola, a second-team all-Canadian as a rookie last season, and forwards Peter Trainor, Chris Caissy and Stephen Anderson. Caissy had 23 points in 24 games playing on a line with Beauvillier and Rob Mignardi.
The Panthers dressed the same 17 skaters – one shy of the maximum – who played in the Acadia series.
“You can’t get too down when it’s a five-game series,” Aulie said. “Just forget about it and keep going.”
“That’s one under our belt,” MacDougall said, “but we know they’re going to be better, so we have to be better.”
In the other semifinal opener, the St. Francis Xavier X-Men blanked the Saint Mary’s Huskies 2-0 in Antigonish.
Brett Turnbull scored 16 minutes into the first and Holden Cook, on the power play, added the insurance goal 3:09 into the third. St. F.X. netminder Drew Owsley and Cole Cheveldave both made 30 saves.
The Daily Gleaner, Fredericton