Antigonish, NS – The U SPORTS No. 1 ranked UNB Varsity Reds (22-2-3) padded their lead atop the AUS conference with a 5-3 win over the StFX X-Men (14-11-2) Friday evening at the Charles V. Keating Centre.
In a back and forth game the V-Reds scored the final two goals of the night in the third period to hold on for the win, outshooting the X-Men 35-24.
With three regular season games remaining on the AUS schedule the X-Men currently sit in third place, six points behind the Acadia Axemen. The Varsity Reds have clinched first place and a first-round playoff bye.
The two teams wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Varsity Reds forward Christopher Caissy (Campbellton, NB) skated in on the opening rush of the game, splitting the StFX defenders and after a nifty deke, beat netminder Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS) high on the blocker side. The goal came only 14 seconds in the game with helpers coming from Randy Gazzola (Thorold, ON) and Cam Critchlow (Summerside, PE).
The home team X-Men responded quickly as Michael Clarke (London, ON) scored on the power play at 2:37. He took a pass across the top of the circle from Cole MacDonald (Wetaskiwin AB) and made no mistake putting the puck past Alex Dubeau (Mascouche, QC) in the UNB net. Eric Locke (Toronto, ON) also assisted.
Just over a minute later Locke gave the X-Men their first lead of the game as Clarke battled for puck possession behind the net and found an open Locke in front who deposited it past Dubeau. Craig Duininck (St. Cloud, MN) picked up the second helper on the goal.
The X-Men had a 5-on-3 power play chance at the nine-minute mark after Clarke was taken down while trying to break in alone on the V-Reds net. Players crashed the goal and a brief scuffle ensued as tensions were running high in the opening period. StFX generated several shots on net but the Varsity Reds penalty kill held solid.
Matt Petgrave (Brampton, ON) had a good chance to tie the game a minute later but missed the one-timer pass.
The Varsity Reds scored the equalizer as Philippe Maillet (Terrebonne, QC) capitalized on a rebound off a Cam Braes (Shawnigan Lake, SK) shot on goal at 13:36. The goal came on the man-advantage.
Bryson Cianfrone (Stoney Creek, ON) was stopped on a big save by Dubeau after skating in alone on a breakaway at the five-minute mark.
The 2-2 tie held going into the first intermission that saw the two squads combine for 12 minor penalties and two misconducts.
Both teams settled in during the second period with less penalties. Marchand came through with a couple of key saves midway through the period to keep his team in the game.
UNB had a 5-on-3 power play opportunity with just under six minutes left in the period but were held off the scoresheet.
X-Men forward Holden Cook (Oshawa, ON) had StFX's best scoring chance in front of Dubeau off a tipped Clarke shot, but the UNB netminder came up big. On the other end of the ice, Marchand stopped a Dylan Willick (Prince George, BC) shot on goal to keep the game knotted at 2-2.
The UNB fore check late in the period resulted in traffic in front of the StFX net as the X-Men couldn't clear the puck and Mark Simpson (Fredericton, NB) batted it in past Marchand to give the Varsity Reds a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
Three minutes into the third period Matt Needham (Penticton, BC) scored on an X-Men power play off a nice passing play by MacDonald and Cianfrone to knot the game at three goals apiece.
The Varsity Reds re-gained their one-goal edge at 5:32 off a Dylan Willick goal. Rob Mignardi (Richmond Hill, ON) took a Critchlow pass in the slot and his quick shot was saved by Marchand but he couldn't coral the rebound. Willick was parked in front and put the puck in past Marchand as the V-Reds took a 4-3 lead.
Both goaltenders continued to come up with big stops for their respective squads. Marchand had a nice glove save off a Cameron Brace (Markham, ON) shot late in the game, while Cianfrone was turned aside by Dubeau after a nice chance working to get through the Varsity Reds zone alone for a shot on net.
UNB netted an insurance marker with 2:33 left to play as Chris Clapperton (Cap Espoir, QC) caught Marchand off guard, scoring an unassisted marker.
The X-Men pulled Marchand in favor of the extra attacker with just over two minutes to play.
Dubeau had a big glove save off a Michael Clarke shot. The Varsity Reds then took a penalty, giving the X-Men a two-man, 6-on-4 advantage for over a minute. Dubeau, with 21 saves on the night, stood tall in the Varsity Reds net as StFX pressured but couldn't score.
Marchand turned aside 30 pucks in the losing effort for the X-Men.
Mignardi took home first star and Subway player of the game honors while StFX's Clarke earned second star status and V-Red's Willick was the third star.
UNB will now travel to Halifax for a Saturday evening match-up against the Dalhousie Tigers. The X-Men will host the UPEI Panthers, also on Saturday. Puck drop at 7:00 pm for both games.