StFX X-Men win back-to-back AUS titles

Photo courtesy Lauren Tidd
Photo courtesy Lauren Tidd

X-Men defend AUS title by sweeping UNB 2-0 in AUS championship series 

Antigonish, N.S. – The StFX X-Men are back-to-back Subway Atlantic University Sport (AUS) hockey champions.

The USPORTS #4-ranked X-Men captured the crown with a 5-4 win in Game 2 to sweep the best-of-three final series over the top-ranked University of New Brunswick (UNB) Varsity Reds Wednesday night at the Keating Centre, in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,050 fans.

It marked the second consecutive year the X-Men defeated the same UNB squad two games to none in the championship final series to win back-to-back conference titles.

"It was a gritty effort – being down two goals and coming back to score three to take the lead," X-Men captain Eric Locke (Toronto, ON) said during the on-ice celebration.

"They have a great team, but we just wanted it. We won it last year; we know what it feels like – it is so great – and we wanted that feeling again this season."

Veteran X-Men head coach Brad Peddle described the accomplishment as "huge."

"There are so many emotions right now – it is hard to put into words," he said. "Back-to-back championships at home – it's tough to beat it."

When asked about the difference in the series, Peddle replied "the will to find a way. Down 3-1 – battled back and battled back," he noted of the effort in the clincher.

Peddle's X-Men were undefeated (7-0) in AUS playoff action this season. Goaltender Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS) who was between the pipes for all seven victories earned AUS playoff MVP honors.

The Varsity Reds held a 3-1 lead early in the second period of Game 2 before the X-Men surged back with four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 advantage late in the game.

UNB opened the scoring in the game at 16:04 of the first period. Philippe Maillet (Terrebonne, QC) scorched a wrist shot over the shoulder of Marchand. Chris Clapperton (Cap Espoir, QC) and Cam Braes (Shawinigan Lake, SK) set up the goal.

Only 25 seconds later, at 16:29, sophomore defenseman Max Iafrate (Livonia, MI) tied the game, on assists from Locke and Michael Clarke (London, ON). The 1-1 tally remained after 20 minutes.

The Varsity Reds came out flying in the second period, scoring two quick goals within the opening minute and a half.

On a quick counter attack, off a missed X-Men scoring opportunity, the V-Reds headed into the X-Men zone on a two-on-one. At 1:02, Philippe Halley (Quebec City, QC) kept puck possession and beat Marchand. Mark Simpson (Fredericton, NB) and Rob Mignardi (Richmond Hill, ON) assisted.

Maillet, with his second of the game, made it 3-1 just 19 seconds later. It was an unassisted tally.

At 3:03, X-Men forward Holden Cook (Oshawa, ON) sliced the UNB lead in half, notching an unassisted goal of his own.

At 9:25, Sam Studnicka (Windsro, ON) broke in on his off-wing and uncoiled a cannon that found the back of the net. Defensemen Craig Duininck (St. Cloud, MN) and Jagger Dirk (Penticton, BC) drew the assists.

A short time later, the X-Men played with a 5-on-3 advantage for just over one minute. While on the advantage junior forward Adam Stevens (Bedford, NS) gobbled up a deflected pass from Kontos and made no mistake to give the X-Men their first lead of the game – 4-3. Dirk chipped in the other assist on the go-ahead marker that came at 11:27.

Shots were even at 23 apiece as the X-Men took the 4-3 lead into the final period.

With 7:01 remaining in regulation, off an X-Men rush, defenseman Aaron Hoyles (Gander, NL) fed Clarke, who sizzled a shot high over the blocker of Marcoux to make it 5-3. The goal turned out to be the game-winner.

"We were up a goal and I knew UNB were pushing for a goal and moving guys forward," the marksman said, when asked about the tally.

"So, when I saw that and Hoyles grabbed the puck and we had numbers, I just skated hard to the middle of the ice – I think he was about to dump it in, but I yelled at him and he made a great play and put it on my tape. I was just in on goal and ripped the shot as hard as I could and it went in."

The Varsity Reds closed the gap at 17:32, on a delayed penalty call as Clapperton went top shelf, off a Christopher Caissy (Campbellton, NB) pass.

UNB could get no closer.

Locke described winning a second consecutive title on home ice as "amazing."

"It is a heckuva feeling – we battled all year long. It is so unbelievable to share this with these guys," Clarke said.  He added it was "huge" to secure the title at the Keating Centre, "with the crowd behind us."

Marchand made 31 saves for the win, while Marcoux turned 23 aside shots in the loss.

X-Men head coach Brad Peddle commented, "I am so excited about how everyone played tonight – we all bought in. I am so proud of everybody."

Maillet, with two goals, earned Subway player of the game honors for the Varsity Reds, while Duininck received the same nod for the X-Men.

"I think, when you look at the two games – obviously, we had territorial play [in Game 1] and we couldn't find a way to get the lead [a 2-1 loss] and tonight we couldn't hold the lead," UNB head coach Gardner MacDougall said.

"To be positive, we know what we have to work on for next week [at nationals]."

Both teams will compete in the 2017 University Cup, which will take place from March 16-19 at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.

"We are going to celebrate this win, for sure, and then get back to work for, hopefully, three games in three days next weekend," Locke said.

Peddle added "we are going to enjoy this for a while first" and then prepare for a chance at a national championship.