(ANTIGONISH, N.S.) The U SPORTS No. 1-ranked UNB Varsity Reds are the 2018 AUS champions. They took the best-of-three Subway AUS championship series two games straight following a 5-0 shutout victory over the No. 3-ranked StFX X-Men Wednesday night at the Charles V. Keating Centre.
The AUS conference banner marked the first one since 2015 and 15th in team history for the Varsity Reds as the X-Men have won in each of the past two years.
When asked about how it meant to bring the conference banner back to Fredericton, Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall commented, "It is a big step in our journey, we've learned some lessons in the past two years but now the focus is our first game at nationals."
"The group has progressed, we are a team that is the sum of our parts, and we need to be a little bit better than the sum of our parts, and this series we got better with the sum of our parts."
Wednesday night saw five different UNB goal scorers contribute to the win and Subway AUS playoff most valuable player Alex Dubeau (Mascouche, Que.) earn the shutout win, his second of the playoff season as he held a perfect 5-0 off-season record.
With regards to the championship victory, Dubeau noted that "It takes leadership, it takes character, and that's what we have. We got guys who have won in the past and they brought it tonight, they were really sharp and I felt pretty good so that's a good combination."
After a relatively tentative opening to Game 2, the Varsity Reds got on the board with five minutes left in the first period. The goal came while they were shorthanded as forward Mike Thomas (New Maryland, N.B.) outskated his X opponent while streaking down the right-side boards. His quick shot beat AUS MVP netminder Chase Marchand (Halifax, N.S.) low on the far side.
The X-Men struggled on the man advantage early on, going 0-for-2 on the power play in the opening 20 minutes while giving up the shorthanded goal. Shots favored the Varsity Reds 11-4 as they held the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
X-Men head coach Brad Peddle commented, "We had an ok first period, then second period we had a chance to score and they turned it back and scored and then it was tough to get momentum from them. They kept coming and our guys tried – it wasn't from lack of effort – we just couldn't execute, whether it was power play or penalty kill."
"The last couple of games we've just run into some problems in terms of execution," he continued. "It's all fixable stuff, we just have to get back to being the confident team that we've been all year."
The visiting Varsity Reds increased their lead 3:32 into the second period by a goal from Alex Goulet (Disraeli, Que.). After X-Men forward Nathan Pancel (Ottawa, Ont.) was stopped on a breakaway attempt Dubeau, the Varsity Reds brought the puck back up ice and Goulet used the X defenseman as a screen to fire a low shot under the pads of Marchand.
AUS second team all-star Chris Clapperton (Cap d'Espoir, Que.) gave the V-Reds a 3-0 lead with a power play marker five minutes later. He shoveled in a rebound off an Olivier LeBlanc (Quebec City, Que.) shot from the point.
Shots favored the Varsity Reds 18-10 in the middle period as they held a comfortable three-goal lead heading into the final period.
Cam Brace (Etobicoke, Ont.) padded the lead just over three minutes into the third period with a finely placed goal from a tight angle that squeezed over the left shoulder of Marchand and under the cross bar, lifting the water bottle.
Rounding out the UNB scoring at 11:36 was Matt Boudens (Pembroke, Ont.), taking a pass in the slot from Stephen Anderson (Morell, P.E.I.) and ripping a high shot past Marchand.
Varsity Reds forward Chris Clapperton received Subway player of the game honours for his squad, while fifth year veteran captain Craig Duininck (St. Cloud, Man.) was the Subway player of the game for the X-Men.
Dubeau capped off the night with 19 saves while Marchand turned aside 39 in the StFX net as the home team was outshot 44-19.
The focus for both squads now shifts to the U SPORTS national championship slated for March 14-18 in Fredericton as the defending national champion Varsity Reds are prepped to host the eight-team tournament.
The X-Men have also earned a spot as AUS finalists and a third AUS conference berth awaits the Game 3 result between Acadia and Saint Mary's.
Looking ahead to nationals, Coach Peddle notes, "We have time to turn thing around but right now we're pretty decimated with injuries and lots of guys are playing lots of minutes who aren't really used to playing those minutes. We're going to use these next few days to rest first and foremost and then hopefully get as many guys back as we can for next week."
Coach MacDougall commented on the overall team play of his squad saying "We've had 12 forwards who have all contributed, six D who have played outstanding and have had outstanding goaltending. It's a good confidence boost for the group and now we've got a lot of work to do heading into next week but it's a good step for our team."
Tournament seeding and schedule for the U SPORTS Championship will be released on Sunday.
Source: StFX Sports Information