(HALIFAX, N.S.) – The StFX X-Men defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies 3-1 on Friday night, completing their comeback to win the best-of-five AUS semifinal series 3-2 after they won the last three consecutive games of the series.
With the victory the X-Men advance to play the UNB Reds in the AUS best-of-three championship series, along with earning a berth to the U SPORTS national championship in Lethbridge, Alta.
X-Men head coach Brad Peddle spoke to the play of his team throughout the series in overcoming the 2-0 deficit to win the semifinals. "I felt like we played a really strong game here in Game 2 and didn't get the result we wanted. But in terms of how we played, it carried over into Game 3, and in Game 4 I thought we got even better."
"The game plan tonight was to come in and just play our game and they left it all out there which was exactly what we asked them to do."
A hard-hitting game with a big crowd at the Halifax Forum this Friday saw the X-Men get off to a good start, keeping the Huskies hemmed in their zone with a strong forecheck.
They got a scoring chance ten minutes in with a shot from Cole MacDonald (Wetaskiwin, AB) that bounced around in the slot, the net wide open, before Jacob Friend (Bowmanville, ON) cleared it to the corner with a nice defensive play for Saint Mary's.
The Huskies worked the cycle down low well but struggled to get shots that weren't from sharp angles. With five minutes to go, a shot from Bradley Latour (Barrie, ON) was tipped in close by Logan Denoble (Peterborough, ON). Goalie Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS) made the save, but StFX was called for a penalty on the play.
Denoble was hunting for a goal on the ensuing power play, but Aaron Hoyles (Gander, NL) was blocking shots all game to limit scoring chances for the Huskies.
The X-Men opened the scoring late in the period. With two and half minutes to go, Will Bower (Saint John, NB) came down the left wing. Kept to the outside by Dylan Di Perna (Nobleton, ON), Bower sent a well-placed backhand shot that beat Eric Brassard (St Hubert, QC) glove side to make it 1-0 for the visiting team. The goal was Bower's second of the playoffs.
The Huskies pulled even five minutes into the second period. Hunter Garlent (Thorold, ON) made a beautiful deke around MacDonald at the StFX blue line before firing a low shot that beat Marchand blocker side. It was assisted by Nicholas Welsh (Halifax, NS).
Saint Mary's however, then ran into penalty trouble, giving StFX nearly six minutes straight on the man-advantage. With five seconds to go until the last penalty expired, Adam Laishram of the X-Men shot the puck and it was accidentally knocked in by Huskies defender Austyn Hardie (Halifax, NS), putting the X-Men up 2-1 with eight minutes to go.
On a late power play of their own, the Huskies had two great chances to tie it up, first with a shot from Jake Coughler (St. Catharine's, ON) that rang off the post, and then with a short range one timer from Garlent on the back door. Marchand made a spectacular save to keep the lead.
The reigning U SPORTS goaltender of the year, Marchand continued to rally the X-Men through the third period, facing 14 shots in the final period and 40 throughout the game.
The Huskies were pressing for a goal and dominated in the final frame, allowing the X-Men only six shots on net, but with a minute and sixteen seconds to go, Adam Holwell (St. John's, NL) got an unassisted empty net goal to put the X-Men up by two, sealing the 3-1 win.
The Subway Player of the Game for the X-Men with the game was Regan Spears. For the Huskies, it was Hunter Garlent.
Coach Peddle had nothing but praise for his team, noting "The character of this team is everything, right from the guys who dug in in Game 3 when we had such a short bench, to having them come into a really tough rink against a very, very good hockey team and being able to pull out a real tight win here tonight, it says a lot about the group and their resolve and resilience."
"It all comes back to character and that's the thing, I can't say enough about this group," continues Peddle. "We've been through a lot of adversity over the last month or so but they continue to dig in and push through and I give full credit to the players and to my assistant coaches for doing a hell of a job."
The X-Men have been without the services of Coach Peddle behind the bench for the duration of the AUS playoffs, as he has been serving out a 10-game suspension stemming back to an incident from the February 2nd game against Acadia. Friday night's game marked the final one of his suspension as he will return behind the bench to coach in the AUS championship series.
The Subway AUS best-of-three final series is scheduled to begin Monday evening, March 4th at UNB. Game 2 will be held at StFX on Wednesday, March 5th with Game 3 (if necessary) back in Fredericton on March 7th.
Both the X-Men and Reds will represent the AUS conference at the U SPORTS national championship in Lethbridge, Alta. being played March 14-17.
Courtesy Sarah Moore, SMU Sports Information and Krista McKenna, StFX Sports Information