Both series get underway tonight in Halifax and Moncton
By: Dwayne Tingley
Trevor Stienburg doesn't want his players looking too far ahead.
Atlantic University Sport will send three teams to the U SPORTS University Cup national men's hockey championship in Halifax next month and Stienburg's Saint Mary's Huskies have played well enough to earn one of the berths.
However, the veteran coach's concentration is zeroed on the Subway AUS men's hockey playoffs after a third-place showing during the regular season.
"We don't even think about the next round let alone the nationals right now," said Stienburg, whose Huskies have won four AUS championships during his 23 years at the helm of the Huskies.
"We are focused on (Game 1 of the quarter-final series) only," he added.
The third-place Huskies (17-12-1) will host the sixth-place UPEI Panthers (10-15-5) in the opening game of the best-of-three series tonight at the Dauphinee Centre in Halifax.
Game 2 is scheduled for Friday night in Charlottetown and if Game 3 is needed, it will be played Sunday night in Halifax.
The Huskies defeated the Panthers 3-1 in their regular season series.
"We can expect a very fast game with two very disciplined teams," Stienburg said. "We've got a ton of respect for the Panthers. I know it will take us having our best hockey to get past them ...and a few breaks.
"The key for us is consistency," said the four-time AUS coach of the year. "We need to play well on both sides of the puck."
Saint Mary's enters the playoffs with the second-ranked offence in the conference and the fourth-ranked defence. UPEI is ranked fifth offensively and sixth defensively.
Mitchell Balmas of the Huskies finished second in scoring with 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points. Kameron Kielly of the Panthers was third with 17 goals, 25 assists for 42 points.
Meanwhile, the fourth-place Moncton Aigles Bleus (13-11-6) and fifth-place StFX X-Men (12-13-5) will clash in the opening game of their quarter-final series on Wednesday night in Moncton.
Game 2 goes Friday night in Antigonish and if Game 3 is necessary, it will be played Sunday night in Moncton.
The X-Men enter the series with the conference's fourth-ranked offence and the Aigles Bleus are sixth. Defensively, the X-Men are fifth and the Aigles are third.
UdeM's Maxime St-Cyr was tied for fourth in league scoring with 20 goals, 20 assists and 40 points. Bryson Cianfrone of StFX was 10th with 15 goals and 21 assists for 36 points.
The reigning national champion and two-time defending conference champion UNB Reds (26-4-0) won their last 14 consecutive regular season games and finished in first place. They have earned a bye through to the playoff semifinals where they will face the lowest remaining seed in a five-game series.
The second-place Acadia Axemen (19-9-2) have also gained and opening-round bye and will face the highest remaining seed in the conference semifinals.
The Reds have won three of the last four national championships
The Axemen will be the host team for the U SPORTS University Cup March 12-15 at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.