(ANTIGONISH, N.S.) The St. Thomas Tommies forced a deciding Game 3 in the Subway AUS championship final series with a hard fought 4-3 victory Tuesday night over the StFX X-Women on the road at the StFX Keating Centre in front of over 700 fans.
Alisha Gilbert (Chipman, N.B.) scored the game winning goal midway through the third period – her second of the night – to give the Tommies the win.
Head coach Peter Murphy noted that his team played a lot better tonight than in Sunday's 4-0 loss to the same X-Women squad, "I felt we were a little flat at times on Sunday, and also the officiating was a bit different. I liked the game tonight, it had more flow to it and they let the teams decide what would happen."
"I thought it was a really tight game and could have gone either way. StFX is always a tough opponent but I was much more pleased with our effort level tonight and happy with the outcome."
Both teams came out with full cylinders firing and a sense of urgency in the first period, resulting in four goals.
The X-Women tallied first at 6:24 when AUS all-star defense Lindsey Donovan (Miramichi, N.B.) brought the puck into the Tommies zone then dished across the crease to a streaking Lydia Schurman (Summerside, P.E.I.) who put the puck past Abby Clarke (Springdale, N.L.).
The Tommies answered right back with a goal by Olivia Reid (Aurora, Ont.) only nine seconds later. She got her stick on a loose puck in front through traffic and batted it past Carley Molnar (London, Ont.).
The visitors then took the lead with a goal at 11:13 as Lauren Legault (Winnipeg, N.B.) tapped in a bouncing rebound off a Gilbert shot.
The final goal of the period came from StFX's Emerson Elliott (Aurora, Ont.) as she redirected a pass from Amy Graham high over the shoulder of Clarke. The goal came with three minutes left in the period as the 2-2 tie held after 20 minutes.
Shots were fairly even at 10-9 in favour of the X-Women in the opening frame.
Scoring chances kept coming in the second period as Clarke stopped fellow AUS second team all-star Tyra Meropoulis (Edson, Alta.) on a breakaway a minute and a half in.
Molnar was equally sharp at the other end, gloving a shot from veteran fifth year Tommies forward Lauren Henman (Cow Bay, N.S.) and then stacking the pads less than a minute late to prevent Legault from scoring.
After both teams settled in during the middle period, Meropoulis gave the X-Women a 3-2 lead with just over five minutes left. She won the one-on-one battle against her Tommies defensive opponent and wristed a shot high past Clarke. Santana Gravelle (Lumsden, Sask.) and Molnar were credited with helpers on the play.
The Tommies were pressuring for the equalizer for the remainder of the period and had several shots on net as Molnar had to be sharp, making key saves.
Alexandra Woods (Courtice, Ont.) dinged one off the cross bar for STU late in the period but the 3-2 lead in favour of StFX held up after 40 minutes. The Tommies outshot the X-Women 12-8 in the middle period.
It was Clarke's turn to be sharp to start the third period as she stopped Meropoulis from point blank range in the opening minutes.
Tommies forward Megan Pardy (Courtice, Ont.) notched the equalizer 3:06 into the period as she connected with captain Emily Oleksuk (Thunder Bay, Ont.) on a 2-on-1 play.
The X-Women did not let up, however and Clarke maintained her sharp play between the pipes for the Tommies.
The physicality picked up in the second half of the third period as both teams were pressing for the game winner.
At the 9:45 mark, Danielle Ring (Saint John, N.B.) fed the puck down low to Gilbert who shot a neat backhander low that tricked Molnar short side to give the Tommies the go-ahead goal.
StFX were pressuring in the final minutes of play, looking for the equalizer but the Tommies defense were up for the task and held them at bay.
Molnar was pulled from the net with just over a minute to play but the X-Women were called for boarding, negating the potential man-advantage and giving St. Thomas the power play edge to close out the game and the win.
Gilbert was named the Subway player of the game for the Tommies with her two-goal effort, while Meropoulis picked up Subway player of the game honours for the X-Women.
StFX head coach Ben Berthiaume thought his team came out a bit flat to start the game, noting "They put us back on our heels at times and we need to do a better job responding. We missed on some big opportunities and they capitalized on a few of theirs. We need to make sure that Thursday night we come prepared and ready to start the game."
The series shifts back to Fredericton for the deciding Game 3 on Thursday night with puck drop at 7 p.m. at the Grant Harvey Centre.
Coach Murphy noted, "We've got to get Tommies nation out for Thursday night, and also play with the same intensity, understanding that X is going to come with even more so, and we respect that and understand that its going to be an effort level beyond tonight that is going to take the championship."
The winner of Thursday's game will not only be crowed 2019 AUS champions but will also punch their ticket to the U SPORTS championship, slated for March 14-17 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Courtesy Krista McKenna, StFX Sports Information