By: Dwayne Tingley
UNB Reds head coach Sarah Hilworth is well aware of the fervor that surrounds regular season AUS women's hockey games against the rival St. Thomas Tommies.
Ratchet up the emotions and you have the playoffs.
The fourth-place Reds (18-9-1) and fifth-place and defending champion Tommies (13-14-1), will meet in a best-of-three AUS quarter-final series, starting tonight at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.
"It will be a high-intensity and competitive series," Hilworth said. "We know (the Tommies) will be coming in to try and repeat.
"It will be a tight-checking series where we will need to battle for every inch. We need to do the right things in order to give ourselves a chance to win."
The Reds and Tommies split their regular season series 2-2.
"The keys for our team will be to use our speed and keep things simple," Hilworth said. "We need to stick to the game plan and trust in the way we have played.
"We need to continue to put pucks in the net and limit their opportunities to get shots on net," the second-year Reds coach added. "They are a hard-working team, so we need to make sure we are ready to work."
Game 2 in the series is scheduled for Saturday night and if a third game is needed, it will be played on Monday night.
UNB outscored their opponents 73-51 and the Tommies outscored their opponents 54-53. The Reds' Ashley Stratton placed second in scoring with 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. Mariah Carey of St. Thomas was 28th with 10 goals and four assists for 14 points.
Peter Murphy, who has been head coach of the Tommies for 18 years, expects a closely contested series.
"Both teams like to take care of their own end and then get opportunities when they can," Murphy said. "I expect these playoffs will be the same.
"We will need to ensure we are moving the puck quickly and supporting the puck carrier," he added. "The playoffs start a new season, so everything resets to zero. It is up to us to determine our path forward."
Meanwhile, the third-place UPEI Panthers (20-7-1) and sixth-place Moncton Aigles Bleues (8-18-2) will square off in the other semifinal, starting Thursday night in Charlottetown. Game 2 goes Sunday afternoon in Moncton and Game 3, if needed, will go Tuesday night in Charlottetown.
The Panthers, who will host the U SPORTS national championship tournament March 12-15, won the regular season series 3-1.
Panthers head coach Bruce Donaldson expects a "very entertaining and tight, low-scoring" series.
"While we may have won the season series, the games were very close and goals were hard to come by," Donaldson said. "The key will be discipline, execution on specialty teams and strong defensive stands.
"Moncton is a great skating team that works hard and never stops."
Aigles Bleues head coach Marc-Andre Côté said his team learned how to deal with adversity when it struggled during the first half of the season.
"The Panthers are vert well-balanced through their lineup and have great goaltending," he noted. "They are physical and play a very structured game. It will be a tough series against a great opponent."
The Panthers outscored their opponents 82-42 while the Aigles Bleues were outscored 76-41 during the regular season.
Jolena Gillard led the Panthers in scoring and was 13th in the conference with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points. Katherine Dubuc of the Aigles notched four goals and eight assists for 12 points and was 36th in conference scoring.
The first-place Saint Mary's Huskies (22-5-1) and second-place StFX X-Women (22-5-1) each earned first-round byes.