The UPEI Panthers suffered their final heartbreak Tuesday night as the UNB Varsity Reds skated to a dominating 5-1 win to advance to the Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey championship series.
The game, which followed a 7-2 loss Monday, sealed UPEI’s fate in front of a sellout crowd of 1,700 fans at MacLauchlan Arena.
The Varsity Reds won the series 3-1.
After defeating UPEI in the semifinals for the second year in a row, UNB will now face the Saint Mary’s Huskies in the best-of-three Atlantic final series. Both finalists qualify for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship in Saskatoon.
UPEI captain Dylan Quaile said the loss was tough all around.
“We felt like we were the team to go all the way,” Quaile said in a post-game interview with The Guardian. “We gave it all we had.”
However, it wasn’t enough for the Panthers.
While the team opened scoring in Tuesday’s game for the first time in the series, UPEI stumbled as it drew penalty after penalty in the game.
While UNB went only
1- for-7 on power plays, the fatigue took a noticeable toll on UPEI. The Panthers were 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said his team had come prepared to play after UPEI’s 4-2 win Friday in Fredericton.
“We knew we had to bring a much better effort,” said MacDougall. “I thought we had solid goaltending, our defence played well and our forwards caught fire here in the last two games.”
UNB goals were scored by Nick MacNeil, Cam Critchlow, Thomas Nesbitt, Marc-Antoine Desnoyers and Ben Wright.
Tyler Carroll, Thomas Nesbitt and Chris Culligan each earned a pair of assists while singles went to Colby Pridham, Desnoyers and Ben Shutron.
Jordan Mayer scored UPEI's lone goal, unassisted, only 40 seconds into the game for an early 1-0 lead. The forward broke out on his own before knocking one past UNB netminder Daniel Lacosta.
Shortly afterwards, UNB defenceman Chad Denny laid a rushing hit on Mayer and was assessed a charging major and game misconduct.
UPEI defenceman Matt Boyle also received a roughing minor on the play.
MacNeil netted a one-timer during the four-on-four to tie the game 1-1. While UPEI goalie Wayne Savage’s net was knocked off before the shot was fired, the goal stood.
With the Panthers leading in shots 15-8 after the first period, it appeared as though the team would have a good chance to win and send the series to a fifth and deciding game Thursday in Fredericton.
However, UNB lit up the scoreboard in the second period, with Critchlow, Nesbitt and Desnoyers all netting their goals in the middle frame for a commanding 4-1 lead.
The period also saw UPEI’s clutch forward Chris DeSousa assessed a two- minute minor and 10- minute misconduct for checking from behind.
The third period saw chippy play between both teams, with Wright netting the final goal at 15:15.
The period saw DeSousa ejected from the game after being assessed a second checking-from-behind penalty.
it was one of many misconducts in the rough final minutes of the game. Mike MacIsaac, Nathan McQuaid and Tyler Brown were also assessed misconducts.
The Varsity Reds’ Critchlow, Desnoyers, Wright and defenceman Josh Kidd were also handed 10-minute misconducts for the donnybrook that fell just short of a line brawl.
“In the AUS, we all push one another to new levels,” said MacDougall on the rivalry between the two teams.
The game saw UPEI assessed 98 penalty minutes on 25 infractions, while UNB was assessed 77 minutes on 17 infractions.
Savage made 27 saves for the Panthers, while Lacosta stopped 26 of the Panthers’ shots.
Quaile said the team wanted to thank all of its fans for support through the regular season and playoff run.
“We couldn’t have done it without you guys . . . You guys got us this far,” said Quaile.