CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – A short-staffed UPEI Panthers lineup got the start it wanted before watching two critical points slip away Wednesday at MacLauchlan Arena.
The Panthers built a 3-1 lead and held a 9-2 shot advantage midway through the first period, but Moncton got one back before the end of the frame and tied it on the power play 29 seconds into the second en route to an 8-5 victory.
“I thought we completely controlled the play in the first period,” head coach Forbes MacPherson said after the game. “We did everything we needed — and wanted — to do, then things just got a way from us.”
The Panthers started with 16 skaters and finished with 13 as defenceman Austin Levi left in the first period with a shoulder injury, forward R.T. Rice was handed a five-minute major for contact to the head with five minutes to play in the second period and forward Darcy Ashley didn't play in the third due to a shoulder injury.
“The makeup of our roster right now is a skeleton of what we have here with the team,” MacPherson said, not using the situation as a crutch, but stating the obvious. “We’re banged up and we’re facing all kinds of adversity and we have to find a way to fight through this.”
Unlike other hockey leagues, there is no calling up affiliate players; the Panthers roster is its roster.
The Panthers had a 3-2 lead after the first period Wednesday, but saw it turn into a 5-3 deficit heading to the third.
Matt Mahalak was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots in 30:54.
“They had good chances and have a couple good goal-scorers on their team, so you have to give them credit, but I like to think that I always have a chance to make a difference in a game and tonight I wasn't able to come up with those big saves when we needed them,” he said.
Connor Wilkinson made nine saves on 13 shots in relief.
Moncton improved to 2-11-2 on the season with their two victories coming against a Panthers (4-10-1) club they are chasing in the standings. Dalhousie (2-11-1) is in the mix fighting with Moncton and UPEI for the final two playoff spots as there is a 10-point gap between the fourth- and fifth-place teams.
And while Wednesday didn’t go as planned for UPEI there were positives.
Trailing 5-3 after two periods, they traded goals with Moncton the rest of the way and didn’t mail it in.
“Even when they got the first empty netter we responded with a goal right away,” MacPherson said. “At no point did anyone quit.”
The team finished the game with three defencemen in assistant captain Ryan MacKinnon, forward-turned-blue-liner Beni Berisha and rookie Olivier Arseneau.
“You have to give those guys credit,” Mahalak said. “Olivier Arseneau came up and played huge minutes for us tonight.”
The team is hoping they can get healthier, avoid suspensions and get its full roster back together.
“Any time a group goes through adversity, it makes you stronger, but it’s up to us now to learn from this and to take it the right way,” Mahalak said.
The Panthers travel to Fredericton, N.B., Friday to play the conference-leading UNB Varsity Reds (12-0-2) at 7 p.m. They have road games at Acadia (Dec. 1) and Saint Mary’s (Dec. 2) before the Christmas break.
A look at Wednesday’s Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey game between the Moncton Blue Eagles and the UPEI Panthers.
Moncton – 8.
UPEI – 5.
Moncton – Vincent Deslauriers (3), Jean-Francois Plante, Marc-Anthony Therrien (2), Robbie Graham (2)
UPEI – R.T. Rice, Sam Aulie, Cody Payne, Gabe Guertler and Riley Whittingham.
Moncton – Alexis Roy (5), Marc-Anthony Therrien, Robbie Graham, Sebastien Gauthier, Justin Vanier-Guenette and Jean-Francois Plante.
UPEI – Kameron Kielly (3) Ryan MacKinnon (2), R.T. Rice, Beau McCue, Gabe Guertler, Sam Aulie and Chad Labelle.
Moncton – Alexi Thibaudeau, 28 saves on 33 shots.
UPEI – Matt Mahalak, nine saves on 13 shots; Connor Wilkinson, 12 saves on 14 shots. Moncton added two empty-net goals.
Moncton – 3-for-6.
UPEI – 2-for-4.