CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The UPEI Panthers knocked off the top university men’s hockey team in Canada Wednesday at MacLauchlan Arena.
Beau McCue scored the winner with a power-play goal 1:39 into the third period and Matt Mahalak stopped 25 shots in a 3-2 victory.
“We got down . . . came back, battled,” McCue said. “The boys have been playing really well lately. We’ve kind of have found our identity and we’re sticking to it.”
The team has dealt with plenty of adversity this season with injuries and suspensions resulting in a depleted lineup at times. It has also been handed some unlucky bounces, but they got one to go their way on the winner.
McCue was skating in from the blue-line with Gabe Guertler on the far side and Cody Payne driving the middle lane.
“I tried giving it to Payner far side, hit off the D’s shin pads when he went down to block it and just careened in,” McCue explained. “It's a good feeling to know the hard work that we’re putting in is paying off.”
Rookie Nathan Yetman scored his first goal of the season with 4:46 left in the first period to give the Panthers the early lead. The goal came after a UNB turnover, and Yetman beat UNB goalie Alex Dubeau high.
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling,” Yetman said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for it. It’s a good feeling, especially that we got the win.”
Christopher Clapperton scored a power-play goal three minutes later to tie it. Kris Bennett scored 9:25 into the second period for the visitors, but R.T. Rice, with his family in the stands from British Columbia, tied it about three minutes later.
Rice, the six-foot-four, second-year UPEI forward, also made a key defensive play with the Panthers holding a one-goal lead in the third.
“He skates like he’s five-seven, five-eight and he can close the gap quick,” Panthers head coach Forbes MacPherson said. “It looked like that guy had a step on him, but he’s so powerful, he can make up space quick.”
He called the game a fast, hard, heavy game.
“This is playoff hockey.”
Mahalak made a number of key saves to ensure the Panthers earned the victory.
“It’s not really about me, it's the guys in front that are just playing their asses off,” he said. “It makes it easier for me to see pucks, step out and be aggressive and play the way I want to play. It’s a fun game out there right now.”
The Panthers improved to 7-17-1 while the Varsity Reds are 20-2-3 and drop a point behind the St. FX X-Men (20-1-4).
Since Christmas, UPEI has defeated St. FX, Acadia and UNB and lost a 5-2 decision to Saint Mary’s on Saturday in a game that was 2-2 heading to the third.
“The last three, we've played very well – I mean as well as any team can play,” MacPherson said. “We’ve beat some pretty good teams.”
The Panthers travel to Moncton (3-9-12) Friday for a 7 p.m. game with playoff implications, as the two teams are battling with Dalhousie (6-18-1) for the remaining two playoff spots.
“This is probably one of the biggest games of the year for us, not only in points, but also in momentum and us showing what we can do,” McCue said. “We can’t take the foot off the gas pedal at all.”
A look at Wednesday’s UPEI Panthers-UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey game at MacLauchlan Arena.
UNB – 2.
UPEI – 3.
UNB – Christopher Clapperton and Kris Bennett.
UPEI – Nathan Yetman, R.T. Rice and Beau McCue.
UNB – Stephen Anderson, Kris Bennett, Oliver Cooper and Mark Simpson.
UPEI – Marcus Power 2, Riley Whittingham, Mitchell Dempsey, Darcy Ashley and Gabe Guertler.
UNB – Alex Dubeau, 21 saves on 24 shots.
UPEI – Matt Mahalak, 25 saves on 27 shots.
UNB – 1-for-3.
UPEI – 1-for-5.
Attendance – 739.
Mahalak said: “It really puts a cap on the way that we need to be playing every single night. . . . They believe in the system, believe in the team, believe in each, so it means a lot for this team.”
UPEI coach Forbes MacPherson said: “Matty did his job in between the pipes, made the saves when he had to make them, but that was a total team effort.”
Did you know? It is the second time in five days that UPEI teams have knocked off the top-ranked U Sports team. The women’s basketball team defeated Acadia on Saturday in Wolfville, N.S.