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Panthers lose heartbreaker to X-Women in AUS hockey semifinal

St. FX X-Women defenceman Hannah MacDonald, left, and UPEI Panthers forward Jolena Gillard go after a loose puck in front of X-Women goalie Jamie Johnson Tuesday at MacLauchlan Arena.
St. FX X-Women defenceman Hannah MacDonald, left, and UPEI Panthers forward Jolena Gillard go after a loose puck in front of X-Women goalie Jamie Johnson Tuesday at MacLauchlan Arena. - Jason Malloy
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The UPEI Panthers women’s hockey playoffs are over, but not their season.

The St. FX X-Women defeated the Panthers 3-2 in a quick, fast-paced, physical contest in front of 623 people at MacLauchlan Arena Tuesday to sweep the best-of-three Atlantic University Sport (AUS) semifinal.

The X-Women used a funny bounce to tie the game in the third period before Emerson Elliott scored the winner with 4:19 to play in regulation.

About eight minutes into the final frame, Amy Graham fired the puck in from the neutral zone. The puck hit the boards behind the goal-line, bounced out and hit UPEI goalie Camille Scherger and ended up in the net.

“This is my 14th year here, I’ve never seen a goal like that once,” UPEI head coach Bruce Donaldson said. “Typically, in our rink, that bounce doesn't happen, but tonight it did.”

It was the Panthers first trip to the second round of the playoffs since the conference moved from a tournament format to a playoff structure in 2014.

While a great accomplishment for the program, the team had larger aspirations this season.

“It’s hard losing in the semifinals,” said assistant captain Sophie Vandale, the emotion of the loss evident on her face. “We had a really good team this year and we thought we had a shot.”

The loss stung for the players who were so close to forcing a deciding game.

“For the girls who have been in that dressing room for four and five years this is tough because we really, really felt that we had a golden opportunity to work and get to the AUS championship,” Donaldson said.

The Panthers controlled much of the play early on Tuesday.

They outshot the X-Women 16-3 in the first period and led 1-0 on Jenna Pellerin’s shorthanded goal 3:46 into the game. But it could have been more. They hit the iron at least once and were unable to cash in on two breakaways.

“I’m really proud of the way they played. They came out hard tonight and probably deserved a little better fate,” said Donaldson, who also credited a veteran X program. “They’re very resilient and very confident and they just keep sticking to what they do.”

St. FX outshot the Panthers 12-6 in the second period but trailed 2-1 heading to the third as Kelly Clements restored the home side’s lead 1:22 after Tyra Meropoulis tied the game midway through the middle stanza.

Kaylee Dufresne, a game-time decision with a pulled quad, played her typical strong game. She drew an assist on Clements’ goal after the Panthers dumped the puck in and Dufresne went in on the forecheck.

“Kaylee is in there without a stick and at the end of the play it's in the back of the net,” Donaldson said. “That’s just the type of the player she is.”

Captain Rachel Colle also had an assist for UPEI. Elliott, Santana Gravelle, Lindsey Donovan, Meropoulis and Emma Thomas had helpers for the X-Women.

Jamie Johnson stopped 34 shots in the win while Scherger stopped 18 in the loss.

The Panthers played two one-goal games against the X-Women in the semifinal, showing they belong with the conference’s elite.

And UPEI’s season is not over.

The Panthers are hosting nationals for the second straight year from March 12-15.

“We showed that we can compete with the best teams in Canada, so I guess watch out nationals,” Vandale said.

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