2017 U Cup Preview: AUS
Reg. Season Record: 16-12-2 (3rd in AUS)
U Cup Appearances: 14 (last in ’15-16)
National Championships: 1 (last in ’03-04)
First Round Matchup: McGill Redmen (0-1)
Coach: Brad Peddle (11th season)
Top 3 Scorers:
Michael Clarke (30-9-19-28)
Eric Locke (30-13-15-28)
Holden Cook (27-12-15-27)
The StFX X-Men have enjoyed a consistent history of national championship appearances, but have only one national title in program history. The X-Men first appeared in nationals in 1963, and would appear in another six tournaments before finally reaching the final in 2001. The X-Men won their lone program title in 2004 when the tournament was last in Fredericton, inching out a close 3-2 double overtime victory against UNB. StFX finished runner-up to UNB a season ago in Halifax, and are making their third consecutive appearance at the national championship.
When it comes to run and gun teams in the country, few can keep up with StFX’s deadly ability to score off the rush. Eric Locke came into the season as the reigning AUS MVP, and although his 28 points aren’t in the realm of what he had last season, Locke is still a premiere star in the AUS. Michael Clarke had a great sophomore season at StFX, posting 28 points of his own, while Holden Cook broke out for 27 after having a red hot start to the year. Kristoff Kontos is a tremendous playmaker, while Bryson Cianfrone has peaked his game at the right time, coming on late in the season to score 10 goals, and registered six points in the playoffs. StFX has a plethora of weapons, all of who can make seemingly nothing plays turn into something.
StFX has a rock solid defensive group from top to bottom that may not offer the same offensive impact other school have, but do everything they need to win. Craig Duininck and Jagger Dirk headline the first defensive pairing as two blocking machines who can shutdown any line in the league on a good night. Craig MacDonald is the top offensive threat from the blueline, and has seen his game come to life in the second half of his rookie season. Max Iafrate is a dominant physical force who can score with one of the heaviest shots in the AUS, as evidenced by his seven goals in the regular season. Aaron Hoyles completes the core group of defenders on StFX as a reliable defenceman who gets the job done on a nightly basis. Cody Hendsbee also drew into the lineup during playoffs.
At the start of the season, it appeared the starting job would be wide open between Chase Marchand and Brandon Hope. But it’s clear after a perfect 7-0 playoff run with a .925 SV%, Marchand is the man for StFX. What a wild two seasons it’s been for Marchand who found himself starting in the Memorial Cup last year after being a former waiver wire acquisition. Now he’s here proving his worth as one of the top goaltenders, and comes into this tournament as the best goalie out of the AUS.
Nathan Pancel came to the StFX program a season ago as a former 42 goal scorer at the OHL level, and immediately looked at home scoring 11 goals in his AUS rookie season. This year it took Pancel 14 games to score in the regular season, and never posed the same threat he did last year. Pancel mustered four points including two goals in the playoffs, which shows he’s still got something left in the tank this year. If he’s able to breakout, even if it’s only for a goal or two, it would be great timing for StFX.
The X-Men are an even better team than they were a season ago. Their offence is more diverse, their defence is deeper, and the goaltending is right on par with what they had in Drew Owsley last season. StFX isn’t the best regular season team, but when the game counts, Brad Peddle always gets the most out of his group. It won’t be a surprise of any sort to see StFX in the U Cup final.
Reg. Season Record: 25-2-3 (1st in AUS)
U Cup Appearances: 16 (last in ’15-16)
National Championships: 6
First Round Matchup: Queen’s Gaels (Never played)
Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (16th season)
Top 3 Scorers:
Philippe Maillet (30-23-32-55)
Cameron Braes (27-15-27-42)
Jordan Murray (30-14-26-40)
The UNB Varsity Reds are one of the most accomplished university programs in recent history, having won five national titles under coach Gardiner MacDougall and playing in 11 championship final games since 1997. Overall, the Varsity Reds have appeared in 16 national tournaments, with the first being in 1964, and not seeing another until 1984. The V-Reds are making their third consecutive appearance at the national tournament as the host team.
The UNB Varsity Reds are the absolute class of the country when it comes to offence. There’s great offensive teams, and then there’s UNB. The V-Reds have four lines that can skate, check, and score, but nobody did that better this year and Philippe Maillet. Ending his season with a country-leading 55 points, Maillet was dominant right from the get-go, and is the most dangerous threat on UNB. His linemate Cam Braes benefitted directly, having pieced together a career-high 42 points alongside Maillet, and provides a wealth of scoring off the wing. Chris Clapperton missed the first portion of the season with a broken foot, and since his return has been above a point-per-game player, while Cameron Brace looks to rebound after spending part of the season on the injured list. Philippe Halley was last season’s U Cup MVP, and returns having only scored six goals in the season, but still has lethal capabilities. From top to bottom, UNB can do it all up front.
The Varsity Reds find themselves with a very well-balanced defensive group this season. Jordan Murray leads the way as their star, putting up a remarkable 40 points, leading all U SPORTS defenceman. Randy Gazzola isn’t far off from being as good as Murray, and rookie Matt Murphy has come with the all-around ability that was expected. Matt Petgrave is another defender who can put up points, but his athleticism also makes him one of the best skaters and all-around defenders in the league. Colin Suellentrop and Marcus McIvor are tasked with doing the dirty work as UNB’s tough and physical defenders. Together, this group is capable of great things, but can be susceptible to teams that can score on the rush like StFX.
Here lies the biggest question for UNB. Etienne Marcoux is the odds on favourite to start with Alex Dubeau backing up. Marcoux has a great junior hockey pedigree, and was nearly flawless at last year’s University Cup. But Marcoux didn’t look so flawless in the postseason, bearing a .865 SV% in his eight starts. Marcoux has the ability to play well for UNB, but we haven’t seen it recently. With UNB averaging around only 16-17 shots against per game, even a decent effort from Marcoux should be good enough to win.
Francis Beauvillier is another NHL Draft pick who has been recruited to the AUS ranks, and brings a very solid all-around game as a good sized forward who can skate very well, play a physical game, and score when needed. After scoring 15 goals last season, some thought this was the year Beauvillier would contend for MVP honours. But he only managed six goals in the regular season after dealing with some suspension issues. When everything comes together for Beauvillier, he’s the best power forward in the league, and even when he’s not playing great, he’s still a big asset.
UNB is still the odds on favourite to win the tournament on home ice, a place where they never lost once during the regular season. The issue is that teams are figuring out how to beat UNB. The Varsity Reds can and will outshoot all of their opponents, but playing them physically, great goaltending, short shifts, and a quick strike offence are the ingredients to beating UNB. But it’s a lot harder to put all those elements together in a single game.
Reg. Season Record: 20-8-1 (2nd in AUS)
U Cup Appearances: 9 (last in ’14-15)
National Championships: 2 (last in ’95-96)
First Round Matchup: Alberta (1-1 all-time)
Coach: Darren Burns (16th season)
Top 3 Scorers:
Boston Leier (30-18-14-32)
Matthew Pufahl (28-7-20-37)
Stephen Harper (26-9-16-25)
The Acadia Axemen first set foot at a national championship in 1992 where they first met Alberta, losing 5-2 in the championship final. Acadia would rebound to win the 1993 title against U of T, and appeared in two more championship games in 1996 and 1998. Acadia is an all-time 7-8-0 at nationals, and are making their third appearance in the last four seasons.
The Acadia Axemen are the big bad brutes out of the AUS who stand as one of the biggest, most physical teams in the country, and have an underrated offence when it comes to skill. The Axemen can certainly skate, and Boston Leier is a prime example of that. Leier’s 32 points and 18 goals lead the Axemen this season and played well enough to be in the AUS MVP conversation. Brett Thompson is a seasoned five year veteran of the league who has put up 30+ points in the past, and can generate offence from anywhere on the ice. Remy Giftopoulos and Sam Fioretti are both third year forwards who consistently produce, but the rookie Stephen Harper overtook them with 25 points this season. Harper’s terrific vision for the game, skating ability, and size make him a rare breed of university hockey player, and already cement him as a huge key to Acadia’s offence.
Just like their offence, Acadia’s defence is comprised of big players who can play a very physical game. Marc McNulty tops the list as the tallest player on Acadia at 6-foot-7, and although he hasn’t brought much offence to the table, has a good first pass. Alex Lepkowski is another big defender at 6-foot-3 and provides physicality and responsible defence with Liam Maaskant who also adds a chippy edge to Acadia, making them one of the hardest teams to play against. Matthew Pufahl and Geoff Schemitsch are both incredibly talented from the blueline and offer big offensive upside, having registered over 20 points each this season. Stephen Woodworth is the smallest defender on the team at 6-foot-0, but still plays his part defensively, dressing for all 30 games in the regular season.
It’s been a strange season in net for the Acadia Axemen, who were believed to be getting Jake Smith from the North Bay Battalion, wound up with Devin Williams, barely played their starter of seasons prior in Brandon Glover, and now have their backup goalie from the last two season, Robert Steeves, starring in net. Don’t be fooled by his AUS track record in seasons previous, Steeves is more than capable of getting the job done. It’s taken him awhile to come around, but he’s already managed to shut the door on UNB this season, which says a lot in itself. Acadia doesn’t have the most star-studded netminding, but just like every team at the U Cup, it’s good enough to beat anyone.
If Brett Thompson gets the ball rolling…. look out. His 25 points this year were a career low, which is rare for a fifth year, but Thompson definitely hasn’t become any less valuable to Acadia. Thompson is a renowned playmaker, who can skate like the wind, and has decent finishing ability too. If he can find a way to put together some of his best games of the season in Fredericton, Acadia’s offence becomes unstoppable.
As big and physical as the Acadia Axemen are, there’s still holes. They draw an exceptionally tough opponent in Alberta for the first game, but an easy game at the U Cup is simply nonexistent. Acadia’s playoff struggles of the past two seasons certainly raise a few cautionary flags, and if they wind up in the penalty box too much like they have at times this year, they won’t last long in Fredericton. On the other hand, Acadia has what it takes to win any kind of game at this tournament.