With two rounds of AUS playoff hockey in the books, the table is set for another classic showdown between the StFX X-Men and UNB Varsity Reds in the AUS final.
This year’s meeting marks the second consecutive season where both the X-Men and Varsity Reds have squared off in the final. Last season, StFX swept the Varsity Reds in a best-of- three after taking game one in enemy territory, and closing the deal in game two on home ice. The context to this season’s clash in the finals isn’t all that different from last.
The UNB Varsity Reds are juggernauts once again in the AUS, and come into the finals as the number one ranked program in the country. In the regular season, UNB’s offence was nearly untouchable, registering 4.93 goals-per- game, leading the country, and had a country best 26.6% powerplay. After taking out Saint Mary’s in a best-of- five semi-final to advance into the AUS final, UNB’s powerplay has dropped off significantly, operating at just 5.3% in playoffs. Despite that number, UNB’s offence is still the most lethal in the country.
UNB’s forward unit is primarily comprised of QMJHL talent, such as AUS MVP Philippe Maillet, but ex-OHLers Cameron Brace and Rob Mignardi both play substantial parts in UNB’s success. Brace (Owen Sound/Belleville) has been sidelined for all but one playoff game, but is expected to suit up for UNB in the AUS finals. During the regular season, Brace posted 11 points in 19 games for UNB. A former Kingston Frontenac/Owen Sound Attack forward, Rob Mignardi is in his final year of eligibility with UNB, and equalled a career-high with 24 points in the regular season. Mignardi has found the net once in the playoffs thus far, and his four points in as many postseason games are tied for most on the team.
Defensively, UNB boasts a number of former OHL standouts. Although their defensive corps is lead by ex-Halifax Moosehead Jordan Murray, Marcus McIvor (Brampton), Colin Suellentrop (Oshawa), and Matt Petgrave (Niagara/Owen Sound/Oshawa) round out UNB’s defensive depth. McIvor missed most of his first season with a broken ankle, but has returned for a very strong sophomore season at UNB, and plays the role of shutdown defender, just as he did in the OHL. Suellentrop plays a similar role for UNB, and adds a physical edge to their blueline. Petgrave adds the most offence of the three, with 15 points in the regular season, including four goals. All three defenders will see ample ice-time in front of ex-QMJHL goaltender, Etienne Marcoux.
For StFX, they find themselves as the second youngest team in the country, with not a single player beyond their third year of eligibility. The regular season yielded varied success for the X-Men, but they wound up third in the AUS with a 16-12- 2 record, doubling their regulation loss total from 2015-16. Despite this, the X-Men have been perfect in the playoffs thus far, sweeping the Moncton Aigles Bleus in the quarter-finals, and pulling off a surprise sweep of the number four nationally ranked Acadia Axemen in a best-of- five semi-final. The X-Men roll into the AUS finals playing their best hockey of the season.
Offensively, the X-Men are led by a plethora of ex-OHL talent, with 2015-16 AUS MVP, Eric Locke (Windsor/Barrie/Saginaw) headlining the list. After registering 28 points in the regular season, Locke leads the X-Men in playoff points with seven in five games. Sitting just one point behind with six, is Bryson Cianfrone (Mississauga/Owen Sound). After a strong 21 point rookie season, Cianfrone has hit full stride in the playoffs for StFX, scoring in his first three playoff games. After a breakout regular season, Holden Cook (Owen Sound) continues to pay dividends for StFX up front, and is joined by Kristoff Kontos (Mississauga/Saginaw), Nathan Pancel (Sudbury/Peterborough), and Michael Clarke (Windsor/Peterborough) as returnees from last season’s AUS championship team. Sam Studnicka (Windsor/Ottawa/Sarnia) has served well for StFX in his rookie season, compiling four points in five
playoff games, and Anthony DiFruscia (Niagara) completes StFX’s ex-OHL forward contingency.
Defensively, StFX features former OHL blueliners Craig Duninick (Windsor/ Sarnia/Sudbury) and Max Iafrate (Plymouth/Kitchener). Duninick serves as one of StFX’s most veteran players on the roster and is relied upon as a top-pairing defender. After being acquired halfway through 2015-16, Iafrate has shown flashes of greatness with StFX, having scored seven goals in the regular season from the back-end, and is one of the most feared hitters in the AUS. Iafrate was tied for first in regular season AUS penalty minutes with 92. In net, the X-Men will turn to former Mississauga Steelhead Chase Marchand, who has looked stellar in his AUS rookie season posting a .913 SV%, second best in the league. Backing him up will be Brandon Hope (Sarnia/Owen Sound/Niagara).
Game one of the best-of- three AUS final is set to go on Monday night at 7:00pm AST from Fredericton New Brunswick, with game two on Wednesday, and game three if necessary on Friday night. Both StFX and UNB are guaranteed a spot at nationals in a week’s time, meanwhile Saint Mary’s and Acadia will battle it out to determine the final position at the U Cup for AUS teams.