The Varsity Reds quest to win their third straight national championship ended in heartbreaking fashion as they fell 5-4 in overtime to St.FX.
The Saturday matinee game of the U Cup semi-finals was heated from the start as the two AUS rivals traded goals and bone-rattling body checks throughout the opening frame.
UNB managed to take control of the game in the second period, grabbing a 3-2 lead on a goal from Chris Clapperton. Despite being outshot 18-7 in the period, the X-Men managed to prevent the V-Reds from extending their lead, thanks largely to the play of goaltender Chase Marchand.
The third period saw UNB’s momentum quickly come to a halt as a result of some controversial calls by referees Jonathan Alarie and Tyler Adair. The turning point of the game came just over five minutes in as first year Varsity Red Oliver LeBlanc received a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing.
St.FX’s top ranked powerplay took full advantage of the lengthy powerplay with Holden Cook and Cole MacDonald each adding goals to give the X-Men a 4-3 lead.
UNB’s Mark Simpson managed to tie the game late in the period to send the already loud Aitken Centre crowd into a frenzy. The goal was assisted by Stephen Anderson and Randy Gazzola.
The intensity in the arena reached a boiling point with less than two minutes remaining when St.FX player Bryson Cianfrone was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped by UNB forward Cam Brace. Varsity Reds goalie Alex Dubeau managed to save the day, stopping the shot to send the game into overtime.
Overtime saw UNB continue to get the majority of the scoring chances but were repeatedly denied by Marchand.
With just 47 seconds remaining in the first overtime period, St.FX sunk a dagger into the hearts of the defending champions after Dubeau got caught up on the post of his net and was unable to fully recover in time to stop a shot from X-Men forward Adam Stevens.
After the game, UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall expressed his pride in his team’s play and surprise at some of the calls that went against them in the third period.
“I haven’t seen that in 18 years,” he said, in reference to the late game penalty shot. “Never had a penalty shot against us in the national finals.
“You can’t always write the script. This was a heartbreaker for us. We’ve got to be so proud of our group, what they’ve done, what they’ve achieved.”
St.FX will now advance to the tournament finals where they will face the second seeded Alberta Golden Bears who won in the second semi-final game of the day, defeating the Saskatchewan Huskies in overtime by a score of 3-2.
The Varsity Reds and Huskies will also go head-to-head on Sunday morning in the bronze medal game. The game will see the two 2017 University Cup finalists go head-to-head for the first time since UNB’s 5-3 championship winning victory.