For the fourth time in seven years the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds have won the University Cup.
New Brunswick shut out their Atlantic conference rival Saint Mary’s University Huskies 2-0 to win the national championship Sunday night at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.
“It feels like the first time,” UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said after hoisting the cup awarded to the best university hockey club in Canada each year. “It’s outstanding.”
A penalty-filled first period ended early for SMU’s captain Justin Wallingford. He left the game 3:22 into the match after taking a high hit from the Reds’ Tyler Carroll. Wallingford was woozy getting up, but managed to skate off on his own and did not return. Carroll was assessed a 10-minute misconduct for checking to the head and put his team down a man for two minutes.
That penalty was shortly followed by an interference call against UNB’s defenceman Adrian Robertson. The infraction resulted in 29 seconds of five-on-three play for Saint Mary’s, but New Brunswick’s penalty kill managed to hold off SMU’s attack.
The Reds scored their first goal midway through the opening frame on the man advantage. A point shot from the Reds was initially stopped by SMU’s goaltender Anthony Peters, but a juicy rebound created a scramble of sticks at the doorstep of the net. New Brunswick’s Daine Todd managed to poke it across the goal-line and give his team the 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
The penalties kept coming in the second frame. Saint Mary’s Jeff Marchand and Ryan Gottschalk both watched the majority of the period from the sin bin, each garnering 10-minute stints in the box for checking to the head.
Despite the surplus of power plays, the goaltenders were solid. Neither Peters or the Reds’ Daniel LaCosta allowed a goal in the second period. At the end of 40 minutes of action UNB led SMU 19-12 in shots.
New Brunswick continued their strong defensive play in the third and final frame, playing to protect their one-goal lead more than trying to find the insurance marker.
Despite their defensive style, a lucky break nearly gave the Varsity Reds their second goal with just under six minutes to play. Catching Saint Mary’s on a line change, UNB’s Cam Braes had an open breakaway but fumbled the puck and couldn’t get the shot away.
Still 1-0 in the final minute of play, SMU called a timeout with 48 seconds left. They won the ensuing faceoff and elected to pull their goalie in exchange for an extra attacker. It proved ineffective. Saint Mary’s wasn’t able to set up any scoring chances, and with 10.5 seconds left, Reds forward Carroll stripped Saint Mary’s of the puck at centre ice. He shot the puck toward the goal, and as the puck slid across the line and into the net, the Varsity Reds were sent into a frenzy.
“Thank God it went in,” Carroll said after the game, adding that he felt a huge sense of relief when he saw the puck go in.
It was Carroll’s fourth goal of the tournament. He scored more than any other player and was honoured with tournament MVP honours for his effort.
“You go through blood, sweat and tears with these guys all year, and to finally come out on top is pretty special,” he said. The MVP award “is just icing on the cake.”
LaCosta turned away 17 shots for the shutout and was named the tournament’s best goalie.
The game was the second time this month UNB and Saint Mary’s met in a playoff final. New Brunswick downed SMU two games to one in the Atlantic University Sport championship March 2-7.
“We’ve had an outstanding rivalry,” UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said of Saint Mary’s. “The rivalry makes both teams better, and that’s indicative of both teams being in the national final.”
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf