The Huskies men’s soccer team travelled to Fredericton, N.B. with hopes of claiming the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Championship, but it was not meant to be. The Dogs fought valiantly in their first ever appearance at the national championship, with every match being decided in additional time, but the team fell just short during pivotal moments.
The Huskies fell in the quarter-finals of the championship bracket to the Atlantic University Sport champions and host team the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds 1-2 in overtime. The loss knocked the Huskies out of main draw play and into the quarter-finals of the consolation round.
The Dogs advanced to the consolation finals and fifth place match but lost another close contest — this time in penalty kicks — to leave the championships with a sixth place finish.
Brett Levis got the Huskies on the board early in their opening match with a goal in the 6th minute, hitting the top left corner from 25-yards out to beat Reds goalkeeper Aaron McMurray. The goal seemed to turn the tide in the favour of the Dogs.
“It silenced a very great atmosphere [and] a big crowd,” Huskies head coach Bryce Chapman said to the University of New Brunswick sports information.
The host team wasn’t about the be shown the exit in their opening playoff match and levelled the score in the 28th minute when Reds striker Oliver Jones found the back of the Huskies’ net. After some opening jitters the Reds had found their footing.
“There’s been a long build-up for this day, and I think the size of that moment kind of impacted the guys a little bit in the first 15 minutes,” said Miles Pinsent, head coach of the Varsity Reds. “Once we let the boys go in and the boys started to relax I think we did much better.”
At the end of regulation play the score stood at 1-1 and the teams headed into overtime to battle for a spot in the semi-finals.
Fifteen minutes into overtime, Reds striker Yousuf Mohammad struck a penalty kick past Huskies keeper Michal Bandula to edge the host team ahead 2-1. The goal would be enough to secure the win for the Reds and end the Huskies’ hopes of bringing home a national championship.
“When you lose, especially in a national tournament, it’s disappointing,” Chapman said. “A lot of our guys played well and they did a lot of things that we asked them to do.”
The Huskies faced the Ryerson University Rams in the consolation quarter-finals and this time it was the Dogs’ turn to pull out the win as they defeated the Rams 3-2.
“I thought we got back to what we had been successful on during the season,” Chapman said. “It’s a learning experience at this level because you’re playing among eight of the best teams in the country; there is no easy game.”
The Rams jumped on the board 12 minutes into the match when Michael Velasquez maneuvered the ball past Bandula and into the back of the Huskies’ net to give the Rams an early 1-0 lead.
The Huskies showed their trademark fight and tied the game five minutes before the break when Mitch Bauche beat the Rams defence and launched a shot past keeper Christian Maraldo.
The Rams reclaimed the one-goal lead at the 59-minute mark but the Huskies clawed their way even after Ryan Contenti netted the equalizer in the 84th minute.
This time the match was decided with a shootout.
Both keepers came up with saves to open the shootout and Bandula came up with a huge stop to give Scott Myrah a chance to net the game winner. The fifth-year striker was up to the task and sent the Huskies into the consolation final with the goal.
Chapman lauded Bandula’s performance in the win and acknowledged his solid play throughout the season.
“I think Michal has had a fantastic tournament, to be honest,” he said. “He set records in about every category for us this year — [I’m] so very pleased — but he is very good at PKs, so what he did didn’t surprise me.”
The Huskies found themselves in another heated battle for the fifth-place finish with the University of Montreal Carabins and for the second time in a row the match was decided in a shootout. Unfortunately for the Dogs, this time it wasn’t their day.
Bandula and the Huskies defence had to work overtime after Jordian Farahani was issued a red card for stopping a shot with his hand in the 43rd minute. The action left the Dogs shorthanded for the rest of the match and awarded the Carabins a penalty kick. Bandula came up with a pivotal save to keep the Carabins off the board.
At the end of regulation time, neither team had found the net and the match headed into a shootout.
The Carabins edged the Huskies 4-2 in kicks made to win the consolation finals and end the Huskies’ first championship appearance on a losing note.
Despite the sour finish the Huskies can be proud of their history making best-ever season, something that Chapman’s post-match comments clearly reflected.
“This season was unbelievable, and I couldn’t have asked one more thing from our team. I only wish we could have done a little better in the nationals for our seniors.”
Photo: Rob Blanchard/University of New Brunswick