U MHKY: Clutch-time goals help Axemen survive Dalhousie scare

Halifax, NS- The Dalhousie Tigers had the Acadia Axemen off their game early on. 

Dalhousie had them sucked into a game of keep-away and held much of the play to a halt along the boards. Acadia still seemed to be recovering from a miserable third period against the Saint Mary’s Huskies a week ago. The Axemen, second in the AUS last year, seemed to be pinned down at the mercy of the last-place Tigers.

That is until the Axemen found their groove. Most importantly, they seized their identity and made Dalhousie play their way.

Acadia has characterized their game as more back and forth, chaotic and fast through two exhibition games and the Tigers were out to control that with a structured attack and urgent defence. That worked for a while but later on, like most of the third period, the hosts buzzed, buzzed and buzzed. 

The end-to-end rushes, which Dalhousie all but eliminated up until the third period, would burn them; it was a four-on-two opportunity after a critical Dawson Carty save that led to Mason McCarty’s all-important third Acadia goal. Although it wasn’t the winning marker in the 5-3 Acadia final (that honour belongs to Jack Flaman’s empty-netter), it essentially was.

That’s a funny way to spell “seasoned veterans”

Out of the best players in this game, the majority were rookies. We knew this would be a good game for freshman 20 seconds in, after Josh Wainman buried a (debatable) opening goal. 

The show, however, would be stolen by Acadia’s Nick Deakin-Poot and Tyler Hinam. Hinam’s goal is what sparked the Acadia attack midway through the second period and he came dangerously close to a couple more in the third. Deakin-Poot had the second frame’s other goal after coming oh-so-close several times earlier. The two drove the play on Acadia’s end for the vast majority of the game and were even more difficult to stop together. Along with fellow rookies Cole Rafuse and Peyton Hoyt, the Axemen’s young guns kept them alive.

Dalhousie’s rookies also played extremely steady and, like Acadia and SMU’s rookies, have shown they belong. Wainman and Christian Huntley munched minutes on the blueline, Darien Kielb played a mature game and Derek Gentile is already running the power play. The Tigers’ youth, like Acadia, has given the team confidence for when it’s time to pass the torch down from the older guys.

Balanced contribution

Guys like Deakin-Poot and Hinam shone brightest, but Acadia’s team as a whole presented few holes over the span of the game, regardless of the role. One standout was Owen MacDonald, spending the second period tearing apart Dalhousie’s patience and turning a couple of giveaways into dangerous chances, all while not letting Dalhousie take the puck back. 

Rodney Southam and Jack Flaman had huge efforts at the faceoff dot, with efficiencies of 66.67 and 77.78 per cent respectively. Morgan Nauss and Loch Morrison were forces defensively and, heck, fellow d-man TJ Fergus even had five shots. Dawson Carty, who gave Logan Flodell the night off, had a slow start but gave the Tigers nothing until it was too late. Carty stopped 20 of Dalhousie’s final 21 shots to hold the fort between the Acadia pipes.

Tigers take huge step forward

Dalhousie has spent nearly two decades at or near the bottom of the AUS standings, appearing in the playoffs just twice in the last 16 full seasons. Something surely had (or has) to happen soon in the program. But in an interesting step toward the future, the Tigers introduced nine rookies into the 2020-21 lineup. The team’s play tonight said a lot about the positives to come for Dalhousie.

Not only will they retain this year’s newcomers (including at least a few more already for next season), but the younger second and third-year guys still have tons of time left. Sophomore Brett Crossley plays in all situations and will be a veteran presence very soon with all the young guys coming up, while Connor Welsh, Logan Johnston and Cameron Thompson bring various strengths to the lineup, all having at least a year left after this one. Also, the Connor Hicks/Reilly Pickard tandem will remain for the next year at least, bringing what will be much-needed stability in goal. Of course, U SPORTS eligibility modifications due to the pandemic year will mean something different for every player.

Hinam, Deakin-Poot, McCarty, Flaman and Southam scored for the Axemen, while Crossley, Wainman and Matt Green responded for the Tigers. Despite the Tigers going 2-for-5 on the power play (compared to Acadia’s 0-for-2), the Axemen outshot the Tigers 30-27. Carty got the win while Hicks was the goalie of record for Dalhousie. Acadia improves to 1-1 (won-lost) in this exhibition season, with Dalousie sitting at 0-1.

The Tigers will host their Halifax rivals from SMU next Friday at the Halifax Forum, then Acadia will travel there the week after to face Dalousie once more.  

Cover Photo: Dalhousie University 2019

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