Halifax, NS- Several AUS teams will be returning to action across four sports this weekend, in week two of the southern Nova Scotia exhibition bubble.
Among them is a men’s hockey matchup Friday night between the Dalhousie Tigers and Acadia Axemen. The Tigers will get their first taste of post-pandemic hockey, travelling to Acadia to play the Axemen after the latter played at Saint Mary’s last week.
On paper, the matchup doesn’t appear as close as last week’s Acadia/SMU barnburner. While Acadia is coming off a nationals appearance and near-upset of the UNB Reds in last year’s playoffs, Dal remains deep in rebuilding mode. Although they finished last place in 2019-20, their eight wins were their most since their most recent playoff appearance in 2017-18. Should the upward trend continue, and Dal’s nine (!) rookies show a comfort level like the ones in last week’s game, fans on both sides will be in for a treat.
Acadia vs Dal
The Axemen will be looking for their first win since last year’s AUS final after falling just short to SMU last week. The teams were neck-and-neck until a strong SMU third period outweighed the Acadia effort.
All eyes will be on a pair of Axemen seniors: Cristiano Digiacinto and Rodney Southam, who accounted for three of Acadia’s four goals last week in Halifax. Digiacinto will be on a mission to put more pucks in the net after leading the AUS in goals last year, while Southam, who had two the other night, will look to get a hot streak going. With the four-game schedule in place, Southam is actually on pace to shatter his goal tally of five last season.
Acadia will look for their rookies to take the next step after respectable debuts last week and also for their power play to do some more damage. The man-advantage looked strong at SMU, with only a hot goalie in the way of a higher efficiency. Logan Flodell has a chance to become that hot goalie this week. Despite being beat for six against the Huskies, he had a solid outing and looked unbeatable at times. Should he get the start again tonight, the reigning AUS MVP will be well-rested and dangerous.
The Tigers last played more than a year ago, when they beat SMU 4-3 at the Halifax Forum on Feb. 8, 2020. Their 8-22 (won-lost) record wasn’t good enough for a playoff berth in 2019-20 but Dal went 3-2 in their final five games, including that win over their cross-town rivals. But their last win over Acadia? Nov. 16, 2019.
With a rebuild comes change and there’s been no shortage of that on the player side. Dal stockpiled recruits for this coming season, including QMJHL vets Derek Gentile, Christian Huntley and Shaun Miller. Departed players include seniors Jesse Lussier, Zachary Taylor and team MVP Colton Heffley.
Back is leading scorer Jonathan Cyr and seniors Kelly Bent and Andrew Shewfelt, plus on-the-rise third-year Campbell Pickard. The Connor Hicks/Reilly Pickard goaltender tandem will stay intact with Hicks expected to take most of the starter’s reps. The pair have played together in the Dal net since 2018-19. Behind the bench, Chris Donnelly enters his 10th year as the Tigers’ head coach.
Game time is at 7 p.m. and will be streamed on austv.ca.
Wild second week
This weekend will feature the most university sports action since the first weekend of March 2020, which featured events like the USPORTS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championships and the 2020 Track & Field Championships.
Four sports (hockey, basketball, volleyball and swimming) will be played this weekend involving AUS teams. Acadia and Dal’s men’s and women’s basketball teams square off Saturday afternoon, with the women playing in Wolfville and the men at Dalplex. A finalist from the Top 8 Championships, the Dalhousie men’s Tigers will play against a USPORTS team for the first time since falling to the Carleton Ravens in the Top 8 final. Acadia’s women also had a deep run in the AUS playoffs last year but ran into the red-hot UPEI Panthers in the championship game.
The first AUS “virtual swim meet” will begin Friday afternoon. The meet will include at least four teams, including at least two aside from Acadia and Dal (SMU doesn’t have a swim team). Potentially, teams from outside Nova Scotia could be involved. In women’s volleyball, Dal hosts Acadia on Sunday. While Dal is coming off their eighth straight AUS title, the Axewomen beat them once in straight sets last February. That was the Tigers’ only regular season loss in 2019-20.
In women’s hockey, the UPEI Panthers are the busiest out of anyone outside Nova Scotia, playing in the Mount Academy’s Big M Showcase in Summerside, P.E.I. this weekend.
In the SMU/Acadia/Dal exhibition bubble, this is week two of a roughly five-week span of games in hockey, basketball and women’s volleyball, plus distanced swimming competition. The schools plan to wrap up competition by mid-March, as their seasons don’t typically continue beyond then.