UNB and STU write the final chapter of the 2020-21 season

Halifax, NS – Nearly every AUS and ACAA team finished up their exhibition seasons by March 27, but a few UNB Reds/Seawolves and St. Thomas Tommies teams came out for their encores last week. And they did so with a bang.

The Saint John-based Seawolves faced STU in men’s and women’s volleyball games in the middle of the week, each playing a game to cap off their respective seasons. That set the stage for a Saturday matinee in Fredericton, between the women’s hockey Tommies and Reds. That game treated us to a classic barnburner that ended in favour of STU 6-5, thanks to an Olivia Reid goal with less than a minute left.

In perhaps the most fitting fashion, the university sport athletic exhibition season in the Maritimes has come to a close, spanning nearly a month from the first games in early February (not including a week in early March that saw circuit breaker restrictions in Nova Scotia briefly suspend games). 

With exams and the summer break looming, Nova Scotia schools concluded play in the last full week of March with New Brunswick, as mentioned, fully wrapping up a week later. This is the latest any of these teams have played in the year in a long time, if ever. That includes national championships. The hockey game Saturday was the first time those particular teams faced off so late in the year.

UNB/STU finales

7 of 11 goals in Saturday’s women’s hockey matchup came in the third period. The scores after each period were 1-1 and 2-2 respectively, but the game was soon broken open with two STU goals in the opening minutes of the third. 

After the teams traded goals, UNB pulled the goalie with roughly three minutes left to play and it paid off greatly for the Reds. Rookie Melanie Drost, already with a goal, converted in close to cut the Tommies lead to 5-4. Sage McElroy-Scott buried one less than a minute later, her second of the afternoon also, to tie the game up at five with mere seconds left in regulation.

Who else had a multi-goal game Saturday afternoon? That would be STU’s Reid, already with two when UNB tied the game. But two wasn’t enough. Moments after McElroy-Scott’s tying goal, Reid beat out a Reds defender and put the puck past UNB goalie Hailey Martens for the hat trick and 6-5 lead. STU held off the UNB response through the final 38 seconds to secure the victory and to tie the exhibition series between the teams this year at two wins apiece.

Tommies coach Peter Murphy said post-game it was perhaps the greatest way possible to finish the season that has been, while discussing the things his team could do with games.

 “We were able to roll through all of our lines and we placed our rookies into pressure situations that they may not have the chance in a normal season,” he said. “We are defined in sport by the roles the athlete plays on a team, but without playing games, it’s hard to establish what the role is.”

With big performances from Reds youngsters like rookie Drost, sophomore Marley Van Den Oetelaar and returning third years like McElroy-Scott among others, Reds coach Sarah Hilworth said this game was important for the younger players to gain experience and confidence, as they will soon become the team’s veterans.

“We’re starting to show that maturity and our young players are starting to develop. Our first-years did an outstanding job today, started contributing in bigger and bigger ways,” she said. “I think it’s exciting for them to see that they can play a bigger role, and for our returning players, they’re starting to see themselves as veterans and starting to step up in dire moments.”

In volleyball action, STU dominated UNBSJ in games on March 31 (women’s) and April 1 (men’s). In the women’s matchup, STU swept their rivals from down the Saint John River 3-0. The teams played two more sets with the match being each team’s final one. Among them, UNBSJ nearly shocked the Tommies, forcing the set well past the 25-point threshold and only losing by two, 29-27. For six Tommies and some Seawolves, this match was their last in the ACAA with a number of athletes heading into graduation like in the hockey game.

The men’s teams ended their seasons, and ACAA careers for some older players, the following day. The bout featured yet another STU sweep, but a fourth bonus set was taken by the Seawolves 25-21. This matchup was the final one for volleyball in the Maritimes this season. 

A final few notes

-I don’t think we’ve talked enough yet about Melanie Drost’s first goal Saturday afternoon. I mean, that’s hands-down the play of the year in my opinion. Yes, the shot itself was nuts, but as the broadcast said, she was completely covered and out of room too. Two Tommies hounded her all the way from the blue line to the bottom of the circle and goalie Katie Sweeney played the angle near-perfectly, not leaving much room. Nonetheless, Drost beat her from a very tight angle over the shoulder. As you will see from the game archive (the goal is at around the 24-minute mark), she scored in a very similar spot and fashion that Patrick Kane scored from a few years ago.

-A number of retirements throughout the AUS were announced or began in the final week of March. Among the ones that officially began were those of St. FX men’s basketball coach Steve “Coach K” Konchalski and Dal women’s basketball coach Anna Stammberger. Konchalski retires following almost five decades coaching the X-Men, while Stammberger caps off 12 years with the Tigers after coaching 10-plus years elsewhere with pro and high school teams. 

Also announcing they were stepping down last week were athletic directors Marc Boudreau of Universite de Moncton and Kevin Dickie of Acadia. Boudreau leaves the role with the Aigles Bleus after 18 years, which saw Moncton win six AUS championships and host back-to-back CIS men’s hockey championships in 2007 and 2008. Dickie will step down from the helm at Acadia in June, after 10 years in the position. The Axemen and Axewomen have combined for 11 AUS championships under the former Axemen hockey coach, while hosting four national championships. To them and anybody else I may have missed, we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

-In this final weekly roundup of the season, it’s worth reflecting on how interesting it was to see the schedule unfold and the support for games from players, coaches, athletic departments, fans and many more. When the AUS and ACAA seasons were cancelled in November, it was a blow to morale given how low COVID-19 cases had been for months leading up to the decision and the subsequent hope that a season could be pulled off. 

For the most part, cases remained low by the time February rolled around for play to resume in Nova Scotia, then a few weeks later in New Brunswick. To my knowledge, at least six institutions in each province played in at least one game, not including schools outside the conferences like Rothesay Netherwood School. So not everyone in the Atlantic provinces had the chance to take part but almost everyone did something in some way, shape or form. 

Here is the hope of having opening days in September with everyone involved again (including across Canada). Thank you for following 49 Sports coverage of all things AUS and U SPORTS throughout this COVID-19 season, we’re glad to have you along through these times. And when sports fully return in the near future, we will be there too.

Cover Photo: UNB Reds Twitter

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