It’s safe to say the odds were stacked heavily against the Saint Mary’s Huskies after two periods on Feb. 26.
They were down by a goal and outshot 36-14 by the best team in the country, the UNB Reds. The Huskies were keeping up on the scoreboard, but were no match for the Reds’ pace and pressure in the first 40 minutes.
But what did SMU have? The answer to that, and the difference Saturday, were Sam Dunn on defence and Justin Sumarah in net.
“He’s been working so hard all year and it’s awesome to see it paying off now,” Dunn said of his goalie. “I hope he keeps it up.”
Sumarah stopped 47 shots Saturday night, with the final three coming amid a UNB empty net and a rugby scrum of Reds at the top of his crease. UNB had thought they tied it when they tapped in a puck sitting between Sumarah’s feet with eight seconds on the clock. However, the whistle had been blown and SMU hung on by a 4-3 score.
“I honestly had no idea what was going on there,” Sumarah said of the final play. “But I was battling my heart out. All the boys were, they had my back.”
Sumarah only made his first start of the season (and first ever AUS start) Friday night, a win over the Moncton Aigles Bleus that broke a six-game losing streak dating back to Nov. 26. He’s played three times this year though. On Sept. 25, he entered a road game versus StFX in relief of Xavier Potvin and earned a 3-2 win.
Meanwhile, Dunn’s four points and two goals made for a career game for him. In the second period down 2-1, the second-year defenceman found a loose puck and walked the blueline, before wristing it over the glove of UNB stopper Griffen Outhouse.
Three minutes into the third, SMU’s Logan DeNoble ripped a shot from the high circle to again tie the game, off a Dunn pass.
Seven minutes later, a nice passing play resulted in Dunn coming in all alone on Outhouse, this time electing to go top-blocker with the shot and handing the home team their first lead of the game.
“The first one was kind of lucky,” Dunn said. “Everybody in front of the net got in the way of the goalie and I shot it. The other one, Dunks [Nathan Dunkley] made a really nice pass and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Huskies coach Tyler Naugler said he was pleased, but not surprised, by his defenceman’s leadership Saturday. He noted Dunn’s time playing with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) from 2017 to 2019, so he’s no stranger to responsibility.
“This guy’s an impeccable leader for us and he can step up into any role,” Naugler said. “It’s not something we’re surprised of. It’s something we expect from him and he’s taken advantage of the opportunities.”
The X-Men have just lost six times this year and thanks to the game’s heroes, who haven’t typically been high in the lineup, the Reds have been handed their third loss.
“We’re starting to do things by committee,” Naugler said of the team’s effort later in the game, who told his room after two periods they were getting outworked. “I don’t think we were out-skilled, but we played for 40 minutes and got outworked. I asked them to match [UNB’s] work ethic and their intensity and to put more shots on net.”
The UNB side came out flying Saturday after beating Acadia 3-2 in a shootout the night before. In fact, every Reds game since the AUS returned to play has been decided by a single goal.
“We know we have good opponents every night we play in the AUS and we got the chance to get 50 shots tonight,” UNB coach Gardiner MacDougall said, crediting strong SMU goaltending with a great game. “We pride ourselves on being a third-period hockey club. Tonight was probably the first third period we didn’t come out with the result we wanted.”
Given how tight things have been in games with playoffs just around the corner, MacDougall said it’s often important to “go back a little to get ahead some.”
“[On Friday] we were fortunate enough to clinch first place, so it’s meaningful experiences that can help us down the road,” he said. “Sometimes, you can learn from a game like tonight it should be a better result for the group.”
Pulling together a string of wins with a week to go until playoffs has been equally important for SMU.
“Those wins are huge going into playoffs,” Sumarah said. “Hopefully we can build off that win and get some momentum going. Hopefully, we make a run for it.”