AUS WHKY: Semifinal matchups set as SMU’s star power leads them to victory

Across the AUS women’s hockey circuit Wednesday night, the top teams made statements with large-margin wins. The Saint Mary’s Huskies were no different, handling the Dalhousie Tigers with ease on the way to a 4-0 triumph.

Dal kept it competitive through the first little bit in the game with some grade-A chances. But some early saves from Dagny Hudspeth in net set the tone for the rest of the game.

Also setting the tone for the Huskies was their top line, featuring newly-minted AUS MVP Shae Demale. While killing a penalty late in the first, Miranda Hatt stole a puck and busted up the right side of the ice. As a Tigers defender caught her around the blueline, she pulled off a no-look backhand pass and found Demale in stride in the slot.

Demale herself was fighting off a defender, but did well enough to launch a backhander over Dal goalie Taylor Beam’s right shoulder. In a fitting start to the game given Demale’s conference honour earlier in the day, the Dauphinee Centre was brought to life with a late goal-of-the-year candidate. 

“I saw [Hatt] going on the 2-on-1, then I saw the D backing off so I had an opening,” Demale said of the play leading to the game’s first goal. “I went and hoped the puck got through, then finished it off.”

The game took a noticeable shift following the opening goal, nudging possession and control in SMU’s favour. It would cumulate into a fury of plays early in the second. Erin Denny doubled SMU’s lead on a loose puck in the Dal crease, followed moments later by a bullet off Aimee O’Neil’s stick that hit the crossbar. 

The second period was also Hudspeth’s busiest in goal, as Dal registered 13 of their 30 shots Wednesday night in the middle frame. 

“When I started the game, I wanted to stay ready. They came in with a few shots to start, then I had a break for a bit,” Hudspeth said. “Being in the goaltender position, you always have to stay ready for what comes your way.”

As Dal pressed down on the SMU crease, the Huskies would swing the play the other way. By the end of the second, Hatt buried one to extend the lead to three. The final period wasn’t as back and forth as the first two, but Demale converted 12 minutes in on a deflected shot for her second of the night. 

“Those two [Demale and Hatt] along with [linemate] Mary McDonald, that line’s been together for the better part of four years now. They do get a lot of the attention because they get points up on the boards but what I like about them is they’re just as effective off the puck and defensively too,” Huskies coach Chris Larade said of his top line and their role on both sides of the puck Wednesday. “It’s a great example set for the rest of the group.”

Dal would end up outshooting SMU 30 shots to 28, thanks in part to four power play opportunities. The home team had just one power play advantage. Olivia Eustace and Kennedy Whelan each generated five shots for the Tigers.

Dal coach Troy Ryan said he was glad about the chances generated as reflected in the shot totals, but the difference came down to who was converting them. 

“I like that we didn’t give up. We kept pushing and working hard. When they scored the third goal, I thought we got a little bit away from what we were doing to be in the game and we started to cheat a little bit,” he said. Ryan recently arrived back with the team after helping the Canadian women’s national team to hockey gold at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. “I like that it was only a three or four-minute span, then we got back to doing things the right way. It would have been nice if they got rewarded for it though.”

As for the Huskies, they will face a familiar foe in the semifinals: the StFX X-Women. StFX beat SMU in the AUS championship in 2020. The teams have met in the playoffs each season since 2015-16. Of those five matchups, SMU’s taken three. But the X-Women have won the most recent two.

But with the MVP on their side, the Huskies will look to get back to their winning ways over their cross-province foes.

“It was an honour today to get that,” Demale said of the MVP award. “It was definitely exciting but I just try to stick to my game plan and do what I know how to do.”

How about the MVP chants from the crowd after her second goal? And from Husdpeth as Demale came out of the locker room for questions? 

“I heard them,” she laughed. “Kept the energy up for sure.”

WHKY Quarterfinal Roundup

St. Thomas 3 – UPEI 2

The St. Thomas Tommies led for most of the game at MacLauchlan Arena in Charlottetown after a pair of power play goals near the end of the first period. But, possibly off the strength of a pep talk from outgoing UPEI Panthers coach Bruce Donaldson, the national championship hosts had Chiara Esposito and Taylor Gillis score six minutes apart to tie the game. 

STU slowly pushed back after the tying goal with some shots. But with 58 seconds to play in the third, Emma Pye won a faceoff and went to the net, where she buried the go-ahead goal for the Tommies. With that, STU sent the fourth-place Panthers packing until the U Sports championships in late March, while securing a semifinal berth against cross-campus rivals the UNB Reds.

Elsewhere on the Tommies scoresheet, Jacey Dane, Mariah Carey and Aislynn Byers all registered two points apiece. Second-team all-star Caroline Pietrowski had 29 saves for the win.

UNB 6 – Mount Allison 1

After a scoreless first period, the Reds exploded for five goals in the second to clip the Mount Allison Mounties and secure a semifinal berth against St. Thomas.

11 different players found the scoresheet for the top-seeded team in the league, while UNB dominated with a 43-19 shots advantage. Leading the way were AUS award winners Ashley Stratton (most sportsmanlike player) with three points and Jenna MacLean (top defensive player) with two. The Mounties broke Kendra Woodland’s shutout with 1:19 left in the game, but Woodland still stopped 14 shots for the win.

StFX 6 – Moncton 1

Like their UNB counterparts, StFX came through for a big second that all but secured a semifinal date with SMU. 

Leading 1-0 after a period, the X-Women scored three times in the first half of the second period en route to a 6-1 victory over the Moncton Aigles Bleues. Three StFX players – Josie Chisholm, Jayden Thompson and Anna Maccara – registered multi-point games, in a dominant performance backed by 43 X-Women shots. Jamie Johnson needed just 12 saves for the win in goal.

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