Halifax, NS – After the 11-goal barnburner Friday night at UPEI, it was strange to see the series morph into a defensive showdown. But as with his three regular-season starts in the second half of the AUS season, Justin Sumarah stole the show.
This time, it was his playoffs coming out party. And it was a performance that sealed an AUS semifinal berth for the SMU Huskies.
“That one was right behind the UNB game,” Sumarah said when asked how he would compare the Huskies’ 3-1 win over the UPEI Panthers to his other four starts of the season.
One can see why Sumarah’s 47 saves against the UNB Reds still stands out. After all, they did beat the freakin’ UNB Reds. But in terms of timeliness and importance, allowing one goal on 40 shots in a clinching game isn’t too shabby either, considering much of the game was either tied or saw the Huskies up by just one.
To start, it was the Panthers in control and, thanks to TJ Shea, the visitors grabbed the early lead five minutes in. That came despite Sumarah turning aside six shots in the opening minutes.
“With the early ones that go in, you really have to stay tough mentally,” Sumarah said. “You’ve got to think about the next shot, really.”
Most of the following shots were directed at UPEI’s Cedrick Andree, who got the start after Jonah Capriotti conceded six goals to the Huskies on Friday. After surviving a SMU power play, Andree was tricked by a floating puck off the stick of Cedric Ralph, which beat him high to tie the game.
As SMU fought back more control of play by the end of the first, they came out flying in the second. Defensive miscues from UPEI nearly four minutes into the middle frame resulted in a mad goalmouth scramble, where Sam King found the puck and slapped the backhand shot past a bewildered Andree.
“I was just out in the slot and [Andrew] Coxhead made a nice play to me. It came to a little scramble in front, managed to find it and put it in,” King said of his game-winning goal. He also picked up an assist on Ralph’s tally.
UPEI still pressed although SMU was getting the results on their scoring chances. The Panthers dominated the shot totals by 12-10 and 13-6 margins in each of the final two periods. UPEI also had four power-play opportunities after the go-ahead King goal, but Sumarah and his defence turned aside everything.
Instead, SMU blew up for a few of their best shifts of the game midway through the third, registering most of their six final period shots in a span of a couple of minutes. In that window, a Dawson Theede wrister was padded away right onto the blade of Jonathan Hampton, who made no mistake potting the chance and adding a cushion to the Huskies lead. That would be enough to seal the deal.
“We’re a very young hockey team and we’re a good hockey team. We’re finding ways to win,” said SMU coach Tyler Naugler. “We saw maturity through three periods tonight. It’s the mature, professional approach in our dressing room. The leadership calms things down and we got back to business.”
The Huskies won twice this weekend but in distinct fashions. After the scoring slugfest in Charlottetown, they found a way to bear down defensively in game two.
“Both games, we let in early goals and the boys just bounced right back. To see them answer like that, you know everyone’s dialled in and really wants the results we’re looking for,” Sumarah said.
“Our team is playing by committee,” Naugler said. “Guys are starting to play multidimensional. Offensive guys are playing both ways. Defensive guys are contributing. Sam King scored the game-winner today; he’s a defensive, 200-foot player. From one to 20, we’re playing great.”
The timely series victory means the Huskies will likely get at least three days rest as they await the result of the tied Dalhousie Tigers-Moncton Aigles Bleus series. The third and deciding game of the opposite quarterfinal goes Tuesday night at the Halifax Forum. Should Moncton win, SMU will face the StFX X-Men in the AUS semifinals. But a Dal win will mean they face UNB next round.
“We’re gonna prepare and come back to the rink,” King said of the plan for the Huskies’ few days off. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Moncton 3 Dal 0
Like game one, the Aigles Bleus beat Reilly Pickard in the Dal net three times. But on Sunday night at UdeM, Etienne Montpetit bounced back from allowing four in the series opener to post the shutout, securing a 3-0 win and forcing game three in Halifax on Tuesday.
After a scoreless first period, Moncton began the second on the man advantage after Dal’s Aiden Jamieson was assessed a cross-checking call at the buzzer. 1:05 in, Maxime Boudreau converted and gave Moncton the lead.
The second was also the busiest in terms of power-play opportunities for Dal. Near the end of the period, the Tigers even earned a 5-on-3 for 1:21 of play. However, they registered just one of their nine shots in the second on that 5-on-3.
No more scoring came again until the final five minutes of the third. Thanks to goals from Olivier Desjardins and Edouard St-Laurent 1:08 apart, UdeM put the game out of reach in the game’s final minutes.
With this being a best-of-three quarterfinal, game three will decide it all between these two teams. Should Dal win at home, they draw StFX in the AUS semifinals. But if Moncton pulls off their second straight win, one semifinal would be the Battle of New Brunswick as they would line up against UNB.
Cover Photo: SMU Huskies