StFX X-Men return to U CUP with an outside shot at the title

HALIFAX, NS – The StFX X-Men did not qualify for the eventually cancelled University Cup. Still, after missing out on a nationals berth back then, they return to familiar territory this weekend in Wolfville. 

StFX has qualified for five of the last six U CUPS, with gold-medal game appearances twice in that span. Dating back to 2001, they’ve made five finals and won the gold medal at the U CUP in 2004 after beating the UNB Reds in double overtime in Fredericton, NB.

Head coach Brad Peddle joined the team the season after the title, and while he’s led the program to seven U CUP tournaments, this year, number eight could be one of the best teams to come out of Antigonish, NS. A contender from game one, the X-Men only got better upon returning from the extended Covid holiday break. 

(StFX Athletics)

They have won nine of their last 11 games dating back to the fall, outscoring opponents 49-29 in that span, boasting an average of 4.45 goals per game. With their offensive firepower, there is no wonder how they’re the highest-scoring team in the AUS.

After a rebuilding season in 2019-20, the bulk of StFX’s offence, and roster, have been rookies. However, that hasn’t come with a lack of experience. 

AHL veterans Liam Hawel and Matthew Struthers have led the way, with Hawel leading the conference with 18 goals and 37 points on his way to an AUS MVP honour. Matthew Philip was fifth in league scoring, posting a conference-high five game-winning goals. Zack Trott, Jacob Hudson, and Josh Nelson (still all rookies, by the way) cracked the 20-point benchmark. 

Hawel was named the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year on Wednesday prior to puck drop at the U CUP.

The contributions from the new guys have been critical, but the leadership group is one of the best around. Led by captain Santino Centorame, the veteran blueliner who has been to two U CUPS (including the 2018 final), in addition to William Thompson, William Bower, Bailey Webster and Adam Holwell, the X-Men have a group that has been around for the thick and thin of the past few seasons.

A goalie ready for Brock’s physical challenge

In net, Joseph Raaymakers is the starter in goal for the second season, playing his best hockey this postseason after an up-and-down 2021-22 campaign. Despite struggling with a .896 save percentage through 20 regular-season games, the native of Chatham, Ont. has posted a .931 save percentage through the playoffs. 

The X-Men enter the tournament as the fifth seed but are favourites against the OUA’s Brock Badgers, who made a run to the conference final in Ontario, eliminating the seventh Ryerson Rams in the semifinal before being outclassed by the UQTR Patriotes in the Queen’s Cup Final. 

With two squads that have gotten hot at the right time, the quarterfinal matchup will be a heated battle with only one team moving on to the next round to face either the host Acadia Axemen or the national favourite Alberta Golden Bears.

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