WOLFVILLE, NS – The StFX X-Men faced a stiff test in the hard-hitting Brock Badgers to open the 2022 University Cup on Thursday. Some timely goals, plus a hot goalie in Joseph Raaymakers, were enough to seal a spot in Saturday’s semifinals with a 3-0 win.
Matthew Struthers scored twice for three points, with Santino Centorame picking up the other goal in the quarterfinal matchup. But those wouldn’t have meant anything without Raaymakers’s 35 saves on a pesky Brock team that dominated at points in the first and second periods.
“It’s focusing on one game at a time,” Raaymakers said. “Playoffs are all about outplaying the other goaltender and giving your team a chance to win.”
With his third win of the playoffs, his save percentage is now up to .953 over his last four games.
With both sides used to playing a tighter-checking style, Brock and StFX took a few minutes to adjust to Acadia’s Olympic-sized ice. That meant some penalties on each side. Brock came up empty-handed on its first pair of man advantages, with StFXX fairing no better on their first opportunity. Poewrplays took precedent in the opening five minutes.
StFX’s second opportunity was the icebreaker 13 minutes into the period. X captain Centorame took the pass from Struthers up top, walking down to the faceoff circle and wristing the puck over Mario Peccia’s blocker, opening the scoring.
Brock attempted to gauge a quick response to the goal, pounding Raaymakers in goal with some high-quality opportunities. But Raaymakers, who posted a 1.50 goals-against average in the AUS playoffs, stood tall and fought through the Badgers’ aggression near the net. Stopping 11 shots in the first frame, X took a 1-0 lead to the rooms.
“They’re a scrappy, hardworking team that fights for every inch,” StFX coach Brad Peddle said of X’s OUA opponents. “I thought that got our guys’ attention early, which is what you want in a tournament like this.”
Brock improved in the second, barrelling down on StFX’s blueliners to prevent anything materializing for the highest-scoring team in the AUS. From taking the puck to the net hard, to setting up decent cross-crease chances, the Badgers couldn’t solve Raaymakers.
Brock had the high-quality looks. Meanwhile, StFX was shifting play back in their direction as the period progressed. They had one goal waved off with about five minutes left in the period. But in the final minute, Matthew Philip set up Struthers for the 2-0 goal. Despite their solid period, Brock trailed by two after 40 minutes.
The third period was the most wide open, with play deviating from Brock’s crashing and banging to odd-man rushed on each side. StFX started to show more of their offensive expertise, challenging Peccia with more chances and traffic out front.
A late Brock push not enough:
“When you’re down a couple of goals in an elimination game, you’ve got to open up,” said Brock coach Kevin Forrest. “When you’re down in a game, you can’t sit back anymore. You have to take some risks offensively. From that, they got one off the rush.”
Brock had a pair of power-play opportunities in the middle of the frame but more than anything, the X-Men drained the OUA finalists of much of their momentum. StFX had no trouble keeping play out of harm’s way for the rest of the game. Struthers added the final marker with 3:21 to play.
“I thought as the game went on, we got better,” Peddle said. “At these tournaments, it’s about winning that first game and getting better into game two and game three.”
StFX takes on the winner of the Alberta Golden Bears and the host Acadia Axemen on Saturday.
“Our future is about Saturday,” Peddle said. “That’s the only thing we’re focused on.”