WOLFVILLE, NS – The StFX X-Men were behind the gun after 40 minutes of play.
After a penalty-laden second period, a pair of key players leaving with either injury or game misconduct and a Ryerson Rams goal, the AUS runners-up had a hill to climb if they wanted to come out of Wolfville, N.S. with a bronze medal.
It took a timely goal from Connor Bruggen-Cate seven minutes into the third tie the game at two, in a matchup where the X-Men struggled with both discipline and the power play. They took six penalties in the first 40 minutes, and despite maintaining the perfect penalty kill, they failed to convert on six power-play opportunities of their own.
“They have a talented team, but we’ve seen teams that tried to play like this against us this year,” StFX head coach Brad Peddle said about the chippy play early on. “We play these kinds of games every night. We learned some of those lessons early in the season.”
But the breaks started to go StFX’s way once they beat Ryerson goaltender Garrett Forrest a second time. The most important break came 43 seconds into overtime. Pressured by Matthew Philip, Rams defenceman Mark Shoemaker fell in the corner, losing the puck. Philip took it and fed a wide-open Zack Trott, who one-timed the shot past Forrest for the bronze-clinching goal. 3-2 was the final score.
Landing on the national podium is massive for a program like StFX with 15 first-years on the roster. This marks the third straight completed U CUP that the Antigonish, NS-based program has medalled nationally.
They did so without Matthew Struthers, the arguable team MVP this tournament, who left in the first period with a lower-body injury. Jacob Hudson was also absent as he received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct late in the first period after throwing an awkward, high-speed hit on Ryerson defenceman Ryan Wells.
“Something we said before the game was ‘Only two teams in the whole country get to end their season on a win,’” X-Men assistant captain Will Bower said. He registered four shots on net Sunday afternoon. “That today was what we wanted to do and we achieved that.”
Veteran Rams start out hot
Ryerson was tasked with killing a short five-on-three StFX power play just 1:40 into the game. However, they killed it off and got to work from there. The Rams showed flashes of their start against the UNB Reds Thursday in the first two periods, including a quick, heavy game with a ton of puck movement.
That’s what led to the first goal. Starting with Domenico Commisso forcing a turnover behind the X net. He hit former X-Man Jeremiah Addison, who went high on Joseph Raaymakers for his second of the tournament.
StFX evened the game five minutes later off a Brandon Clavelle wrister. But riding off the momentum of multiple penalty kills, Elijah Roberts hit Kevin Gursoy for a backdoor tap-in midway through the second period.
The third period was even, but only Bruggen-Cate’s shot off a rebound at the 6:50 mark in the frame, was able to elude either goalie. Although the game got away late, Rams coach Johnny Duco said his squad played like a winning team Sunday.
“We showed [this weekend] we can play with anybody,” an emotional Duco said after overtime. “They competed hard and bounced back today after a tough game yesterday. I thought we played terrific, and we could have easily won that game. But, unfortunately, a couple of bad bounces went their way.”
The result, he said, stings that much more as 15 Ryerson players played their final U SPORTS games this weekend.
“We’re really excited about the future, building around this terrific core we have,” he said. “The leadership and day-to-day work ethic [the younger players] learned from the veterans is a passing of the torch.”
StFX has a lot to be excited about next year too. With one of the country’s top rookie classes in 2021-22, each of them will head into next season with a plethora of nationals experience.
“Credit to the group for getting up for this game and realizing this is an important hockey game,” Peddle said. “It was big that the veteran guys finish on a win. But it was also important for the younger guys.”