Halifax, NS – We’re only two weeks into the AUS soccer season. Yet, the best are already distancing themselves from the rest. And fast.
As expected, neither Cape Breton Capers team has missed a beat as they roll through their respective competitions. Same for the StFX X-Men and X-Women. The men’s Saint Mary’s Huskies and UNB Reds are shaping out to be contenders, putting up a respective nine and seven points in their first three matches. The Acadia Axewomen have yet to lose on the women’s side, while no one can score on the Dalhousie Tigers.
In each league, at least three teams already have three or more wins, while the same number (plus one in the men’s division) are yet to win. As everyone has already played three matches, a quarter of the 12-game season, gaps in the standings are forming fast. But for the most part, even the last-place teams are just a win out of a playoff spot. All this in more in 2022-23’s first Bubble.
WSOC: Capers, X-Women running up scoreboards
The big three in the women’s division are Acadia, StFX and CBU. The Axewomen have targets on their backs as the defending champs, outgunning the X-Women in a high-scoring opening day match 5-2. Aside from game one, StFX has scored at least three times in each match they’ve played. Beating the UPEI Panthers 3-1, they put up 5-0 scores in road games at Mount Allison and UPEI.
X is doing this with their most balanced attack in years. Regular offence-driver Amanda Smith is playing great, with two goals in four matches. But she’s had a ton of help through the season’s first third, especially from Caitlin Crichton. Crichton is scoring at a goal-per-game pace, most recently burying two plus an assist against UPEI. The midfielder played a ton as a rookie last year, starting every game and scoring twice in 2021-22. Now with her promotion to attacking responsibilities, Crichton hasn’t disappointed.
Also, a second-year pushing the scoring? Defender Emma Steen. She’s found the back of the net three times, scoring on every shot on target she’s had so far and leads X in points with six. Starting every game last year as a rookie, Steen was relatively involved in the attack, putting eight shots on the net and scoring once last year. The X-Women haven’t had a fullback score at this pace in over a decade, not even during their most recent championships in 2009 and 2016. It’s helping them big in the standings.
Right up there with X in scoring is CBU. Ally Rowe leads the conference in goals and points, having already matched her five goals from 2021-22. Rebecca Lambke is a scoring threat from the defensive end with three goals. The Capers are the only team with four wins, scoring at least four times in three of those victories. Oh, and they’re yet to be scored on this season.
At their current record and pace, CBU still hasn’t lost in the regular season since before the pandemic. With an 8-0-4 (win-draw-loss) record last season, it doesn’t seem like they’re slowing down soon. They don’t play either of the other top two teams until Sept. 30, so their biggest test of the season is still a ways off. In the meantime, Ness Timmons’s squad has transitioned seamlessly from an up-and-down nationals they hosted in November. Their big scorers have shown up, plus new faces such as Paige Allaby. She only trails Rowe with three goals in her first year. Rookies such as Grace Hannaford and Ally Winton have been instrumental in four games. CBU will be well-equipped to try and wrestle back the title from Acadia this fall.
MSOC: SMU picking up where they left off
The men’s Huskies broke onto the scene last season. With a more ragtag, scrappy game, they occasionally pulled off the big win to turn heads around the league. They kept going through the postseason, qualifying for the U SPORTS tournament in Ottawa.
To begin the new season, the fire lit midway through 2021-22 is still burning heavy. Kicking off 2022-23 with a 3-0-1 record, SMU has quietly developed into an offensively-lethal club that will beat you up in their own end too. CBU, a team SMU lost to in a blowout at their high point last fall, could only trim them 1-0 last weekend. Aside from that game, the Huskies scored three or more goals in all their wins, including a 4-0 thrashing of the Mounties on Sunday.
The catalyst in those results has been Sean Freeman, sitting in the AUS scoring lead with five points in six games, a single goal and point ahead of UNB’s Keji Adeniyi and X’s Kyle Cordeiro. A 2021-22 second-team all-star as a rookie, he was up there with the star rookies on better teams such as CBU’s Kairo Coore and Jose da Cunha, the rookie of the year. In a shifting landscape this season with star scorers Charlie Waters and the Memorial Sea-Hawks’ Emmanuel Dolo done in the AUS, Freeman is slotting in right next to da Cunha (who’s been dynamite in three CBU games) as an MVP candidate.
Aside from Freeman’s star power, the Huskies are a by-committee crew. Only two other members, Ahmed Ibrahim and Cian Tousignant-Osiadhail have more than one point. But everyone’s roles have been clear. Defender Adam Dunsworth has been sparking play up the pitch with a big boot, driving in five shots on goal. That’s only behind Freeman on the team’s leaderboard.
The midfielders have been more conservative, letting Freeman, Ahmed and company control most of the attack. The approach has helped them defensively so far, as only X and CBU have allowed fewer than their three goals against. They’re on pace for an improvement from the 15 allowed in 2021-22. If they can maintain that stinginess near their own goal, SMU will become an AUS title challenger.
WRUG: UPEI rugby setting the tone
We know the story year after year in AUS women’s rugby. StFX. Acadia. UPEI. SMU. In that order, year in, year out. We’re almost to the point where we can say not this year, thanks to the Panthers’ play, rather, the Panthers’ sheer dominance.
UPEI drew X and Acadia in their first two matches this season, the finalists from last fall. And they destroyed them by a combined score of 70-10 (!). Expectations were modest to start. Yes, UPEI beat the X-Women once last season before things gravitated back to what they were pre-COVID-19. Most of all, it’s hard to compare this surge to anything should UPEI keep rolling, as only once in league history has a team other than X won the conference. The Panthers are still looking for their first.
UPEI hasn’t done anything fancy to get to this point. Except, notably, for the readdition of a former star in Frances MacWilliam, who sat out 2021.
It’s been a considerable readdition as she hasn’t missed a hop or a skip from her most recent games in 2019. With seven converts and two penalty kicks in two matches, her boot has been vital in UPEI’s success.
For the most part, however, it’s seasoned players sick of losing to X and the Axewomen leading the charge. Forwards Emily Duffy (third year) and Brinten Comeau (fourth year) are playing MVP-caliber rugby, scoring three and two tries, respectively. The backs have been driven by returnees too, such as fifth-year Sophie Carragher and second-year Annika Wadlegger. Led by coach James Voye, in his second year leading UPEI but well-acquainted with the local rugby landscape via regional programs and teams, it’s clear the Panthers have made tremendous leaps and bounds over their offseason. It may be enough to win them their first AUS banner.
MHKY: X-Men star at NHL rookie camps
X-Men star and reigning AUS men’s hockey MVP Liam Hawel, as well as former captain Santino Centorame, got their feet wet in NHL action last weekend.
Hawel suited up for the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Traverse City, Michigan, NHL Prospects Tournament. He took part in the Blue Jackets development camp in July. In Traverse City, Hawel scored against the St Louis Blues in a 7-1 romping. Columbus would win two of their three games. He played well enough to earn an invite to training camp, beginning Sept. 21. It’s likely his future with StFX will lean on how far he can make into camp and whether he’s offered a contract.
Meanwhile, Hawel’s former teammate Centorame suited up for the Montreal Canadiens at a separate tournament, the NHL Prospects Challenge, in Buffalo. Centorame didn’t get a ton of action, getting into just one of the Habs’ three games on the weekend, a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Regardless, he played well enough to earn an invite to Montreal’s training camp beginning Sept. 21. Regardless of how long he’s at camp, Centorame has played out his eligibility at X and will not return.
–Two teams rank nationally in AUS football: the StFX X-Men and the Mount Allison Mounties. Like last year, the X-Men are head and shoulders above everyone in the conference. Quarterback Silas Fagnan is again fantastic, leading the league with 188.3 passing yards a game. Running back Malcolm Bussey is on pace to be the AUS’s best, rushing for 111.7 yards per game. Together with solid receiving, StFX’s plus-32 points differential is well above everyone else, sitting with a 3-0 record.
The Mounties are also 3-0 but have won closer games, barely squeaking by struggling squads from Saint Mary’s and Acadia. For that, I think their number 10 U SPORTS ranking is generous. However, this is how they succeeded for most of last year: despite not scoring much, their defence stops everything. That’s what they’re doing now; their 30 points against is tops in the conference. Their points scored are second-worst, which sunk them in last year’s semis against Bishop’s. Once they find their offensive confidence, look out.
–The first AUS cross country meet of the season was held at StFX last Saturday. Two new individual winners were crowned.
The men raced first, with Jacob Benoit taking the race for the X-Men. He beat out the likes of defending AUS individual winner Andrew Peverill of SMU, who missed the podium in fourth place. Will Cox of Dal finished second place, while SMU’s Rory McGarvey came third. Dal took the team crown with five runners finishing in the top ten. StFX came second, with SMU in third.
In the later women’s race, Jacob’s sister Eileen took the race by a hair over StFX teammate Allie Sandluck. Both had times of 31:36 but officials gave Benoit the edge. Dal’s Lauren Lauther crossed the line ten seconds later in third place. Siona Chisholm, the event winner last year, now runs for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish of the NCAA. The top three teams were X, Dal and Moncton.
–While AUS action was slated to resume Friday outdoors (indoors for preseason hockey Thursday), some soccer games have been adjusted as Hurricane Fiona barrels toward the east coast:
-The Memorial at Dalhousie doubleheader on Friday will now occur at 3:30 p.m. (women) and 5:30 p.m. (men).
-The doubleheaders on Saturday, Moncton at StFX and UNB at Cape Breton, will now be Sunday. Both women’s games start at 1 p.m. (women) and at 3:15 p.m. (men).
-The doubleheaders on Sunday, Moncton at Cape Breton and UNB at StFX, will now be Monday. The Moncton/Cape Breton matchups are 1 p.m. (women) and 3:15 p.m. (men). The UNB/StFX times are 5 p.m. (women) and 7:15 p.m. (men).
It’s predicted to near Atlantic Canada late Friday or Saturday at this point, and it remains possible competitions in different sports can shift soon. Stay safe, everyone!