HALIFAX, NS – Hockey is back, soccer seasons are at their midway points and many teams are getting their legs back under them following Hurricane Fiona as the AUS calendar flips to October.
This week, we revisit last year’s playoffs in each hockey league to put into perspective where two on-the-rise teams are after a week of action. Defence seems to be the winning formula in AUS women’s soccer, while four legitimate title contenders are pulling away in the men’s bracket.
It’s a busy time of year. Basketball and volleyball seasons get underway by the end of the month. The first swimming competition, hosted by the UNB Reds, is this weekend. There’s only a month to go until the Dalhousie Tigers and Saint Mary’s Huskies host the 2022 U SPORTS Cross Country Championships in Halifax. Three rugby teams are playing championship-calibre rugby and playoff spots in football could be decided this week. *Exhales.*
So, yeah, there’s a lot to watch for in the coming weeks as four different sports will soon be into postseason competition.
MHKY: Magnifique Montpetit and UdeM’s soaring start
The Moncton Aigles Bleus are as close to a coin flip as you can get out of any AUS men’s hockey team. The past few seasons, they’ve been unpredictable. Their results have ranged from almost qualifying for the U CUP in 2020 to finishing last in the regular season standings last year. But when they show up to play, UdeM is arguably the conference’s most entertaining team.
So where has that success come from? They have some clutch scorers in the lineup including Nathael Roy and Edouard St-Laurent. But most of all in UdeM’s recent games, it’s been goalie Étienne Montpetit stealing the spotlight. His hot streak, beginning in last season’s playoffs, began rather humbly. He was good enough in the play-in game win over Acadia and less than that in Moncton’s game one quarterfinal loss to Dalhousie.
Montpetit stopped 27 shots for a game two shutout win over the Tigers, followed by 33 saves in a 5-4 series-clinching win on the road. Against the mighty UNB Reds in the next round, he allowed just three goals in five periods of play. He left game two in the second intermission, after making 61 saves in the series.
That didn’t throw off Montpetit coming into the new season, beginning with a 45-save performance in game one versus the U CUP host UPEI, winning 4-2. Next? Another date with UNB, and he was prepared. The stopper turned aside 39, taking down the defending AUS champs 4-1.
The result of all that? Montpetit boasts a ridiculous save percentage of .966 through weekend one of the season. Only Dal’s Connor Hicks, who’s played 20 more minutes, has more saves than Montpetit’s 84 through two matchups.
While there is credit where credit is due for the Aigles Bleus’ blueline following its performance against UNB, the fourth-year goaltender is not getting much help. Could you imagine a rested Montpetit? Should he get that and maintain his level of play, we could be talking about the record books soon. And I’d bet he’s motivated to do that after playing just nine regular season games in 2021-22.
WHKY: Tommies time?
The UNB hockey teams dominated the Fredericton hockey scene in 2021-22. From the women’s team’s first AUS title and exciting play at nationals, to yet another dominant season and title for the men, the Reds are always the teams to beat on the hockey rink.
But could the other Fredericton squad, the St. Thomas Tommies women’s team, be lurking in the shadows?
STU was a middle-of-the-pack team for most of 2021-22. But they’ve always managed to make it interesting. It was them who took down UPEI, the 2021-22 nationals host, in the AUS quarterfinals. Despite falling to UNB in the semis, STU was their toughest opponent of the AUS playoffs, forcing UNB to score their game-winning goals in the third period in what would be one-goal wins.
Game one of this season, again between UNB and STU, was similar except this time, it was the Tommies emerging with a one-goal victory. Oh, and it took a 13-round shootout and 49 saves from goalie Caroline Pietroski to seal the victory in a battle of the AUS’s two best netminders (Kendra Woodland stopped 21 shots plus the first 12 Tommies shooters in the shootout). The next night, STU got the best of UPEI yet again in a 4-3 victory in Charlottetown, again on Pietrowski’s back.
Pietrowski, quietly one of the conference’s best players since arriving at STU in 2019, has stopped more than double the shots of any other AUS goalie through two games with 84 (aside from Mount Allison’s Bianca Zak, who’s stopped 57 so far). The scoring still needs to come but showed promise following the UPEI game, thanks to multi-point efforts from core players Ekaterina Pelowich and Emma Wilson. Rookie Trinity Webber added a goal and assist as well.
With the team’s leading scorer, defender Aislynn Byers, finishing just 22nd in the scoring race last season, the Tommies are desperate for a game-breaking scorer. Perhaps one will emerge this season (Webber is one candidate – she scored three points in two preseason games). But to compete with the likes of Shae Demale of Saint Mary’s or Ashley Stratton of UNB, the Tommies need someone to get that goal support for Pietrowski at the other end of the ice.
WSOC: To score, or not to score
AUS women’s soccer teams have absolutely been lighting one another up on the scoreboard so far this year. 11 matches so far featured one of the teams scoring four or more goals. Acadia scored seven goals in one game and five goals in another. Cape Breton has surpassed that benchmark three times in 2022, scoring six in one matchup and four in two others. But with all these goals, that hasn’t been the major key to success standings-wise midway through the season. Instead, it’s been goals allowed.
The Capers and Dalhousie sit in first and second place, respectively, after seven matches. The combined number of goals allowed each? Four. So although the Tigers have scored the fewest goals out of teams currently in playoff spots with 11, the squad is the last undefeated team in the league. With a 5-0-2 (win-loss-draw) record, they’ve conceded just one goal. Keeper Annabel Gravely was making another case for league MVP much like in 2021. But after fracturing her finger on Sept. 18 against UNB, backup keeper Emily Toth and the rest of the team have stepped up. Highlights include beating Acadia 2-1 on Oct. 2 and trouncing Moncton 6-0 on Oct. 7.
The Capers are the more established scoring squad, led by Ally Rowe and Paige Allaby. But with just three goals conceded so far, CBU’s scoring hasn’t been the whole story. Haley Kardas is dominant in the goal again with a league-leading five clean sheets. Her .864 save percentage is the AUS’s best outside of the keepers donning the Tigers’ black and yellow. The fullbacks are stellar. Led by senior Fatou Ndayie, the unit hasn’t changed much from game one. Emma Clark and rookie Madalyn Hatfield have played big minutes in reserved, defence-exclusive roles, while Ndayie and Rebecca Lambke add some attacking punch. No backline is seemingly doing it all right now like the Capers are.
MSOC: Five-win wonders
The men’s soccer standings have worked themselves into three factions. There are the winless teams at the bottom of the conference: UPEI, Acadia and Mount Allison. There are the middle-of-the-pack teams: Dal, Memorial and Moncton. Then there are the big four, all of whom have five wins apiece through their first seven games. Those teams are Cape Breton, StFX, UNB and Saint Mary’s.
The Capers are, at least on first glance, the favourites. Yet to lose a game in 2022, CBU’s more reserved approach to games so far has worked. They don’t need to fill the net like crazy every day, nor do they need Kairo Coore to bury 15 goals like last year. This team is built to win at soccer.
StFX isn’t too bad either. This team is the scoring threat, who have the likes of Logan Rieck, Kyle Cordeiro and rookie Samuel Barrowcliffe in the AUS’s top five in points. This was supposed to be a minor transition year at X with players such as Josh Read and Seamus MacDonald moving on. But X, which remains a veteran-heavy team, is as capable as anyone to take the conference.
Another big scoring team is UNB, who have redefined themselves despite so many departures at the end of the 2021 season. Now, the Reds’ attack belongs to Keji Adeniyi and Luke Rosettani. With nine points apiece, the pair of strikers are tied for the AUS lead in points (Adeniyi doing so in one less game played than his teammates). UNB’s goal differential trails just CBU and X’s, barely allowing a goal per match. Olivier Menard and Roan Sangmeng’s play at fullback have been crucial in achieving that.
Then there’s the SMU Huskies. While dominant at times, they’ve been streaky in others. They had some big wins earlier in the season but have appeared to plateau lately following a 2-0 loss to Moncton and a 2-1 win, scared yet again by the Aigles Bleus. Their conference-leading 18 yellow cards must also be addressed. But all the right pieces are there, from conference leader in goals Sean Freeman to a talented backline featuring Adam Dunsworth, Woody Bain, Cameron Zinn and first-year Orion Wiersma.
So who comes out on top? CBU has the experience. StFX is well-rounded. UNB has the attacking star power while SMU is quick and aggressive. Before playoffs begin, there are still five games featuring two of these four teams. One goes Friday when CBU travels to StFX. Then on Wednesday, X travels to Halifax to play the Huskies. While these games will have implications for quarterfinal byes, it’s a really, really good bet these teams will again face one another in November’s AUS championships.
–Acadia football must win this weekend to stay alive in the playoff race. They have it tough in two different ways. First, the team must hope for a Saint Mary’s loss to Mount Allison the night before the Axemen play the StFX X-Men. X is that second challenge: the defending champs will be motivated to win on Saturday as they can clinch a playoff spot with a win of their own.
We learned last week that Bishop’s and SMU will play for four points on Oct. 29, the regular season’s final game. It’s shaping out to be a doozy. The teams are tied at four points apiece heading into this weekend, with the Huskies having a game in hand. SMU has the tougher schedule heading into that game, with dates against Mount A and StFX coming up. However, even if the Gaiters win in a favoured matchup versus Acadia, SMU is in with a win. That would make for their first playoff appearance since 2018.
–The effects of Hurricane Fiona are still raining havoc on the Atlantic region. Cleanups continue in the worst-hit regions of Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, while thousands still remain with no power in Nova Scotia and PEI. As a result, AUS schedules have been shifted following the storm to either leave a few more days for cleanup or make repairs, such as with the Keating Centre’s ice at StFX.
The most notable adjustment will be the soccer championships, moved back a week to the weekend of Nov. 2-5 to accommodate for rescheduled games. Cape Breton hosts the men’s competition while Acadia welcomes the women’s tournament. Instead the original weekend, Oct. 27-30, will be a thrilling last-chance weekend in the spirit of MLS Decision Day. A few top-notch matchups will go that weekend:
– Men’s UNB at CBU on Oct. 27
– Women’s UNB at StFX on Oct. 28
– Men’s UNB at StFX on Oct. 28
– Women’s Memorial at Saint Marys on Oct. 29
Best of all, there are only three more weekends to go in a soccer regular season that’s seemed to fly by. Playoffs are just around the corner!