AUS WHKY Quarterfinals: SMU fights back versus Moncton, while UPEI prevails at home

Halifax, N.S. – The Saint Mary’s Huskies came into game one of their AUS quarterfinal as the second-highest-scoring team in the conference. But it took an early scare and a long, long fight afterward to finally grab a lead.

The Moncton Aigles Bleues — coming out of the gate raring for reckless-abandon playoff hockey — controlled most of the first period. The switch flipped at some point near the end of the first, but it wouldn’t be until the third that the hosts got the result they were pushing for: a shot that finally eluded UdeM goalie Annick Boudreau.

“I’ll take it,” chuckled fourth-year Huskies centre Miranda Hatt, who tallied the game-winning goal eight minutes into the third period.

It was a point where the entire SMU team was at an “Oh c’mon!” moment. Shot after shot on their third-period power play was being blocked or otherwise forced wide by UdeM defenders. The team was changing, with star forward Shae Demale on her way off after a gruelling 90-second shift. Even coach Chris Larade admitted he was distracted, talking something out with another coach as the shot finally went through.

That shot came as Hatt — on a long shift of her own — curled out of the corner with a ton of space; the Moncton killers were clearly getting tired from their own long shifts. Pulling back, she let it fly to the left of the net. With the help of a two-player screen at the goalmouth, Boudreau couldn’t follow and the puck floated cleanly through. 2-1 Huskies.

“I was shocked when it went in. I didn’t really see a shooting lane, if I’m being completely honest,” Hatt said. 

Demale didn’t get the assist there but certainly helped, shooting the puck wide — eventually picked up by Hatt — before heading off. But she would return to the scoresheet late, outgunning a UdeM defender in a footrace from her own end to bury the empty-net goal. That sealed the 3-1 final score, taking care of business at home.

“It’s so important to have that home-ice advantage,” Demale said. “We need to take advantage of that right off the start and get that first win. And we did that today.”

Period one was a surprise for the most part: the Aigles Bleues dominating. Starting with a strong power play early on, the Moncton forecheck rendered the SMU blueline unable to escape pressure. If they did, the transition back the other way was too good.

That’s what led to goal number one. On a change, UdeM leading scorer Erica Plourde was sprung on a 2-on-1 attack. Smartly, she threw the puck off SMU goalie Ridleigh Hansen’s pad right to Alexia Desforges, making no mistake on the wide-open net. 

“I give them a lot of credit,” coach Larade said, adding the team may have gotten “a little fooled” by their other results against Moncton this year. SMU swept their season series, outscoring them 15-4. But Larade was expecting a strong start from the visitors.

“I really liked how Moncton was moving the puck. But in the first period, especially coming east-west out of their zone, we were giving them too much time and space.”

With just over six minutes left in the frame, Moncton led the shots 9-1. But the script flipped fast. Starting with a pair of excellent scoring chances for the Huskies — including when Boudreau pulled out a point-blank shoulder save on a shelf-bound Jillian Duggan snapper — the hosts didn’t let up the rest of the frame. Team leading scorer Demale lapped and lapped for a chance but to no avail, yet SMU fought back to lead shots 13-10.

They kept it up into the second period. The Huskies maintained possession early in the period but had a hard time getting pucks to the net. Boudreau stayed sharp too, denying Duggan a second time with a wall-shaking pad save. 

But just over a minute later, UdeM took a tripping minor. That was just enough for Demale to get to work. After blasting a howitzer high of the net, her centring pass fooled the visiting netminder, with the puck finding its way to Kara Maclean. She beat the unsuspecting stopper for the equalizer.

Chances on both sides of the puck thinned out for the rest of the frame, save for one crucial Moncton scoring opportunity. Strangely goalless in nine of her last 11 games given her strong play this year, Plourde received a point-blank setup at the top of Hansen’s crease. But the rookie SMU stopper said no, throwing out the right pad in order to knock away the close-range slapper. She finished the game with 18 stops, while Boudreau had 21 for Moncton.

As teams tired out, each side became chippier to begin the third period. For six minutes, neither team crossed the line. Then at 6:50, Eloide St-Jacques was assessed a roughing minor to send SMU to the power play. 

The Huskies pushed and pushed, but the Aigles Bleues responded with block after block. Then with the advantage nearing its end, one finally squeaked through and that’s all it took. Now they lead the series 1-0 with a chance to advance to the semifinals on Thursday on the road. 

Should SMU win, they will draw their sworn enemies from the StFX X-Women in the next round, who have the recent upper hand in their playoff meetings. But SMU can’t, and won’t, worry about that yet.

“In my 12 years here, we’ve played Moncton in the playoffs five or six times. And they’re always tough up there,” Larade said of the challenge ahead at Moncton’s J. Louis Levesque Arena. “It’s a fun rink to play in but tough to get a win.”

UPEI 1 – 0 Dalhousie

Meanwhile, another low-scorer of a game was underway in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Actually, a much low-scoring game, one without a goal in the first 54:15 of the matchup. As expected for a game between the UPEI Panthers and Dalhousie Tigers, they have been neck-and-neck all season, playing to 2-1 and 1-0 results in their previous two meetings.

The latter score was the case again Tuesday, in UPEI’s favour. Islander Taylor Gillis stood by the net as Orianna Macneil walked the blue line. Half-unexpectedly, the eventual wrister nailed Gillis’s arm, deflecting between Dalhousie stopper Grace Beer and the close goalpost for the icebreaker. It was one of seven Gillis shots, but the only one the Panthers needed.

Also much like the SMU/Moncton game, it was a congested game with few scoring opportunities, as the score suggests. UPEI goalie Sarah Forsythe — now 4-1 (win-loss) against Dalhousie this season — needed just 15 saves for the win. Beer in the other net (the “best Tiger on the ice” according to The Guardian’s story on the game) stopped 30. Combined, the teams took nine penalties, including four in the final frame.

The teams reconvene on Friday at the Halifax Forum, with UPEI looking to advance to their first AUS semifinal since 2020.

Top image by Luke Dyment

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