HALIFAX, NS – Much like the first two games of this AUS semifinal, Maggy Burbidge of the StFX X-Women was the best player on the ice. She scored a hat trick — her second of the series — as part of her seven so far in the semifinal against the SMU Huskies.
But there was a close second choice for the best player out there on Sunday night— someone who hasn’t played all playoffs until game three. That was rookie SMU netminder Sophie Scully.
As five different players scored SMU’s goals on the way to a crucial 6-3 win in game three to stave off elimination, the X-Women’s attack — as always — was intense.
Scully knew she had a big game ahead of her after hearing on Saturday she would start instead of Ridleigh Hansen, in the Huskies’ biggest game of the season. Not only would it be her first-ever AUS playoff game, but it would come against Burbidge, Leah MacLeod and more of the conference’s deadliest scorers with the high-scoring X-Women.
Well, Scully flipped the script. It’s true that Burbidge — as usual — had no trouble finding the back of the net. But the Huskies had a response for everything.
As they did, Scully needed enough key saves here and there — where she delivered. With 33 saves, she denied the conference’s top scorer six times on nine shots, also turning aside six of MacLeod’s — leaving the centre slamming her stick on the ice after the last stop late in the third.
“There’s a lot of offensive power on that team,” the young goaltender said. “But my team was there to back me up and I think we did a pretty good job together.”
Sunday was likely SMU’s best team effort of the playoffs — and its best game against the X-Women since 2018, the last time the Huskies beat them in the postseason. Importantly for the home side, everyone chipped in on the scoreboard — not just the top line of leading scorer Shae Demale, Ellen Laurence and Miranda Hatt. In fact, the Huskies top unit actually combined for zero points in game three.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Huskies coach Chris Larade said he hoped to see the rewards pile up a game ago — a game in which he said his team had a similar effort. But they can work with what they have now.
“We thought if we turned out that type of effort again tonight, we’d be in good shape,” said the SMU coach. “The girls gave everybody a glimpse of what they’re made of and I’m very proud of them. We’re going to take this one day at a time — [the 2-0 series deficit is] a big hole to climb out of but I liked our game tonight.”
Unlike the first two games of the series, it was SMU controlling the pressure to start the game. Just over five minutes in, a pair of chaotic Huskies chances confused StFX goalie Jamie Johnson. As a crowd formed in front, the puck bounced to Lauren Papp to the stopper’s right. The third-year Husky slapped the puck home in the nick of time to give SMU the opening goal.
Minutes later, rookie MacKenzie Beggs got in on the early Huskies ice-tilt. Stealing the puck off the X-Women breakout, she raced in and snapped a shot over Johnson’s shoulder for SMU’s second. Just over two minutes later, Jillian Duggan slammed home another rebound. Midway through the first period, SMU had built an unprecedented three-goal lead.
But shortly after, we were reminded the game was far from over. As the Huskies’ Marisa McClocklin was penalized for a slash, the top-ranked StFX power play went to work. And it was none other than Burbidge who made them pay, burying her own rebound from the open-side circle for her fifth of the playoffs.
The Huskies kept the confidence going through the start of the second. Just over two minutes in, the X-Women gave the puck away behind their net. Kara MacLean was ready; she swooped in, dragging the puck back before stepping around Johnson with the forehand-backhand deke, restoring the three-goal advantage.
By then, a theme was established — SMU going after the X-Women blueline, depleted with just five defenders dressed in game three.
“They really rely on their top four a ton, [Josie] Chisholm and [Lauren] Dabrowski especially,” Larade said. “So we wanted to make sure to make life as tough as possible for them.”
StFX bench boss Ben Berthiaume said the struggles in their own zone made a difference on Sunday, not made easy by a quicker SMU forecheck than in other games.
“We just need to do a better job communication-wise in our end,” said the recently-named AUS coach of the year. “They were moving pretty quickly in our zone, it was almost like we were a step behind at times.”
Moments after the MacLean goal, Burbidge again told the raucous home crowd to chill out. As a point shot from Dabrowski hit a SMU blueliner in front of the net, the puck skipped to Burbidge all alone — never a good thing for the other team. She slapped the shot through Scully to cut X’s deficit in half.
Although the Huskies ran the offence in the game’s first half — including a 16-9 shots lead after the first period — StFX began ramping things up. By the third period, they had more than 30 shots, including 16 in the final frame alone. Most of that time, Sully and the Huskies were up by just a goal or two — like when Burbidge completed her hat trick midway through the third on a precise deflection up high.
“It’s definitely a bit more pressure as you get further along in the game and things are getting back and forth,” the goalie said. “But overall, I had full confidence in my team to get it in the end.”
And get it they did — with a little bit of luck. Less than two minutes after the goal that cut the lead to 4-3, Ashley Penny took the pass on the right wing coming out of her own zone. Challenging Dabrowski of StFX — arguably the conference’s best defender this year — Penny cut to the middle of the ice with the blueliner as the screen.
The quick release off the cut inside appeared to fool Johnson. Caught sliding one way, the puck went the other as the goalie attempted to stick the puck high and wide. But the redirection rode her stick into the top of the net, restoring SMU’s two-goal lead at a critical juncture of the game.
X responded by overwhelming the SMU defence for a couple of minutes. But thanks to a few key saves from Scully — including a high-shoulder block on a hard MacLeod wrister and point-blank denial of Burbidge— the host team found some confidence late in their own zone. Although StFX pulled their goalie with two minutes left, they couldn’t get set up. Duggan cashed in on the empty net in the game’s final second.
Although game three was an overwhelming one for both sides, they return to the Dauphinee Centre ice again on Monday night for game four. Much of the same is on the line: if StX wins, they move on to the AUS finals. If SMU wins, the series goes back to Antigonish for a winner-take-all game five.
Berthiaume said his lineup will be the same for game four on Monday — except, maybe, for the starting goalie. He said the team hasn’t yet decided to stick with Johnson between the pipes — who stopped 25 of 30 shots on Sunday — or another goaltender.
Larade confirmed one thing: Scully would be back in for Monday night — again the Huskies’ biggest game of the season.
“We’re lucky. I consider ourselves to have three good goalies [with Scully, Hansen and Ashley Imlach],” Larade said. In the playoffs, Hansen got the team “a good ways, but after two losses we figured we’d shake things up a bit. I’m very proud of Sophie and very happy to see her come up big [tonight].”
UNB Reds down Panthers 4-2 to clinch AUS Final spot
In Cornwall, P.E.I., a pivotal Game 4 quickly went from the expected goaltender duel to an offensive free-for-all. With a win, the UPEI Panthers hoped to force a game five in Fredericton for all the marbles.
They almost got that late in the third period. Trailing 1-0 after a late second-period UNB goal from Sydney Oitoman, UPEI beat UNB’s Kendra Woodland — who they kept busy all night with 36 shots — twice in three minutes. After Kaiya Maracle tied the game, Kelly Clements beat the AUS MVP on a high backhand deke to give UPEI the lead.
That was short-lived, though, as the defending conference champions responded — faster. A train of defensive breakdowns from UPEI ended up in the back of their net, as Lauren Carter’s backhand beat Sarah Forsythe to tie the game.
Just a couple of shifts later, UNB ran with that confidence, and it paid off. Swarming the net front, Alayna Wagstaff eventually slammed the puck over an outstretched Panthers defender past Forsythe to recover the UNB lead. A minute later, Tamina Kehler’s goal put the game — and series — to bed.
The Reds, for the second straight year, advance to the AUS finals and the U SPORTS championships in Montreal. UNB awaits the winner of SMU and StFX. They swept the latter in last year’s conference final.