StFX find formula for beating Kendra Woodland and take Game One over UNB

Fredericton, N.B. – Maggy Burbidge knows how important it is to solve Kendra Woodland in her team’s AUS final against the UNB Reds.

The nation’s leading scorer — the scorer of eight points and 15 points in five playoff games for the StFX X-Women — was not shy about detailing X’s successful formula in their 2-1 victory in game one in Fredericton. Specifically, getting “pucks in her feet” and getting “in her head” were the plans.

“She’s unbelievable. Every game we know we’re going to get her best,” said Burbidge. “Tonight, we gave her our best.”

Maybe the X-Women didn’t fill the net as much as they usually do, but they weren’t expecting that playing against both Woodland and the Reds’ top-notch defence group. But as Burbidge mentioned, X brought their best.

The sharpshooting forward — and arguable AUS MVP if not for Woodland’s equally-impressive season — made that clear near the end of the first. After a hot UNB start, where the hosts scored 12 seconds in, Burbidge figured being overly fancy around a relentless UNB blueline wasn’t the move.

So at the end of a shift on the power play, she went old-school. She let off a clapper from the top of the right circle past the U SPORTS Athlete of the Year candidate’s glove to get X on the board. 

“I ripped the puck and hoped it was a good enough shot to get past her. I know it’s hard to get it past her,” she said. Seven of X’s 40 shots of the evening were off of Burbidge’s stick. Evidently, she’s tried many times.

Maggy Burbidge (right) and Chloe Vukosa of the StFX X-Women pursue the UNB Reds’ Jenna MacLean. (James West/UNB Athletics)

As for the winning goal, it came from an unlikely source. That source hasn’t scored yet this season: Jayden Thompson. With seven assists in a full season of hockey, the third-year forward last tallied exactly a year ago — March 4, 2022, against the Dalhousie Tigers.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. As X outshot UNB 10-0 to kick off the second period of play, the X-Women couldn’t solve Woodland. The difference-maker, as it turned out, was a bounce off UNB’s Jenna MacLean to Thompson. She was in the right place at the right time. 

“I think we all have a role on this team. Typically, mine’s not to score. So to get that was a little extra special,” the game-winning goal scorer said.

That goal was the culmination of a long fight back into the game after a hot UNB start. Seconds into the game, the Reds earned a faceoff in X’s zone. UNB threw the puck in StFX goalie Jamie Johnson’s direction but she struggled to contain it. Tamina Kehler was waiting right on top of the crease and made no mistake when she got the lucky bounce. Twelve seconds in, UNB had a 1-0 lead.

While UNB controlled the game in X’s end for the first half of the period, the X-Women forced it back later on. Some great plays — such as MacLean takeaways behind the net and a pair of Talli Warren blocks — kept UNB in good shape. 

But once Lauren Carter took a boarding penalty, the league’s top scorer made them pay. As the power play winded down, the winger coasted into the UNB zone and winded up. She wired the shot into the top shelf. After a rough start in the all-important game one, the highest-scoring team in U SPORTS had crawled back into it after 20 minutes.

“That’s actually one of the things we talked about [post-game]. This is a group that’s been a resilient group all year,” said X coach Ben Berthiaume. “One thing we know about this group is that they won’t give up.”

The X-Women kept it going through the start of the second period. The last of their 10-0 shot run to start the frame was the most important. The shot from Landyn Pitts off a great Abby Lewis feed was deflected close to the UNB net. Thompson was right there, popping it into the back of the net before a scrambling Woodland could get into position. X secured their first lead of the night. 

“Maggy [Burbidge] was right — absolute garbage goal,” Thompson said in reference to her teammate’s thoughts on the game-winner. “You need those goals to win sometimes.”

The second period was the Reds’ toughest, only registering four shots compared to their opponent’s 15. It didn’t improve much from there, but it’s clear to UNB coach Sarah Hilworth what the difference was.

“We just couldn’t get pucks to the net,” she said. “I thought we needed to get pucks behind their D a little bit more and pucks on their goalie. We just couldn’t generate that tonight.”

UNB had some pushback early in the third. Just over five minutes in, an X turnover led to a breakaway for Carter. However, Johnson in the net had her blocker ready for the low shot, denying the potential tying goal. She stopped 20 shots in game one. 

Key to keeping UNB in it was, as always, Woodland between the pipes. Against X’s top shooters, she made three difficult stops from close range to help kill off the penalty. Just as it expired, the puck trickled through the UNB defence right to Anna MacCara at the crease. But at the last second, Woodland kicked out the right pad to keep the score at 2-1. 

UNB’s Kendra Woodland was fantastic in game one of the AUS women’s hockey final with 38 saves. Unfortunately for her, the goals weren’t there for her team either. (James West/UNB Athletics)

Ultimately, the penalty bug bit UNB too hard late in the game. Although the Reds worked back momentum at times, late calls on Lauren O’Neil and Marisa Valla left the regular season’s top team with too little to respond.

“I thought [we] were better in the third,” Hilworth said. “But when it comes to the game plan — getting the puck on net, trying to crash and getting second opportunities — I didn’t think we were ready to bury pucks tonight.” 

X’s defence continues to slip under the radar behind their lethal scoring touch. On Saturday, it showed big time, as they conceded just nine shots to UNB in the game’s final 40 minutes. 

“Their D did a really good job boxing out front and cleaning pucks out of their house,” said Jenna MacLean — one of the conference’s top defensive defenders — on how X thrived on defence on Saturday. “I think we can do a better job getting in there, getting in front of the net and taking away the goalie’s eyes.”

The X-Women are no strangers to winning in the AUS finals, but only four players on the team — Lea MacLeod, Chloe Vukosa, Josie Chisholm and Johnson — were on the team for StFX’s last banner in 2020. Many more were there in last year’s AUS final — losing in a two-game sweep at the hands of the Reds. The memories haven’t completely gone away.

“We’re a resilient group and we’ll battle. I think we got a group this year, compared to last year, that’s willing to put the work in,” Berthiaume said, comparing his last two X teams. 

Burbidge already has two hat tricks and a four-assist game relatively early in the X-Women’s postseason run — they and UNB continue to prepare for U SPORTS nationals in Montreal in a couple of weeks. She had only one goal on Woodland, who was also her FISU Winter Games teammate with whom she won gold in Lake Placid. Even if Burbidge isn’t scoring a million points each game — while she very well could in front of the home crowd on Monday — she’s happy if nothing changed from Saturday.

“If we just keep putting pucks deep, trying to beat their D and trying to beat Kendra [Woodland] by getting in her head a little bit, I think we’re going to be good,” she said, in anticipation of game two at StFX’s Keating Centre. With a win, X can clinch their second title in three seasons.

“Coming home to our home crowd, there’s gonna be a lot of people there. It’s going to feel ecstatic. Hopefully, we pull one out. Knock on wood.”

Cover photo: Maggy Burbidge found the back of the net in the StFX X-Women’s 2-1 win over the UNB Reds in game one of the 2023 AUS women’s hockey final. X leads the best-of-three series 1-0. (James West/UNB Athletics)

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