AUS WHKY FINAL PREVIEW: StFX’s scoring and UNB’s defence clash in star-studded final

Fredericton, N.B. – It’s a clash of the extremes in the 2022-23 AUS women’s hockey final.

On one side is the StFX X-Women. They’re the highest-scoring team in U SPORTS — the only one to crack 100 goals this season. In a conference filled with some of the nation’s best offensive talent, X utterly dominated this category. 

They’re led by U SPORTS leading scorer Maggy Burbidge. She put up 47 points in the regular season (minus games where she was at the FISU Winter Games with gold-medal-winning Team Canada). As well, the scorer came to play in X’s four-game semifinal against the Saint Mary’s Huskies. Burbidge had seven goals and 13 (!) points in the series — including two hat tricks — capped off by four assists in the clinching game. She could be playing her best hockey of the year right now, which is terrifying.

Which brings us to the other side of this final — potentially the only side that can restrain Burbidge and Co. in this short best-of-three series: the UNB Reds. Their calling is to keep the puck out of the net. UNB has allowed the fewest goals in U SPORTS this season with 34 (tied with the Toronto Varsity Blues). With only six goals allowed to the UPEI Panthers in their semi, the Reds remain defensively tight as ever.

Of course, much of that is thanks to AUS MVP Kendra Woodland between the pipes. Coming off a ridiculous .960 save percentage this season — the best in the country — she took over the UPEI series at times. That included a 25-save shutout in game one and 34 stops in the series-clinching game on the road. Not to mention, the Reds’ defence is the class of the league. Led by vets Jenna MacLean and Marley Van Den Oetelaar, UNB’s blueline contributes everywhere on the ice.

Remember, these are the two best teams in the conference, so their abilities aren’t just limited to one area each. In a rematch of last year’s AUS final — which UNB swept two games to zero — let’s take a closer look at how the lineups stack up:


Maggy Burbidge (STU Tommies)

This will be a theme throughout the lineups, but these teams are totally different on the experience end of things. Of UNB’s 14 forwards, only Jorja Nystrom wasn’t on last year’s championship team. The Reds’ forwards have been thriving together for a long, long time, plus through this season.

UNB has a deep lineup at centre, led by veteran Ashley Stratton and featuring Paige Greiner, Sydney Oitomen and Payton Hargreaves. Many teams pride themselves on having “four top lines” or not considering themselves to have a top line. I’d say that’s most true for the Reds, who don’t stick to any formula like that. Any line can play any situation. For instance, Hargreaves’s line with team leading scorer Lillian George got lots of ice time early in the UPEI series. But in the series-deciding game four, they played the least of the lines —despite their stat lines putting them under some definitions of a top line.

This balance helps form perhaps the tightest-knit forward group in the conference, evident by how much they’ve accomplished together. You never know who’ll score that clutch goal or register a four-point night, because almost every Reds attacker can. And they come to play in the big moments. When the Reds’ scoring went dry in a 3-1 loss to UPEI in game two, how’d they respond? A 7-1 triumph on the road, with goals from four forwards and three-assist performances for two others. This team’s unpredictability upfront can give any opposing defender or goaltender headaches.

But it’s the StFX forwards that give opponents nightmares. The X-Women don’t have as many players on the roster from their 2019-20 title. Four players from that team are still around: forwards Chloe Vukoska, Lea MacLeod, defender Josie Chisholm and goalie Jamie Johnson. Those two forwards make up two-thirds of that terrorizing top line for X, alongside Burbidge. 

Outside that top unit, X is more youth-driven. They have three rookie attackers in the regular lineup, plus six others joining in time for the 2021-22 season — the first back from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the SMU series, X was playing shorthanded with only 10 forwards. Consistently, they’ve employed three lines — centred by MacLeod, Anna MacCara and Landyn Pitts — with the top line playing nearly 25 to 30 minutes per game last series. Usually, I would say that workload would wear them out. But they played arguably their best game of the series — both offensively and defensively — in game four. They haven’t slowed down yet.

(Bryan Kennedy)

Outside the top three, X hasn’t seen a lot of contribution from their forwards. StFX’s highest-scoring forwards outside the first line through four playoff games have been Ellie Brown and Abby Lewis at two points apiece — not bad, but well behind the crazy numbers of their teammates. However, the younger forwards have made up for this in other ways. They’re effective in maintaining forecheck pressure and stifling any counterattacks coming back their way in the neutral zone (especially in the last two SMU games). The Burbidge line starts many of their shifts in the offensive zone thanks to that. 

Although the lack of scoring balance and short lineup may be worries for X, they’ve found their own formula that helped them dominate the Huskies in the AUS semis.


For me, this matchup is as interesting as Burbidge versus Woodland. That’s because two of the best defences in the conference (yes; keep in mind X has just allowed 54 goals this season) are expected to go head-to-head with just five regulars per side. 

That shouldn’t be a huge issue for the Reds. They’re led by MacLean on the back end, one of the most exhausting defenders to play against as an opposing forward — she’ll be out there nearly every shift against X’s top line. Much like the forwards, UNB’s defence is loaded with veterans like Talli Warren and Van Den Oetelaar. Mackenzie Keenan has also had a fantastic rookie year and has played a ton alongside MacLean. Marisa Valla — who has stepped back from forward to fill the sixth defensive spot — has been solid too.

X ran five defenders without filling that sixth hole in the semis. Leading the way is Lauren Dabrowski — up there with MacLean as one of the AUS’s best blueliners — who scored 34 points in 28 games this year. The next highest-scoring AUS defender was teammate Josie Chisholm, with 18 points. Elsewhere on the X-Women back end, Ella VandeSompel had an impressive series versus SMU, tasked with shutting down the Shae Demale line. She’ll have her hands full dealing with a hugely underrated UNB forwards group. 


Jamie Johnson (right) (Bryan Kennedy)

This series will be a treat to watch in the crease, with two of the conference’s best at it.

On one end is X’s Johnson. Helping lead her team to AUS glory in her 2019-20 rookie season, she thrives in important games. She gave her most recent example in game four versus SMU. With 31 saves, she was spectacular against class-of-the-league scorers like SMU’s Demale and Ellen Laurence. Even with a rough game three, her response proved coach Ben Berthiaume has little to worry about in his net. In four playoff games, she’s registered a .927 save percentage — up from her .917 in the regular season.

Then, of course, we have Woodland in the UNB net. Not much more can be said about the best goalie in U SPORTS. But it is worth pointing out how she dominated this battle of the goalies this time last year — including a 46-save shutout in a clinching game two over X’s offensive firepower to clinch the title. Few goalies can make 81 saves in two games look that easy, but Woodland makes it look easier every time. This year in a meeting against X on Jan. 7, she stopped 59 in a shootout win. Some things may never change.

Kendra Woodland (SMU Huskies Athletics)

Who takes the banner? 

Burbidge’s play alone — along with X’s strength up and down their lineup — has kept contests between them and the defending champs close all season. The Reds took the season series three games to one, but X had the last laugh, winning their most recent meeting on Jan. 29 by a 3-1 score. Only on seven occasions all year has X scored two goals or less in a game. Three of those times came against UNB. The Reds have some sort of formula in place to keep the top X-Women scorers at bay.

Another matchup to watch is the one on special teams. In true finals fashion, one storyline will be the top-ranked X power play (22.4 per cent in the regular season) against UNB’s top-ranked penalty kill (at 91.7 per cent). While X has also thrived on the kill (second in AUS at 88.5 per cent), the Reds’ power play is mediocre at 12.1 per cent, sixth in the conference. Neither team has allowed a power play goal against yet these playoffs.

Even though X is the younger, less experienced team, they’ve come a long way this season alone. They remind me of a certain UNB team in 2021-22. They were a group looking to get over the hump — riding a learning curve and getting huge contributions from many players through the season, en route to the title. 

I see a lot of similarities with the X-Women: timely scoring (not just a lot of scoring), defensive reliability and goaltenders that can handle the AUS’s most lethal scorers. Even during the SMU semi, it was clear the X-Women were feeling out how to manage a series against a very good opponent. After the Huskies shocked them in game three, X put the foot down and played their best game of the season — and it seemed effortless. Dominating a team that close to them in an elimination game is hard. Now, they’re prepared for UNB.

The Reds are ready too and showed everyone who’s boss versus UPEI. Even if UNB has an off-night (unlikely), Woodland will probably steal a game at some point in this series. But X’s play as of late has made this a tight series to call. Ultimately, I really like the groove the X-Women — although short-staffed — have been rolling with lately. In a nail-biter, I believe X will get their revenge for last year and take the banner back to Antigonish.

Prediction: StFX defeats UNB two games to one

Cover photo: James West/UNB Athletics

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