Woodland delivers peak performance to force game three in AUS final

With an opportunity to clinch the AUS title at home, the StFX X-Women couldn’t get anything going on Tuesday night against the UNB Reds. 

The difference was a mid-second period goal from Alayna Wagstaff and a 34-save performance from AUS MVP Kendra Woodland, as UNB prevailed by a nailbiting 1-0 score in game two of the AUS women’s hockey final. With the win, the Reds tie the series at one game apiece. Now, whoever wins the next game in this best-of-three series takes the conference.

“We were playing desperate today,” Woodland said on the AUSTV broadcast post-game. She’s the first goalie to hand X — the highest-scoring team in U SPORTS — a shutout in the 2022-23 season. 

“We’re going to get lots of shots whenever we play against them. They shoot from everywhere. It’s the preparation of, you know, you’re going to get peppered every once in a while.”

Much like game one, UNB had the better start, outshooting X 8-1 five minutes in. But Burbidge and the X-Women attack stepped up the physical forcefulness to even things out through the rest of the period. No one scored through 20 minutes of play. 

Again in the second, UNB had the better start but had to contend with an early X-Women power play. However, they capitalized on the opportunity to bolster their momentum, with an energy-sucking penalty kill. The Reds got another boost on a mid-period two-on-one between X’s Burbidge and Chloe Vukosa. Receiving a beautiful feed, Vukosa saw daylight in net for a moment. But out of nowhere, Woodland slid across to blocker away the threat.

A few minutes later, that paid off for UNB. Off an odd-player rush, Wagstaff threw a slight head-fake X’s way. Working with the screen, and with two more UNB forwards driving the net, she wristed the shot low from the faceoff dot to Jamie Johnson’s left. The shot was perfectly placed, sailing just over the goalie’s pad and in.

StFX didn’t back down early in the third, keeping Woodland and the Reds defence alert. After another UNB penalty kill, Anna MacCara of X broke in on a two-on-one attack. She tried to handcuff the AUS MVP in goal, but she shouldered the shot away to keep X off the score sheet. 

Finally, with fewer than 30 seconds left in the game and an empty StFX goal, the X-Women won the faceoff. Kya Moss directed the puck on net immediately, but Reds senior Ashely Stratton — who just lost the faceoff seconds ago — went all-out to block the Moss shot from the point. The puck trickled out of the zone, sealing the deal for UNB. 

Both teams are already booked for U SPORTS nationals in Montreal from March 16-19, so no one’s season is at stake on Wednesday. However, as Woodland said, the team wants to head into nationals on as high of a note as possible. And what higher note than a second consecutive banner?

“Regardless of going to nationals next week,” she said, “you still want to go with a trophy.”

Cover Photo: A group of UNB Reds celebrate Alayna Wagstaff’s second-period goal during UNB’s 1-0 win over the StFX X-Women, forcing a game three in the AUS women’s hockey final. (AUSTV)

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