CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – When the UNB Reds skated off the ice in Wolfville in 2022, eliminated from the U CUP at the hands of the TMU Bold in the quarter-finals, they hadn’t lived up to head coach Gardiner MacDougall’s short-tournament mantra.
“Survive and advance,” the UNB coach of 23 years says — it’s a line that’s earned his teams two AUS championships, a FISU gold medal and a CHL Memorial Cup in the last year.
11 months since Wolfville, the thoughts still rang in the heads of UNB’s players, disappointed with their U CUP performance in Nova Scotia and their struggles to deliver a U SPORTS Championship at Acadia’s rink. Yet, they dashed that despair in a tough quarter-final win on Thursday night in PEI.
After a COVID-cancelled tournament in 2020, no 2021 tournament and 2022’s heartbreak, the Reds snuck past the Concordia Stingers to win their first U CUP game since 2019, defeating the OUA bronze medalists 2-1 on a late goal from Simon Pinard.
“Guys were disappointed in our performance last year, but that’s done now, and you move forward,” MacDougall told 49 Sports. “It’s a valuable experience; sometimes experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”
“Last year for those 10 guys, that was valuable, and these guys, the new guys, have got to learn on the fly.”
While neither team looked settled through the opening minutes of Thursday’s matchup, a 15-minute delay in fixing a damaged glass pane allowed both sides to reset, despite forcing them into another warmup.
For the Reds, who vigorously skated after the delay, finding the opener didn’t take long. Cody Morgan jumped on a Charles Tremblay turnover before waiting patiently to slot the puck past Jonathan Lemiuex, and the Reds never looked back.
“Last year didn’t go how we wanted, and we had 10 guys in that locker room that remember that heartbreak, and we’ve been remembering it now for the last 11 months,” UNB captain Jason Wilms said. “I thought we got off to a good start and established our forecheck, and it was one of those games that we just had to stick with it.”
While UNB dominated the shot count in the first period 12-2, the Stingers weren’t crawling into a shell; instead, waiting for their moment to strike, and one of the seldom scoring chances that come against the Reds.
Concordia knew exactly what they needed to do in the second period; just hold tight defensively and cash in on any opportunities that came their way. With five minutes to go in the frame, the Stingers made the most of their chance, with Phelix Martineau scoring on a powerplay with Isaac Nurse in the box.
For the Montrealers, with nine rookies in the lineup, the goal meant a chance.
“The game was really tight, and it’s a game of details. A little breakdown, and they score,” said Stingers head coach Marc-Andre Element. “We were in their zone a lot, we were playing the right way, and if we had one more lucky bounce, it could have been on our side.”
As the game reached its final stages, UNB found their deciding goal in the third period when Michael Petizian took on a significant hit to get the puck to Pinard, who found space behind Concordia’s Lemiuex to slot home the winner.
“It’s championship habits like that; sometimes you have to take a hit to make a play,” Wilms said. “I loved our response and our buy-in tonight.”
With a quarterfinal win in their back pocket, they’re first since 2019 in Lethbridge, the Reds advance to the U SPORTS semifinals on Saturday at noon ET to face the defending champion UQTR Patriotes, who defeated the SMU Huskies 4-1 earlier on Thursday.
“We’re lucky that we’ve got a day to recover, and then it’s just the way the draw works, you’ve got the champions from last year and the champions from 2019; you’ve got the last two,” MacDougall said. “Fans are going to be in for another exciting game.”