CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – The UPEI Panthers-Alberta Golden Bears U SPORTS U CUP Men’s Hockey Championship semifinal was a boiling kettle with the top about to blow off.
Early in the third period during a scrum between UPEI’s Zach Beauregard and Alberta goalie Ethan Kruger, it finally did.
The Panthers and its arena full of loyal fans were restless after the amount of time spent in the penalty box on Saturday night. They took five penalties in a 10-minute span between the final minute of the first period and into the second — all consecutive. By the end of the game, Alberta had 10 power plays. It was a displeasure met with a fan throwing a water bottle on the ice after the final buzzer of Alberta’s 4-1 win.
But that’s not what caught fans’ eyes post-game. Instead of UPEI drawing the wrong attention, it was Alberta. Or rather, the absence of Alberta.
Instead of traditionally shaking hands with the opponent post-game, the Golden Bears immediately left the ice.
“It didn’t feel safe for our players,” said Alberta coach Ian Herbers on the decision not to shake hands, citing the viciousness of the physical play in the game’s second half.
“I thought something else would happen, which would then create a bigger incident. I didn’t want that opportunity to happen.”
Let’s revisit some context. The many penalties reflected the displeasure of the teams with not only the officiating, but one another. Despite that, the game’s pace was fast. With speed often comes reckless abandon.
That was arguably the case when UPEI’s Beauregard collided with Kruger five minutes into the third period. Beauregard was mobbed by Golden Bears in defence of their goalie. After getting up off the ice, the Panthers forward was held by a linesman attempting to defuse the scrum.
According to a replay of the incident (available in the game’s broadcast archive online), Beauregard slipped his left hand out of his glove (which was grabbed by the linesman), immediately turning to strike Kruger in the face.
It isn’t clear how he struck him — Kruger’s head separated the broadcast camera and Beauregard’s hand. Although the motion of his swing was similar to that of a punch, Beauregard’s hand was open on the follow-through. Kruger fell to the ice and after being attended to by trainers, left the game with the aid of teammates.
Herbers said the decision not to shake hands was a decision based on both the Beauregard strike and UPEI’s overall style of play “through the entire game.”
UPEI lined up at centre ice for post-game handshakes, but skated to Alberta’s bench as they saw the Golden Bears leave the ice. The officials kept the Panthers from getting too close, but they got close enough to visibly voice their displeasure down the tunnel. The fans were heard for sure as well — they booed regularly through the game in response to penalty calls. But the last boo was the loudest, bar none.
“I’m not quite sure what he’s upset about,” said UPEI coach Forbie MacPherson in response to Herbers’s choice not to shake hands. He said emotions were expected to ride high in a game such as Saturday’s — the U CUP semifinal.
MacPherson added besides Beauregard’s strike early in the third, his team got the “short end of the stick” for most of the game.
“There were times I wish [we] would have been a little bit more disciplined. [But] at the end of the game, their team had 10 power plays. We might have had a total of one minute of power play.”
As for the Beauregard incident, the Panthers coach said he heard his player’s version of the events (Beauregard himself wasn’t made available for comment). He was told the strike was open-handed (rather than a punch).
MacPherson added the strike followed Beauregard taking “multiple punches from multiple guys” while on the ice and that he hit Kruger with his weak hand. The coach maintained he saw the same events described by Beauregard from the bench.
Herbers didn’t have an update on his goalie’s health or whether he’d be available for tomorrow’s gold medal game against the UNB Reds. As for Beauregard, 49 Sports was told U SPORTS is looking into the incident and considering discipline.
The game started very differently — not only rather clean, but with a fast start from the Canada West finalists. Alberta’s Matt Fonteyne squeezed through a check entering the UPEI zone and found a wide-open Eric Florchuk — never a good thing for the other team. His backhand barely rolled through goalie Jonah Capriotti for the opening goal 23 seconds in.
In a quiet period, that goal set the tone in the building — dialling the fans down from berserk to cautious optimism.
“It was a good boisterous crowd,” said Herbers about the fans, adding it’s fun to play in front of them whether cheering for or against Alberta. “We like playing in those kinds of atmospheres, where the fans are engaged and involved.”
Aside from the goal, the Panthers had a decent first period, keeping Alberta’s score to one. But an early second-period call led to an extended Alberta 4-on-3 power play and a Fonteyne blast into the top shelf — the 2-0 goal.
The penalty frustration didn’t stop there for the green-and-white. By the second period’s midway point, the Panthers had taken five consecutive calls, upsetting the bench and some of the louder spectators in the crowd. Alberta didn’t score on any more of their power plays but kept the puck in UPEI’s zone for the vast majority of that time.
Later on, Nolan Volcan took advantage of a wild hop of the puck and confusion on the Panthers’ blueline. That made it 3-0 after 40 minutes.
After the Beauregard/Kruger incident in the third, the game began to feel over. Conor MacEachern soon scored for the Panthers, but it was too little, too late.
With Alberta’s win, they set up the next chapter of one of the U CUP’s best rivalries: the Golden Bears versus UNB. The two are frequent competitors in the national gold medal game and will collide for the fifth time in the final tomorrow.
Last they met there, UNB beat Alberta for the 2019 title. Alberta hasn’t bested the Reds for gold since 2015.
The Golden Bears — already seeking revenge after losing to the UQTR Patriotes in last year’s national final — now have a ridiculously small window in which to bounce back from Saturday’s madness.
“Tomorrow’s a new day,” Herbers said. “UNB’s a big challenge, so we need to make sure we’re playing our game.”
Despite the disappointing result, UPEI’s tournament isn’t over as they’ll play for bronze Sunday afternoon. However, they have a tough order; they draw UQTR, motivated and bitter following their defeat at the hands of UNB earlier on Saturday.
Even with the loss, MacPherson said his team still has a lot to be proud of as they prepare to play for a medal tomorrow.
“We’re a small school,” he said. “There’s four teams left today and three of the programs … are the most decorated programs in U SPORTS men’s hockey — and we’re trying to get to another level. So tomorrow’s a big day for us and our guys will be excited.”