By Thomas Becker
It's one of those games you just want to bottle up and use again and again.
The UPEI Panthers gave it their all – a complete team effort – against the UNB Varsity Reds, as they upset the country's No. 1 ranked team 3-2.
What's even more impressive is this is the second time since Christmas that the Panthers (7-17-1) took down a No. 1 team. First it was St. FX on Jan. 5 (also by a score of 3-2) and again Wednesday night against the Varsity Reds (20-2-3).
"We're trying to build consistency in our game," said head coach Forbes MacPherson. "In the last three games, we feel we've played very well – as well as any team can play."
After a team meeting following their recent road trip (where they went 0-2), MacPherson said he believes his team has played, arguably, their best nine periods of the season.
"We started tracking each shift as far as win, loss and tie and we're stringing together shifts. And it's because guys are buying in and playing the right way."
The Panthers boasted a balanced attack with eight players recording at least a point. Nathan Yetman, R.T. Rice and Beau McCue each found the back of the net, while Marcus Power (2), Riley Whittingham, Mitchell Dempsey, Darcy Ashley and Gabe Guertler helped set their teammates up with assists.
"It was an emotional win us," said Rice, who was named Subway Player of the Game. "We've been playing well the last couple of games and tonight we came out with a good team win."
It was an evenly matched game throughout the opening frame with both teams firing away 10 shots each. The Panthers connected on one at 15:14 when Dempsey found Yetman, who roofed it from the right circle to give them a 1-0 edge.
But the lead was short-lived as the visiting Varsity Reds capitalized on their first power play of the night. Christopher Clapperton was the beneficiary scoring his 11th goal of the season at the 18:03 mark.
Midway through the second period, Kris Bennett gave UNB a 2-1 advantage on a nice feed from Oliver Cooper across the crease. Despite surrendering the lead, the resilient Panthers quickly returned the favour at 12:52 when Rice notched his third goal of the campaign to tie it up at two.
"At the start of the year when we were down we had a hard time getting back, but now we believe we can win," Rice said. "This is like playoff hockey and as you can see, anyone can win it."
It's said that fortune favours the hard working and in the opening minutes of the third, UPEI found a bit of luck, when McCue's wrist shot redirected off a UNB skate and beat Alex Dubeau.
After killing off a four-minute power play, the Varsity Reds started pressing the home team, searching for that equalizer. With the defence on their heels and the UPEI faithful on the edge of their seats, goaltender Matt Mahalak and the Panthers contained the oncoming attack and held on for the 3-2 final.
In his fourth consecutive start, the fourth-year netminder continued to earn the trust of his coach with his 25-save performance.
"Matty did his job between the pipes, made the saves when he had to make them, but that was a total team effort," MacPherson said.
The Panthers hit the road next where they'll take on Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus. Puck drops on Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan