By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers closed out the regular season in dominant fashion with a 5-0 win over the nation's No. 3 ranked St. FX X-Men.
After fighting through a tumultuous first half of the season, the Panthers came out of the break a better (and healthier) team that learned to play within themselves. In doing so, they've gained a quiet confidence that should strike fear in the Saint Mary's Huskies, who they drew in next week's quarter-final matchup.
"We battled a lot of adversity in the first half. We battled injuries and we battled some inexperience, as far as adding a significant number of freshman to this team," said head coach Forbes MacPherson. "But we had a good December where we took a step back and pressed the reset button. Since then, everybody's responded."
Since Jan. 19, the Panthers have put together an impressive 6-2 record and rookie sensation, Kameron Kielly, is a big reason why. The rookie of the year candidate led all freshmen with 42 points and finished second behind only Acadia's Stephen Harper (46 points) for league supremacy.
Kielly followed up Friday's three-point effort with another three points against St. FX. But it was his teammates who did the damage early.
With three minutes remaining in the first, UPEI took control in the offensive zone and had a couple chances to add to their lead, but Hope came up big to keep it at a 1-0 game.
The Panthers carried their strong play into the second period and the goals quickly followed. First it was Power, who scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season at the 5:40 mark, and then it was Cody Payne who pushed the lead to 3-0 a minute later.
The X-Men couldn't contend with the home team Saturday night, as UPEI simply dominated in all facets of the game. Kielly came alive in the third period and closed the game out with back-to-back goals at 3:30 and 7:37, as the Panthers took care of business 5-0.
Matthew Mancina got the starting nod between the pipes and turned aside all 23 shots he faced for his first shutout of his young AUS career.
"It's a mental hurdle for players to play in this type of game, just because we're probably 72 hours away from a playoff game," MacPherson said. "But we're proud of our guys for sticking to the game plan and playing the right way."
The Panthers now have their sights set on the postseason and their quarter-final opponent the Saint Mary's Huskies. Playoff schedule will be announced in the coming days.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan