By Thomas Becker
It's one of the best performances you'll see from a rookie all season.
Panther goaltender, Matthew Mancina was nothing short of spectacular in net and was a big reason why UPEI came away with a 2-1 win over the Saint Mary's Huskies and evened the quarter-final series at a game apiece.
Mancina made 28 saves Friday night, but the 15 shots he faced in the first period set the tone for the rest of game and bought his team enough time to get ahead in a must-win Game 2.
"We knew they [Saint Mary's] were going to come out strong. It's a best-of-three series and they wanted to end it tonight," said assistant captain Ryan MacKinnon, who scored the game's opening goal. "We did a great job, especially early, killing off those two power plays. You have to tip your hat off to the best penalty killer, Mancina. Anything on net he was smothering up."
UPEI slashed their way to the penalty box three times in the opening period, putting their goaltender in a bind. But Mancina was up for the task and was unbeatable in the frame, where he made 15 saves.
"He looked square and he looked confident, and he gave our team confidence," said head coach Forbes MacPherson of his young keeper. "Hopefully we can keep that going."
At the 11:31 mark, MacKinnon fired the Panthers' only shot on net to that point and after it bounced off netminder Eric Brassard, MacKinnon batted it in to give his team a 1-0 lead.
UPEI had a chance to extend their lead in the opening minutes of the second on a pair of power plays, but struggled to generate many scoring opportunities. Their defence, meanwhile, picked up in the period, limiting Saint Mary's to just eight shots.
Despite failing to capitalize with the man-advantage, the Panthers continued to press the Huskie defence and were finally rewarded at 14:29. Kameron Kielly continued his stellar rookie campaign, snapping a wrist shot past Brassard to make it 2-0.
The Huskies got one back midway through the third when captain Steven Shipley chipped in a loose puck in front. They tried to use that momentum to find the equalizer, but couldn't solve Mancina as the home team held on for the 2-1 final.
The Panthers travel back to Halifax on Sunday (Feb. 18) for the series-deciding Game 3 tilt. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
"We're going to celebrate this win tonight, but come practice time tomorrow, we're going to get dialed in for Sunday," MacKinnon said. "We're going in there with a mission."
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan