(Halifax, N.S.) The Saint Mary's Huskies protected home ice with a 5-2 win over the UPEI Panthers, in the decisive game three of their 2018 Subway AUS men's hockey quarterfinal playoff series, on Sunday night at the Halifax Forum.
SMU took games one and three at the Forum to win the best of three series with UPEI.
"I thought we played almost all nine of our periods well in the series," said Huskies head coach Trevor Stienburg. "(UPEI is) a good team and we got the job done so I'm happy. I think we played well and I think we had to play well to win."
Anthony Repaci (Toronto, Ont.), Aaron Berisha (Mississauga, Ont.), Dylan DiPerna (Nobleton, Ont.), Taylor Burke (Halifax, N.S.) and Hunter Garlent lit the lamp for Saint Mary's.
Eric Brassard (St. Hubert, Que.) made 20 saves between the pipes for SMU.
Marcus Power (St. John's, N.L.) and Cody Payne (Davie, Fla.) responded with goals for UPEI.
Matthew Mancina (Windsor, Ont.) finished with 25 saves for the Panthers.
Mancina was busy in the first, as SMU won the shot battle 17-3. Saint Mary's used a relentless fore-check and solid defensive positioning to control the pace of play, as the period wore on.
Repaci opened the scoring 13:51 into the first – finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play. Bronson Beaton (Springhill, N.S.) stripped the puck and caught the Panthers flying the zone to set up an in zone three-on-one.
Beaton tapped it to Repaci who went back to Beaton in the high slot. Beaton passed to Hunter Garlent (Thorold, Ont.) in the low-left-circle, he patiently waited for a seam to open up and hit Repaci with a cross crease pass for a tap in at the back post.
Berisha finished off another highlight-reel passing play to make it 2-0 at 18:01 of the first. Garlent made a nifty feed to Berisha at the UPEI blue-line to spring Berisha and Repaci on a two-on-one. Berisha gave it to Repaci who made a spin-o-rama backhand pass onto Berisha's tape and he buried it from the low-left-circle.
"If the passing is on it's beautiful, if it's off it's the most frustrating thing in the world," said Stienburg. "They were on today."
UPEI started the second with jump, creating a couple of scoring chances in the first three-minutes.
Power pulled the Panthers to 2-1 with a power play goal 6:10 into the second. Kameron Kielly (Charlottetown, P.E.I.) moved it to Ryan MacKinnon (Summerside, P.E.I.) on the blue-line in the middle of the ice and he fed Power in the high-left-circle. Power walked in and ripped a wrister low-glove from the dot.
DiPerna answered with the eventual winner for the Huskies, scoring on the power play at 14:18 of the second. SMU had sustained pressure with the man-advantage. Stephen Shipley (Ilderton, Ont.) sent it back to Jake Coughler (St. Catharines, Ont.) on the right point. Coughler put it on a tee for DiPerna across the blue-line and he blasted a one-timer low-blocker.
Shots were 14-9 Panthers in the second.
Burke gave the Huskies some insurance at 4-1 just 46-seconds into the third. Coughler sprung Burke and Berisha on a two-on-one. Burke moved it to Berisha who sent it right back and Burke buried from the low-left-slot.
Payne made it 4-2 at 11:45 of the third. Gabe Guertler (Plantation, Fla.) hit RT Rice (Invermere, B.C.) in the neutral-zone and he tapped it to Payne with some space up the right-wing. Payne flew in and sniped high-blocker from the top of the circle.
The Panthers pulled Mancina with 2:40 left on the clock, with a SMU-zone draw after an icing. A UPEI penalty at 2:21 put him back in.
The net was empty again with 1:02 left and Garlent found the open cage with 42-seconds remaining to seal the win for the Huskies.
Shots were 30-22 overall for SMU.
"The guys came to play today," said Stienburg. "You could tell four-five shifts in that we had a little bit of an edge to us and we were playing like a team. I thought we played the majority of the game hard, the right way and as a team."
Up next, the Huskies will face the UNB Varsity Reds in the AUS semifinals. The best of five series begins in Fredericton, N.B. on Thursday, February 22. Game two will be in Fredericton on Friday, February 23 and game three will be at the Halifax Forum on Monday, February 26. If necessary, game four will be at the Forum on Tuesday, February 27 and game five will be back in Fredericton on Thursday, March 1.
"Nobody looks forward to UNB," said Stienburg. "But in fairness we kind of do, because we know that they're such a favourite. We know what we're up against, it's a huge challenge for us but we've beat some pretty good hockey teams in the past and there's no reason we can't do it again."
Photo Nick Pearce