By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers lit up the Acadia Axemen Saturday night and in the middle of all the action was sophomore forward Filip Rydstrom, who single-handedly outscored the Axemen with four goals in an 8-3 win.
Joining him on the score sheet were Nick Shumlanski, Riley Whittingham, Gabe Guertler and Kameron Kielly, who also recorded two assists on the night. Owen Headrick and Cody Payne chipped in with a pair of assists as well.
Rydstrom's career night was a welcome sight, as the skilled forward makes an already deadly offence even more threatening. After the game, head coach Forbes MacPherson said he moved Rydstrom back to his natural centre position this season after a subpar rookie campaign, where he finished with four goals and an assist – the same numbers he accumulated on Saturday.
"He's been a different player this year right from Day 1," MacPherson said. "We bumped him over to centre and that gets him involved a little bit more. He's a beast in the faceoff circle and we needed that as a team."
For Rydstrom, it's a relief seeing the hard work he's put in since the end of last season paying off.
"It's one of those games where you just have to take it all in. I can't really believe it myself," he said.
Rydstrom said he was disappointed with the way he performed in 2017-18 and vowed to become a better player on the ice.
"I wasn't happy with my year last year. Forbie and I talked about it at our end-of-year meeting and I just wanted to become a better hockey player so that I can help the team out."
Emotions were understandably high to begin the game as both teams came in with lopsided losses the night before.
The Panthers put pressure on Acadia's defence from the opening faceoff and at 3:25, Shumlanski put his team ahead on a shot from the top of the left circle. A minute and a half later, rookie forward Maurizio Colella tied it up for Acadia.
The back and forth affair continued in the early going, as Whittingham took a great feed from linemate Troy Lajeunesse and deposited the puck past a sprawling Logan Flodell, who couldn't slide over quick enough to make the stop.
Payne came into the second period firing the puck on net and his teammates benefitted. First it was Guertler who batted home a rebound just 5:24 into the frame. Two minutes later, Payne's shot from the left circle ricocheted off Flodell's left pad to Rydstrom, who scored on the open net as the home team took command 4-1.
After Rodney Southam got one back for the Axemen, Kielly netted his league-leading seventh goal of the season on the power play. Rydstrom closed out the period with his second of the game, when he weaved through the Acadia defence and made the netminder commit before depositing the smooth-looking backhand to extend UPEI's lead 6-2.
Just seconds into the third period, Rydstrom completed the hat trick on a power play goal that was set up by Kielly, who split the defence and found his teammate racing toward the net.
Rydstrom would add his fourth of the game late in the period, before Acadia's Ryan Foss made it 8-3 with a goal of his own.
"I feel like I got some lucky bounces," he said modestly. "Our power play was buzzing all night and I got chance to play with great players who made it easy for me."
The Panthers return to the ice on Nov. 2 when they welcome the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus to town. Puck drops at 7 p.m.
Phot Credit: Janessa Hogan