By Thomas Becker
Cody Payne has been on a tear lately and on Saturday night he delivered the heroics in a thrilling 4-3 win over the Saint Mary's Huskies.
With less than three minutes remaining, Kameron Kielly passed it behind to Payne, who wired the puck past the outstretched Eric Brassard while falling to the ice for the go-ahead goal.
That was Payne's second goal of the night and his fourth in the last two games. Kielly and Beau McCue each scored as well.
"That was obviously a big win for us," said head coach Forbes MacPherson. "We just kept digging in and digging in the whole period and we managed to scratch out two points."
Before the game, MacPherson made a gut call and signaled for backup goaltender Matthew Mancina to get the start. In just his second start of the season, the second-year netminder was sensational between the pipes where he made 42 saves and kept his team in the game.
"You just have to be prepared. You have to respect the coach's decision and when you're called upon you have to be ready," said Mancina, who was named the Subway Player of the Game. "It was big for me to have a great a game and maybe win some of the coach's confidence."
The Panthers (8-5-1) showcased their resilience throughout the game, as they were forced to play from behind on three different occasions. Saint Mary's (11-4-1) opened the scoring midway through the first period, when defenceman Austyn Hardie sniped a shot from the point that beat Mancina.
With the man-advantage, Payne snuck a low shot by Brassard at 14:19 for his first of two goals to even the score at one.
"Cody is one of those guys who scores in bunches and he's on a bit of a wave," MacPherson said. "He's finding the twine right now, so he's feeling good."
The Huskies came out strong in the second and had several odd-man rushes before connecting on one at 4:37. Aaron Berisha found a wide-open Logan Denoble in the right circle, where he one-timed it top shelf to give his team the one-goal advantage.
With three minutes to spare in the frame, Kielly deposited his team-leading 10th goal of the season. Off a Gabe Guertler faceoff win, Kielly raced in from the left, took a short pass from Sam Aulie and beat the keeper.
Saint Mary's league-best power play went to work midway through the third, as Dawson Theede tipped in a shot from Hunter Garlent to reclaim the lead 3-2.
But the gritty Panthers would respond at 15:19 when McCue whipped a shot past Brassard to tie it yet again, before Payne sealed the emotional victory with his late goal.
"We've been winning a lot of games over the last two or three weeks, which is huge in the standings," Mancina said. "The last couple of years I've been here the team hasn't gotten off to the best of starts, but this year we're doing well and we're trying to stay near the top of the pack.
UPEI will end the first half of the season on the road where they'll face the Acadia Axemen and Saint Mary's Huskies. Puck drops at 7 p.m. on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.