Mustangs stun UNB, join McGill in final

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FREDERICTON, N.B. (ISN) – The fourth-seeded Western Mustangs advanced to the gold medal final of the 50th CIS men’s hockey championship thanks to a 3-2 upset win over the defending national champion and tournament host UNB Varsity Reds, Saturday night, in front of a capacity crowd of 3,750 at the University of New Brunswick’s Aitken Centre.

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The Mustangs (2-0) jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first period and hung on to stun top-ranked UNB and take first play in Pool A in front of the Varsity Reds (1-1) and UQTR (0-2).

In Sunday’s Cavendish Farms University Cup final at 8 p.m. Atlantic, live on Sportsnet and, Western will face No. 2 McGill in a rematch of the OUA conference final, won 4-1 by McGill on March 10th in London, Ont.

McGill (1-1) lost 4-3 to Saskatchewan (1-1) earlier on Saturday but still finished first in Pool B on goal differential. Moncton (1-1) placed second in the group and Saskatchewan was third.

It will mark the first CIS title match between OUA rivals since Western edged UQTR 4-3 in triple overtime in 2002 to capture its lone University Cup. The Mustangs last played in the University Cup final in 2009, when they dropped a 4-2 decision to UNB. They had also lost 4-0 to the V-Reds in pool play a year ago.

“I’m glad the game didn’t last 10 more seconds. We played every shift like it was overtime. The guys left everything on the ice,” said 13-year Western head coach Clarke Singer, who was behind the bench when the Mustangs triumphed in 2002.

“We never talked about that (being a David vs. Goliath matchup) as a group,” continued Singer. “We’ve had the opportunity to play UNB three times in the last four years on this stage similar to this… I think maybe people outside our dressing room would bill it as that given the type of history of success they’ve had wining University Cups but inside our locker room, we were very confident… You could see that by how we started the game tonight and getting up on them early.”

Goaltender Josh Unice stood on his head for the second straight night and earned Western game-MVP honours for the second consecutive game. After making 41 saves on Friday in a 3-2 OT win over UQTR, the third-year netminder from Holland, Ohio, stopped 35 of 37 shots fired his way against UNB, including 17 saves in the third period as Western was outshot 19-8.

“I think we even elevated our game (from Friday),” said Unice. “Guys were diving and we had, who I feel is the best player in CIS (defenceman Scott Aarssen) putting his bare hands in front of pucks just to block them. It’s a great attribute of our team. We have a lot of sacrifice in our locker room.”

The Mustangs silenced the local crowd with three goals in a span of five minutes and 23 seconds in the second half of the first period.

Dominic De Sando of London opened the scoring at 12:25, CIS scoring champion Keaton Turkiewicz of Brantford, Ont., doubled the lead at 15:20 during a 5-on-3 power play and Jason Furlong, also of London, made it 3-0 with a short-handed marker at 17:48.

Still down by three with less than eight minutes remaining in the contest, UNB made it interesting thanks to late power play goals by defenceman Jonathan Harty of Oromocto, N.B., and team captain Kyle Bailey of Ponoka, Alta., but ran out of time.

Travis Fullerton of Riverview, N.B., took the loss in front of the UNB net after a 21-save effort.

“It’s tough right now,” said Bailey, struggling for words following his last game in a UNB jersey. “Obviously, you’ve done some incredible things over the past five years and one of those things has been you develop an expectancy. I’m sure that there are lots of teams out there that are dancing around happy that we lost right now but in our dressing room… we expect to win… It didn’t happen today, it’s disappointing and I’m not sure I have an answer.”

“The big thing it comes down to at this time of year is execution and when you look back at the game, personally, I just feel like I didn’t execute well enough,” said fifth-year veteran Luke Gallant of Bedford, N.S., an alternate captain with UNB. “You look around the (dressing) room and it hurts… you expect to win here and when you don’t, you haven’t completed your objective.”

Head coach Gardiner MacDougall, who led UNB to three national titles in five years from 2007 to 2011, was proud of his troops despite the loss.

“Sometimes you can use adversity for an advantage. We certainly had adversity throughout the regular season but we didn’t have that raw energy we needed,” said MacDougall. “We probably didn’t get that… probably ’til about the 48-minute mark… It was kind of a forced energy… We’re a team that wants to put pucks low, have foot races and have puck possession off faceoffs. Give full credit to our opponents. On faceoffs, we’re usually a 60 per cent team and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t jump on enough loose pucks. We didn’t quite get our forecheck established.”

Despite the fact the Mustangs worked extra time against UQTR less than 24 hours earlier while UNB enjoyed a well-deserved rest, it was Western that came out flying in the first period.

De Sando opened the scoring 12 minutes in when he took two whacks at a rebound off a point shot by rearguard Matt Paltridge.

Three minutes later, with a pair of V-Reds sitting in the penalty box, Turkiewicz completed a three-way passing play initiated by Aarssen and Kevin Baker with a one-timer from the slot that left no chance to Fullerton.

With two minutes remaining before the first intermission, Furlong created a turnover at his own blue line during a penalty kill, skated down the right side and fired a shot that found its way under Fullerton’s left arm and into the net.

The AUS champion V-Reds did everything they could to cut the deficit in the middle stanza but couldn’t solve the Unice mystery.

UNB at two great chances on a power play six minutes into the frame, and defenceman Luke Gallant was stoned by Unice at the end of a 3-on-2 rush with five minutes remaining.

Unice resumed his stellar play in the third with numerous mind-boggling saves. He was helped by his teammates who did an outstanding job blocking shots and getting into shooting lanes.

Harty finally put the locals on the board with 7:17 left and Bailey sent the crowd into a frenzy with 3:03 remaining when he beat Unice with a one-timer from up close.

The V-Reds pulled Fullerton for an extra skater with 1:04 on the clock and kept the puck in Western’s zone for most of the final 64 seconds but couldn’t find the equalizer.

GAME NOTES: Western only met McGill once this season, in the 101st edition of the Queen’s Cup for the OUA championship. The Redmen, who have won four consecutive meetings over Western, are 15-13-3 lifetime against them and haven’t lost to the Mustangs since a 2-1 decision in the OUA final on March 8, 2009.

Christian J. Stewart
Christian is a professional photographer and media professional based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Currently working as the Assistant General Manager for Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Club, a Senior Contributing Editor and photographer at Independent Sports News (ISN) and operating his own freelance photography and media/pr company.