Axemen 2022-23 season review
Coach Burns looks forward to the Axemen off-season initiatives
2022-23 was the year we were finally back to some sense of normalcy in AUS men’s hockey, after the Acadia hosted University Cup was cancelled before the Axemen played a game in March of 2020, a cancelled 2020-21 season, and a fragmented season in 2021-22, it was finally back to business as usual this season.
The Axemen welcomed 9 new faces into the lineup in September as they looked to lay the building blocks for the program’s future. Their first half of the season saw some growing pains as they entered the holiday break going 5-10-2-1, and saw the team begin to gel, as many of the players began to get acclimated to the speed and compete level of the AUS.
Acadia head coach Darren Burns said this about his team’s growth, “We were extremely happy with our team’s progress over the season. In early September we made our team very aware that we were not going to use age as an excuse. We felt this was an extremely important recruiting year for our program and it was crucial that we brought in players who loved the game and were committed to do what our program asks of them. It’s not a secret, if you are going to be competitive as an individual and team in AUS hockey, you better compete and love the game; it’s the only way you have any chance of succeeding especially if you are a young team. We felt this group of players demonstrated this from day one.”
The Axemen began to turn a corner in the second half, as they earned 12 points, going 6-6 not only making the playoffs, but moving into 5th place in the standings by passing the Aigles Bleus in the final game of the regular season. The Axemen were slotted to play the StFX X-Men in the 1st round of the playoffs, in a best of 3 series. The X-Men were a team, that by and large, were considered a potential team to make it to the UCup tournament this season, and boasted the top 3 regular season scorers in the conference. The underdog Axemen knocked off the X-Men in 2 straight games to win the series and move on to the 2nd round. In the 2nd round, they faced the Saint Mary’s Huskies who finished 2nd in the AUS, and were ranked in the USports top 10 in the country throughout the year. After a decisive loss in the 1st game, Acadia gave SMU all they could handle in the next 3 games, including a 2-1 double overtime win in Wolfville for the Axemen, to save off elimination in game 3, before finally bowing out to the Huskies in a hard fought game 4.
We asked Coach Burns about the team’s 2nd half and the importance of the team’s playoff compete level, he said, “The second half success and playoffs helped, in that it showed the players that hard work and commitment and belief in a plan and structure will bring positive results. We don’t want winning one round in the playoffs to be our standard. Some folks questioned if we would even make the playoffs. Our finish and performance in the playoffs gave our returning players a taste of what it takes to succeed in this league. There is no question we feel they had a successful season. We compete in a tremendous conference, and it’s well documented that AUS hockey creates opportunity to compete against some of the top teams in the country every night, so it tests you every night.”
With the 2022-23 season now in the rear-view mirror, the attention shifts to the Axemen off-season and what needs to be done to ensure the team and the hockey program are ready to continue to build for success in the 2023-24 season and beyond.
Coach Burns expressed his desire to continue to build the program for the future saying, “Moving forward the main focus for our staff is generating more revenue, which will enhance our on-ice product. To be a national contender you need to be able to compete financially. The landscape has changed and even though the AUS always produces many of the top teams in the country, you are seeing many other schools raising their levels and hockey is as competitive as it’s ever been. We have been fortunate here in the Annapolis Valley, this is the best place to play university hockey in the country. We have a great facility and a very loyal fan base and a following like no other. We want to make sure our players have everything they need to win and develop to further their careers. Our university is extremely supportive of our team. It will be crucial for us to execute our different fundraising endeavors to help ensure we can have a top-quality program. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be releasing these initiatives and we look forward to making these successful with the support of our community, alumni, and fans. It’s no secret money is crucial not only to attract the best players in the country, but to provide the best student athlete experience. This is a must.”
Burns added, “On ice, we are very fortunate that we have already secured a topflight goalie in Thomas Couture and our focus will be in recruiting players who have speed and can create offence. We have many key building blocks in place to have a very strong team. It’s no secret we struggled to score this year, and this is our ongoing focus for our recruiting process. It was great to see a reinvigorated following in the arena this year after a couple of fragmented seasons in our league due to the pandemic. I don’t believe I have ever been as excited about the future for this program. There’s a lot of work to do and it starts with our coaching staff.”
Stay tuned for exciting news about off-season events and initiatives, as well as recruiting announcements in the coming weeks! The future is looking bright for the Axemen hockey program and we’re excited to have you onboard for the journey! #GoAcadiaGo
Huskies win game four and semifinal series against Axemen
McCollum stops 33 in Acadia loss
Wolfville, N.S. – It was another nail-biter between the Acadia Axemen and Saint Mary’s Huskies in Game 4 of the AUS semi-finals. While both teams put in a valiant effort, it was the Saint Mary’s Huskies who prevailed with a 3-0 victory and series win.
Jeremy Helvig (Kingston, Ont.) was named Subway First Star of the Night after putting in his second shutout of the series.
A costly 5-minute major by the Axemen in the third period ended up being the difference maker.
Nathan Dunkley (Campbellford, Ont.) scored the game and series-deciding goal with 9:49 remaining in the third.
Dunkley picked up the puck at center ice thanks to a misread by the Axemen penalty killers.
Acadia had the puck in the Huskies’ zone and threw it back out to center so that their defense could kill some extra time. However, that was when Dunkley stole the puck, came in on a breakaway and lifted the puck high blocker side to make it 1-0.
A mere 14 seconds later, Keith Getson (Bridgewater, N.S.) doubled the lead while parked in front of the Acadia net with a backhander that he slid through the legs of the Acadia goalie to make it 2-0.
Tight defense was the theme of the last three games. In the past two games of this series, there have only been five goals scored between the two teams, with one of those being an empty-netter.
The first two periods were scoreless.
In the first period, it seemed like Acadia was going to strike first thanks to a handful of odd-man rushes; however, those chances were shut down by the Huskies’ D and Helvig.
Saint Mary’s had their chances too, but the Axemen kept them off the scoresheet.
At the end of the opening period, the shots were tied 11-11.
Once again in the second period, neither team was able to find the back of the net.
Acadia had the best chance when Nick Deakin-Poot redirected a shot that hit the post but stayed out.
The Huskies had a power-play in the second frame that allowed them to get set up in the Acadia zone and record solid shots on the net, but there was nothing that could fool Axemen netminder Conor McCollum (Pickering, Ont.).
Acadia held a slight advantage in shots by the end of the second frame, with a 27-24 lead going into the third.
Adam McMaster (Beamsville, Ont.) almost scored in the opening minute of the third on the power-play, ringing the puck off the goal post.
Saint Mary’s got their best opportunity of the game in the third after Axemen forward Jack Flaman (Vibank, Sask.) took a 5-minute boarding major, giving the Huskies a huge power-play chance.
It was this power-play that saw Dunkley and Getson score to put the game out of reach for Acadia.
The Axemen continued to fight but were unable to solve the Huskies’ goaltender.
Andrew Coxhead (Bedford, N.S.) sealed the victory for Saint Mary’s in the final two minutes by adding an empty-net goal to make it 3-0.
Bad blood seemed to be brewing throughout the series but it was not until the final minute that a fight broke out between the teams, with a number of players dropping the gloves.
The teams combined for 130 minutes in penalties for the game.
Tonight, was another stellar night for the men between the pipes. Acadia goalie Conor McCollum put in a strong performance, turning aside 33 of 35 shots on the night. Likewise, Jeremy Helvig stopped 40 of 40 shots in his phenomenal game.
Acadia Axemen forward Adam McMaster and Saint Mary’s defensman Dennis Busby (Oro-Medonte, Ont.) were named second and third stars of the night, respectively.
With a 3-1 semifinal series win, the Huskies move on to face the winner of the Moncton/UNB series in the AUS finals.
Game 4: Saint Mary’s @ Acadia
Axemen extend series to game 4 with 2OT win over Huskies
McCollum makes 51 saves in win, Sellan with 2OT Winner!
WOLFVILLE, N.S. – Don’t call it a comeback just yet, but the Acadia Axemen kept themselves in the AUS semi-finals tonight thanks to a 2OT 2-1 win over the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
Acadia is now down 2 games to 1 in the best-of-five series.
It was a thrilling finish to the game as the third star of the night Brendan Sellan tipped in a point shot in the second overtime period.
Goaltending was an essential piece to keep both teams in the game, as Conor McCollum and Jeremy Helvig put in a pair of incredible performances for Acadia and Saint Mary’s respectively.
McCollum was named Subway First Star of the Night and Helvig was awarded second star of the night for their stellar nights in the net.
Following a 7-1 shellacking and a much closer 2-0 finish, Acadia responded with their strongest performance yet.
Acadia began to be outplayed by the Huskies as the game wore on, but they came out with the victory thanks to their gritty play.
It only took 35 seconds for the Axemen to get on the board.
Acadia grabbed their first lead of the series early in the first period with a power-play goal in the opening minute of the game.
The puck came out to Adam McMaster, who was set up in the left face-off circle. McMaster ripped a shot high into the top right corner of the net to make it 1-0.
This was the only goal of the period despite chances on both sides throughout the rest of the first.
The play was chippy, with a few shoving matches breaking out after the whistle in front of both nets.
By the end of the first period, the shots were tied 10-10.
In the second, neither team was able to find the back of the net. There were a number of power-play opportunities, on both sides, in the frame, but neither team capitalized.
Acadia had two strong scoring chances in the frame, including a failed 3-on-1 and a breakaway that led to a power-play after Nick Deakin-Poot had his stick slashed out of his hands.
Saint Mary’s had a few strong power-play chances but were unable to find the back of the net in the middle period.
At the end of the second period, the shots were 24-21 in favour of Saint Mary’s.
Mirroring Acadia’s first period, Saint Mary’s scored 22 seconds into the third.
Nathan Dunkley scooped the puck up in front of the net from a failed centering pass by Walter Flower and threw it in past the scrambling Acadia goalie.
Dunkley’s goal made the rest of the period a tense fight to see who could break the tie.
Conor McCollum put on a showcase late in the third, making a pair of incredible saves during an offensive burst from the Huskies.
Acadia had a few odd-man rushes in the frame but was shut down by the Huskies’ defense. Their best chance came in the final minute when Morgan Nauss got a pass from behind the net and took a clear shot while stepping in from the point uncovered.
Overtime was needed to break the tie.
Saint Mary’s held a commanding 40-28 lead in shots.
Both teams had solid chances in the first overtime, including a close call on a shot by Corson Hopwo late frame.
The shots were 47-33 for Saint Mary’s heading into the second OT frame.
Acadia goalie Conor McCollum turned aside 51 of 52 shots in the game, while his Saint Mary’s counterpart Jeremy Helvig stopped 41 of 43 shots.
Game 4 of the AUS semi-finals is tomorrow night, Tuesday, Feb. 28. Puck drop is 7 pm at Andrew H. McCain Arena.
Provided by Joshua Foote, Acadia Athletics Communications Office
Game 3: Saint Mary’s @ Acadia
Huskies shutout Axemen and take 2-0 lead in best of five semifinal series
McCollum with 19 saves in loss
HALIFAX, NS – Saint Mary’s goaltender Jeremy Helvig stopped 32 shots for his first career AUS playoff shutout, as the Huskies defeated the Acadia Axemen 2-0 in game two of their best-of-five semifinal series on Friday night at the Dauphinee Centre.
“It’s huge for us,” said Helvig post-game. “It wasn’t our best game but we played solid defensively in front of me and made my night… not too hard I’ll say.”
The Axemen looked motivated to bounce back from Thursday night’s 7-1 loss in game one, as they were buzzing from the opening puck drop. Axemen forward Cole Nagy (Saskatoon, SK) generated several scoring opportunities for his team, and the Huskies were able to kill of an early Axemen powerplay. Saint Mary’s best scoring chance in the opening period came on a shot by Cedric Ralph (Peterborough, ON) and a follow up rebound by Joel Bishop (St. John’s, NL), but Axemen goaltender Conor McCollum (Pickering, ON) was able to deny the chance.
Late in the first period, Acadia had their best scoring opportunity, with a rebound landing directly on the stick of forward Keegan Stevenson (Aweres Township, ON), but Huskies goaltender Jeremy Helvig slid across his crease to make a great pad save and keep the game scoreless.
Neither team was able to open the scoring in the first 20 minutes, with the Axemen outshooting the Huskies 12-5 in the period.
The Huskies began the second period on the powerplay, but were unable to generate a quality scoring chance. When the game returned to even strength, the Axemen peppered the Huskies goal with shots, but Helvig was able to turn them all away.
The two teams continued to battle for a go-ahead goal until there was just under eight minutes remaining in the period, when the Huskies opened their account. Defenceman Dennis Busby (Oro-Medonte, ON) took a pass from teammate Jaxon Bellamy and did the rest, skating around an Axemen defender and sniping a shot through McCollum’s five-hole to put the home team up 1-0.
Both teams were credited with eight shots in the second period, and the Huskies took a 1-0 lead into the second intermission.
The Axemen continued to pressure in the third period, and thought they found their equalizer on the powerplay, when forward Zack Jones (North Falmouth, MA) appeared to have banged the puck past Helvig, but the Huskies goaltender revealed the puck was underneath him, and the officials waved it off.
“He had the open net so I just threw my body on the puck and it fell into my glove. I guess they thought it went in but it was in my glove the whole time,” said Helvig.
Acadia fired 12 shots on goal in the third period, but Helvig stopped them all, and Huskies defenceman Justin MacPherson iced the game with a long empty-net goal with just 16 seconds remaining, his second of the series securing the Saint Mary’s 2-0 victory.
The Axemen outshot the Huskies 32-21 on the night, with goaltender Jeremy Helvig turning away all 32 shots and being named Subway Player of the Game. Conor McCollum stopped 19 shots for the Axemen.
“It’s huge to get the two wins at home,” said Helvig. “Just have to finish the job on Monday and beat Acadia.”
Game three of the semifinal series will take place Monday night at the Andrew H. McCain Arena in Wolfville, NS, with puck-drop scheduled for 7 p.m.
Recap by Allan April / Saint Mary’s Huskies Athletics
Photos by Mona Ghiz / Saint Mary’s Huskies Athletics
Game 2: Acadia @ Saint Mary’s
Axemen dropped 7-1 by Huskies in Game 1 of best of 5 semifinal
Stevenson with the lone Axemen goal
HALIFAX, NS – Saint Mary’s forward Andrew Coxhead scored two powerplay goals and added an assist, as the Huskies routed the Acadia Axemen 7-1 in game one of their best-of-three semifinal series on Thursday night at the Dauphinee Centre.
The Huskies opened the scoring midway through the first period, as a powerplay expired, forward David Bérubé (Price, QC) cut in and played a tape-to-tape pass to Dawson Theede (Brooklin, ON) who tapped it past Axemen goaltender Conor McCollum (Pickering, ON) to put the home team up 1-0. It was the first goal of the season for Theede, who was playing in his first game since Nov. 12 after recovering from an injury.
Saint Mary’s outshot Acadia 9-7 in the first period, and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Things opened up in the second period, and the Huskies took advantage. Just under eight minutes into the period, Huskies defenceman Justin MacPherson (East Gwillimbury, ON) fired a point shot that was directed into goal by Huskies forward Nathan Dunkley (Campbellford, ON), doubling the Huskies lead to 2-0.
After killing off a pair of Axemen penalties, thanks to some great saves by goaltender Jeremy Helvig, the Huskies got going on a man advantage of their own with just over six minutes remaining in the period.
Forward Keith Getson (Bridgewater, NS) attempted to set up forward Cedric Ralph (Peterborough, ON) in the slot, but the puck was deflected on to the stick of defenceman Jaxon Bellamy (Hampton, NB), who played a nice pass over to Coxhead in front, and he directed it past McCollum for the first of four powerplay goals on the night for the Huskies.
“That was big for us, getting the confidence up on the powerplay”, said Coxhead post-game. “We hadn’t played in a while, but we’ve been practicing it quite a bit, and it’s always nice to score on the powerplay.”
The Huskies would add another goal just over two minutes later, with Coxhead feeding Joel Bishop (St. John’s, NL), who delivered a backhand pass to a cutting Ralph, who calmly directed it into goal to extend the home team lead to 4-0.
Just over a minute later, the Huskies were on another powerplay when MacPherson and Getson pulled off a textbook give-and-go, with MacPherson finishing it up for the fourth and final goal of the second period, putting the Huskies up 5-0.
“That was great for us,” said MacPherson post-game. “We’ve had a couple weeks off here with the bye, so it was just important to find our legs early. We had a bit of a slow start but found our way in the second period and kind of just continued that into the third.”
The Huskies outshot the Axemen 19-17 in the second period, and took a 5-0 lead into the intermission. The Axemen would change goaltenders heading into the third period, with Zachary Paputsakis (Rockland, ON) replacing McCollum.
The third period saw the physicality increase, as Axemen forward Peyton Hoyt (Fredericton, NB) was given a match penalty for kneeing Huskies forward Liam Van Loon (London, ON), who was forced to leave the game and didn’t return.
An agitated Huskies team made the Axemen pay on the ensuing powerplay, scoring twice in 32 seconds.
First it was Coxhead’s second powerplay goal of the night, as he received a pass from Ralph and fired a shot past Paputsakis to extend the lead to 6-0.
Just 32 seconds later, the Huskies would score their fourth and final powerplay tally of the night, as forward Charlie Dafonseca (Thornhill, ON) sneaked a shot through Paputsakis’ five-hole, extending the lead to 7-0.
The Axemen would get one back in the final minutes, as forward Keegan Stevenson (Aweres Township, ON) scored off a rebound to cut the lead to 7-1, which would go down as the final score.
The Huskies outshot the Axemen 39-35 on the night, with goaltender Jeremy Helvig turning away 34 shots for the win. In the Acadia goal, McCollum stopped 23 of 28 shots faced, while Paputsakis denied nine of 11 shots in relief.
Coxhead was named Subway Player of the Game for the Huskies with two goals and one assist. Cedric Ralph (one goal, two assists), Justin MacPherson (one goal, one assist), Nathan Dunkley (one goal, one assist), Keith Getson (two assists) and David Bérubé (two assists) all recorded multipoint nights for the Huskies.
Keegan Stevenson was named Subway Player of the Game for Acadia.
Game two of the semifinal series will take place Friday night at the Dauphinee Centre, with puck-drop scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I assume it’s going to be a different game tomorrow,” added Coxhead. “They’re going to want to come out hard after tonight so we’ve got to match that and play our game.”
Recap by Allan April / Saint Mary’s Huskies Athletics
Photos by Mona Ghiz / Saint Mary’s Huskies Athletics