Best of 5 series opens up Thursday in Antigonish
The Acadia Axemen (18-10-2) will face the StFX X-Men (22-4-4) in the AUS men’s hockey semi-final series starting Thursday at 7pm in Antigonish. Game 2 will go Friday again in Antigonish, before the series switches to Wolfville for Game 3 on Sunday night. Game 4, if necessary is slated for Monday night again in Wolfville. Tickets are now on sale at the Acadia Box office for the game(s). Game 5, if necessary, would be back in Antigonish.
The Axemen come into the series on a hot streak, after finishing the regular season with 3 straight wins, including victories over UNB, Saint Mary’s, and Moncton, before sweeping the Dalhousie Tigers in 2 games in the AUS quarterfinals best of 3 series.
Axemen head coach Darren Burns said the following looking forward to the series with the X-Men, ” We are just trying to focus on improving our game every night. Our series versus Dal was a very hard fought battle. We were fortunate to be able to get some additional games in the playoffs before this series to help us to prepare. Anytime you are playing university hockey this time of the year is very exciting.”
StFX, along with UNB earned first round bye’s for finishing atop the AUS conference; that will mark a 12 day layoff for StFX since their last game in February 10th, a 5-0 loss to UPEI. February has not been kind to the X-Men as they lost 7-3 to Dal, 5-2 to UNB, and as mentioned, 5-0 to UPEI. They did defeat Moncton 5-2 amidst the losses.
Acadia has had trouble with the X-Men this season, as the X-Men won 3 of the 5 games in regulation time, and another in a Shootout to open the season. Acadia took the matchup on November 3rd , in overtime 6-5 in a game that saw emotions run over with 212 combined penalty minutes and player suspensions.
There’s no doubt that this series will be a physical battle and emotions will run high, but it will be key for the teams to keep their emotions in check and stay out of penalty trouble as both teams are dangerous on the man advantage; Acadia converting 25.5% of their powerplays and StFX 25.7%.
Acadia ran into injury issues in the Dalhousie quarter-finals, as AUS leading scorer Stephen Harper left game 1 with an injury and did not play in game 2. The Axemen also lost 2nd line centre Sam Fioretti to injury after blocking a shot while shorthanded in game 1. Their status is undetermined for game 1 of the semi-final series.
Goaltending will be a key area in the outcome of the series as Robert Steeves will look to continue his hot play for Acadia. It will be key that the 4th year Axemen netminder has a strong series if the Axemen are to move on to the AUS finals. Second year netminder Chase Marchand has been strong all season long for the X-Men, putting up a conference best .924 Save % with a 2.38 goals against average.
StFX is led offensively by Holden Cook, Michael Clarke, and Matt Needham, who had 37, 34, and 29 points respectively, with Clarke netting 17 goals and Needham 14. Jagger Dirk and Cole MacDonald lead the way from the backend for the X-Men with 28 and 25 points.
Acadia had a great first round series from Boston Leier and Kyle Farrell, as well as newcomer Cristiano DiGiacinto. The regular season they were led by Harper with 46 points, Leier with 39, and Farrell with 31. Hampered by injury for all but 5 games, Captain Geoff Schemitsch will be a leader for the Axemen on defence, along with fourth year rear guard Matt Pufahl, who also fought through injuries this season.
The winner of this series will automatically punch their ticket to the University Cup in Fredericton, regardless of the outcome of the AUS final series. The AUS conference will have 3 representatives, the winner of this series, along with host UNB, and the third will either be SMU if they are able to defeat the Varsity Reds in their semi-final series, or the two semi-final losers will face off to earn the third ticket.
Catch Thursday’s game live on AUStv.ca, or listen to Len Hawley’s call of the game on AVR Radio, 97.7FM, and follow @axemenhockey on Twitter for live in game tweets and play by play.