Gritty First Half Axemen Success

Acadia sits atop of AUS Standings at the Holiday Break

With 18 games in the books and the first half of the year complete, the Acadia Axemen sit on top of the ultra competitive AUS men’s hockey conference with a 14-4 record. Many a night in the first half, the Axemen roster consisted of 14 or 15 skaters – 9 forwards and 5 defenceman; with two of those forwards often being defenceman playing out of their normal positions.

Despite the Axemen losing a total of 59 man games in the first half of the year, which could have been an easy way to excuse a bad first half, the Axemen refused to use a short bench as an excuse, instead they dug in deeper and rose to the moment every night.

After losing the first game to U de M Aigles Bleus on home ice, 5-2 to open the season, the Axemen then reeled off 9 straight wins. With each win their confidence built, and their strength came in playing as a team, outworking their opponents, capitalizing on chances, and backed by great goaltending. The Axemen then faced some mid first half struggles, dropping 3 of 4 games, before going back on a four-game win streak to close out the 1st half.

In looking back at the first half of the season, Acadia Head Coach Darren Burns was happy with his team’s result saying, “Our staff was very happy with our first half. In knowing we are hosting the nationals planning started close to two years ago, so we knew we were going to experience some growing pains last year in preparation, we feel as a team we have made a lot of progress over the last 18 months. It’s a positive to see the players commitment showing in the first half results.”

Looking at the different aspects of the Axemen game over the first 18 games, their powerplay is vastly improved over last year. At this point last year, the Axemen were desperate for answers as their powerplay struggled mightily, however this year, they have clipped along at a 22.8% conversion, good for 2nd best in the AUS, trailing only UNB’s 30%.

When you talk about Acadia’s success in the 1st half, it starts and ends in goal, where Logan Flodell has had a standout run over the past three months. The 2nd year netminder has played in 16 games, going 12-3 with a goals against average of 2.93, and save % of .911, tops in the AUS. Dawson Carty has come on strong in his past 3 starts in relief of Flodell, now with a 2-1 record on the season.

The Axemen defence was another strong point, as 5th year defender and Acadia captain, Liam Maaskant has been a workhorse on the back end, while Alex Lepkowski has become a solidifying force playing in all 18 games. Garrett McFadden, in his 2nd season in the AUS, has become one of the top offensive defenseman in the league with 18 points in 16 games, while also playing a key defensive role in his own end.

Up front the Axemen have done a great job of spreading their offensive attack throughout their lines, which has been three lines for much of the season due to injuries.

2nd year forward Cristiano Digiacinto has brought his offensive prowess to new heights this season, scoring a team leading 13 goals and 24 points, good for 6th in the AUS in scoring. Acadia top scorer over the past 3 seasons, Stephen Harper, has battled through a pair of injuries both to start and end the 1st half, and managed to put up 13 points in 11 games. Jordy Stallard has been solid with 17 points in 18 games.

Mason McCarty came into the season as a highly touted addition to the Acadia lineup and he hasn’t disappointed. McCarty, who hadn’t seen game action since February of last season coming into camp this year, has scored 8 goals and 8 assists in 15 games, and as he continues to settle in and get comfortable with AUS action, his upside in the second half should continue to rise.

Strong play from a pair of wingers has given the Axemen two way depth throughout the lineup as 2nd year forward Maurizio Colella has shown marked improvement in his game, adding 14 points, while 1st year forward Eric Henderson has chipped in with 11 points while playing strong at both ends of the ice.

Despite having McFadden, Harper, and Rodney Southam injured going into the holiday break, the Axemen expect all three to be back in the lineup for the opening of the 2nd half of the season.

In looking forward to the second half Coach Burns said, “We are also very aware that the second half comes very quick and it’s a very short season before the playoffs start. The magnitude of each game increases and we need to be ready to go. It’s crucial we keep our focus over the break.”

Acadia returns to action on Friday, January 3rd as they host the Saint Mary’s Huskies at the Andrew H. McCain Arena, before hitting the road to face the UPEI Panther on Saturday, January 4th in Charlottetown.