Injury riddled first half leads to Axemen 2nd half optimism

Acadia hockey first half review

The Axemen first half of the 2021-22 season did not go as planned; coming into the season, the Axemen looked at their four deep forward lines, strong defense, and a solid goaltending tandem, as a group that would be a strong contender in the AUS conference.

However, things didnโ€™t go as planned and the Axemen ended their first half with a 6-12 record.

Injuries hit early… and hit againโ€ฆ and again. Through the first 18 games of the season, the Axemen lost an unprecedented total of 76-man games due to injuries; this led them on numerous occasions to dress just 9 forwards, and 14 skaters; and at times up to 4 of those forwards being natural defencemen. With the ultra-competitive quality of play in the AUS, we have to give kudos to those defencemen who stepped up and played up front as they were asked to do, as many hadnโ€™t played forward since novice and atom level hockey. Not an easy feat at the USport level of play.

The Axemen played many gutsy efforts over the first half, but the short roster led to an inability to have a strong sustained offensive attack and having so many players playing out of position often led to chaotic defensive effort, as the Axemen gave up a conference high 69 goals.

Axemen head coach Darren Burns summed up his team’s first half saying, “The first half certainly did not go the way we envisioned it. However, life is never perfect and neither is sports. It was a first half where we had to continually change on the fly week to week. This presented a lot of opportunities for our players. It also gave our coaching staff an opportunity to see players take on expanded roles.”

The spotlight for Acadia was their powerplay, as they finished the first half with the top powerplay in the AUS, scoring 18 goals in 70 chances, good for a 25.7% conversion rate. Other bright spots include Axemen Captain Garrett McFaddenโ€™s continued production from the backend as he led the team in scoring in the 1st half with 20 points in 18 games. 1st year forward Adam McMaster also settled in well after making the transition to the AUS game, scoring 14 points in 18 games.

The second half of the season comes with plenty of reason for optimism for the Axemen, however. Acadia will look to welcome back a number of players from the injury list, including forwards Tyler Hinam, who was able to play in parts of just 3 regular season games due to a pair of separate injuries, winger Maurizio Colella will return after missing the last 11 games of the 1st half, and 1st year forward Keegan Stevenson, who missed the last 10 games, should be back in the lineup when the Axemen host Dalhousie on January 7th.

A key addition to the lineup will be Jordy Stallard, who has been out the entire first half of the season after offseason back surgery. He is progressing on target and is expected to be back in an Axemen uniform either to start the 2nd half or shortly after. Stallard has been a near point a game top line scorer since arriving in Wolfville in 2018, after a strong junior career in the WHL.

Lastly the Axemen still have one remaining roster position to fill which could come in handy, even if it is to add depth in case of injuries.

The return and potential addition of these players to the Acadia lineup, will allow the team to settle back into their natural positions and game plan as they look to climb the AUS standings starting on January 7th when they host Dalhousie in Wolfville.

Coach Burns expressed his optimism for the second half saying, “We are very excited to start the second half and add several pieces to the puzzle and continue to mould our team to get better each week in preparation for March.”

Acadia hosts the National UCup championship tournament in March in Halifax, and although they have a spot in the 8-team tournament based on being the host, there is nothing they want more than to earn their spot with a solid 2nd half of the AUS season.