Plenty to look forward to with off-season events & growth for next season
The Acadia Axemen season came to an end last weekend after a pair of thrilling games against StFX that saw the Axemen come out on the wrong side of both a 3OT game in Antigonish, followed by a 4OT game in Wolfville. A series that could very easily have seen a pair of wins for Acadia to win the series.
As we reflect back on the 2023-24 season, the Acadia fans were treated to a hard-working team that played to the final buzzer every night, with 15 of 30 regular season games being decided by 2 goals or less.
After a challenging first half that saw the team finish with a record of 4-11-3, the Axemen rebounded with a 5-5-2 record in the 2nd half, good for a 9-16-5 record overall, earning the final playoff spot in the AUS conference.
Head Coach Darren Burns is pleased with the direction of the team saying, “We were very proud of how our team competed right through to the end of the season. Clearly, losing in the first round is not the bar we want for our program; however, it was a year where our players had to compete heavily understaffed from day one. We felt they continually worked and emptied their tanks. In the big picture, we feel the pieces are in place for this team to take big steps next year. There were valuable lessons learned and we feel we have the returning core to be able to translate these lessons into success in the standings.”
The team excelled from the crease out, with Thomas Couture and Brayden Peters seeing equal time in net in the first 10 games of the season, before the injury to Peters. Couture picked up the gauntlet and would go on to be a standout throughout the season, being named to the AUS 1st team all-star and All-Rookie team member. On top of his sparkling .915 save percentage and 2.76 goals against average, he made highlight reel saves almost on a nightly basis and gave the Axemen a chance to win every game. The deep Axemen defense core put forward a strong body of work, giving up on average just 2.97 goals against per game on the season.
The Axemen struggles came on offense, where they scored on average 2.33 goals per game. Certainly, a portion of this could be attributed to player injuries as Acadia lost 125-man games due to injuries this season. The injury bug led to the team dressing 4 goalies over the course of the season and for one home game the team was forced to dress 10 defenceman and just 8 forwards, due to injuries up front.
The special teams saw improvement over the previous season; the powerplay was just 11% effective in 2022-23 and improved to 17.9% in 2023-24, and the penalty kill improved from 73.8% in 2022-23 to being 80% effective in 2023-24.
Many of the freshmen, who were seeing their 1st AUS action, stepped-in to play key roles and minutes with the team, including Brady Burns who led the team in scoring with 21 points in 24 games, and Ethan Ernst, who tied Bailey Peach for the team lead in goals with 8. The blueline was bolstered with 1st year players Charlie Desroches, Tyler Deline, and Cam Whynot all playing key minutes, and as mentioned, the crease was in good hands with 1st year star Thomas Couture, and Brayden Peters.
2nd year forwards Bailey Peach and Liam Kidney maintained their consistent offense with 18 and 16 points offensively this season, and Brendan Sellan’s 16 points on the campaign were highlighted by scoring 8 points over an 8-game stretch in the 2nd half of the season.
The Axemen have 4 players graduating from the program in assistant captains Reilly Webb, Nick Deakin-Poot, and Hudson Wilson, as well as team captain Morgan Nauss. The Acadia coaching staff now turns their attention to off-season recruiting for the 2024-25 season, where they will look to replace the size they are losing from the graduating players, while also adding offense to the lineup.
The support from the Valley community continues to be a high point for the hockey program. The support of the fan base, Valley community, alumni, and corporate sponsorships is crucial for the program and very much appreciated.
Coach Burns also expressed his gratitude to the fans and local community saying, “I would also like to thank the businesses, fans, and families who supported our extensive and integral fundraisers this past year. People in this community continually step up, whether it’s fundraising events, partaking in our hockey camps or attending our games. Our increase in attendance at home games this season is not the norm for many sporting teams these days. This loyalty to our hockey team is certainly vital to our team’s success. We do not take it for granted.”
Planning for off-season events such as the Axemen Celebrity Hockey Dinner in June, youth hockey camps throughout the summer, and the Friends of Acadia Hockey Golf Scramble in September are well underway. Stay connected with our social media accounts for more information to be released in the coming weeks on those events.