ANTIGONISH, NS – The StFX X-Men overcame a three-goal third period deficit to defeat the Acadia Axemen 5-4 in overtime in Game 3 of the Subway AUS semifinals in front of over 1400 fans at the Charles V. Keating Centre.
With the win the X-Men sweep the series 3-0 over the Axemen and advance to the best-of-three Subway AUS final series, awaiting the winner of the UNB-Saint Mary's series.
Freshman forward Matt Needham (Pentincton, BC) was the overtime hero, scoring 4:32 into the extra period, connecting off a Bryson Cianfrone (Stoney Creek, ON) pass.
X-Men head coach Brad Peddle commented, "I was really proud of the group tonight. It wasn't the start we wanted and we got down a couple goals in the first period, but it was a great test and I really liked how resilient the guys were tonight."
It was the visiting Axemen who took a 2-0 lead after the first period of play. Sam Fioretti's (Calgary, AB) shot from the top of the face-off circle at 8:36 beat X-Men goalie Chase Marchand (Halifax, NS) up high. Boston Leier (Saskatoon, SK) and Stephen Harper (Burlington, ON) picked up assists.
The Axemen's second goal came at 12:19 as Harper connected on a wrister from inside the point from Tyler Ferry (Richmond Hill, ON).
Sam Studnicka (Windsor, ON) got the X-Men on the board 8:39 into the second period. Defenseman Max Iafrate (Livonia, MI) brought the puck in through the neutral zone and let a backhander loose on net which was stopped by Acadia netminder Robert Steeves (Moncton, NB). Mark Tremaine (Dartmouth, NS) and Studnicka were on the doorstep to whack at the puck and Studnicka banged it in.
The Axemen replied less than two minutes later, however, to go up 3-1 as defenseman Geoff Schemitsch (Thornhill, ON) let a long shot from the point go that dinged off the cross bar, landing behind Marchand and Chance Braid (Provost, AB) was there to shovel in the puck.
The 3-1 Acadia lead held after 40 minutes of play.
The Axemen then increased their lead to three goals at 4:52 of the third period. Daniel Pettersson (Toronto, ON) intercepted an X pass in the neutral zone and brought the puck in, passing over to Braid who sent it back to him. Circling behind the StFX net, Pettersson wrapped it around behind Marchand, giving the visitors a 4-1 lead and increasing their chances of prolonging the series.
The X-Men clawed back though as Nathan Pancel (Ottawa, ON) connected on a bouncing puck in front of the Acadia net at 5:46 after a Jagger Dirk (Penticton, BC) shot on goal. Linemate Regan Spears (Port Hood, NS) also assisted.
Midway through the period the momentum shifted in the X-Men's favor after they went on a five-minute power play.
Axemen forward Michael Clarke (Halifax, NS) received a game misconduct for a hit to the head on StFX's Studnicka and the X-Men took full advantage of the extra attacker.
After scrambling in front of the Acadia net, Eric Locke (Toronto, ON) got the puck back to Dirk who blasted a point shot through traffic to beat Steeves and pull the X-Men to within a goal. The power play marker came at 10:22.
Three minutes later while on the same power play advantage, Adam Stevens (Bedford, NS) picked up a rebound off a Cole MacDonald (Wetaskiwin, AB) shot from the point and tied the game up, sending the StFX crowd into a frenzy. Iafrate also assisted on the tying goal.
The 4-4 deadlock held through to the end of regulation, sending the game to the extra 10-minute sudden death frame.
In the overtime period the X-Men had good end zone pressure against the Axemen, generating several scoring chances as Steeves came up with some big saves.
On the game winner, freshman forward Cianfrone brought the puck from around the back of the Axemen net and slid a nifty backhand pass over to fellow freshman Needham who punched it in.
Marchand picked up his fourth playoff victory of the AUS playoffs with 25 saves on the night.
Steeves, with 23 saves, took the loss for the Axemen who were swept three straight games by the blue and white.
Max Iafrate received Subway player of the game honors for the X-Men with Boston Leier earning the same honor for his squad.
With the win, the X-Men not only punched their ticket to the Subway AUS best-of-three final series, but they also clinched a spot in the eight-team U SPORTS national championship being hosted by UNB in Fredericton, N.B. March 16-19.
StFX awaits their opponent for the AUS final series as UNB currently leads Saint Mary's 2-1 in the other AUS semifinal series.
Acadia's season may not over yet. The AUS conference receives two berths to the U SPORTS championship aside from the host UNB squad. Should UNB win their semifinal series, the Axemen will face-off against Saint Mary's in a best-of-three playoff to decide the third conference berth. A Saint Mary's victory against UNB in the AUS semifinals would indeed end their season.
Each of the remaining Subway AUS playoff series will start no earlier than Monday, March 6th.
Source: StFX Athletics Communications Office / Photo Credit: Lauren Tidd