By John DeCoste
The Acadia hockey Axemen continue to work toward their goal of earning a first-round playoff bye for a second time in three seasons.
That’s not to say it’s been easy. Not only do the Axemen compete against arguably the best conference in the country, they’ve had to do it with an ever-decreasing number of healthy players.
On Jan. 18, the Axemen dressed just 15 skaters for their game at Dalhousie. The previous weekend, it was 16 against Moncton (a 6-3 loss) and 15 against St. Thomas (a 3-1 victory).
The list of injured Axemen includes Ryan Graham, Joel Ridgeway, Nicolas Chouinard and Alex Beaton, all sidelined with concussions; Leo Jenner, out following surgery to repair an injured spleen; Graham Bona, Dustin Ekelman and John Girman.
“We’ve had to deal with excessive injuries all year, so I guess our guys are learning to deal with it,” head coach Darren Burns said Thursday.
To their credit, the Axemen are not only managing to stay afloat, but are actually gaining a little ground, which is a testament to how well the remainder of the roster has been competing.
“We can’t complain or use it as an excuse,” Burns said. “We need to continue to work hard, focus on being mentally tough, and try to limit our mistakes during games, which isn’t always easy when fatigue is a factor.”
At Dalhousie, the Axemen won 3-2 in overtime over the improving Tigers on Andrew Clark’s 12th goal of the season at 4:02 of the extra session.
Clark, one of only a handful of Axemen to play in every game this season, topped the conference with 30 points on 12 goals and 18 assists.
The win improved Acadia’s season record to 13-6-1 (3-1 since Christmas), and temporarily gave the nationally sixth-ranked Axemen sole possession of second place in the standings.
Jacob Dietrich opened the scoring at 4:58 of the second period, with Clark picking up an assist. David MacDonald replied for the Tigers, scoring at 9:22 on a five-on-three power play.
Less than a minute later, with the Axemen still a man short, Liam Heelis broke away and beat Wendell Vye to give Acadia a 2-1 lead.
That advantage held up until 10:02 of the third period, when MacDonald’s second power-play goal of the game tied the score.
The 2-2 score held up for the rest of regulation time and through the first four minutes of overtime before Clark scored the sudden-death winner.
The short-staffed Axemen prepared for a home-and-home series with St.F.X. this past weekend, with games Friday evening in Wolfville and Sunday afternoon in Antigonish.