© John DeCoste
Acadia’s Liam Heelis has had a solid rookie season for the hockey Axemen. Playing in all but one of 28 regular season games, Heelis finished with eight goals and 15 assists for 22 points.
By John DeCoste
The Acadia Axemen and UPEI Panthers have a long history of playoff matchups. The rivalry’s latest chapter begins Friday night in Charlottetown.
The fourth-seeded Panthers won three of four games from the fifth-seeded Axemen this season.
UPEI was the better offensive team in the regular season with 111 goals to Acadia’s 95. The Axemen were better defensively, allowing 89 goals to 93 for the Panthers.
The Axemen will need to be vigilant on special teams, as UPEI led the conference in both power-play and short-handed goals. The Axemen, however, were second in the conference in penalty killing, at 84.4 per cent.
“You don’t want to get in a track meet with them,” coach Darren Burns said. “They’re fast and they score off the rush.”
Burns is confident in his good-skating club, but wants his players to shoot more.
Acadia swept the best-of-three semifinal a year ago with a pair of 1-0 victories.
“There’s going to be a lot of motivation,” Acadia winger Ryan Graham said of the Panthers. “We’re going to have to be ready.”
The opening minutes Friday will be important for the Axemen, who have found themselves behind early both games this season in Charlottetown.
“Unfortunately we haven’t had good starts over there and we have to rectify that. It’s unacceptable,” Burns said.
The coach was pleased with what he saw from his team during the last weekend of the regular season. The Axemen’s speed and tempo returned with the ability to roll four lines and six defencemen after a string of injuries depleted the lineup for much of the season.
Acadia doubled Dalhousie 4-2 Friday in Wolfville before losing 2-0 to Saint Mary’s Saturday in Halifax.
On Friday, third period goals by Joe Gaynor and Alex Beaton broke a 2-2 tie and propelled Acadia to victory.
Joel Ridgeway, in his first game back from injury, opened the scoring for the Axemen at 15:54 of the first period. Clark made it 2-0 Acadia with a short-handed goal at 4:09 of the second.
Before Saturday’s game, the Axemen knew they had finished fifth after UPEI defeated St. Thomas 5-0 earlier in the day.
Patrick O’Keefe and Lucas Bloodoff did the only scoring on the evening.
The Axemen outshot the Huskies in all three periods for a 28-16 advantage, but Anthony Peters turned aside everything aimed his way.
Friday Acadia at UPEI, 7 p.m.
Sunday UPEI at Acadai, 7 p.m.
Game 3 (if required)
Monday Acadia at UPEI, 7 p.m.
Players to watch:
Acadia: Andrew Clark won the scoring championship with 15 goals and 24 assists in 28 games. He had four power-play goals, two short-handed goals and four game-winners. Defenceman Christopher Owens had 10 goals and 19 assists.
UPEI: Matt Carter recorded 38 points on 18 goals and 20 assists while being tied for the conference lead with 10 power-play goals. Chris DeSousa (13-18-31), Jared Gomes (21-10-31) and Jordan Knox (12-18-30) were also among the conference’s top scorers.
Date Away Home
Oct. 29 Acadia 3 UPEI 5
Nov. 11 UPEI 0 Acadia 5
Jan. 28 Acadia 3 UPEI 4 (OT)
Feb. 4 UPEI 6 Acadia 1