© Jennifer Hoegg - Kingscountynews.ca
Mosher keeps his eye on the puck.
The Acadia hockey Axemen and UNB Varsity Reds are scheduled to meet in Wolfville Feb. 15 in the regular season finale for both teams.
The way both teams have been going, it looks like that game might be needed to decide first place in the AUHC.
Entering play Jan. 31, the Axemen and Varsity Reds remained tied for first place with 37 points. UNB had an 18-3-1 record, and Acadia was at 17-2-3. Acadia has won two of three head-to-head meetings with UNB this season.
"We're trying to concentrate on playing our best every game. We're not necessarily paying attention to how anyone else is doing,” said Axemen head coach Darren Burns.
Both teams long ago secured playoff berths, and with third-place Moncton 11 points back and fourth-place UPEI 12 points behind, are on the verge of clinching the two available AUHC first-round playoff byes, possibly as early as this weekend.
"I think anyone would rather get the bye, for the chance to have an extra week off to rest and allow our injured players to heal,” Burns said. “It's especially important this year, where it's so tight among all six teams that are likely to make the playoffs. You take any advantage you can get."
This past weekend, CIS fourth-ranked Acadia won twice, 7-2 at Dalhousie on Jan. 24 and 4-3 over St. F.X. on Jan. 25 in Wolfville. UNB, ranked third nationally, also won twice, topping St. Thomas 6-4 and edging UPEI 5-4 in overtime.
In Halifax, the Axemen got two-goal performances from Mike Cazzola and Michael Clarke en route to their win over Dalhousie.
Brett Thompson added a goal and three assists. Leo Jenner and Joe Gaynor had the other Acadia goals, and Chris Owens also had three assists. Fabian Walsh and Andrew Langan scored for the Tigers, who were outshot 46-29.
Then, on Jan. 25 in Wolfville, Tyler Ferry’s shorthanded empty-net goal in the final minute was the game-winner, but it wasn’t the game’s final goal. Zack MacQueen scored on the power play at 19:47 to once again make it a one-goal game.
Cazzola, Clarke and Jenner, all of whom scored in both weekend games, had the other Axemen goals.
For Cazzola, his three weekend goals gave him eight on the season to go along with a league-best 23 assists for 31 points, second in the AUHC behind linemate Liam Heelis (21-16-37).
"That whole line (Cazzola-Heelis-Thompson) has been tremendous all season, but Mike certainly has taken his game to another level since Christmas,” Burns said.
"We're not an overly offensive team, and that line usually draws the other team's top checking line besides. They don't get an easy ride," which makes what they have accomplished this season all that much more impressive.
The Jan. 25 game did have a low point, however, as Gaynor left Saturday's game after taking a hit.
"We don't know yet. His shoulder and neck are sore, and we're pretty sure he has a concussion,” Burns said.
"He took a blindside, open-ice hit he wasn't expecting and wasn't prepared for. He's doing better, but we don't know yet."
Clarke’s three-goal weekend gave him nine goals in his first season at Acadia. Jenner, a defenceman often used as a forward on power plays, had scored four goals.
Entering play this weekend, the Axemen and UNB each had six regular season games remaining. Five of Acadia’s remaining games are at home, including the season-ending match-up with the V-Reds.
Acadia hosts UPEI Jan. 31 and St. Thomas Feb. 1, is at Saint Mary’s Feb. 7, then hosts Dal Feb. 8, Moncton Feb. 14 and UNB Feb. 15.
The Varsity Reds host St. F.X. and Saint Mary’s this weekend, are at St. Thomas Feb. 7, host Moncton Feb. 8, then finish the season with games at Dalhousie and Acadia.
See a slideshow from the Jan. 25 game here.