Source: Thomas Becker, UPEI Athletics
Since Christmas, the UPEI Panthers defeated the St. FX X-Men, UNB Varsity Reds (both of whom were dethroned as the nation's No. 1 ranked team after a meeting with the Panthers) and a tough Acadia Axemen squad twice. Now you can add the Dalhousie Tigers – who were riding a five game win streak – to that list.
When the odds suggested otherwise, the Panthers once again proved naysayers wrong, as they overpowered the Tigers 6-3 Friday night.
UPEI was simply unstoppable in the first period where Sam Aulie, Kameron Kielly, Beau McCue and Riley Whittingham each scored.
"Everyone knew the magnitude of that game in terms of standings and positions heading into the playoffs," said Kielly, who added three assists on the night.
After a disappointing effort last Saturday, where they lost to the Saint Mary's Huskies 9-1, head coach Forbes MacPherson was encouraged with the way his team bounced back.
Come playoff time, that's the kind of effort the bench boss is looking for. And with fifth place solidified, the Panthers will find out Saturday night whether they'll be playing the Huskies or the Axemen in the quarter-finals.
"Tonight solidifies guys' confidence that we're back to playing the way should be playing," MacPherson said.
The Panthers attacked early and often in the opening period, but didn't connect on a shot until the 8:48 mark. McCue, who finished with three points, raced for the puck before it hit the end boards and passed it back to Aulie who tipped it in for the 1-0 advantage.
After Aulie's goal, the floodgates opened for the Panthers, who dominated puck possession and outshot their opponent 16-6. UPEI's power play unit was an efficient 2-of-3 in the period and put together back-to-back goals. First it was Kielly, who notched his 11th of the season at the 11:30 mark, followed by a McCue goal less than two minutes later to put them up 3-0.
"We did a good job of spending a lot of time in their (Dalhousie's) zone and keeping them away from their forecheck," said MacPherson.
Dalhousie's Alex Pawelczyk cut the deficit 3-1 with his eighth of the season, but his team gave it right back when Whittingham's shot wobbled past Corbin Boes top left corner to restore the Panthers' three-goal lead.
"Everybody knows Boes is one of the best goalies in Canada and we were fortunate to get a couple by him early, and that ended up being the difference of the game."
Pawelczyk was at it again in the opening minutes of the second when he chipped in a shot off a nice feed from rookie teammate Reid Murphy.
Boes settled down between the pipes and made all 10 saves in the period to keep the Tigers in the game despite trailing 4-2.
UPEI bounced back early in the third when Olivier Arseneau backhanded a pass to Cody Payne, who beat Boes blocker side to make it 5-2.
The Tigers made one last push and cut it to 5-3 at the midway point on a Myles McGurty goal, but that was as close as they'd get as Marcus Power sealed the 6-3 win with an empty-netter.
In celebration of Hockey Day on Prince Edward Island, the Panthers will host the St. FX X-Men at the Eastlink Centre on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.