(Halifax N.S.) The Acadia Axemen are in the 2017 University Cup after beating the Saint Mary's Huskies 3-0 at the Halifax Forum.
"I've been coaching for a long time and I don't think I've ever been prouder of a group of guys like this group," said Axemen head coach Darren Burns. "These guys have gotten better every week and we've battled hard."
"We had a tough last series and a tough week and to come in here and play as well as they did and do what they did, I'm so proud of them."
The Axemen will be the third entry from the AUS in the tournament. They will join the UNB Varsity Reds and the StFX X-Men.
"We worked hard to put ourselves in a position where there was two opportunities [to get there]," said Burns. "This core group of guys has been to the nationals three of the last four years now and we haven't hosted that's earning your way there."
Robert Steeves (Moncton N.B.) made 19 saves to pick up the shutout and the win.
Boston Leier (Saskatoon Sask.), Geoff Schemitsch (Thornhill Ont.) and Stephen Harper (Burlington Ont.) all lit the lamp for the Axemen. All three goals came on the power-play.
Eric Brassard (St Hubert Que.) made 33 saves, including several that were pure larceny, in the loss.
"We worked hard," said Huskies head coach Trevor Stienburg. "All in all when your back's to the wall like that your looking for a break and you just want a break so bad for your team and when it didn't come we got a little frustrated and I did as a coach looking for a call here or there."
"The bottom line is the guys worked hard and we had some zone time we just couldn't make it happen."
As has been the story all playoffs the Huskies were playing with a short bench with only 15 skaters dressed.
"The whole year was full of injuries [for us]," said Stienburg. "I don't think the guys would admit this but I think you saw, as much as you saw physical fatigue, you saw little bit of mental fatigue."
"They like coming to the rink. These guys like coming to the rink and you can tell talking to the guys that they don't want it to end."
Leier opened the scoring 8:25 into the game. Harper got on the puck in behind the Huskies net and tapped it to Leier who sent it off the wall to Matthew Pufahl (Saskatoon Sask.) on the right point.
Pufahl sent it right back to Leier to the side of the net. He tried to send it cross-crease to Harper and it deflected in.
Schemitsch made it 2-0 at the 12:09 mark of the second. Remy Giftopoulos (Ancaster Ont.) started in his own zone and carried into the right corner of the Huskies zone where he sent it back to Schemitsch on the point.
Schemitsch walked the line and sent it to Brett Thompson (Sault St Marie Ont.) on the left wall. Thompson worked up the wall and got it back to Schemitsch who wound up and clapped a shot past a screen in front and just inside the post low glove.
Harper sealed the Axemen win with 3:10 left to go in the third. He centered for Leier in the slot from below the goal-line.
Leier made a short pass to Sam Fioretti (Calgary Alta.) who tapped it to Harper who flipped it in from the side of the net.
"Kudos to the [Axemen], they've got a good veteran hockey team," said Stienburg. "We've got a young team and the effort was there we just couldn't get the result we wanted."
The Axemen were three for eight on the power-play, while the Huskies went zero for six.
Shots were 36-19 for the Axemen.
The Axemen will be in Fredericton N.B. for the University Cup March 16-19.
"Obviously we don't want to rest on getting there we've got to make sure we get focused," said Burns. "We've just got to be ready to play."
By Cam Honey-Webb
Photo Nick Pearce