The St. Francis Xavier X-Men's quest for University Cup gold came to a screeching halt on Saturday afternoon.
The Atlantic university conference champion X-Men, ranked second for the national tournament, were whitewashed 8-0 by the Saskatchewan Huskies in the semifinals of the U Sports Cavendish Farms University Cup championship at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.
The No. 6 Huskies, who avenged a triple-overtime loss to X in the 2016 UCup semifinals in Halifax, advances to face the defending national champion and host UNB Varsity Reds on Sunday at 1 p.m.
UNB, seeded fifth for the tournament, blanked the No. 8 Acadia Axemen 3-0 in the earlier semifinal Saturday.
Acadia and St. F.X. will play for bronze on Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.
It's certainly not the medal the X-Men expected to be playing for heading into Saturday's game. The 2016 CIS silver medallists were coming off a spirited 4-1 victory over the McGill Redmen in a quarter-final Friday evening. It was their eighth straight playoff win after sweeping three consecutive AUS series en route to their second league title in a row.
“Bizarre,” said St. F.X. head coach Brad Peddle as he tried to come to grips with Saturday's outcome. “It’s a tough one to explain.
"First period, we are pretty even. In the second period, they capitalized on every chance we gave them. They brought tight checking and everything they threw at the net seemed to go in.”
Saskatchewan, up 1-0 after 20 minutes, exploded for six goals in the second period as six different Huskies scored in the middle frame.
Levi Cable, Carson Standyk, Logan McVeigh, Parker Thomas, Wyatt Johnson and Connor Cox each tallied in the second. Thomas's goal at 12:32 put the Huskies ahead 5-0 and chased St. F.X. playoff star Chase Marchand from the game. The first-year netminder — the AUS playoff MVP — stopped 11 of 16 shots before he was replaced by Brandon Hope.
McVeigh added a power-play marker in the third and Jordon Cooke, the two-time U Sports goalie of the year, made 26 saves for his second consecutive shutout at the tournament. Jesse Forsberg scored in the first period.
“We matched their intensity in the first," Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph said in a news release, "but did a lot of the right things in the second, like getting guys in the right spot, to make things click for us.”
Saskatchewan, seeking its first national banner since 1983, has lost four straight to UNB at the University Cup, dating back to 2001. The Varsity Reds and Huskies were ranked first and second in the nation for the majority of the season.
Varsity Reds 3, Axemen 0: Stephen Anderson, Jordan Murray and Phillipe Maillet each scored and Etienne Marcoux stopped all 20 shots he faced as UNB advanced to the gold medal game for the third year in a row.
“It is really special to get to the final four in the national competition,” Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall said in a news release. “It is a testament to the quality of the hockey in the AUS that these teams are there.”
UNB has won five national titles since 2007.
Acadia, which was swept in three games by St. F.X. in the AUS semifinals, will seek redemption Sunday morning. The Axemen haven't earned a medal at nationals since winning gold in 1996.
“In a tournament like this, you can never be flat, and we were the furthest thing from flat today,” Acadia head coach Darren Burns said. “We played hard. UNB is a great team. We need to regroup and be ready for the bronze game tomorrow.”
Note: Ben Duffy has returned to the minor pro ranks.
After three seasons with the Saint Mary's Huskies, the Lower Sackville native signed a contract with the ECHL's Wichita Thunder on Friday and registered an assist in the Thunder's 5-3 loss to the Allen Americans that evening.
The 25-year-old collected 36 goals and 74 points in 70 games with the Huskies. Duffy's season was cut short on Jan. 13 after he suffered a concussion against UNB.
Prior to joining the Huskies, Duffy played 15 games with the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs before being sent to the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers.
Duffy joins former SMU teammates Gerrad Grant and Jamie Doornbosch in Wichita. The Thunder are coached by Cole Harbour native Malcolm Cameron.