(FREDERICTON, NB) Matt Mahalak saw a lot of rubber on Friday night.
The UNB Varsity Reds peppered the UPEI Panthers netminder with 55 shots, on route to a 2-1 win, Friday night at the Aitken University Centre.
Despite the quantity of shots he faced, Mahalak says UNB goalie Etienne Marcoux likely showed more quality. "He probably had the tougher night, out of the two of us."
"The first ten minutes of the game, I don't think he saw a shot, then we come down, get a two-on-one, he makes a big save and same thing in the second period," said Mahalak.
"He made some big saves to keep them in the game and he was probably the difference-maker tonight."
Playing before a crowd of more than 3300 people, on Southside Elementary School Night, the Reds and Panthers skated through a scoreless first period.
Just over a minute into the second, Cam Braes came out of the corner and tapped a bouncing puck past Mahalak, giving UNB the lead.
UPEI then went on the offensive, pushing deep into UNB territory and maintaining puck possession, but with little reward.
At 17:03, with the Panthers on the power-play, Varsity Reds forward Tyler Carroll managed to poke a puck away from defender and knock it past Mahalak, into the UPEI net.
"I was just doing my job," said Carroll, of the short-handed goal. "I don't know if he thought he had a D over there, I just got a stick on it and put it in the net."
"We didn't play a great, full 60 and we had a few mishaps in our own end, but it's the AUS, it's going to happen."
Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall was happy to see Carroll score. "He's played terrific hockey, probably as good two-way hockey as he's played here," said MacDougall. "He's had lots of good offensive chances, but he's playing a good, structured game and is very dependable for us."
Ryan MacKinnon made a close game very interesting when he scored at 4:39 of the third period. That brought the Panthers to within a goal.
UPEI pulled Mahalak twice in the final two minutes, in favour of an extra attacker, but confusion during one of those changes resulted in a too many men on the ice penalty.
The Varsity Reds were able to hang on.
MacDougall acknowledges, UNB beat a decent team. "They don't give many second chances up. Their goaltender plays well, they're hard on their sticks, they block shots and they find ways to take advantage of opportunities."
The UNB victory, coupled with Acadia's 4-3 loss to Saint Mary's, gives the Varsity Reds sole possession of top spot in the AUS standings.
The Panthers remain in Fredericton, where they meet the St. Thomas Tommies on Saturday.
The Varsity Reds go to Moncton, for a meeting with les Aigles Bleue. Game time is 7:00PM.