Helvig, Dunkley spark Huskies to 3-0 win over Axemen to advance to AUS final and qualify for Nationals

Helvig, Dunkley spark Huskies to 3-0 win over Axemen to advance to AUS final and qualify for Nationals

WOLFVILLE, NS – The Saint Mary's Huskies are moving on to the AUS finals and have qualified for U SPORTS Nationals after defeating the Acadia Axemen 3-0 in game four of the AUS semifinals on Tuesday night at the Andrew H. McCain Arena.

"That was the goal we set from day one, we wanted to ultimately make the final and punch our ticket to Nationals," Huskies forward Nathan Dunkley said post-game. "That was a hard-fought series, especially the last two games, they really showed up and were hard to play against, but that made it that much sweeter to come out on top."

It was another nail-biter in a series that turned into a battle over the last three games, with Huskies goaltender Jeremy Helvig (Kingston, ON) turning away 40 shots for his second shutout of the series and being named Subway First Star of the Game.

The first two periods were scoreless, as has been the theme of the previous two games, where only five goals were scored between the two teams, including one empty-netter.

In the first period, it seemed like Acadia was going to strike first thanks to a handful of odd-man rushes; however, those chances were shut down by the Huskies' D and Helvig. 

Saint Mary's had their chances too, but the Axemen kept them off the scoresheet. 

At the end of the opening period, the shots were tied 11-11. 

Once again in the second period, neither team was able to find the back of the net. 

Acadia had the best chance when Nick Deakin-Poot redirected a shot that hit the post but stayed out. 

The Huskies had a power-play in the second frame that allowed them to get set up in the Acadia zone and record solid shots on the net, but there was nothing that could fool Axemen netminder Conor McCollum (Pickering, Ont.). 

Acadia held a slight advantage in shots by the end of the second frame, with a 27-24 lead going into the third. 

Adam McMaster (Beamsville, Ont.) almost scored in the opening minute of the third on the power-play, ringing the puck off the goal post. 

The momentum shifted in the Huskies favour after Axemen forward Jack Flaman (Vibank, Sask.) took a 5-minute boarding major, giving the Huskies a huge power-play chance. 

The Axemen were able to kill off the first four minutes of the major penalty, but the Huskies finally found their go-ahead goal.

Acadia had the puck in the Huskies' zone and threw it back out to center so that their defense could kill some extra time. That's when forward Nathan Dunkley (Campbellford, ON) stole the puck, came in on a breakaway and lifted the puck high blocker side to make it 1-0, with 9:49 remaining in the third.

"I saw the puck take a little funny hop, and saw the break, was able to finish and I was obviously super hyped along with the guys," said Dunkley post-game. "Obviously the goals weren't coming too easy in the last couple games for both teams, so every goal was that much more important. It's tough on the road sometimes to create that energy when you can't seem to get anything going offensively, so I think that definitely sparked us a little bit."

A mere 14 seconds later, Keith Getson (Bridgewater, NS) doubled the lead while parked in front of the Acadia net with a backhander that he slid through the legs of the Acadia goalie to make it 2-0. 

The Axemen continued to fight but were unable to solve the Huskies' goaltender, as Helvig made several more fantastic saves to maintain the lead.

Andrew Coxhead (Bedford, NS) sealed the victory for Saint Mary's in the final two minutes by adding an empty-net goal to make it 3-0. 

Bad blood seemed to be brewing throughout the series but it was not until the final minute that a fight broke out between the teams, with a number of players dropping the gloves. 

The teams combined for 130 minutes in penalties for the game. 

Tonight, was another stellar night for the men between the pipes. Acadia goalie Conor McCollum put in a strong performance, turning aside 33 of 35 shots on the night. Likewise, Jeremy Helvig stopped 40 of 40 shots to continue his phenomenal play; through the series, Helvig stopped 147 of 150 shots faced for a .980 save percentage. 

"(Helvig's play speaks for itself," said Dunkley post-game. "It's so relaxing for a team to have a goalie back there that you know can make the big stops night in, night out. He's been doing that all year but I guess it's just showing more in the playoffs. Our team has full trust in him and we rally behind him every night."

Acadia Axemen forward Adam McMaster and Saint Mary's defenceman Dennis Busby (Oro-Medonte, ON) were named second and third stars of the night, respectively. 

With a 3-1 semifinal series win, the Huskies move on to face the winner of the Moncton/UNB series in the AUS finals. It will be Saint Mary's first trip to the AUS finals since 2014, while they'll also qualify for U SPORTS Nationals, which will be held March 16–19, in Charlottetown, PEI.

"Right now we're soaking this win up, enjoying it for a day or two, and then we'll see who we play and start to get a game plan for that matchup," said Dunkley. "Whoever it's going to be will be a tough series, but winning this league means a lot to us, so we'll be ready."

Recap by Joshua Foote, Acadia Athletics
Photos by Peter Oleskevich, Acadia Athletics