HALIFAX - On the strength of the fourth goal of the tournament from freshman forward Michael Clarke, the StFX X-Men (#3) punched their ticket to the CIS University Cup final with a dramatic 2-1 triple-overtime victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies (#2) Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Centre.
CHAMPIONSHIP WEBSITE: www.universitycup.ca
"We needed to come through on the power play," Clarke said, after the game, of his heroics.
"I wanted to put the puck on net, and I was able to get a good shot away."
Seconds earlier, Clarke almost scored from in tight on a great deke against Jordon Cooke, the CIS goaltender of the year, but the puck rolled off his stick.
When asked if he aimed for the top corner on the game-winner, Clarke quipped, "I closed my eyes."
"You don't go for the top corner in triple overtime, " X-Men head coach Brad Peddle added.
On the marker with the man advantage, at 17:35, Holden Cook and Kristoff Kontos notched the assists.
It is the first national championship game appearance for the AUS champion X-Men since 2004.
"It was a heavyweight fight and we were able to make the big play when we needed it," Peddle, the CIS coach of the year, said.
He described being involved in such a marathon match-up as "exciting, but stressful."
Coupled with their quadruple-OT win over the Carleton Ravens in quarter-final action Thursday, the Huskies have played 223 minutes, or almost four games, in two days.
"I had no issues with our jump. We played fantastic," veteran Saskatchewan head coach Dave Adolph said in the post-game press conference, when asked if fatigue was a factor.
"We didn't play well [against Carleton] but I thought we played really well tonight."
The X-Men got the initial quality scoring chance, less than three minutes into the first period, when defenseman Jagger Dirk hit a streaking Holden Cook with a lead pass as he crossed the Huskies' blue line. The forward raced in and got a hard backhander away that Jordon Cooke steered aside with his blocker. On the rebound, the CIS goaltender of the year smothered an attempt from Nathan Pancel on the short side.
The Huskies first scoring opportunity came when a trailing Parker Thomas gobbled up a loose puck deep in the X-Men slot, but Drew Owsley made the save with his right pad on the wrist shot.
Midway through the opening stanza, Thomas stole an X-Men pass behind the net, but his centering pass did not connect with Jesse Ross, who was parked at the lip of Owsley's crease.
A short time later, at 9:12, Levi Cable opened the scoring for the Huskies, when he found a seam, on the blocker side, between the arm and body of Owsley. Zak Stebner collected the lone assist.
With just more than six minutes left in the first period, Pancel and Cook completed a give-and-go for the X-Men, but Cooke thwarted Cook, with the left pad, from in tight, to preserve Saskatchewan's one-goal edge.
On the first power play of the match-up, the Huskies' Connor Cox intercepted an X-Men clearing attempt, but he could not beat Owsley with a snap shot.
The X-Men were successful on the first penalty kill to keep it scoreless.
Buoyed by that effort, and a huge open-ice hit by Brad Cuzner, shortly after he left the penalty box, the X-Men garnered a couple chances, including a shot from Kristoff Kontos, off the rush, that Cooke turned away.
Just before the buzzer to end the first frame, Cameron Blair put a move on an X-Men defenseman, got in alone, but Owsley made a glove stop on the one-handed fore-hand shot from close quarters.
In the first period, Saskatchewan outshot StFX 11-8.
Early in the second period, the Huskies exerted pressure in the X-Men zone, but Owsley made a pair of saves, while the Saskatchewan shooters missed the net on a couple occasions.
Just more than two minutes into the stanza, the X-Men went on the power play. With the man advantage, AUS MVP Eric Locke tipped a Nathan Chiarlitti point-shot, but Cooke made the stop. Off the rebound, Cook got a backhander away, but could not solve the Saskatchewan all-star.
The X-Men came up empty in the 5-on-4 situation.
Just more than six minutes into the period, Michael Clarke carried the puck into the zone, got a wrist shot away, but Cooke smothered it.
With the Huskies on the man advantage, the X-Men collected the equalizer. Steven Kuhn sent Cuzner in alone, and the StFX veteran forward made no mistake, at 7:37, rifling a hard shot under the cross bar behind Cooke.
The X-Men looked to take their first lead, with just more than five minutes left in the second period, but Cooke stoned Cook with the left pad, after the X-Men forward walked out front from the corner.
On a power play late in the second period, with two X-Men parked on his doorstep, Cooke calmly blocked a one-timer from just inside the blue line, off the stick of Chiarlitti.
After the X-Men man advantage, they continued the pressure, with Craig Duininck testing Cooke with another point-shot. The rebound was loose momentarily, but the Huskies' keeper was able to corral it for a stoppage.
With less than 20 seconds left before intermission, the X-Men gathered a Huskies' cough-up, which led to a shot attempt for Cook, but Cooke turned aside the snap shot.
The X-Men had 14 shots in the second period, while the Huskies amassed eight.
In the third period, Cable of the Huskies got the first scoring chance, taking a drop pass from Kohl Bauml, but Owsley took the slap shot off the chest and covered for a face-off.
For the X-Men, Clarke drove down the wing, put a shot on Cooke, which Pancel picked up in the opposite circle and ripped at the Saskatchewan goalie, who made the stop and held on, just before the four-minute mark.
Almost ten minutes into the final frame, Pancel sped into the Saskatchewan zone from the opposite wing, but Cooke made a stick save on the X-Man's blast.
A short time later, Josh Roach of the Huskies took a centering pass, but his twirling backhander was handled by Owsley with a nifty blocker stop.
Seconds after, with Saskatchewan pressing, Jesse Forsberg pinched in from the point and unleashed a blast that Owsley got a piece of with his left shoulder before the puck hit the post.
With just more than eight minutes left in the third period, the Huskies completed a huge penalty kill, blocking three blue-line blasts from the X-Men.
After intercepting an errant pass in the Saskatchewan zone, Adam Stevens drove to the net, but he ran out of real estate and could not squeeze the fore-hand behind Cooke.
With less than three minutes remaining, Kuhn got a step on the Huskies' 'D' and sliced in front from the opposite wing, but he could not beat Cooke.
In a feverish final two minutes of regulation, both teams had terrific chances to take the late lead.
Off a centering pass, Cable briefly had an open net, but Owsley deftly slid across to the short side and made a blocker stop
The X-Men replied with great goal-mouth chances for Pancel, Clarke and Kontos, but Cooke slammed the door shut.
StFX outshot Saskatchewan 13-12 in the third period.
In the first 10-minute overtime, both teams had opportunities to end the contest, but Owsley and Cooke answered the bell, making key stops, while each squad also had players make game-saving shot blocks.
The Huskies and X-Men garnered four and two shots, respectively, in the first extra session.
In the second OT, Locke had the best chance of the first four minutes, when he walked in front, after making a rush, but Cooke bested him.
Five minutes in, Clarke led an X-Men push, but Cooke snatched his hard wrist shot that was headed for the top shelf.
The Huskies broke in three-on-two, but a centering pass to Logan McVeigh, who was in tight on Owsley, bounced over this stick.
Later, Chiarlitti walked into a slap shot from the top of the circles, but Cooke made a sensational pad save.
After making a stellar play on the back-check, Locke sped out of his zone, avoided a mid-ice collision and led a two-on-one rush. He fed a charging Bronson Maschmeyer, who was hooked off the puck as he moved to the backhand against Cooke. The result - an X-Men power play.
On the man advantage, Chiarlitti collected two more slap shots from the blue line, but Cooke made the saves, and the Huskies kept it tied.
Off a Huskies' turnover, Clarke skated in front, went cross crease to Zack MacQueen, but Cooke stretched to stop the scoring chance.
With less than five minutes left in the second OT, Roach darted into the X-Men zone, but his high blast was deflected over the net by Owsley.
After Locke fed the point, Stevens got his stick on a Duininck point-shot, but Cooke stood tall.
With just more than one minute left, Roach got another chance, but Owsley gloved the screen shot.
Shortly after, Owsley stopped Cable by shooting out the right pad.
The Huskies outshot the X-Men 15-10 in the second extra frame.
In the third OT, the squads exchanged opportunities in the first four minutes, but came up with nothing on the scoreboard.
Just over six minutes in, Clarke got another shot attempt, through a screen, but Cooke re-directed it to the corner.
Seconds later, Stevens made a spinning cross-ice pass to Locke, but Cooke bounced across his crease and made a spectacular save.
After Pancel took a shot from the side boards that Clarke batted out of the air towards Cooke, who ended up on his back without a stick, Pancel gathered up the rebound, after a scramble, but shot it wide of the open net.
Off a two-on-one, Stevens fed Locke once again, but Cooke stoned the first-team AUS all-star.
On the counter punch, the Huskies tested the X-Men, but Owsley made a great poke check against Logan McVeigh.
The X-Men, and the partisan crowd, thought they won the game off a shot by Cuzner from the side of the net. After consulting video replay, the officials waved off the goal.
Just more than four minutes later, Clarke ended the see-saw battle.
Owsley made saves 55 for the win, while Cooke turned aside 61 shots in the loss.
"It comes with the position," Owsley said, when asked how he handled the pressure.
Clarke was named player of the game for the X-Men, while Cooke earned the honour for the Huskies.
The X-Men will face-off against the winner of the UNB Varsity Reds - Saint Mary's Huskies semi-final match-up for gold Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ADT.
The Huskies will face-off against the loser of the UNB Varsity Reds - Saint Mary's Huskies match-up for bronze Sunday at 2 p.m. ADT.
The semi-final and championship match-ups will be broadcast live on Sportsnet 360 and TVA Sports (TVA Sports 2 for championship final).