Chris Culligan's short-handed goal early in the second period charged top-ranked University of New Brunswick to a 4-0 victory over the Western Ontario Mustangs on Saturday as the Varsity Reds earned a berth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's hockey final.
Culligan opened the scoring by intercepting a breakout pass, going alone on Anthony Grieco and tucking the puck past the Western goalie's blocker. The goal sent a wave momentum through the Reds bench and the sold-out Aitken Centre.
"There was lots of energy in the rink tonight. We got to be who we are. When we scored, the roof came off," said 11-year UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall, whose team improved to 2-0.
"They way [the crowd] energized us, I thought we got a lot of energy on the bench."
Culligan had a goal and an assist the win, which earned the Reds a berth in Sunday's University Cup final against No. 2 McGill. The Redmen beat Alberta 6-3 earlier Saturday to advance to their first ever CIS final.
After a tight-checking first period, UNB quickened the pace and controlled the final 40 minutes. Their dominating forecheck and efficient cycling wore out the Western defenders.
The result was an explosion of goals in the third from Luke Gallant, Kyle Bailey and Hunter Tremblay to the seal the win. Both Gallant and Bailey's goals came on the power-play.
The Mustangs (1-1) couldn't muster an effective response and were held off the scoreboard.
Travis Fullerton stood tall in goal for UNB stopping all 22 shots for the shutout. The third-year goalie has stopped 43 out of 44 shots in both starts.
"Travis has been spectacular for us," MacDougall said. "He's a goalie that's played big games before and I thought he was really focused and collected."
UNB's special teams were firing on all cylinders. The Reds scored two power play goals and killed off 10 minor penalties to go with Culligan's short-handed goal.
"Around this time a year if you find a way to be successful on special teams, usually you come out ahead," MacDougall said.
Western's dismal power play, failing to convert in any of their 10 chances, was the focal point of the loss.
"In games like this you talk about goaltending, special teams and defence. I thought we had two out of those three tonight and UNB had all three," said head coach Clarke Singer.
Earlier Saturday, Maxime Langelier-Parent scored twice as the Redmen defeated Alberta Golden Bears.
With the win, McGill (2-0) cemented top spot on Pool B and its first-ever berth in the University Cup championship game. The Redmen were especially solid on special teams, going 3-for-4 on the power play while killing off four of Alberta's power plays.
"I've been working a lot on shooting to score in practice, which I didn't do earlier in the season. I was always trying to pass in practice," said Langelier-Parent, who was held to four goals in 24 games in the regular season before matching that total in eight OUA playoff games. "Working on scoring in practice has helped made it easier for me to do the same in games."
Alexandre Picard-Hooper and Francis Verreault both had a goal and an assist for McGill. Ryan McKierman and Evan Vossen added the other goals.
Derek Ryan, with two, and Chad Klassen scored for the Golden Bears (0-2).
Alberta lost its tournament opener 3-1 to St. Francis on Friday, forcing head coach Eric Thurston to open things up in order to secure the victory. But that strategy created plenty of chances for the Redmen, who capitalized on them.
"Obviously it's not easy to go into a game knowing you have to beat the second best team in the country by four goals," said Alberta head coach Eric Thurston. "I thought overall we didn't play bad. But credit to McGill. They're a very skilled team. They scored six times on 20 shots."
McGill scored six times on Alberta goalie Kurtis Mucha despite being outshot 27-21.