Plenty to look forward to with off-season events & growth for next season

The Acadia Axemen season came to an end last weekend after a pair of thrilling games against StFX that saw the Axemen come out on the wrong side of both a 3OT game in Antigonish, followed by a 4OT game in Wolfville. A series that could very easily have seen a pair of wins for Acadia to win the series.

As we reflect back on the 2023-24 season, the Acadia fans were treated to a hard-working team that played to the final buzzer every night, with 15 of 30 regular season games being decided by 2 goals or less.

After a challenging first half that saw the team finish with a record of 4-11-3, the Axemen rebounded with a 5-5-2 record in the 2nd half, good for a 9-16-5 record overall, earning the final playoff spot in the AUS conference.

Head Coach Darren Burns is pleased with the direction of the team saying, “We were very proud of how our team competed right through to the end of the season. Clearly, losing in the first round is not the bar we want for our program; however, it was a year where our players had to compete heavily understaffed from day one. We felt they continually worked and emptied their tanks. In the big picture, we feel the pieces are in place for this team to take big steps next year. There were valuable lessons learned and we feel we have the returning core to be able to translate these lessons into success in the standings.”

 

The team excelled from the crease out, with Thomas Couture and Brayden Peters seeing equal time in net in the first 10 games of the season, before the injury to Peters. Couture picked up the gauntlet and would go on to be a standout throughout the season, being named to the AUS 1st team all-star and All-Rookie team member. On top of his sparkling .915 save percentage and 2.76 goals against average, he made highlight reel saves almost on a nightly basis and gave the Axemen a chance to win every game. The deep Axemen defense core put forward a strong body of work, giving up on average just 2.97 goals against per game on the season.

The Axemen struggles came on offense, where they scored on average 2.33 goals per game. Certainly, a portion of this could be attributed to player injuries as Acadia lost 125-man games due to injuries this season. The injury bug led to the team dressing 4 goalies over the course of the season and for one home game the team was forced to dress 10 defenceman and just 8 forwards, due to injuries up front.

The special teams saw improvement over the previous season; the powerplay was just 11% effective in 2022-23 and improved to 17.9% in 2023-24, and the penalty kill improved from 73.8% in 2022-23 to being 80% effective in 2023-24.

Many of the freshmen, who were seeing their 1st AUS action, stepped-in to play key roles and minutes with the team, including Brady Burns who led the team in scoring with 21 points in 24 games, and Ethan Ernst, who tied Bailey Peach for the team lead in goals with 8. The blueline was bolstered with 1st year players Charlie Desroches, Tyler Deline, and Cam Whynot all playing key minutes, and as mentioned, the crease was in good hands with 1st year star Thomas Couture, and Brayden Peters.

2nd year forwards Bailey Peach and Liam Kidney maintained their consistent offense with 18 and 16 points offensively this season, and Brendan Sellan’s 16 points on the campaign were highlighted by scoring 8 points over an 8-game stretch in the 2nd half of the season.

The Axemen have 4 players graduating from the program in assistant captains Reilly Webb, Nick Deakin-Poot, and Hudson Wilson, as well as team captain Morgan Nauss. The Acadia coaching staff now turns their attention to off-season recruiting for the 2024-25 season, where they will look to replace the size they are losing from the graduating players, while also adding offense to the lineup.

The support from the Valley community continues to be a high point for the hockey program. The support of the fan base, Valley community, alumni, and corporate sponsorships is crucial for the program and very much appreciated.

Coach Burns also expressed his gratitude to the fans and local community saying, “I would also like to thank the businesses, fans, and families who supported our extensive and integral fundraisers this past year. People in this community continually step up, whether it’s fundraising events, partaking in our hockey camps or attending our games. Our increase in attendance at home games this season is not the norm for many sporting teams these days. This loyalty to our hockey team is certainly vital to our team’s success. We do not take it for granted.”

Planning for off-season events such as the Axemen Celebrity Hockey Dinner in June, youth hockey camps throughout the summer, and the Friends of Acadia Hockey Golf Scramble in September are well underway. Stay connected with our social media accounts for more information to be released in the coming weeks on those events.

Couture stops 76 shots in 2nd longest USports Game in History

WOLFVILLE – Declan Smith (Antigonish, NS) scored the game-winning goal on Saturday night in Wolfville to clinch the quarter-final series for the StFX X-Men over the Acadia Axemen in the fourth overtime at Andrew H McCain Arena.  

Smith’s goal gave StFX the 3-2 victory in the second longest game in U SPORTS men’s hockey history.  

The current record is 121:53 of total time, set by UNB and Acadia on Feb. 27, 2011 in Game 2 of their AUS semifinal series in Fredericton. Tonight’s final playing time was 118:19, just under three minutes short of the all-time record.  

Coming in clutch when needed, Smith scored his first of the night, the game-tying goal, to send the game to overtime with just 1:13 remaining in regulation.  

For StFX, it was Clark Webster (Kensington, PE) that opened the scoring in the game, 11:32 into the second period.  

Acadia answered with two goals in the third from Ethan Ernst (Weyburn, SK) at 2:09 and Nick Deakin-Poot (Georgetown, ON) at 10:24 to take a 2-1 lead. 

Thomas Couture (Levis, QC) made 76 saves in the loss for the Axemen, while Joseph Raaymakers (Chatham, ON) made 61 saves in the victory.  

StFX will now play Moncton in the AUS semifinal round, while Saint Mary’s will face UNB. Dates for the next round are still to be announced.  

Axemen freshman goaltender recognized for exceptional regular season

Atlantic University Sport named the men’s hockey All-Star and All-Rookie teams today, and Acadia Axemen freshman goaltender, Thomas Couture has been named to both the All-Rookie Team, as well as a 1st Team All-Star.  The Acadia Axemen hockey program would like to send our congratulations to Thomas on this tremendous achievement.

The Levis, QC native, not only had excellent statistical numbers this season, but also made countless highlight reel and game saving stops for the Axemen throughout the year. He was named AUS and USports male athlete of the week for the first week of January 2024.

With teammate Brayden Peters going down with a season ending injury early in the season, Couture was counted on heavily to shoulder the load in goal for Acadia, seeing action in 24 of 30 regular season games, where he would boast a .915 Save Percentage, good for 3rd best in the AUS, and a 2.76 Goals Against Average, which was 4th best in the conference.

Couture repeats the impressive feat that UNB netminder Samuel Richard achieved last season, earning a spot on both the 1st Team All-Star and All-Rookie Team for the AUS.

He also becomes the 1st Axemen to be named a 1st Team All-Star since fellow goaltender Logan Flodell did so in 2019-20, and the first Acadia member of the All-Rookie Team since defenceman Garrett McFadden got the nod in 2018-19.

Acadia Axemen Head Coach Darren Burns congratulated his goaltender on the announcement saying, “We are very proud of Thomas and his accomplishments this season. For a rookie goaltender to be named a first team all-star is not an easy task. His play this year spearheaded a very strong defensive effort for our team. He played in many low scoring games, which added to the pressure during his season. Playing against national contending teams every night, he was ready to compete night in night out. His personal statistics spoke volumes and his leadership on and off the ice were vital for the program this season. Having him in our lineup bodes very well for the future of this team.”

Prior to joining the Axemen, Couture played in the QMJHL with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 2022-23, where he was 26-16-3 in 48 regular season games, and the previous season, he captured a Memorial Cup championship with the Saint John SeaDogs, along with current Axemen teammates Brady Burns and Charlie Desroches. After starting the season in Moncton, he went 18-1-1 in the regular season with the SeaDogs with a 1.99 GAA & a .925 save percentage enroute to the MEM Cup.

Couture and the Axemen will look to even up their AUS quarterfinal series at one in a best of 3 series with the StFX X-Men on Saturday night in Wolfville. The Acadia netminder made 57 saves on 61 shots in game 1, including a number of acrobatic stops in the OT sessions, but the X-Men went on to prevail in the 3OT marathon.

Congratulations Thomas!

StFX takes a 1-0 lead in best of 3 series

ANTIGONISH, NS – A Josh Nelson (Lockport, IL) goal 19 seconds into triple overtime gave the STFX X-Men the win over the Acadia Axemen in Game 1 of their AUS quarterfinal series at the Charles V Keating Centre in on Wednesday night.  

Nelson picked up a pass from Charlie Callahan (Toronto, ON) just outside the Acadia zone, skated in and lifted one high from up close with his second goal of the game, earning third star of the game honours along the way.   

It took only 40 seconds into the first period for the home team to open the scoring, with player of the game Declan Smith (Antigonish, NS) tipping home a shot from Matthew Struthers (Milton, ON), off a pass from Matthew Phillip (Ilderton, ON). Smith added his second of the night midway through the period, with Struthers again acting as the set-up man, feeding a wide open Smith at the side of the net after picking up a long pass from Sean Stewart (Antigonish, NS).  

STFX’s defence came up big early on, holding Acadia to only two shots though the first 10 minutes. Shots at the end of the period were 14-6 in favour of STFX as they held the 2-0 lead. 

It was Acadia who came out with some jump in the second period, peppering STFX goalie Joseph Raaymakers (Chatham, ON) early on. The X-Men returned fire though, and an extended 5-3 power play provided some scoring chances, but Acadia goalie Thomas Couture (Levis, QC) kept the door closed.  

Acadia cut the X lead in half with about five minutes left to play in the stanza, with Adam McMaster (Beamsville, ON) firing one home through a screen while on the power play, with assists going to Tyler Deline (Peterborough, ON) and Cam Whynot (Kentville, NS).   

STFX replied two minutes later, as Nelson took a pass from Zack Trott (Mulmur, ON) and rifled a shot top shelf on the short side. Shots at the end of the second were 29-17 in favour of the X-Men as they regained their two-goal lead. 

Acadia drew even with back-to-back goals the third, with Liam Kidney (Enfield, NS) scoring off a two-on-one with Nick Deakin-Poot (Georgetown, ON) with six minutes gone, and Brendan Sellan (Bolton, ON) getting the equalizer 90 seconds later, knocking in a rebound off a point shot from Merrick Rippon (Ottawa, ON), with Hudson Wilson (Toronto, ON) getting the other assist.  

The teams continued to battle for the rest of the period, but neither was able to score before time expired, leading to overtime.      

STFX X-Men had a man advantage with two minutes to go in the first 10-minute overtime frame, but weren’t able to capitalize, and it went to double overtime.  

Both goalies came up big in the second overtime period. Raaymakers kept the X-Men in it as they fought off a four-minute high sticking penalty, while Couture had a number of stellar saves including a cross crease dive with 30 seconds left in the second extra period, to take things to triple overtime and set up the Nelson heroics. 

Couture made 57 saves on the night, earning second star of the game. Raaymakers had 32 saves while picking up the win.  

The best of three series resumes Saturday night, February 17, in Wolfville. Game three, if necessary, is set for Monday, February 19, in Antigonish at 7 p.m. 

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Recap courtesy Matt Draper, STFX Athletics 

Best of 3 Series, Acadia Axemen vs StFX X-Men

In a re-match of last year’s AUS quarterfinal series, the Acadia Axemen will face the StFX X-Men in a best of 3 matchup. Much like last year, StFX owns the home ice advantage in the short series, and the Axemen will look to replay history, as a year ago they went into Antigonish, winning game 1, before returning to Wolfville to close out the best of 3 series at home in game 2. What will this year’s series bring? We will soon see, as Game 1 goes on Wednesday evening.

The 16-13-1 X-Men have won their last 3 games, and feature a high flying offense, that was 2nd to only UNB in the AUS, as they scored 112 goals in the regular season. In contrast, Acadia (9-16-5) scored just 70 goals on the season, however, the Axemen were stingy on the defensive side, giving up just 98 goals on the season, 3rd lowest in the AUS, and 5 less than the X-Men.

For Acadia, Bailey Peach (18 points and co-team lead with 8 goals), Liam Kidney & Brendan Sellan (16 points each), and Ethan Ernst (8 goals) will be heavily counted on for offense against StFX. While forwards Nick Deakin-Poot, Reilly Webb, and Zack Jones will be leaned on to provide strong defensive, two-way play, for Acadia in this short series. As has been the case all season, the strong defence corps of the Axemen will play a big role in the success of the team in this series. The Axemen are hopeful to see the return of  leading scorer Brady Burns, (21 points in 24 games), who has missed the last 6 games, and Peyton Hoyt (6 points in 13 games) at some point during the series, but their status will be a game time decision.

The Axemen will need to focus on containing the X-Men offensive prowess led by AUS 2nd leading scorer Matthew Struthers (46 points), and perennial top scorer Liam Hawel, (37 points), along with the team’s top goal scorer Jacob Hudson, who had 18 goals and 32 points, and Charlie Callaghan delivers offense from the backend with 21 points as a defenseman.

Perhaps the biggest spotlight of the series will shine on the goaltending matchup, where the X-Men’s Joseph Raaymakers (14-12, 2.96 GAA, .912 SV%) will face Axemen star rookie Thomas Couture (7-10-5, 2.76 GAA, .915 SV%). Acadia will look to Couture to continue his outstanding play moving forward in the series.

We caught up with Axemen head coach Darren Burns to get his thoughts on the series, he said, “We are looking forward to the start of the playoffs. We have been really happy with our team’s battle level and focus this year.

Its been a season where players have had to continually adapt to different situations and responsibilities, as our line up was always changing with many players not available. It is important for our team to keep this focus in the post season.”

Game 1 goes Wednesday night in Antigonish at 7pm, before the series shifts to Wolfville for a Saturday night matchup in Game 2. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for Monday, February 19th back in Antigonish.

Get your tickets for Acadia’s home game at the Acadia Box Office or purchase online at acadiau.universitytickets.com

#GoAcadiaGo

Paputsakis with 26 saves for Acadia

Antigonish, NS – The STFX X-Men shutout the Acadia Axemen 4-0 in AUS action Saturday night at the Keating Centre in the final game of the AUS season. Joseph Raaymakers (Chatham, ON) had 24 saves in the X net and was first star and player of the game.  

With the win the X-Men (16-13-1-0) clinch third place in the AUS standings, earning home ice advantage in the first round of the AUS playoffs. They will be facing off against the same Acadia (9-16-2-23) squad in the best-of-three quarterfinal series as the Axemen finished the season in sixth place. 

The game marked the final regular season game for the X-Men and coaches honored the graduating student-athletes prior to the game, including Bailey Webster (Kensington, PE), Sam Allison (Cole Harbour, NS), Matthew Philip (Ilderton, ON), Conner Bruggen-Cate (Langley, BC), Josh Nelson (Lockport, Il), Joseph Raaymakers (Chatham, ON) and Jacob Hudson (Antigonish, NS).  

The first period was scoreless as the Axemen had a 12-8 shot advantage in the opening 20 minutes. Each squad had a power play opportunity but it was STFX’s Liam Hawel (Arnprior, ON) who had the best scoring chance while shorthanded late in the period on a breakaway attempt but couldn’t tuck it past the pad of Zachary Paputsakis (Rockland, ON) short side. 

The X-Men opened the scoring in the game 1:21 into the second period. Zack Trott (Mulmur, ON) dropped a pass off to Hawel at the top of the slot and his shot went high over the net, but Trott was on the doorstep to tuck in the timely rebound. 

Raegan Wiles (Calgary, AB) made it a 2-0 STFX lead at 6:40 on a high shot that lopped quickly in, around and out of the Acadia net. The goal was initially waved off and play continued but at the next whistle the on-ice officials confirmed it was indeed a goal. 

The X-Men outshot the Axemen 12-5 in the middle period. 

Team leading scorer Matthew Struthers (Milton, ON) tallied a power play marker three minutes into the third period to give X a 3-0 lead as he one-timed a pass from Hawel into the open Axemen net and past a sliding Paputsakis across the crease. 

The Axemen then went on the power play shortly after but were unable to solve Raaymakers in the STFX net. 

The X-Men’s fourth goal came from Declan Smith (Antigonish, NS) at 12:36 of the third period as he tucked in a rebound off a Matthew Philip (Ilderton, ON) shot.  

STFX held off the Axemen for the remainder of the period and Raaymakers earned the shutout victory in the X net. The X-Men outshot the Axemen 30-24 in the game. 

Hawel picked up second star honours with Struthers receiving the nod for third star. 

The AUS quarterfinal series schedules will be released on Sunday with Game 1 taking place at STFX, Game 2 at Acadia and Game 3 (if necessary) back at STFX. Fourth place Saint Mary’s (15-14-1-0) will host fifth place UPEI (12-14-1-3) in the other quarterfinal series. First place UNB and second place Moncton will await the quarterfinal winners for the second round best-of-five semifinals. 

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Recap courtesy Krista McKenna, STFX Athletics