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Nadeau shines in hockey home-opener

The much-anticipated men’s hockey home-opener drew a capacity crowd to Memorial Arena last Friday night as Pete Belliveau’s much-improved Tigers took to the ice against last year’s conference champion the Saint Mary’s Huskies.

Coming off one of the worst seasons in team history last year the Dal Tigers had a lot to prove with 11 new recruits donning black and gold for the first game of the regular season.

Noticeably absent from Friday’s roster was star forward Maxime Tanguay. Brother to NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Tanguay, Maxime was recruited by Dal during the summer only to be called up by the Chicago Blackhawks farm team, the Rockford Ice Hogs.

If nothing else, the fact that Dal is losing players to the NHL speaks volumes about the level of talent Pete Belliveau has brought in since taking over the team last September.

Last year the Tigers were the worst men’s varsity hockey team in North America going 4-23-1. Tanguay was recruited from the QMJHL along with defenseman Benoit Gervais and goaltender Bobby Nadeau.

During a pre-season match-up, the Tigers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to score seven unanswered goals against the Huskies proving the new team can be explosive even against top-calibre opponents.

The game began well for the Tigers, the starting line of Daniel Bartek, Shea Kewin and Jonathan Gagne, all new Tigers, controlled the play immediately off the first puck-drop. Daniel Bartek is a former member of the Czech Republic’s 2008 World Junior team.

The play in the first period was rough and fast-paced with Dal showing a level of competitive spirit that was radically different from last year’s squad.

Ten minutes into the game, every seat in the house was full. The question was: were the fans there for Dal or – like last year – were they there to support the visiting team?

2008-09 rookie star Trevor Mackenzie led the Dal attack, deftly speeding through SMU defenders towards the net on several occasions, the Huskies were stingy however and often Dal was forced to take long-shots from bad angles that were easily turned aside by the Saint Mary’s keeper.

SMU opened scoring following a hooking call on Dal defenseman Josh Manning late in the first period. Cody Thornton put it home for SMU on the ensuing power play.

The second period saw flashes of brilliance from the Tigers with a strong showing on Dal’s first power play of the year against a very strong SMU PK-unit. The Tigers showed a bit of dissonance on the special units, as may be expected from such a fresh roster.

The question of whom the fans were there to see was answered in the 14th minute of the second when veteran forward Patrick Sweeney put home a rebound off of Francois Gauthier’s shot drawing thunderous appreciation from the stands.

Dal’s celebration was short-lived as the Huskies second marker came a minute later from Husky Colby Pridham. The shot total going into the third period was 32-19 for Saint Mary’s. Bobby Nadeau had already established himself as a new fan favourite, throwing up great save after great save before relentless SMU pressure.

The third period saw the Huskies dominate much of the action, putting an additional 12 shots on the Dal goal. Nadeau kept his team alive and the Tigers’ persistence paid off when second year forward Kenzie Sheppard sent the puck into the top left corner on a cross-ice feed from Benoit Gervais.
Dal nearly pulled off the impossible when the Tigers were awarded a power play in the final minutes of the game.

Bad luck on the power play was added to as Josh Manning drew a tripping penalty on a very enhanced dive behind the Dal net in the last second of the game. Nadeau continued to be phenomenal in overtime but was beaten by Cam Fergus 1-24 into the extra frame for SMU’s second power play goal of the night. Saint Mary’s captain and 2009 CIS MVP Marc Rancourt had three assists.

The Tigers were in Antigonish the following night where they gave up a 4-2 decision to the X-men.

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