By Thomas Becker
With the middle of the pack jammed together at 17 points apiece, no team, including the UPEI Panthers and UNB Reds wanted to give up that coveted third-place position.
But after Saturday's 3-1 win over the Panthers (8-6-1), the Reds (8-5-3) remain tied for third while UPEI falls to fifth heading into the New Year.
Goals by rookies Myah Bowal and Tamina Kehler in the second period gave UNB the edge their opponent could not overcome. Lillian George added a goal early in the third before Jenna Pellerin got the Panthers on the board for their only goal.
"We weren't expecting to be here at the beginning of the year," said Reds head coach Sarah Hilworth about her team's third place standing. "We just wanted to end 2018 on a good note."
With both teams looking to close out 2018 with a win, the energy was high to begin. Camille Scherger made a sprawling save in the opening minutes, as the Reds launched 13 shots at the second-year netminder in the period. UPEI was fortunate to come out of the first unscathed, as they were forced to kill off three penalties.
However, the Panthers couldn't overcome their fourth penalty that came early in the second, when Bowal redirected Hayley Hallihan's shot from the slot past Scherger for the game's opening goal.
UPEI was denied a goal shortly after when the puck hung on the goal line only for a defender to push it to safety.
The Reds silenced the crowd at 12:34 after Kehler took a feed from George and sniped it top right corner to push the lead to 2-0.
Following their own power play late in the period, Panther forward Maria Clinton had a great chance to trim the deficit in half and fired a shot on net, but Hailey Martens picked the puck out of the air for the glove save. She finished with 33 saves and was named Subway Player of the Game.
"We're really lucky to have two goalies who we can really rely on," Hilworth said. "We needed Hailey to get this big win for us and it's nice that she's able to compete at a high level and hold us in there."
George added an insurance marker four minutes into the third to open up a 3-0 advantage. And it was a big one, as Pellerin got that goal back just two minutes later on a chip shot that floated over Martens and in.
"We got a little content after that first goal and they [UPEI] really pushed it on us," Hilworth said. "It was good test for us."
The Panthers return to the ice on Jan. 5 at home against the Mount Allison Mounties. Puck drops at 2 p.m.