The McGill Redmen put their best-of-three OUA East quarterfinal series to an early close last week with back-to-back wins against the Concordia Stingers. The series ran the gamut both on the scoresheet and on the ice; while the first game was unusually quiet for the two rivals, the second was punctuated with an abundance of goals and frequent trips to the penalty box for both teams.
Wednesday night’s matchup at McConnell Arena got off to a subdued start, and remained that way until sophomore forward David Rose opened the scoring early in the second period. Although Concordia struck back less than a minute later, another goal by Rose and an insurance marker from third-year Marc-Olivier Vachon sealed the deal by the end of the period. Along with Rose’s two-goal effort, the game featured a spectacular playoff debut by freshman goaltender Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, who recorded 30 saves in the 3-1 Redmen victory.
Game 2 on Friday opened to a markedly different atmosphere. In front of a lively home crowd, the Stingers brought the desperation of a team facing elimination. However, Concordia played catch-up through the first half of the game before the Redmen finally pulled away for good, posting a resounding 8-4 victory. Sophomore centre Cedric McNicoll led the charge with a hat-trick, while winger Neal Prokop tallied two of his own, including the game winner. Both are in their first seasons as Redmen, and have had a profound impact on the team’s success this season.
“Prokop is a 6’4” forward, and he has been able to bring [a] big, physical, rangy presence that we lack,” Redmen Head Coach Kelly Nobes said.” McNicoll played three years of pro hockey […] in the American Hockey League. He’s clearly a star in the league. He has exceptional vision, and he makes guys around him better.”
The McGill offence has been explosive of late, averaging 6.6 goals per game in its last five matchups and registering a hefty 41 shots on the Concordia goal on Friday. Much of the Redmen’s success came courtesy of their special units, which received no shortage of opportunity with both teams combining for a total of 42 penalty minutes. McGill capitalized on their opportunities, burying four goals.
“Special teams are a factor in the playoffs,” Nobes said. “In terms of our power play, it has been real good since Christmas [….] It’s good to have a power play that works for you because it keeps the other team honest in terms of taking penalties.”
This dominant showing in the first round is sure to come as a comfort to the Redmen, who suffered a shocking early exit in the first round of last year’s playoffs. The team fell at the unlikely hands of the Nipissing Lakers, despite having won the University Cup at the CIS National Championships the year before. Last year’s squad was marred by injuries, an issue that the current team has been able to avoid so far.
“Last year we had 150 man games lost to injury, [and] we had eight regulars sitting in the stands in the playoffs,” Nobes explained. “When we have had injuries, we’ve had a very deep bench that we’ve been able to use, so we haven’t had to play shorthanded. ”
The Redmen now travel to Trois-Rivieres, where they will face off on Wednesday, Feb. 26 against UQTR in the OUA East semifinals, and will be back at McConnell on Mar. 1. The no. 2 seeded Patriotes are fresh off a series sweep of their own, having faced little resistance from the seventh-place UOIT. They can expect McGill to provide stiffer competition; so far, the two teams have split their season series 1-1.