One-thousand-four-hundrend-and-twenty-seven screaming fans exploded when Mathieu Pompei of Laval, QC, scored the game-winning goal for the no. 5 ranked McGill Redmen against the visiting Queen’s Gaels in the annual Management Carnival game. Pompei’s goal made it 2-1 just 27 seconds after Queen’s broke through on a rare 3-on-1 breakaway to knot the game at one apiece.
With back-to-back wins against Queen’s, McGill grabbed the top spot in the OUA Eastern Conference, pulling away from the reeling Gaels.
From the onset, the Redmen kept up a relentless attack on the opposing zone, setting and resetting its offence inside Queens’ blueline. Feeding off of a fierce fore-check, the home squad struck early on a power play goal by defenceman Ryan McKiernan at 12:26 into the first frame. McKiernan leads the team with 25 points on the season, and is now tied for the CIS lead in goals among defencemen.
“We kept the puck,” said Redmen Head Coach Kelly Nobes. “We spent a lot of time in their zone and moved the puck around well.”
The strategy proved simple yet devastating. Taking a page out of legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the Redmen played their best defence through offence all night, never letting the Queen’s attack settle into a comfortable rhythm and outshooting their opponents 38-26.
The early onslaught could have proved a knockout punch if not for the solid play of the Gaels’ goalie Kevin Bailie, who routinely kept his team in the game.
“You can’t ignore [Bailie],” said Nobes. “He made some big stops for them and kept it close.”
The script was flipped in the second period, as the Redmen were hamstrung by penalty trouble early on. This time, it was rookie Redmen goalie Jacob Gervais-Chouinard’s time to shine as he stifled the barrage of shots with several spectacular pad saves.
“They came out strong in the second period but our penalty kill was better,” Nobes said. “Chouinard didn’t see as much rubber, obviously, but he played great.”
By the time third period rolled around, the only people not standing at their seats were in line for beer, further adding to the uniqueness of the Carnival game.
“The spirit was incredible, we’ve never seen it like that,” Nobes commented on the rambunctious fans in attendance. “A lot of people came out to support the guys, and [the team] definitely felt it.”
As the final minute played out, the crowd erupted into a “Three cheers for McGill” chant as the Gaels pulled their goalie in an effort to take the man advantage.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the race for the OUA Eastern Conference pennant should go down to the wire. At the time of press, the top five teams are separated by a mere six points following McGill’s blowout 7-2 victory against RMC on Saturday. Next week, the Redmen travel to Ontario to play against Laurentian on Jan. 24 and Nippissing on Jan. 25 in their last road trip of the season.
At this point in the year, every moment is crucial as McGill looks to distance itself atop the crowded Conference. Looking ahead, Nobes isn’t too concerned about the home stretch considering his experience leading teams to the promised land.
“I’m not one to make predictions,” said Nobes. “We focus on the present and try to get better with every game.”