Midway through the third period of women’s hockey action at McConnell Arena on Friday night, the McGill Martlets found themselves having to tune out the chants coming from the seats directly above the Ottawa University bench. With the game tied at two apiece and the momentum seemingly on the visitors’ side, McGill’s monumental winning streak seemed on the verge of collapse. A lucky break and two slap shots later, the Martlets were able to let out a collective sigh of relief, as they walked away with their 71st straight win against CIS competition.
Rearguard Caroline Hill rifled in a hard slap shot from the point for the game-winner with a little less than two minutes left in regulation, and defensive stalwart Cathy Chatrand rounded off the scoring with another long-range bomb as the Martlets hung on to beat Ottawa, 4-2.
“It was a really tight game,” said first-year McGill Head Coach Amey Doyle. “Ottawa played us really hard and I thought that they battled really hard. They skated for 60 minutes and our girls had to match their effort. [But] we stuck to our game plan, got the puck deep and got it on net.”
With less than 10 minutes to go, however, all signs pointed towards an Ottawa upset. While McGill was able to control the overall tempo of the game, a series of mental lapses and a tendency for over-aggression nearly doomed the home squad. A bad giveaway on the offensive blueline allowed Ottawa forward Erika Pouliot to score off a breakaway with 10 minutes left, knotting the game and electrifying the Gee-Gee fans in attendance.
Two minutes later, the Ottawa defence managed to spark yet another breakaway, and a stunned silence fell over the arena before the referees blew off what appeared to be another Gee-Gee goal.
“[Ottawa] was just jamming really hard at Taylor [Salisbury’s] pads,” said Chatrand. “The puck came loose, but it never went in and the refs blew off the play.”
Ottawa looked visibly deflated after the referees had made their decisions, and were unable to generate any offensive momentum when it mattered the most. McGill put their championship poise on display as they dominated the Gee-Gees in the closing moments of the game.
“Every time you score off a shot from the blueline, it’s a surprise because goaltenders are so good [these days],” said Chatrand. “We were very fortunate to have been on the right side of the scoreboard.”
Although the Martlets walked away with the win, Friday night’s game made clear the fact that Doyle’s squad still has a lot of work to do if they wish to challenge for yet another championship banner. The team was able to work out some of the kinks from the Ottawa game on Saturday afternoon when they took on cross-town rival Concordia, winning easily by a score of 3-0.
“I think the girls definitely learned something [from last night’s game],” said Doyle. “They showed a lot more grit and positionally, they were better. That’s why we were able to control most of the play.”
Doyle’s attention to detail and the team’s constant desire to improve have played important roles in McGill’s success so far. When asked about the streak, Doyle was hard-pressed to come up with the exact number of wins.
“We definitely have some kind of a mental record in our head, but we don’t think too much about it,” she said. “We focus on the game at hand, and I concentrate on my job to get the right person at the right time to win the game. If we win a game, it’s great, and if we lose a game, we will learn something from it.”
McGill looks to extend their record-setting win-streak on January 17, when they travel to Ottawa to face the Gee-Gees on their home turf. The Martlets arrive back in Montreal on January 22 to take on the Montreal Carabins at 7 p.m.