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Stingers players despair after blowing a series lead to the Redmen. (Emma Hameau / McGill Tribune)

McGill advances to OUA semifinals

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McGill Redmen
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Concordia Stingers
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The McGill Redmen (21-5-0) advanced to the second round of the OUA men’s hockey playoffs on Sunday night after defeating the Concordia Stingers (8-17-1) 6-3 at McConnell Arena. After dropping the first game of the best-of-three series on Wednesday, the Redmen turned the tide and won back-to-back games to eliminate rival Concordia and progress to the next roun, where they will face the Queen’s University Gaels (13-12-1) in another three-game series.

Game one on Wednesday at McConnell Arena was a wild affair. Concordia managed to pull out a 6-4 victory after McGill uncharacteristically allowed three goals out of four opportunities for the Stingers on the power play. The offensive frenzy proved exciting for Stingers’ fans and served as a learning opportunity for Head Coach Kelly Nobes and his team.

 “We learned a lot about ourselves and what we needed to do after game one,” Nobes said.

In game two on Friday at Concordia’s Ed Meagher Arena, the Redmen had found their rhythm after the shocking upset, shutting out the Stingers to the tune of 5-0. The line of David Rose, Jonathan Brunelle, and Cedric McNicoll combined for 13 points as McNicoll played a role in all five of McGill’s goals on the night, assisting four and netting one himself in the second period. Concordia was in penalty trouble all night, spending a total of 31 out of 39 minutes in the box. The Redmen took advantage of this discrepancy, scoring twice on the power play that evening.

Fifth-year captain Benoit Levesque attributed his team’s success in the last two games of the series to a stronger defensive performance. 

“We knew it was going to be a tough game; they proved that the first night against us,” Levesque explained. “They have a lot of very skilled players and we had to take that into consideration. I think we played a really solid game defensively.”

McGill came out strong in the deciding third game on Sunday, but Concordia got on the scoreboard first, finding the back of the net after only a minute and a half of play. The highlight of the tilt came soon after with a beautiful display of teamwork from  McNicoll and Brunelle. In possession of the puck, Brunelle skated across the centre of the rink about 10 metres from the goal and stopped it in place, skating on and continuing to draw the attention of the Concordia defence. McNicoll sailed in from the wing and slammed the puck straight down the line into the back of the net, catching the entirely unprepared Concordia goaltender off guard.

The rest of the first period continued to be offence-oriented, with both goaltenders put to the test to keep their teams in the contest. Play became increasingly physical as the period wore on, but no penalties were called–in a game like this between rivals, sometimes a non-call is the best call. The second period included the only three power plays of the match, including two for McGill but all scoreless. The pace of the game slowed down and continued into the third as a much more balanced match, but with McGill still leading in possession and converting on more opportunities, ending the game 6-4. Nobes credited his team’s success in the series to a strong sense of teamwork.

“You need everybody going in the playoffs,” Nobes said. “You need everybody pulling on the rope this time of year.”

McGill will face Queen’s in the next round, maintaining home-ice advantage as the top-seeded team in the OUA East. Levesque, in his fifth and final season, said he understands what is necessary for the squad to achieve further success.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Levesque said. “[We’ll keep on] focusing on our team and focusing on doing the right things at the right time.”

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