Despite qualifying for the CUFLA semifinal five out of the past six seasons, the McGill Redmen lacrosse team has been used to disappointment. Frustration turned into fuel for these Redmen, who were determined to claim a title this past weekend at the CUFLA championship in Peterborough, Ontario. This time, they didn’t disappoint, and returned to Montreal with a Bagattaway Cup.
After winning a thrilling 9-8 semifinal match against the Guelph Gryphons, McGill earned its first CUFLA national championship in school history by defeating the Western Mustangs 7-6 in overtime.
Redmen Head Coach Tim Murdoch, who just completed his 10th season with McGill, was emotional after finally completing his championship goal.
“It was quite amazing … when we won it, I sprinted over to [co-captain] Jishan [Sharples] to give him a big hug while the rest of the team was over at the other end of the field around our goalie [Riley McGillis],” Murdoch said. “It was surreal. It was an emotional moment.”
The weekend was filled with emotional highs and lows. The Redmen were on the verge of another frustrating finish, flirting with elimination in the semifinals against Guelph. The Gryphons built a two-goal lead in the game’s final quarter. McGill pressed for scoring chances, but Guelph continually stalled their attack. With just 80 seconds remaining, second-year attackman Alex Rohrbach tallied a marker to cut the lead to one. 20 seconds later, Sharples added one more to complete the comeback. However, the Redmen weren’t finished, as Brandon McLean—later named the tournament MVP—fired a shot into Guelph’s net with only four seconds on the clock, and sent McGill to the CUFLA final.
Murdoch was confident that his team had the perseverance to come back, even when facing a two-goal deficit with just a few minutes remaining in the contest.
“I’ve been coaching and playing lacrosse for many years … the beauty of the game is that it’s never impossible to come back. You never need that much time to score goals,” he said. “Frankly, I was [only] hoping to get to overtime, but we managed to get that last goal to avoid overtime.”
Despite overcoming the semifinal hurdle, the Redmen were determined to stave off disappointment once more to finally claim a national championship. They were in tough against Western, who boasted the best defence in Canada during the season. The Redmen came out flat in the first half, trailing 3-1, but fought their way back to build a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter.
After being in Western’s situation the game before, McGill knew that anything was possible. Despite trying to kill time, the Redmen were given an unsportsmanlike penalty after challenging a missed slashing call. The Mustangs took full advantage and scored twice, notching the tying goal with just six seconds remaining.
As the game headed into overtime, McGill looked for its senior leaders and captains to step up. Sharples rose to the occasion. After making an incredible move to the front of the Western net, he leapt and buried a shot past the Mustangs’ goalie, giving McGill the 7-6 lead. After milking the little time that remained, the Redmen rushed the field and claimed the Baggataway Cup.
Murdoch praised Sharples’ efforts in the game, and mentioned the confidence he’d had in his star player throughout his career with McGill.
“[Sharples is] a terrific player. The reason you think you can win games like that is because of players like him,” Murdoch said. “He’s a clutch player and you want to get him the ball at the end of the game. He did it time and time again for us.”
The Redmen will lose some key players to graduation—chief amongst them Sharples, all-time leading scorer Ryan Besse, and defencemen and all-Canadians Kyle Robinson and Jeff O’Neill. However, Murdoch is excited about his young core and feels like the team is poised to be a force in CUFLA for the forseeable future.
“I think we have the potential to build a dynasty, even though that word may not be appropriate because we’ve only won one championship. We’ve built a program that is durable and strong from a recruiting and financial standpoint. I think it’s a formula that will prepare us extremely well for the future,” he said. “We want to win more national championships. This is just the beginning. We’re not done at all.”
Photos by Kevin Caplice.