McGill hockey fans broke out the brooms on Friday night, as the Redmen eliminated a longtime rival – the UQTR Patriotes – by a score of 7-4 to sweep the Ontario University Athletics East Division Final. A standing-room-only crowd was energized from the opening faceoff until the final buzzer, and the celebration continued in the Redmen locker room after the game. The game was the last at McConnell Arena for the home team this season, and the win qualified McGill for the OUA’s Queen’s Cup, as well as the University Cup National Championship later this month in Thunder Bay.
“All along I knew that this team was one of the top teams in the country, and although we ranked behind [UQTR] all year, they were scared of our talent and speed,” said Jim Webster, who led his team to a school record for wins in his first season as head coach. “We were just playing hockey the way it should be played. I told them that the National Championship should be our goal from the first month. I think they’re starting to think that I’m not crazy. They’re starting to believe. If we put our heads to it I believe we can be national champions.”
As usual, the shining stars of the game were McGill’s top line of Francis Verreault-Paul, Alexandre Picard-Hooper, and Andrew Wright, who combined for an impressive 12 points. Verreault-Paul, who led the OUA in scoring this year and has brought his high-flying act into the post-season, notched two goals and three assists, making him McGill’s top scorer on Friday night.
“All year long our line has done a great job,” said Verreault-Paul. “In the playoffs you have to keep it up. We didn’t want to finish here, we want to keep it going to Thunder Bay.”
The key to Friday’s game was discipline – a factor which has decided many of the team’s games this season. With captain Yan Turcotte suspended for the series after a spearing incident against Carleton in the previous round, the Redmen knew that staying out of the penalty box would be necessary in order to take down the physical Patriotes.
“We were ready,” said Verreault-Paul. “We knew that Trois-Rivieres would come in here to win. We did a good job on our power-play tonight and didn’t give them any chances.”
The McGill power-play was especially good in the deciding game, going 4-5 on the man advantage. The Patriotes, on the other hand, were only 1-4 with the extra man.
McGill got on the board early, when Picard-Hooper snuck in front of the net on the power-play to beat Patriotes goaltender Jean-Christophe Blanchard. With the crowd rocking from the early goal, UQTR sought to silence the fans by scoring twice to take their only lead of the game. Unfazed, the Redmen exploded for three goals in the last five minutes of the period, and took a 4-2 lead into the first intermission. Picard-Hooper and Verreault-Paul each had a goal and three assists in the first period alone.
“They took the lead, but we never stopped, we never panicked,” said Verreault-Paul.
The Redmen kept their scoring touch in the second frame, tallying twice to take a 6-2 lead and effectively put the game out of reach. Freshman Sebastien Rioux – who finished with a goal and an assist on the night – scored the series-clinching goal near the nine-minute mark on a slap shot from the point. The power-play goal would ultimately hold up as the game-winner.
“You think about it every day and you want to score that goal,” said Rioux, who credited the capacity crowd for helping his team defeat their provincial rivals. “When it happens you’re just so happy [and] you want to live forever on that goal. We all knew that we could beat them as long as we worked hard, but with that kind of crowd you get wings.”
Verreault-Paul would go on to power the puck into an empty UQTR net at the end of the final period to set off the celebration fans and players were waiting for. Redmen goaltender Hubert Morin – whose spot as the starting goalie was up in the air at the start of the season – pumped his fist and pointed to the crowd in gratitude.
“I waited for my chance to step up and take the first spot,” he said. “It was just unreal for us to get that far. The feeling hasn’t sunk in yet. We have a shot in the Queen’s Cup and Nationals, but right now I’m just going to enjoy this game and Monday we’ll get back to work.”
The Redmen will travel to Thunder Bay twice in the next two weeks, first to face the seventh-ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves in the Queen’s Cup on Saturday, and then again for the University Cup National Championship tournament the following weekend.