For the better part of an hour on Saturday night, it looked as if the McGill men’s hockey team’s vaunted offensive play had failed to carry over into the new decade. But the Redmen reminded everyone in attendance why they are ranked fifth in the nation as they turned on the jets late in the game, scoring twice in the final three minutes to stun the visiting Ottawa Gee-Gees, 3-1.
Saturday’s game was McGill’s first at home since late November, and the team’s first game back in Eastern Canada since December 5. With the win against Ottawa, the Redmen improved their season record to 13-2-0, and rebounded from a rough non-conference tour of western Canadian schools. McGill dropped three of four games on the road trip, each loss coming by way of a game winner in the final two minutes of play. The Redmen refused to let the Gee-Gees continue the heartbreaking trend, and improved their home record to an impressive 8-0.
“[It’s] very good to be home,” said McGill Head Coach Jim Webster. “The trip was good and exciting [and we] saw some good things, but by the last game we were definitely ready to come home.”
Ottawa goaltender and CIS saves leader Riley Whitlock stopped 33 of McGill’s 36 shots, keeping the game tight until the last three minutes of play.
“I thought their goalie played very well,” said Webster. “But I thought we stuck to a disciplined hard-checking game and we kept going, kept going, and kept going until they broke.”
McGill defenceman Marc-André Dorion opened the scoring late in the first period with a slap shot from the blue line, but the Redmen could only hold on to their lead for less than a minute. Ottawa’s Simren Sandhu scored 15 seconds into the second period, tying the game while spectators were still in line at the concession stands.
After the initial burst of offence, however, both teams went dry. Though the Redmen managed to create opportunities on two power plays, Whitlock foiled the home squad with a number of impressive saves. McGill goalie Hubert Morin also had success, stopping a dangerous breakaway by Ottawa forward Ryne Gove.
The Redmen finally started to build up steam in the third period, outshooting the visitors 15-4. McGill’s relentlessness eventually paid off, as right-winger Francis Verreault-Paul one-timed the puck past Whitlock with just over three minutes to play. The goal was Verreault-Paul’s 16th of the season, putting him in a tie for the CIS lead. Less than a minute later, Redmen center Simon Marcotte-Legaré sealed the victory with a nifty backhander.
“Between the [second] and the third period, in the [locker] room we put ourselves together,” said Marcotte-Legaré. “[We] were ready to win in that third period.”
The game featured several small fights, culminating in a three-penalty, multi-player altercation at the end of the second period. The visitors were undoubtedly still stinging from a 15-4 massacre at the hands of the Redmen on November 24, and came into the game with an impressive fighting spirit.
“[The Gee-Gees] were highly motivated to work hard, and it was a hard game after last time,” said Webster.
Although the Redmen came away with the victory on Saturday night, Webster realizes that his team must continue to improve if they intend to challenge for a spot at Nationals.
“We have aspirations to go to the Nationals,” he said. “But this is a good reminder that we have to take one step at a time.” ?
The Redmen escaped with a 3-2 victory over RMC in Kingston on Saturday to inch closer to division leaders UQTR. McGill hosts the annual Winter Carnival Game on Wednesday at 8 p.m.