The McGill Redmen hockey team (10-0-0) kept their perfect season alive as they came from behind to beat a pesky Nipissing Lakers (4-4-2) 5-3 on Saturday night at McConnell Arena. Francis Verreault-Paul led the gritty McGill comeback with his fourth hat trick and 16th-18th goals of the season.
Verreault-Paul tallied an early goal one minute into the first frame, but the Redmen struggled to generate any significant offence for the remainder of the period. A night after a dominant 9-2 victory against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, McGill looked like a different team early against the Nipissing Lakers.
“We knew we were having an off night as a group,” said McGill Head Coach Kelly Nobes. “Our execution wasn’t good, we were flat, we didn’t have great legs … It was a challenge, a bit of adversity.”
McGill has looked dominant thus far this season, coming off strong wins against Queen’s and RMC, but struggled early against Nippising. In a valiant attempt to topple the CIS’s second ranked Redmen, the Lakers played a strategic game.
Nipissing controlled the neutral zone throughout the first period and held McGill to only nine shots. Nipissing’s Kevin Rebelo and Paul Cianfrini both scored in the first to put the Lakers up 2-1. Defenceman Cianfrini’s go-ahead marker came 6:42 into the first frame from a point shot that found it’s way through traffic and beat McGill goalie Antoine Tardif. Nipissing peppered freshman goaltender Tardif with 13 shots throughout the first. Tardif, who started the season with an impressive 3-0, didn’t have his strongest outing of the year on Saturday.
Early in the second, Nipissing caught McGill on a bad line change with a quick transition goal from Connor O’Donnell to put the Lakers up 3-1. This marked the end of the night for Tardif as Hubert Morin replaced him. Morin played stellar, making key saves to keep the Redmen’s comeback hopes alive.
“He had to make some good saves and it was great that he was able to come off the bench and be able to do that,” said Nobes.
Following a great penalty kill for too many men on the ice from captain Evan Vossen and proverbial leader Francis Verreault-Paul, McGill was able to shift the tides of the game.
“We didn’t want out winning streak to end,” said alternate captain Marc-Andre Dorian. “Midway through the second, we got more confident with the puck.”
Verreault-Paul finally cracked Nipissing goaltender Matt Hache 12:08 into the second. Francis drove wide and forced Nipissing’s defender to lose his stick by cutting to the net. McGill capitalized with some great puck movement in front between Andrew Wright and Alexandre Picard-Hooper, and though Hache was well-positioned and made the initial save, Verreault-Paul buried the second attempt on a cross-ice feed.
“Pic [Picard-Hooper] and Wrighty [Wright] have good chemistry and they seem to be able to find each other. It’s great for Francis and it’s great for the team,” said Nobes of his top scoring line.
McGill built on their momentum and came out strong in the third period after coach Nobes talked to his players about execution in the second intermission.
“[The coaching staff] said to keep things really simple, put the puck on the net,” said Dorion.
Guillaume Doucet, Maxime Langelier-Parent, Marc-Andre Daneau had two great pressure shifts in the early goings of the third, culminating in a game-tying goal as Langelier-Parent put home a rebound at 9:47. McGill threw 19 shots on net and generated many scoring chances in the third period.
To the delight of the 300 plus attendees, McGill took the lead midway through the final stanza. Following a poor clearance from Nipissing, Marc-Andre Dorion held the point and got the puck to Picard-Hooper, who fired a shot that was turned away by Hache. Verreault-Paul, who cut from the point to the net, potted the rebound for his hat trick and scored his 18th goal of the season.
McGill, now 10-0, is off to its best start ever. Coach Nobes plans on improving practice habits and work on their struggling power play in order to prepare for a young Ryerson Rams team on November 11 and 12 at MacDonald Campus. McGill is confident in their game and will look to continue their domination of the Ontario University Association Eastern Conference.
“We don’t really care who we’re facing it’s just our game that we want to play and we’ll try and impose that,” said Dorion.