One hundred and six consecutive wins against Quebec conference opponents. Thirty-eight straight wins over rival Concordia. Three hundred and one career victories for Head Coach Peter Smith. But who’s counting?
The defending national champions kicked off yet another promising season in front of a sparse McConnell Arena crowd this past Friday. McGill withstood a surprisingly resilient effort from the visiting Concordia Stingers, holding onto an early lead they never fully relinquished in a tense 7-5 win.
“I’ll give Concordia credit,” Smith said. “I thought they were much improved and they did a good job.”
Concordia’s scoring output and the fact that the game’s outcome was ever in doubt raise the inevitable question: is there a crack in the Martlets’ patina of invincibility? Five goals is the highest total McGill has allowed in a regular season game over the past two years.
Smith didn’t appear ready to sound the alarm.
“I thought that we did lots of good things, I thought we moved the puck well,” Smith said. “I just thought we had some inconsistencies and I thought that we kind of complicated the game as [it] went on … We got away from some of the simple things that we do well.”
Despite rough patches of play—failed attempts to clear the puck and undisciplined penalties—every time the Stingers closed the gap the Martlets raised their game.
Three times in the third period Concordia cut the McGill lead to two goals, but each time the line of Leslie Oles, Ann-Sophie Bettez, and Katia Clément-Heydra responded quickly. The line scored 12 and 50 seconds, respectively, after each of the first two Concordia goals, twice restoring the three-goal cushion. The three skaters combined for three goals and three assists. Leading the charge was Oles, who picked up two helpers to go with a pair of goals.
“I think we got goals at the right time,” Oles said. “Every time you go out on the ice you want to bring a lot of energy and make sure that you win your battles … so that the next line out kind of follows the same pattern as our line did.”
Backup goalie Taylor Salisbury took that sentiment to heart. Coming on with under 10 minutes to go in relief of starter, Charline Labonté, Salisbury didn’t miss a beat. Stopping the only shot she faced, a point-blank snap shot with 1:50 to go, she preserved the win for McGill.
“I just tried to focus myself as best as I could,” she said of the surprise substitution. “And the team did really well in front of me so I didn’t have to do a whole lot.”
McGill led 3-1 after the first period and 5-2 after the second. Martlet captain Cathy Chartrand scored one goal, Chelsea Saunders chipped in two, and freshman Ioanna Cagionas notched the first goal of her McGill career.
With the win, a fresh season has officially begun. But for a team where anything short of a national championship seems to represent failure, and with a 106-game winning streak hanging over their heads, there is always plenty of pressure.
“We try not to think about [the winning streak] in the room,” Oles said. “Obviously, everyone outside tries to put a lot of pressure on us but, like I said, we just take it practice by practice, game by game, and shift by shift.”