One year after bringing home the school’s first national championship in its 135 year history, the McGill Redmen learned that the only thing harder than winning a title is holding onto it. On Sunday night, the Redmen’s season came to a decisive end, as they lost 2-1 to the Nipissing Lakers in deciding game of the OUA East quarterfinal. To say they failed to deliver, however, would ignore the unprecedented rash of injuries that plagued the team towards the end of the season. All things considered, the Redmen played through adversity, leaving everything on the ice, but ran out of gas by Sunday night.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys,” Redmen Head Coach Kelly Nobes said after the Game Three loss. “We’re playing with, essentially, our hands tied behind our back with so many guys out of our lineup. We just ran out of juice. I go back to what we’ve done over the season, but the last six weeks or so where we’ve been anywhere from seven to 11 guys out of the lineup, and that’s just unheard of.”
After losing a penalty-filled Game One that saw a combined 86 penalty minutes handed out to both teams, the Redmen stormed back on home ice to tie the series in a convincing 4-1 contest. On Sunday night, they jumped out to an early lead when rookie Jonathan Brunelle found a trailing Nicolas Biniek. Nipissing deserved more in the first period, and converted just under five minutes into the second on a power play, when Lucas McKinley picked up a rebound and slid it past McGill netminder Hubert Morin, to tie the game. The Lakers went ahead for good late in the second on a goal by Jeff Leaist that sealed both the game and the series.
Leaving aside the devastating loss of manpower—the team lost 130 ‘man-games’ this season—the Redmen will still be left wondering ‘what-if’ as they contemplate their power-play, which went 0-for-24 in the series and 0-for-12 on Sunday night, including two five-on-three advantages in the third period alone.
“We got some good chances on the five-on-three,” Benoit Levesque, who wore the ‘C’ in place of injured captain Patrick Belzile, pointed out.
Coach Nobes also stressed that for some members of the team, the strain of playing an abnormal 35 minutes took its toll on their execution late in the game.
For some players, the loss means not only the end of the season, but the end of a career. After the team completed its customary salute to the fans in the centre-circle after the celebrating Lakers had left the ice, Morin—having just finished his fifth and final year at McGill—lingered on the ice, likely remember his time as a Redmen that had far more success than crushing defeat.
“It’s so confusing right now,” Morin said after the game. “I’ve always been to the finals, national championships, and now I’m a little lost. I started as a third goalie, and then in the end, I played three years as the first goalie … won a national championship and three Queen’s Cups. I don’t realize yet that it’s over, but at the same time, I can’t be upset because I left it all out on the ice.”
For those who will return next year—the team loses Morin, Belzile, and Marc-Andre Daneau, but could potentially return the rest of the roster—the future is bright.
“The blessing in disguise is that those younger guys who maybe wouldn’t have gotten as much icetime and opportunity that they would have if everyone was healthy,” Nobes said. “They played a ton in a bunch of different situations. They’ve grown as players, and that will serve our program well long-term.”
While the curtain has closed on the 2013-2013 Redmen season, Nipissing will travel to Trois-Rivieres to face the Patriotes in the OUA East Semifinals starting Wednesday. McGill’s loss means that UQTR will represent Quebec at the CIS Men’s National Championship, scheduled for Mar. 14-18 in Saskatoon.