Earn a berth in the CIS National Championships: check. Take out a bitter rival: check. Finish the season perfect at home: check. The McGill Redmen ticked all of these things off their to-do list for the 2010-2011 season this past week as they defeated the UQTR Patriotes two games to one in the OUA Eastern Conference final.
Despite dominating the first 20 minutes of game one in the Eastern Conference final, the McGill Redmen found themselves deadlocked in a scoreless tie against the UQTR Patriotes. The second-ranked Redmen had outshot the Patriots 15-5 but were unable to find the back of the net. Instead of panicking, McGill, who led the nation in scoring this season, remained composed and rallied for a 5-3 victory as five different players scored Wednesday night at McConnell Arena.
“We knew that we were taking it to them [in the first period] and we had our chances,” said Redmen captain Evan Vossen. “And we knew if we just kept working eventually [the goals] were going to come. No one got frustrated, we knew with our skill and speed we were going to get one.”
That turned out to be the case as the McGill power play went three-for-four and dominated the final 40 minutes. With 12 minutes to go in the second, Redmen forward Guillaume Doucet made a great play as he drove wide on the left wing and drew a hooking penalty. With the man advantage, McGill made no mistake as Francis Verreault-Paul batted a loose puck out of the air and into the net at the 9:25 mark of the second period.
Five minutes later McGill drew another penalty, this time for high sticking. Again the Redmen calmly converted as Simon Marcotte-Legare tipped a point shot past Patriot goalie Jean-Christophe Blanchard.
With a minute to go in the second, UQTR was able to answer with a goal of their own, but the Redmen remained poised as they entered the third period. Just two minutes into the final period McGill again found themselves on the power play. They set up their offence quickly and Marc-Andre Dorion found Andrew Wright with a beautiful slap pass to give McGill their third goal with the extra skater and a 3-1 lead.
Wright, who now has five goals in these playoffs, credited the successful power play to aggressive play.
“We just up the tempo when we go onto the power play,” he said. “A lot of teams drop down a notch when they go onto the power play. We just move the puck quick, get hard shots and get after the rebounds. We pick up the pace rather than backing down.”
Just 21 seconds after Wright’s goal, Maxime Langelier-Parent scored what was to be the game winner on a wrap around that fooled Blanchard. The game looked all but over at 4-1, but UQTR scored two goals in two minutes to cut the deficit to one goal with five minutes to play. The Redmen remained composed and confident despite the Patriot rally. UQTR struggled to mount any sort of attack to close the game and with 17 seconds to go CIS scoring champion Alex Picard-Hooper scored an empty-netter to ice the win.
“Our game plan did not change [after the two UQTR goals],” said Redmen Head Coach Kelly Nobes. “Our effort level did not change, they got a few opportunities and they went in—it wasn’t like they started taking the play to us.”
“They scored but we controlled the third period,” echoed Vossen. “They scored a couple but we kept our composure—we knew that the last few minutes were going to be tough, they were going to throw everything they had at us, but we handled it pretty well.”
The victory improved McGill’s record to 34-3-3 on the season and a perfect 20-0-0 at McConnell Arena. The 34th victory tied the Redmen’s single season record for most wins. It was a night in which the score was much closer than the game itself as McGill controlled from the start and outshot UQTR 42-18.
“I thought we played a good game tonight,” said Nobes. “I thought we played a full 60 minutes. We created a lot of offensive opportunities. I thought our discipline was good. We were moving our feet all night, which is why we had a good 60-minute effort. [And] our power play was real good.”
On Sunday night the Redmen cruised to a decisive 6-1 victory in the OUA Eastern Conference final rubber match over the UQTR Patriotes. In front of a raucous McConnell Arena crowd, the Redmen put the finishing touches on a 21-0 home season in a game they led for the last 53 minutes. Six different players scored for McGill, who will now travel to London to take on the Western Mustangs and play for a second straight OUA Queen’s Cup title.
After a crushing 6-1 defeat to the Patriotes in game two at the Colisée de Trois-Rivières, the Redmen were determined to avenge their loss and send their provincial rivals packing. Hubert Morin, who allowed five of the six goals on Friday, put the rare bad game behind him and stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced in the series-deciding game.
“Friday was tough, it’s all confidence,” said Morin, a junior from St. Georges de Beauce, Quebec. “Coach talked to me and told me not to worry about it, just come back stronger. Tonight it was either end the season or play two more weeks of hockey. I can’t live without hockey so I wasn’t nervous tonight at all, just excited. The crowd was there and loud, they brought us energy and we were all over them all night.”
McGill got on the board early when captain Evan Vossen took a pass from Simon Marcotte-Légaré and slipped the puck past UQTR goalie Jean-Christophe Blanchard. The goal quieted the sizeable contingent of Patriotes fans who travelled from Trois-Rivières and shut down the early UQTR momentum, which they would never recapture.
“We wanted to set the tempo of the game and spend time in the offensive zone by getting the puck deep, cycling it along the wall and getting it to the net,” said McGill Head Coach Kelly Nobes. “We played a full 60 minutes tonight.”
After outshooting the Patriotes 14-5 in the first period, McGill wasted no time in the second, as Francis-Verreault Paul notched his sixth goal of the playoffs just 59 seconds into the frame.
Special teams were the difference on Sunday night as McGill capitalized on three of their eight powerplays while the Patriotes failed to convert on any of their five opportunities. The Redmen would score the first of their three power play goals after Andrew Wright was robbed point blank on a two-on-one with Alexandre Picard-Hooper who found a wide open Marc-André Dorion to make the score 3-1. “This was one of our best games of the season,” said Dorion, “We’ve been working hard on special teams all season and it makes a big difference in the playoffs.”
Guillaume Doucet, Christophe Longpré-Poirier, and Marcotte Légaré all added goals for McGill, who would outshoot the Patriotes 47-25 in a game that was never in doubt. Félix Petit scored the lone goal for UQTR, whose season comes to a disappointing end after having qualified for Nationals last year. The game ended with a scare as second-year Redmen forward Jean-François Boisvert was slashed on the calf by UQTR’s Guillaume Chicoine, who received a five-minute major for his apparent cheapshot. When asked in the locker room after the game what he would have said to Chicoice, Boisvert answered like a true fighter: “I’d say nothing. He’s going home and I’m still playing hockey.”
McGill will keep playing hockey for the next two weeks and will try to improve on last year’s University Cup performance in which they finished at the bottom of their three team pool. “The mentality of the team is different,” said Dorion. “We don’t want to just win, we want to go all the way and be the first McGill hockey team to win the National Championship. It’s been 130-some years now and I want to break that history and make it all the way.” Dorion’s hopes for success on the national stage were echoed by
Coach Nobes who made very clear what the team’s goal will be when they get to Fredericton: “We’re going to win.”
The Redmen will now battle the Mustangs for the Queen’s Cup at 7 p.m. on Saturday night in London. After that, they’ll make the long trip to Fredericton for the 2011 Cavendish University Cup that will run from March 24-27 and will feature the representatives from Quebec, Ontario, and Western and Atlantic Canada.