Sports

Seeing red: Hockey Redmen bounced from Nationals early

The CIS University Cup tournament is no place for the faint of heart. Two games can catapult a team to the doorstep of national glory, or just as easily dash their dreams of a historic season. The Redmen discovered this painful truth last week at Nationals, after losing 4-2 to the Atlantic University Sport Champion St. Mary’s Huskies on Friday. Combined with McGill’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Manitoba Bisons a day earlier, the loss spelled the end of the road for a promising team that had captured the Queen’s Cup in the same building less than two weeks before.

“We’re very disappointed, as we had a great season and high expectations for this team,” said Redmen defencemen Marc-André Dorion. “We won our league and came into the tournament thinking we could win. We were ahead in both games, but the bounces didn’t go our way.”

McGill was rewarded for their dominance in Quebec with the number-two seed going into the tournament and had their sights set on qualifying for the National Championship game. Instead, the Redmen will go home empty-handed for the fourth time in five seasons. However much the loss stings, though, the Redmen can take comfort in the fact that 2009-10 was an unequivocally impressive season for McGill.

The Redmen took the Queen’s Cup earlier this month, and made quick work of their archrivals – the UQTR Patriotes – along the way. Under the guidance of rookie Head Coach Jim Webster, the team posted a 22-6 regular season record and finished as the highest-scoring team in the country. Redmen players were also rewarded for their efforts with individual accolades – sophomore Francis Verreault-Paul took home the OUA East MVP, while Dorion was recognized as the nation’s best defenceman. Second-year forward Alexandre Picard-Hooper joined Verreault-Paul and Dorion on the OUA East first team.

Despite being loaded with talent, the Redmen simply couldn’t deliver when it mattered most. McGill jumped out to a 4-1 lead against Manitoba in the tournament opener before allowing three goals in the third period to send the game to overtime. The recipe for disaster was twofold: disorganized defensive zone play and undisciplined penalties. McGill’s high-flying offence couldn’t muster a goal in the third period to put the game away. Manitoba, meanwhile, had no trouble carrying their momentum over to the extra session, as Mike Hellyer scored for the Bisons less than two minutes in to put McGill behind the eight ball going into their final group game against St. Mary’s.

Once again, the Redmen took an early lead against ex-NHL winger Mike Danton and the Huskies. Leading 2-1 after the first, championship calculations began to run through the heads of the McGill fans at the Fort William Gardens. A regulation win over St. Mary’s and a Huskies regulation victory over Manitoba on Saturday would have put McGill in the finals. Unfortunately, a furious second period charge by the Huskies – three goals scored in five minutes – spelled disaster for the Redmen. McGill mounted a late-game challenge, but couldn’t close the gap.

Three power-play opportunities fell by the wayside, and Verreault-Paul received a 10-minute misconduct, keeping him out of the game until the dying minutes of the period.

“It was very frustrating as we had a good lead early in both games,” said sophomore Maxime Langelier-Parent. “We killed ourselves with penalties.”

While general disappointment and thoughts of “could’ve” and “should’ve” are to be expected, there is a place for optimism in the Redmen locker room. McGill may not have come away with the top prize this year, but the future remains bright. The team will only lose two defencemen – Ben Gazdic and captain Yan Turcotte – along with goaltender Danny Mireault for next season. Throughout the year, the Redmen were led by a line of sophomores, and younger players had a key role in the overall success of the team. With the retention of their core, 2010-11 projects to be another great season for the McGill Redmen, who should once again be in the running for a spot at Nationals in Fredericton, N.B.

With files from Earl Zukerman

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