It was only two weeks ago that the McGill Redmen and Western Mustangs met in the Ontario University Athletics championship game in which the Redmen won 4-1.
This time though, they were playing for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship. Once again, the Redmen were victorious.
McGill beat Western 4-3 in overtime thanks to captain Evan Vossen’s goal that brought McGill its first CIS men’s hockey championship in their 136-year history.
“We had to go through adversity throughout the course of the year and now I’m just so proud of these guys,” head coach Kelly Nobes said.
Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer heaped praise on his team for their performance, but said he’s disappointed.
“I’m just so proud of our team. They put it all on the line all year and had a great tournament…but you come to a championship like this, the biggest trophy in hockey here for the CIS you know, but to not win it it’s very, very disappointing.”
In a game of highly skilled players, the beginning was not what you would expect from either team, as they both laid out big hits to start the game.
Western’s Julian Cimadamore lied on the ice for two minutes after a big open-ice hit. Immediately as play began again, McGill’s Francis Verreault-Paul was on the receiving end of a big hit against the boards.
It was Verreault-Paul who had the best chance to begin the game however. He skated in behind the net and tried a backhander over the right shoulder of Mustang goalie Josh Unice, but was stuffed.
McGill continued to generate the best chances of the game as Maxime Langelier-Parent got free on a shorthanded breakaway. He went forehand, trying to slot the puck under Unice’s right pad, but Unice got just enough to turn the effort away.
The Mustangs took the lead from the corresponding play.
After receiving a nice from Kevin Baker in the slot, Keaton Turkiewicz skated behind the net and scored via a wraparound with Redmen goalie Hubert Morin well out of position for the powerplay goal.
It was soon 1-1 though as Redman defenseman Marc-Andre Dorion collected a loose puck after Western couldn’t clear the zone. Dorion sent the puck through a busy crease where Benoit Levesque directed it in.
It took McGill only 48 seconds into the second period to take the lead. A close range shot from Marc-Andre Daneau was saved by Unice, but Levesque was on hand to bury his second of the game.
After Steve Reese saw his wrister saved by Morin after passing by the Mustangs, they finally got their equalizer with six minutes left in the period. Geoff Killing fed a brilliant pass across the offensive zone to the back corner where Baker was on hand to score into an empty net.
But it took McGill only 90 seconds to restore their lead. A two-on-one breakaway saw Verreault-Paul draw the goalie and lone defensemen to his side of the ice, only for him to square the puck to Nicolas Biniek who slotted home the go-ahead goal and to give his side a 3-2 lead heading into the final period.
Biniek had two glorious chances at the beginning of the third period to extend the Redmen lead. He first saw his close-ranged backhander saved and then just missed a tap-in as the puck came whizzing through Unice’s crease.
McGill continued to dominate on the offensive end, and came close again when Verreault-Paul hit the post. He skated down the left wing drawing his defensemen in, only to change direction inside, and unleashed a quick wrister that hit the bottom of the post.
It was the last action Verreault-Paul would see though.
On an offensive-zone rush he charged through Unice in the Western goal, winding the standout goalie. Verreault-Paul was given a five minute charging major as well as a game misconduct.
Western then tied the game through Turkiewicz. A slap shot from Baker was tipped in front at the 13:18 mark.
Both teams looked for the game-winner, with neither team really coming close, but McGill outshot Western 37-19 in regulation.
McGill continued their offensive-zone pressure into the overtime period. Marc-Olivier Vachon came close for the Redmen with his backhander, but Unice was there to stop him.
However, Unice couldn’t stop the next one.
Vossen skated down the left wing past the Redmen defense and slotted the puck right under Unice’s right pad into the back of the net for the game winner.
“It’s like a storybook ending,” said Vossen who was playing in his final game for the Redmen. “It couldn’t have been any better for us…and I’m happy we were able to do this.”
“It’s unbelievable for the McGill program,” Nobes said. “This championship is for all our alumni, former Redmen, our friends of McGill hockey…to be able to bring this back is just great and it’s for all of them.”
McGill managed to punch their ticket to the final despite losing one of their groups games.
After demolishing the Universite de Moncton Aigles Bleus 6-3 in the tournament’s opening game, it set up a clash with the Saskatchewan Huskies, who had lost their opening game 5-1 to Moncton.
If McGill beat Saskatchewan, they were in the final.
However, a loss by more than three goals put Moncton in, and if Saskatchewan won by six goals, they would be in the final.
Saskatchewan played with confidence and it showed, as they beat McGill 4-3 in a highly energetic, back-and-forth game.
Saskatchewan took the lead through Kyle Bortis who tucked home a loose puck after Redmen goalie Hubert Morin was left stranded on the ice in his crease after making the initial save.
Within four minutes though, McGill tied the game on one of the tournament’s best goals. Alex Picard-Hooper fed a pass between two defensemen to Evan Vossen, who deked around the final defenseman before going top shelf on Huskies goalie Ryan Holfeld.
In the second period, Saskatchewan restored its lead when Cody Smuk scored on a wraparound after Morin was out of position, having made the initial two saves.
Four goals were scored in a frantic third period. After some patient puck cycling during a five-on-three advantage, Verreault-Paul unleashed a one-timer that tied the game at 2-2.
But Saskatchewan regained their lead two minutes later with Derek Hulak’s goal. He skated down the right wing and protected the puck with his body as he skated through Morin’s crease, before putting the puck in the back of the net with Morin easily beaten.
Once again though, McGill tied it up.
It took only 27 seconds as Kevin Dupont blasted a one-timer from the blue line that went through everybody finding its way to the back of the net.
Saskatchewan, desperate to leave the tournament with a victory, got the game winning goal. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line found its way five-hole on Morin, giving the Huskies the victory.
Despite the loss, McGill advanced to the final due to goal difference.
“It’s an interesting scenario where you’re playing Saskatchewan, but you’re almost playing Moncton with a two-goal lead,” said McGill head coach Kelly Nobes. “We lost the game, but your mind set is so much different leading up to the end of the game…I’m sure it was tough on the guys mind, I know as a coach it’s very challenging because…you have to go through all the scenarios in a tournament like this.”
Western made the final courtesy of winning both of their Pool A matches, including a victory over host University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, winning 3-2.
With a berth in the final on the line, Western came out of the gates storming, attempting to quiet the loud home crowd.
Forward Keaton Turkiewicz had the best opportunity in the early going, but his backhander was stopped by the shoulder of V-Reds goalie Travis Fullerton.
After a couple close-range chances from UNB were turned aside by Mustangs goalie Josh Unice, Western found their stride, penalizing the defensive effort from UNB.
Dominic Desando got the first goal of the game, giving Western the lead after a mad scramble in front of the net. Turkiewicz and Matt Paltridge grabbed assists on the goal.
Shortly after the goal, UNB captain Kyle Bailey took a tripping penalty at centre ice, which was followed by a defensive zone high-sticking penalty on Marc-Antoine Desnoyers, setting up a five-on-three advantage for the Mustangs.
After some tick-tack-toe passing by the Mustangs, Turkiewicz scored on a one-time slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle. Kevin Baker and Scott Aarssen picked up assists on the powerplay goal.
UNB had a chance to get back in the game when Aarssen took a kneeing penalty sending the V-Reds to the powerplay.
But Jason Furlong forced a turnover at centre ice and he skated in on Fullerton where he unloaded with a slap shot over Fullerton’s left shoulder to make it 3-0 Mustangs, sending the Aitken Centre into silence.
In the second period, UNB attacked with a relentless forecheck and numerous efforts on goal. However, they could not break down Unice in the Western goal who stood on his head for the majority of the game.
Unice attributed the win to the unselfish play of his teammates and the willingness to do what it takes to win.
“We have a lot of sacrifice in the locker room. We know we are very skilled, but we know when it’s on the line we have to just battle and compete.”
With the Mustangs still leading 3-0 heading into the final period, UN,B once again came out like a team possessed.
Their constant pressure finally paid off as Jonathan Harty scored with eight minutes left into an empty net on the powerplay after the puck rolled to him after Bailey’s stick exploded on his slap shot.
The goal brought the Aitken Centre to life, while Western began to take more penalties. Paltridge took a hooking penalty and sent UNB to the powerplay once again, where UNB’s Bailey brought the score up one more.
Chris Culligan slid the puck across the crease and Bailey tapped home, setting up a tense and exciting last three minutes.
UNB tried, dominating the offensive zone, but couldn’t come up with any clear-cut scoring opportunities, and was sent packing by a well-organized Mustangs team.
“Our plan was to play every shift like it was overtime, regardless of the score, regardless of the time of the game, regardless of whether we were on the powerplay, PK, or five-on-five,” said Mustangs head coach Clarke Singer. “I really thought our guys brought it all tonight, you have to bring it all, and have a lot of things go our way to beat these guys.”
For UNB, the season didn’t end with the expectation they had hoped.
“In our dressing room, it’s an expectation, we expect to win…it didn’t happen today. It’s disappointing,” said Bailey, who played his final game for UNB that day.
UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall gave credit to Western, and in particular Unice, but said his team didn’t get going quick enough.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “We just didn’t get that spark soon enough…it’s a fine line… if you go to the CIS Nationals enough times it doesn’t always go your way.”