Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Rundown - Championship Sunday

If you have been following along on this blog, you got a chance to read how the final six teams arrived at the three finals that were being played in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island at the U SPORTS Women's Hockey National Championship. Unfortunately, the two AUS teams were eliminated with their second losses each on Saturday, so there was no chance of seeing one of the local teams win a game this year. On the gold medal side, it would be an OUA team against an RSEQ team, but it likely wasn't the RSEQ team one would be expecting. Needless to say, there were interesting finishes this season, and Championship Sunday would be no different as we look at those games on the final edition of the 2018-19 season of The Rundown!

Consolation Final

The Toronto Varsity Blues would meet the Manitoba Bisons in the Consolation Final. Toronto got their second helping of Canada West after dropping their opening game against Alberta before beating St. Thomas while Manitoba dipped back into the OUA after losing to Guelph in their opener before rebounding with a win over the host UPEI Panthers. We even had a bit of a family rivalry as Toronto's Kiyono Cox faced off against her cousin in Manitoba's Jordy Zacharias! Who would take home the bragging rights?

Manitoba, for the first time in what seemed like forever, was on their game at the puck drop, pressuring the Varsity Blues at all points through the first ten minutes. Goaltender Erica Fryer was the only reason Manitoba didn't score multiple goals in the early-going as she was stellar in the Toronto net. Toronto would push back somewhat in the second half of the period, but neither side would find a goal after Fryer's brilliance and Lauren Taraschuk turning aside Toronto's chances. It was 0-0 after 20 minutes despite Manitoba holding a 10-4 edge in shots.

The stalemate continued through the second period where Manitoba continued to assert themselves against Toronto, but the Varsity Blues repeatedly withstood the Manitoba attack. It wouldn't be until late in the period that they'd finally break through as Alanna Sharman danced into the Varsity Blues' zone, made a great deke on a defender, and then dished the puck to the rushing Karissa Kirkup on the left wing who slid it under Fryer as she went post-to-post with no success as Manitoba grabbed the 1-0 lead at 15:01! That score would hold through to the second intermission as the Bisons looked to close out their tournament with a second win!

Toronto couldn't seem to find their game in the third period either as Manitoba used their speed and skill to keep the Varsity Blues off-kilter. Toronto did find themselves on a power-play late in the period as they searched for the equalizer, but it would Manitoba who would strike as Kirkup tore down the left wing, put a perfect shot on net towards the far post that Fryer kicked out, but she kicked it directly out front where Lauryn Keen cleaned up the rebound at 14:58 for the shorthanded marker to make it 2-0 for Manitoba! From there, Toronto pulled Fryer and tried to break the goose egg, but Lauren Taraschuk and the Manitoba defence were having none of that as they closed out the tournament and captured fifth-place with a 2-0 victory!

Bronze Medal Game

It's always a big deal with the top-seeded team meets the second-seeded team in the tournament. The only problem was that these two teams met to determine who would finish in third-place for the bronze medals. Alberta and Montreal came in after a couple of heartbreaking losses, so could either or both recover to live up to the hype of the top-two teams playing for a medal?

The first period of this game was fast, tight-checking, and looked like a track meet as these two teams used skill and speed to attack one another only to find the other using the same tactics to shut down those attacks. No penalties and no goals led to a very fast period being played as Alberta held a 7-4 margin in shots, but the teams moved to the second period tied 0-0.

The second period started with the two teams keeping up the strong defensive games, but it would be the Carabins who would strike first as they piled up the shots on Kirsten Chamberlin. Kelly-Ann Nadeau's shot from the blue line eluded Chamberlin with a couple of players in front as Montreal grabbed the 1-0 lead at the 8:04 mark. 2:26 later, les Carabins were up a pair when Alexandra Boulanger found a loose puck after Annie Germain's shot was partially blocked as Montreal was in control. Alberta pressed more in the latter half of the period, but Aube Racine was equal to the task as Montreal took their two-goal lead into the third period.

Alberta had a fire lit underneath them in the third period as they buzzed the Montreal zone throughout the entire frame, but Racine and the Carabins defence would not falter. With Chamberlin on the bench late in the game, however, Alex Poznikoff found Kennedy Ganser at the side of the net, and she found just enough room between Racine and the post with 1:15 to play to make it a 2-1 game. Montreal, though, wouldn't be denied on this night as they killed the remaining 75 seconds to earn the bronze medal in a hard-fought 2-1 win over the top-seeded Pandas!

Gold Medal Game

One often looks for reasons when "underdog" teams advance past the higher-ranked teams to a gold-medal game, and one could point directly at the goaltending as a major factor for why the McGill Martlets and Guelph Gryphons were squaring off for the highest honour in Canadian university hockey. Guelph's Valerie Lamenta led her team onto the ice to face Tricia Deguire as she led McGill onto the ice, and this game had all the makings of an exciting finish to a week of amazing hockey!

The two teams tangled early as they looked for an edge, but neither netminder was interested in goals on this night. Despite both sides getting chances, the score would remained at 0-0 through the opening 20 minutes with Guelph slightly ahead in shots at 8-6.

The second period saw these two evenly-matched squads continue their stalemate as the netminders were sharp and the defences were stout. McGill successfully killed a pair of penalties assessed to them as they looked to build momentum, but it would be the Gryphons who would strike first as Claire Merrick's drop pass to Kaitlin Lowy was wired by the fifth-year forward past Deguire at 18:15 to put Guelph up 1-0! The final 105 seconds ticked off the clock as the teams went into the intermission with the one-goal Guelph lead holding strong.

McGill, knowing they were 20 minutes from falling short of their ultimate goal, came out and peppered Lamenta and the Gryphons with shots from all over the ice. Some of McGill's shots were turned aside by Lamenta, but her teammates threw caution to the wind by throwing their bodies and sacrificing everything to help their goaltender in blocking shots. The barrage of shots from McGill was only stopped by the horn sounding as time simply ran out on the Martlets. With their incredible effort, the Guelph Gryphons won the 2019 U SPORTS Women's Hockey National Championship for the first time in program history with their 1-0 victory!

The final standings are now written in stone as the Guelph Gryphons stand atop the mountain as the best team in the nation. You may notice that UPEI finished in seventh-place ahead of St. Thomas, and that's due to Manitoba defeating Toronto as UPEI was Manitoba's opponent in the consolation semifinal while St. Thomas was Toronto's opponent. Debate that finish if you like as the Tommies were the AUS Champions, but the top-six teams were decided on the ice.

The Last Word

That will do it for The Rundown for another year, and this was a year of some rather amazing women's hockey at the U SPORTS level. These women are some of the most amazing athletes to ever suit up in this country, and they're doing it while carrying a full course load at school. The term "student-athlete" lists the "student" part first because these young women are heading towards a career after their university hockey days end, so the schools and U SPORTS expects them to succeed in the classroom as much as they do on the ice.

Please find the time next season to visit your local campus and support these amazing gals as they do incredible work on the ice and in the classroom. The hockey will be entertaining, and I'm fairly certain you'll have a good time watching U SPORTS women's hockey as these women do some fantastic work on the ice!

Until next season, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: