Friday, 17 March 2023

The Rundown - U SPORTS Quarterfinals

The brackets were set, the teams were ready, and the fans were piling into CEPSUM Arena on Thursday and Friday as the U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship got underway in Montreal, Quebec. All of the analysis and trends can be discussed, but it was all about winning that first game for all eight teams who were playing at the tournament as only one will go home as the U SPORTS National Champions. Let's find out who is moving on today on The Rundown!

Just as a reminder, here's how the bracket looked on Thursday.
Thursday would see the Mount Royal Cougars and Toronto Varsity Blues tangle in the afternoon game while the UNB Reds would meet up with the host Montreal Carabins in the Thursday evening game. Friday would pit the UBC Thunderbirds and StFX X-Women against one another in the afternoon tilt while the Nipissing Lakers would meet the Concordia Stingers in the Friday night game.

The eighth-seeded Mount Royal Cougars embarked on their second-ever appearance at the U SPORTS National Championship by facing off against the same team they faced in their first appearance in the first-seeded Toronto Varsity Blues. In 2020, the Cougars won in overtime over the Varsity Blues before the tournament was cancelled, so would this year's tournament see a different result? Kaitlyn Ross was the starting netminder for Mount Royal while Toronto leaned on Erica Fryer for her steady goaltending.

Both teams looked sharp as they opened this game with chances at either end of the rink, but the two netminders weren't having any of it as they shut down chance after chance. An early power-play for Toronto didn't result in a goal, and two power-plays midway through the period for Mount Royal were also unsuccessful. It seemed like this evenly-paced match would hit the break with no goals scored, but the Cougars found a break late in the period when Aliya Jomha centered a puck to a wide-open Courtney Kollman who buried it past Fryer with 46 seconds in the period, and the Cougars went into the break up 1-0 despite being outshot 6-5 by Toronto.

The second period saw the Blues pick up the pace as they looked to find an equalizer. That would come at the 6:31 mark when Isabella Greco centered a pass that pinching defender Caroline Eagles picked up, and she went high on the glove-side past Ross to make it a 1-1 game! After a couple of Varsity Blues penalties that they killed off successfully, the Blues continued to apply pressure on the Cougars. That effort would be rewarded with 55 seconds left in the frame when Emma Potter snuck in from the point to receive a pass from Taylor Trussler, and she went high on the pinch to put Toronto up 2-1 as they went into the second intermission with the lead and with a 18-12 edge in shots!

Both had 20 minutes to make their case for the semifinal slot they wanted, and the action went back-and-forth. The Cougars would find an equalizer at 8:40 when Jori Hansen-Young fired a laser from the blue line past the screen in front of Fryer to find the net behind her, and we were tied up at 2-2! A penalty to the Cougars was killed off minutes later, and the two teams played a little more cautiously while looking to jump on opportunities. Mount Royal would find that opportunity late, though, as Athena Hauck led a partial 2-on-1 before dishing to Breanne Trotter who one-timed the puck past Fryer at the with 3:45 to play, and the Cougars led 3-2!

From there, it was defence and goaltending as the Cougars prevented a number of chances from developing. Toronto had a couple of final shots on Ross as they looked to tie the game, but it wasn't to be on this day as the Mount Royal Cougars upset the Toronto Varsity Blues by a 3-2 score! Kaitlyn Ross recorded the win after stopping 20 shots while Erica Fryer dropped this game despite making 16 stops.

With the victory, Mount Royal moves on to one of the semifinal berths and will await the winner of the UNB-Montreal game. Toronto will move to the consolation bracket where they will play the losing team in that UNB-Montreal contest.

Highlights of this game are below!

The Thursday evening game saw the fifth-ranked Montreal Carabins play as the visitors in their home rink against the fourth-ranked UNB Reds. These two teams had never met at a National Championship in their histories, so this was a new chapter of hockey action that was being written in Montreal. Would the home crowd push Montreal past UNB or could the Reds carry their winning ways from the AUS? Aube Racine was between the pipes for Montreal while Kendra Woodland stood in the blue paint for UNB.

Montreal made sure they had the crowd going early as they took the game to UNB by throwing lots of pucks towards the UNB net. That would pay off when Kayleigh Quennec found just enough room past Woodland's glove with traffic in front, and the Swiss-born sniper had the Carabins up 1-0 at 11:36. The goal seemed to energize the Carabins again as they sent wave after wave of pressure at UNB, but the Reds managed it well by clearing rebounds quickly. A late UNB penalty was killed successfully as the teams went into the first intermission with that 1-0 score in favour of Montreal holding while the Carabins posted a 14-2 advantage in shots.

UNB looked to push the pace in the second period, but they ran into some penalty trouble six minutes into the period. Montreal would make them pay at 7:11 when Mylène Lefebrve faked a shot to freeze Woodland before allowing the puck to slide across the top of the crease before tucking it home past the sprawled UNB netminder for the 2-0 lead with the power-play goal. Another penalty to UNB minutes later would lead to a 3-0 lead for Montreal when Amelie Poiré-Lehoux converted a centering feed from Audrey-Anne Veillette as the Carabins put a stranglehold on this game at the 11:21 mark. Montreal would be called for back-to-back penalties later in the frame, but the Reds could not capitalize as we hit the second pause with Montreal up 3-0 in goals and 22-8 in shots.

The third period saw Montreal taking no chances despite pushing for more insurance. They'd pick up a fourth goal when Mylène Lefebrve notched her second goal of the game on a partial 2-on-1 at 10:52, but the Reds weren't going down in this game without a fight. They mounted some late offence before being called for a penalty, but Lillian George continued her incredible play from the AUS postseason as she picked up a loose puck, burst down ice, and found room past Racine with a player draped all over her for the shorthanded goal with 4:21 to play.

That goal, however, may have come a little too late for the comeback to develop as Aube Racine shut the door the rest of the way until the final horn as the Montreal Carabins earned a 4-1 win over the UNB Reds! Aube Racine stopped 13 shots to help her team advance while Kendra Woodland stopped 24 shots in the setback.

Montreal moves on to face the Mount Royal Cougars on Saturday in the first semifinal matchup while the UNB Reds will meet the Toronto Varsity Blues in the consolation bracket semifinal.

Highights of this game are below!

The Friday afternoon quarterfinal game pitted the seventh-ranked StFX X-Women against the second-ranked UBC Thunderbirds. Similar to the previous game, these two teams had never met at a National Championship event, so we'd see some new women's university hockey history written. Jamie Johnson was in the crease for StFX while Elise Hugens stood between the pipes for UBC.

Both teams came out fast as each team was looking to jump ahead in this game, but the goalies were sharp in the early going. Just before the midway point of the period, a parade to the penalty box began as StFX was whistled for three-straight penalties. It would be the third penalty that cost the X-Women as the Thunderbirds solved the penalty-killing strategy when Sophia Gaskell's blast from the point blast was stopped by Johnson, but Rylind MacKinnon jumped on the rebound and put it into the twine at 15:05 to put the T-Birds up 1-0!

UBC would take a penalty shortly after the goal was scored on which StFX couldn't capitalize, but StFX was guilty for three more infractions before getting into the dressing room for the intermission - two of which would carry into the second period - as the UBC Thunderbirds held the 1-0 lead while leading 10-7 in shots.

None of those penalties added to the one-goal deficit facing the X-Women as the second period got underway, and it would be UBC who took back-to-back penalties prior to the midway point of this stanza. StFX couldn't find the back of the net before they were whistled for another infraction, but UBC would be unsuccessful on that advantage. As the horn sounded at the conclusion of this frame, the UBC Thunderbirds still held the 1-0 lead and the 19-12 shot margin.

The third period was all sorts of wacky as a StFX goal was waved off thanks to the net coming off its moorings - more on that below - before the UBC Thunderbirds threw salt into that wound when Sophia Gaskell's shot deflected off the skate of a StFX defender and past Johnson at 7:27 to make it a 2-0 game in favour of the T-Birds. That goal seemed to snap the X-Women awake as Ellie Brown finished off a 2-on-1 feed from Anna MacCara just 1:20 after UBC had scored, and it was a one-goal game again at 8:47. That lead lasted for all of 2:54 as Lauren Dabrowski's point shot deflected off a body in front of Hugens and found twine as the X-Women tied the game at 2-2 at 11:41!

With the score squared up once again, both teams played more cautiously as they aimed to prevent another goal. UBC tempted fate by taking two penalties 16 seconds apart, but they were able to kill off the two-player advantage they surrendered. Despite both sides finding chances through the remaining five minutes, we'd hit zeroes on the clock to send this game to overtime!

Both teams came out looking for the winner early in this extra period of 4-on-4 hockey, and we nearly had goals scored if not for the two netminders. However, we'd see a winner crowned when Sophia Gaskell's point shot eluded the traffic in front of Johnson to dent twine behind the netminder at 5:57 of overtime as the UBC Thunderbirds advance past the StFX X-Women with a 3-2 overtime decision! Elise Hugens made 27 stops in the overtime win while Jamie Johnson stopped 24 shots in the extra-time decision.

The overtime win sends UBC into the semifinal where they'll play one of Concordia or Nipissing based on their results on Friday night. StFX will move to the consolation bracket where they'll play the losing team of that Concordia-Nipissing contest.

Highlights of this game are below!

The Friday night game offered a rematch of last year's U SPORTS National Championship gold medal game as the sixth-ranked Nipissing Lakers met the third-ranked Concordia Lakers. That was the only meeting at a National Championship between these two teams, so this game would either double the number of wins for the Stingers over the Lakers or it would be a little revenge for the Lakers when it came to last year's score. Chantelle Sandquist started in net for Nipissing while Alice Philbert stood in the Concordia crease.

One could be forgiven if one thought this was going to be a high-flying game because the queue to the penalty box had numbers all game long. After Concordia showed some offensive pressure in the early part of this game, Nipissing was whistled for back-to-back infractions. It was the second penalty that would be costly as Sandrine Veillette goes high on the glove-side while on the power-play to put the Stingers up 1-0 at 12:49.

Concordia would be called for a penalty moments later, but that power-play was cut short when Nipissing was penalized again. And that penalty would result in a Chloé Gendreau backdoor goal off a slick cross-crease pass from Megan Bureau-Gagnon standing in front as the Stingers used the power-play to take a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes while holding a 9-5 edge in shots.

The second started with Nipissing having a little jump in their skates as they began to send more pucks to the net. They'd be rewarded for that effort when Madison Desmerais' shot pinballed its way past Philbert and into the net at 5:46 to make it a 2-1 game. However, two-straight Nipissing penalties would lead to a third Concordia tally on the latter infraction when Alexandra-Anne Boyer's backhanded found its way through traffic and Sandquist at 13:51. Nipissing continued to chip away as the period wound down, but the Stingers were keeping them from getting good looks. When the horn sounded on the middle frame, Concordia was up 3-1 in goals and up 24-11 in shots.

An early Concordia penalty in the third period was nullified by a Nipissing penalty, and there would be four more penalties called on the Lakers in the final frame as they simply couldn't maintain any momentum with all the infractions. Emmy Fecteau would wire home a wrist shot on a power-play at 4:51 to make it a 4-1 game, and Rachel McIntyre would hit the empty net with 1:45 to play in the game as the Concordia Stingers took advantage of special teams in defeating the Nipissing Lakers by a 5-1 score. Alice Philbert stopped 11 shots in backstopping the Stingers while Chantelle Sandquist made 29 stops for the Lakers in this game.

Concordia will advance to UBC in the other championship semifinal while Nipissing will meet StFX in the consolation bracket. The semifinal matchups are officially set for Saturday!

Highlights of this game are below!

The Updated Bracket

With the results above, here's how the brackets look tonight.
The consolation bracket starts early tomorrow at 10am ET with Toronto and UNB playing the morning game followed by Nipissing and StFX at 1pm ET. The championship semifinal between Mount Royal and Montreal will be played at 4:30pm ET followed by the championship semifinal between UBC and Concordia at 7:30pm ET. Of course, you can catch all the games for free on, CBC Gem, and the free CBC Sports app!

The Pegs

We saw both Chantelle Sandquist and Elise Hugens really struggling with the moorings used in Montreal when they tried to push off the post to move laterally. Montreal was using the example on the right as shown in the image, and we know those barely hold a net in place when players as strong as university athletes are pushing on them. It affected the game between StFX anfd UBC in that StFX had a goal waved off, and we saw Nipissing and Concordia battling the posts all game when it came keep the posts on the goal line.

It's hard to imagine that a university program isn't using the flexpegs shown above on the left as they generally provide more resistance than the spike pegs. I don't know how often the Carabins had nets come off the pegs during their RSEQ season, but the frequency it was happening over the last two days might force Montreal to make a change. We'll see what comes of the issues today, but I'm sure that U SPORTS officials will be discussing it.

The Last Word

The Golden Path Trophy will see its home for the next year either be at a Canada West school or an RSEQ school as those conferences are still alive on the championship side. The defending champions are still alive as well, so we could see a repeat champion for the first time since 2009 after McGill won in both 2008 and 2009.

Having been at a National Championship with a team on the consolation side of the bracket, I know it sucks for players to play for nothing more than pride, but there's still a chance to be one of the top-five teams in Canada this season. Yes, there's no hardware to take home, but players are proud and the team that wins the fifth-place placement is only one of two teams in Canadian university hockey who can claim they finished their season with a win.

For Toronto, UNB, StFX, and Nipissing, there's a chance to end the season on a winning note. Make that your trophy for this weekend. Again, no one is going to deny that it sucks to lose in the quarterfinals, but two wins to end the season over two very good teams is a nice jumping-off point for next season. Make it happen!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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