The 2019-20 OUA hockey season launched in front of a good sized crowd at Varsity Centre, where the home Toronto Varsity Blues squeezed a 3-2 victory over the nationally ranked Guelph Gryphons.
Not only was the game a significant date in the OUA calendar, but it also presented many storylines within the bigger picture,
Both teams were looking to start their seasons on the right foot, and both sides were playing their first game under new captaincy.
For Gueplh, Mikel Aagaagard takes over the role for 2019-20. Aagaard has professional experience, playing in both the AHL and ECHL for various NHL affiliates before making his Gryphons debut in the final week of last season. The Danish forward put up two points a game in his eight-game cameo last season, so it’s needless he’s a welcome full season addition to the team.
The Blues had the significance of their home opener and were also playing their first game under new captain Willy Paul. It did not take the home side long to mark the occasion. Only 20 seconds into the game they got their first goal of the night. Joey Manchurek finished off a Toronto mess in front of the Guelph net, just poking the arid puck past Gryphons netminder Andrew Masters.
The remainder of the first period did not offer much in terms of scoring chances, as both defences were stingy after the opening tally. The best chance of the frame was spoiled by Masters, who made a lunging stick save to keep his team within one.
The second goal of the game came on the Varsity Blues their first power play of the regular season. Newly minted captain Willy Paul fired a one-time slapshot into the net to give the Blues a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for the home team, Gryphons forward Connor Bramwell replicated the goal less than three minutes later, bringing Guelph back to within one.
With 5:39 left in the game, the hosts restored their two-goal lead and scored their prettiest goal of the night in the process. David Thomson’s shot sailed over the shoulder of Masters, who had no chance against the blistering wrist shot.
Just as the Blues thought they had put the game away, the Guelph boys turned up the heat, as Cole Cameron brought his team within one at less than four minutes to go.
After a stressful few minutes, Toronto squad out the victory by the slimmest of margins, winning their home opener and setting themselves up nicely for the rest of the OUA season.
The game was tied up throughout, and both team cancelled each other whenever they got even a half chance. Sure, both goalies had to come up big a few times, but the majority of the play took place in the low corner battles, a place where neither side was able to assert their dominance. The tightness of the game can be summed up in one stat. The shots, which were deadlocked at 31 each when all was said and done.
The two teams now go their separate ways, with Toronto hosting their GTA rivals the York Lions on Saturday afternoon, while the Gryphons will head to the USA for a pair of exhibition games against NCAA opponents.
TOP PHOTO: Varsity Blues Athletics