U Sports MHKY: Varsity Blues fall in overtime and lose their win streak

In front of a large crowd, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and Ryerson Rams hit the ice for their first meeting of the new decade. Although the game took place at Toronto’s Varsity Arena, there were many Ryerson supporters who made the quick stroll up Yonge Steet to take in some weeknight hockey.

The game pitted the two longest win streaks in the OUA against each other. The Rams came in with a six-game win streak, which looks good against most teams, however, it periled in comparison to Toronto’s 15 straight victories. Not only did the Blues posses the longest win streak in the country, but they were also the league’s top-scoring team to this point in the season.

Despite all the numbers leaning in Toronto’s favour, one sentence came to mind. “Once the puck drops, records don’t matter,” is a common mantra in hockey communities around the world and was the ideology which trickled through the minds of the Ryerson Rams ahead of Thursday’s clash.

That’s exactly what the Rams did, spoiling the possible 15th win with an overtime victory.

Matt Mistele shields the puck (Ben Steiner)

With the home crowd behind them, the Varsity Blues came out fast. They didn’t score, but many players, including assistant captain Ross Krieger, terrorized Ryerson’s defenders with his blistering speed right from the beginning. Although the speed and skill drilled every bitt of the Ryerson defence, it was the visitors who found the opening goal.

The goal came with half a minute remaining in the first period; a frame which was tightly contested by both sides. Up until that point, neither team could find a real chance.

Powerplay? Nope.

Breakway? Niet.

Empty net with the puck only needing a light touch to go in? Nada.

So it’s fair to say that the Ryerson was ecstatic when they opened the scoring in blistering fashion with a goal from Jesse Barwell. The cycle, which was absent on the powerplay got itself together in the final minute and whipped a puck past all-star U of T netminder Alex Bishop.

While the goal certainly made the intermission more enjoyable, the joy would not last as the second period gave fans and media alike a reminder of the 6-5 thriller from earlier in the season.

It took less than three minutes for the home side to find their opening goal, which came off the stick of Jared Leslie in a seemingly random scrum in Ryerson’s end. The goal kick-started a period which could be summed up in one word, “hectic.” The rest of the period was similar to watching table tennis, goals back and forth, with neither team either to get on a roll.

Following the thrilling second period, all went quiet in the third, with few chances at either end. The lacklustre third, however, was not a preview for what overtime had to offer. The extra frame included breakaways for either side, stunning stops by the netminders, and a fumbled puck to spring Ryerson’s Zach Shankar en-route to his breakaway game-winning goal making the final score 4-3.

Zach Shankar runs to celebrate with his teammates (Ben Steiner)

Shankar had a thrilling game, scoring an equalizing and winning goal as well as chipping in an assist for the Rams. He drew the attention of his head coach Johnny Duco, post-game. “He’s been unbelievable, I think he’s three for three on breakaways this year,” he said, “He’s playing at the top of his game and we are really impressed with his work ethic and the entire team’s.”

The former North Bay Battalion forward has already topped his total points output from his freshman season, now sitting at 10 points on the year with a lot of hockey left to play.

Thursday night showed that U Sports hockey can capture a crowd, whilst not disappointing on the entertainment factor. With the result, Ryerson moves within three points of Toronto for the top team in the conference.

Both teams will play this weekend, but some select players will also be featured in an outdoor skills competition featuring some of the best players in the OUA.

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