U Sports MHKY: Western have run in mind, but the mighty Varsity Blues stand in their way

Toronto, ON- We have reached playoffs time, and for the Toronto Varsity Blues, that means it’s time to erase the disappointment of 2019. 

The first round pits the Toronto school against the Western Mustangs, a team they have had a smooth time with so far this year. To be fair, the Varsity Blues have had a pretty easy time with most teams en route to their conference topping regular season. 

Both teams are coming into the first round following a loss in the final game of the season, with the Varsity Blues having fallen to the Windsor Lancers, and the Mustangs to their purple foes, the Laurier Golden Hawks. 

Evan MacEachern
(Toronto Varsity Blues)

For the Varsity Blues, they did not field their top team in the final game, rather opting to rest their players with their focus on the first round. Now that the playoffs have arrived, there is no question as to whether or not the Varsity Blues will dress their top roster. 

For the Western Mustangs, they are going to be in tough against the top team, however, they do have something to grasp onto. In their three matchups against Toronto this season, they managed to squeak out an overtime win. Not only was it a win, but it was also at Toronto’s Varsity Arena, where they will have to win if they are to advance to the next round. The winning goal in that game came from freshman forward Franco Sporviero who has not hit the scoresheet in the last three games. 

Another advantage for western is their playoff experience. It was just last year that the team lost in the Western Conference final to the Guelph Gryphons, before finishing fourth, as they fell to the Carleton Ravens in the bronze medal showdown. However, despite their championship bid falling short, they know how to play hockey for the entirety of the playoffs. With every game having so much weight to it, the experience is a huge advantage and one that the Western Mustangs have in their back pocket. 

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Toronto’s Kevin Lavoie celebrates a goal with Ross Krieger (Seyran Mammadov)

While the Mustangs are relying on their history and experience, Toronto doesn’t want to be looking that far back. Last year they crashed out of the playoffs in the first round, and much of their roster has yet to experience the grind of the OUA post-season. All that being said, Toronto was one of the top teams this year and will be counting on that to propel them throughout their Queen’s Cup run. 

The Varsity Blues have played with a focus this year: Offence. 

They finished atop the league in most goals scored, having celebrated 125 times. That total is far more goals than the next best team, and it’s certainly a statement that Toronto made in 2019-20. With their potent offence, two of their forwards found their way into the top 10 of OUA scoring. Joey Manchurek and David Thomson led the team with both of them scoring over 40 points in 28 games. Compare their scoring pace to that of Western’s best, and it’s a stark difference. Although the offence was a focus for the Blues, it was not everything, as goalkeeper Alex Bishop finished the season with the conference’s fifth-best save percentage at .934.

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Franco Sporviero is the key player for the Mustangs (Western University Athletics)

Both teams will rely on key players, however, for Western, it is of much greater importance, as they lack the scoring depth possessed by Toronto. The player to watch on the Mustangs is the aforementioned Franco Sporviero. The former member of the Sarnia Sting scored 42 points this season, with four of them coming in the three games against the Varsity Blues. Only 9 of the 28 games did not have Sporviero’s name somewhere on the scoresheet. It is clear that the London school relies heavily on the freshman, who will have to be in his finest form if Western is to advance past the opening round. 

In unusual OUA fashion, Toronto, the higher seeded team will host game one, before both teams travel to London for game two and back to Toronto for a third and decisive game if necessary. It will be tough for the Mustangs to get past the superpower that is the Varsity blues, but if they are able to, they could very well make a run of it like they did last season.

Cover Photo: Western University Mustangs Athletics

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