Toronto, ON- Sunday has long been known as the day of rest, but for the Western Mustangs and Toronto Varsity Blues, that was simply not the case as the two schools faced off in the winner takes all third game of the opening round of the OUA playoff series.
As expected, both teams came out full of force. It was a hard checking game right from puck-drop. Bodies were flying, sticks were slashing, but penalties were not being called. In most cases, the level of rough play would’ve resulted in an abundance of penalties, however, the referees knew the weight the game had and decided to let it breathe rather than keep it cuffed.
Neither team got any glorious chances in the first period as the tight-checking, defence focused playing style encapsulated the mindset of the two sides. The intriguing part of the second period didn’t happen on the ice, rather in the stands. The often empty(ish) Varsity Arena, now packed, started to roar. Many of the Toronto students gathered behind the Western net, making an absolute raucous, something which is a rare find in U Sports hockey. Other than behind the net, chants of “Let’s go Blues” reverberated around the arena.
Despite all of the rough play and hitting throughout the first 40 minutes, only two penalties were called in the entire game. With that, it meant no one could rely on their special teams, something that is so often a game-changer, especially in the playoffs.
Heading into the final frame, it seemed that the game was destined to go to overtime. However, It only took until the five-minute mark of the third period for the narrative to change. Western’s Kyle Petit forced the puck past Toronto netminder Alex Bishop, to score an ugly goal, but it was the one that broke the deadlock and gave the eighth seed the lead over the mighty Varsity Blues.
From that point on, the offence became the focus of the game. No longer was it a pure grunt fair, but the two teams finally focused on scoring. It did not take long after their first for the visitors to put up their second goal of the night, the one that ended up being the winner. Reed Morrison fired the puck in off of a Bishop rebound, giving the Mustangs the goal that sent them to the second round.
Toronto responded with just over five minutes to go with a goal from David Thompson, but it proved to be too little too late, as the Mustangs sealed their win moments later with an empty-net goal to make it 3-1.
After the series win, Western head coach Clarke Singer said, “Outside of our dressing room people thought we were underdogs, but in our locker room we knew who we could play with, I think the OUA West is the best conference in U Sports, so we believed we could win.” His words are the exact ones that any player in his locker room would have wanted to hear, as it’s clear their coach has faith that they can make some real damage in the playoffs.
Having gotten the top seed out of their way, the Mustangs now must face the next best team in the OUA West: The Ryerson Rams, who since defeating Toronto back in January have been the hottest team in the west. Stay tuned for the release of the second round schedule.