Toronto, ON- The first round of the men’s Queen’s Cup OUA Playoffs is all history, but for the women, who compete for the McCaw Cup only began their opening series over the last few days. It is a much smaller field for the women, who only have eight spots rather than 16.
It makes it much harder to make the playoffs, meaning teams have playoff implication games in every game since there is no divisional split. This elevates the level of play throughout the season, making the playoffs all the more exciting.
This year, the Varsity Blues, who topped the table in both the men’s and women’s began as the favourites, and are facing the most intriguing opponents, last year’s U Sports champions. Guelph has certainly had a disappointing year after winning the national championship, but the playoffs are a different animal where anything could happen.
So here we are, game one is in the rearview mirror, let’s take a little skate around and find out what happened.
York Lions vs Waterloo Warriors
We’ll start with the York Lions matchup against the Waterloo Warriors. Both of the schools missed the playoffs in the men’s division, putting all of the school’s hockey weight on the women’s teams.
Game one was at York’s Canlan Ice Centre, and the Lions took the focus of the school well, trashing the Warriors 5-1, showing the conference that they are a force to be reckoned with despite finishing third in the regular season.
The first period was slow, a usual case in playoff hockey as both teams just try to get a sense of one another. However, once getting that sense, the Lions found their way and scored four times in the second frame. Goals from Kara Washer, Ava Ricker-Singh, Sarah Power and a pair from Becky Higgs.
It was a second period showing which stole the game, and the third was all focused on defence. Overall, the game was tactically sound by the Lions, who walked to the beat of their own gameplan perfectly. They seized up the opposition, punished the Warriors and firmly defended, all of which combined to give them the opening game win.
Game 2 is on Saturday, and I’m picking the Lions to win again, although likely by not such a margin. The game, as well as all OUA games, can be streamed for free on OUA.tv.
Queen’s Gaels vs Nipissing Lakers
Another series where the men’s teams disappointed and the weight is on the women is between the Queen’s Gaels, whose men’s team were swept in the opening round, and the Nipissing Lakers men failed to make the cut.
Much like the game between York and Waterloo, the game ended with not a close score, with the Lakers prevailing by three goals and a total score of 4-1. The story of the game was the two sisters who scored three of the foals for Nipissing. Mallory Dominico opened up the scoring, only to be followed by her sister Maria who potted two later in the game. Four different players on the Lakers had multi-point games, including Kayla Heppnder who put up three assists.
Having contributions from throughout the roster is a very important factor, especially in the playoffs. When you’re in a series against an opponent, the opposing defenders can learn how to shut down the stars. However, if you have other contributors, it’s more likely that you’ll find success.
The win for the Lakers forces the Gaels to the brink, which if eliminated would finish off a very disappointing season for the Kingston school.
Ryerson Rams vs Brock Badgers
While the previous two games were blowouts, the next two on this list are the exact opposite. They’re not just the opposite, they’re the epitome of what playoff hockey should look like. And in game one, there were exactly what playoff hockey was.
The ryerson Rams, who vaulted up the standings all the way to fifth on the last day of the season, defeated the fourth-place Brock Badgers in overtime to win game one. The game was peculiar for both sides, as very rarely is noon start time seen. However, reading week is on at both schools right now, making the possibility of the strange start time available.
It was a tight-checking game and neither team could find very much if any offence. Ryerson’s Olivia Giardetti did manage to crack the deadlock for the Rams with 30 seconds to go in period 1, but that would be it for Ryerson’s regulation scoring.
Brock found their answer in period two thanks to an unassisted goal from Annie Berg, who managed to beat Rachel Seely for the lone time in the afternoon.
From the beginning, the Ryerson Rams knew that they had to be sound defensively. The badgers were unable to test Seely until the 11th minute of the game. Some would call the defensive precautions as unentertaining, but I must remind thos Zpeople that the point of hockey is to win, and win whatever way possible within the rules of the game. Is playing structured defence within the rules? You bet so, and that’s exactly what the Lisa Haley led Ryerson women did throughout the game.
The style of hockey from both sides led the game to its eventual destination which was overtime. Where once again, Ryerson’s star duo of Erika Crouse and Olivia Giardetti combined as helpers for Brooklyn Gemmil, who potted the goal to win the opening game of the series.
The four vs five matchups are always one of the toughest in a playoff bracket, and this series between Ryerson and Brock seems unlikely to break that commonality.
Toronto Varsity Blues vs Guelph Gryphons
This was the big one. The top of the conference this year, and last year’s national champions. There is nothing that one could say that could sway the epicentre of this series off of that storyline.
Game one was hosted by the Varsity Blues, on the same ice where their men fell to the eighth seed Western Mustangs a couple of days prior. However, the women were determined not to destine themselves to the same fate.
Everything that this game had to offer would be included in the textbook definition of what playoff hockey is. The score was close, it ended in OT and the physicality was unparalleled to anything in the regular season. https://twitter.com/Varsity_Blues/status/1230320557448667136?s=20
Much like the sister connection which came for the Nipissing Lakers, the Varsity Blues took advantage of their own sisters, as the De Serres family supplied them with both the helper and goalscorer to open the night’s scoring.
Just minutes after the first goal, the penalties started to come in a flurry, as the first of the calls came eight minutes into the game. It began a total of 18 non-even-strength minutes for the two sides, further emphasizing the physicality that was on display.‘
Toronto struck first with the advantage, as Christine Chao punished the Gryphons for their misbehaviour which ended them in the penalty box. However, the marker was soon replied from Guelph who got a power-play goal of their own before the end of the period.
The first frame had three goals, but there was only one more before the game went into an extra period. Guelph got their tying goal halfway through the second period from Stephanie Gava, but from that point on the game remained a stalemate. That is, until nearly 18 minutes of overtime when Gabriella De Serres potted her second of the night and won the game for Toronto.
The game was a true personalization of what playoff hockey is, and gave fans much more to look forward to as the series progresses.