Toronto, ON- After picking up their first McCaw Cup since 2003 with a hard fought 3-1 victory over the York Lions on Friday night, the Varsity Blues got a few days to soak it in and celebrate but now take a flight eastward to Prince Edward Island for their second straight trip the U Sports Women’s Hockey National Championship. Thanks to that McCaw Cup victory the Varsity Blues get to enter the Quarter-finals in the 2nd seed with Canada West Finalists the Mount Royal Cougars set for a 2pm/EST faceoff on Thursday March 12th. Here’s everything you need to know about the Blues to get you set.
Almost everything that could go right for the Varsity Blues during the 2019-2020 regular season did go right. Finishing the year with a 17-1-2-4 record they led the OUA in GAA, PK% and SV% as well has being ranked second in PP%. The Blues started the year on the top of the table and just never looked back finishing with an 8 point lead over the next closest squad.
On the offensive end, it was a pair of rookies who led the charge for the Varsity Blues. 1st year defender Gabrielle De Serres led the way from the back end with 8 goals and 12 assists for 20 points whilst 1st year forward Natasha Athanasakos picked up 6 goals and 9 assists for 15 points in 24 games.
The most important piece for the Blues this season would be 5th year defender and Assistant Captain Cristine Chao.
She picked up 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points but more importantly here consistent two-way play and leadership for the Varsity Blues became a driving force for the team, all the way to her being named OUA defender of the year for 2019-2020.
It may sound strange to hear this said about a provincial champion but the 2020 McCaw Cup playoffs were not kind to the Varsity Blues. They dispatched a relatively underwhelming Guelph Gryphons squad handily in two games but from there trouble started. In their semi-final matchup against the Ryerson Rams the Blues lost Game 1 on home ice before having to take Game 2 to double OT and Game 3 to overtime to be able to pull out the series win. A Game 3 overtime win in which the Varsity Blues were the recipients of a very lucky bounce as their only shot in overtime beat Rachel Seeley to send the Blues to the National Championships.
Friday’s McCaw Cup saw much of the same as despite a relatively even game pace-wise the Blues struggled to get shots on Serena Vilde of the York Lions ultimately being outshot 34-18 but prevailing thanks to a timely goal from Stephanie Ayres and consistently strong play from MVP Erica Fryer in the net.
The X Factor
So we’ve looked at the good and the bad, what is the x-factor that will decide the fate of the Varsity Blues? The answer lies between the pipes in OUA Second Team All-Star Erica Fryer.
The 2nd year Kinesiology was at her best to close the OUA playoffs, turning away 70 of 73 shots in the final two games. If this Blues team that has had challenges on offence over the last few weeks, looks to do damage in the National Tournament it will start and end with number 30.
You can catch all of the games in the 2020 USports Women’s Hockey University Cup on CBCsports.ca or Usports.live
COVER PHOTO: Benjamin Steiner/49 Sport