U Sports WHKY: U Cup Team Profiles, The Resurgence of the York Lions

Toronto,ON- Outside of the playoffs, with no clear solution. The York Lions 2018-19 campaign did not end how they had hoped. Fast forward 12 months, they are OUA silver medalists and have qualified for nationals for the first time in their program’s history. 

The Lions hit so many milestones this season,  it’s a little crazy. They made their first playoff appearance in eight years, qualified for the U Cup, and made the OUA Final for the first time since 1999. Although they came up just short against the Toronto Varsity Blues in the final, the Lions have every opportunity to find success at the national tournament. 

Sarah Power after the Lions dropped the McCaw Cup Final (Benjamin Steiner/49 Sport)

York finished the season in third in the OUA and worked their way through the playoffs, all the way to the finals. It has been a group effort from every member of the team, from their leading scorer, Taylor Davison, to head coach Dan Church, and their revamped analytics team led by Rachel Doerrie, everyone has played a roll in the Lions success. 

There are a lot of things that make the Lions unique, many of which could lead them to a successful run at the championships in Charlottetown. In watching York this year, it is clear that they do everything by committee. Dan Church, with the help of his coaching support and analytics team, has been rolling lines regularly, rather than relying on a small group of superstars. 

The group mentality means that there has to be equal buy-in from the top to bottom of the roster to find success. Based on on-ice examples, it’s clear that every player on the team has bought into the plan. 

While their record of 14-8-1 was something to behold, it was the way they handled their playoff opponents which should worry their opponents at the U Cup. The Lions only hit the ice five times in the post-season, as they swept the first two rounds before losing to Toronto in the final. Rest is a very important factor when it comes to on-ice performance, and with the way the Lions have played, they have been able to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The key players:

As we’ve spoken about, the entire team was excellent this season, however, there were some that stood out from the rest. Whether it was their top scorer and top defensman Taylor Davison, goaltenders Lauren Dubie and Serena Vilde or finals goalscorer Cortney Gardiner, the Lions had a lot of talent. 

So who are their players to watch in the U Cup? 

If we’re picking two, it’s the aforementioned Davison and Gardiner

Taylor Davison

Taylor Davison not only finished as the team’s top scorer but also as their leader in the defensive end. “She plays everywhere. The penalty kill, powerplay, even strength, she can play whenever we need her to,” said York Director of Advanced Performance Rachel Doerrie. 

Even though she plays so much, the 2019-20 season was the third in a row which didn’t miss a game. Talk about durability! Her 20 points helped the Lions become the second most potent offence in the OUA, as they scored 65 goals, five less than Ryerson, who led the league.

Taylor Davison (York Lions Athletic Dept.)

Davison will continue to be an important factor in the U Cup, especially in the first game where the Lions will have to put an end to the McGill Martlets. 

Courtney Gardiner:

She scored in the final, but it wasn’t just any odd goal. Look at it below, she knew the breakout plan and executed her skate to perfection. Once she got the puck, she was able to hold off her defender and score the perfectly planned goal. 

Gardiner, who is in her third season with the Lions has been a different type of threat this year as she set a career-high with 13 regular-season points, despite playing only 17 games compared to 23 and 24 in her freshman and sophomore seasons. 

The Disaster and Emergency management student topped the OUA McCaw Cup Playoffs in all of the offensive categories as she potted four goals and four assists. If Gardiner is able to continue her hot run of form, it will increase the Lions chances of a U Cup by exponential proportions.

Conclusion:

It has been a crazy 12 months for the York Lions. A year ago, the thought of nationals was a fairly distant dream, but today they are preparing to take a real shot at the title. The additions of backroom staff such as the revamped analytics department have helped every player improve in 2019, a fact they will hope pays off with a national championship banner. 

All of the York Lions game will be streamed on the CBC Sports website, as well as on all of the other CBC streaming platforms. Catch the Lions in their quarterfinal matchup against the McGill Martlets on March 13th at 2:00 PM ET.

Cover Photo: Benjamin Steiner

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