TORONTO, ON – The fact that the OUA Playoffs are just seven days away from the Queen’s Cup feels odd, but it also feels right, as the single-elimination knockout format continues to offer drama in every which way.
In the opening round, only the even seeds won in both the East and West sides of the bracket, with 8th seeds McGill and York upsetting Queen’s and Windsor, while the other even seeds also advanced.
The first round offered nothing short of entertainment, whether it be the Ryerson Rams coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Western Mustangs with less than two minutes remaining in regulation or the Nipissing Lakers holding on to get by Ottawa and ensure that their men’s team continues down the same path as the women, competing in the OUA Final.
Whichever way you looked, there was excitement in the first round. However, that’s in the past as the OUA Queen’s Cup playoffs move to round two.
Ryerson look to slay the second round dragon
On paper, the Ryerson Rams are the better team. After all, they have the higher seeding and are filled with momentum after a thrilling comeback against Western. Nevertheless, the Rams have not advanced past the second round since 1962, when they went on to win the OIAA Championship.
The Rams have the quality, but they will have to exorcise their second-round curse if theta re to advance to the OUA semifinals.
Their opponents, the Waterloo Warriors are no easy out, with a strong goaltending tandem, whether it be Dan Murphy or Julian Sime, and a driven veteran core looking to make their mark in their final seasons.
Waterloo’s David Radke had an unfortunate slip in their first-round matchup against the Toronto Varsity Blues, allowing Cole Purboo to put Toronto in front; however, the Waterloo group fought back to win 3-1 away from home.
Waterloo will no doubt lean on the likes of Nolan Lee, who played junior hockey in Russia, as well as veterans such as Jacob Casgnanette, who has FISU University Games experience with Team Canada, in addition to OUA Playoff tenure.
Dan Walker, the team’s leading scorer from the regular season, will also play an integral role, as he looks for his first points of the playoffs after being held off the scoresheet against Toronto. This season, Walker, a former Oshawa General, had 17 points in 12 games as an OUA rookie with Waterloo.
For the Rams, it comes down to luck in the second round, but a quick start will do them wonders, and head coach Johnny Duco wil lean on his rookie top line of Kyle Bollers, Chris Playfair and Kevin Gursoy to drive that offence,
On the backend, look for Ryan Wells to eat up more minutes alongside the captain Jared Walsh, while Garett Forrest looks for a confident start after allowing a goal just 20 seconds into the opening round against Western.
If the Rams can fire a slew of shots at the Waterloo net early, it should set them up for success, with Murphy and Sime having sub .900 save percentages. However, the game is too close to call.
Ryerson vs Waterloo Breakdown:
Players to watch: Ryan Wells (Ryerson), Dan Murphy (Waterloo)
Game Details: 2:00 pm Saturday, Mattamy Athletic Centre, Toronto
York Lions are Cinderella, but this matchup is no glass slipper
It took until the final day of the season for the York Lions to book their spot in the OUA Queen’s Cup Playoffs, but there was no looking back once they did.
With stellar play from goaltender Cole Ceci and offensive leadership from Ben Evanish, the Lions took down Windsor, the top-seed, and are playing with vibes and house money.
While they may be the heartwarming story in the OUA West, their battle with Brock is nothing close to fragile, nothing like a glass slipper, if you will. These two teams engaged in fierce, physical battles in OUA West action all season, and there is no reason to believe that won’t carry over to playoffs.
The Badgers won’t be at their usual home rink at the Seymour-Hannah Complex due to a conflict, relocating the game to the Meridian Community Centre. Wherever they play, head coach Kevin Forest will count on the likes of Christian Girhiny and Jared Marino to contribute at an elite, level, and Mario Peccia to be stellar in net.
With Marino in particular, the Badgers have a physical player who can contribute in all aspects of the game, something that will be integral in what will be a close-checking game with the Lions.
Neither of these two teams has speed as their main asset, but that is where Evanish comes into the picture for the Lions. If York is to have success, it will involve Evanish, who scored in their opening round against Windsor, and had averaged a point-per-game in the regular season.
As the 8th seed, York has an exceptional opportunity to capture the hearts of Canadian university hockey, and their next step is getting by a familiar divisional foe, one they beat once in four regular-season meetings.
Also helping York is the return of Head Coach Russ Herrington, who met the team in Windsor and coached the Lions to an opening-round win within hours of helping to lead Team Canada to para ice hockey gold at the Beijing 2022 Paralympics.
Brock vs York Breakdown:
Players to watch: Ben Evanish (York), Jared Marino (Brock)
Game details: 3:00 pm Saturday, Meridian Community Centre, Fonthill
Ontario Tech look for the upset
The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks had a tough challenge in the first round but managed to beat the favoured Concordia Stingers, who had impressed in the OUA Far East all season.
While the Queen’s Gaels struggled to find their stride against McGill, eventually losing, the Ridgebacks knew the level they had to elevate their game too, having played the Gaels all season. 60 minutes later, it worked, and they have a date with #2 seed, the UQTR Patriotes, in the quarterfinals.
These two programs are unfamiliar with each other, and it wil take a lot for the Ridgebacks to push past UQTR. Although the Patriotes lost three players in the extended pause, they are a very skilled and organized team.
For the Ridgebacks to win, they will need outstanding goaltending from Leif Hertz to find a way to halt the dynamic, high-octane UQTR offence featuring Simon Lafrance, Julian Tessier and Jordan Martel, all of whom scored at least a point-per-game in the regular season.
However, the Oshawa-based program will look to their captain Jack Patterson to continue his play and to potentially duplicate his hat trick result from the opening round. Still, the Ridgebacks face a lengthy trip to get to Trois-Riviers, making them further underdogs.
While the likely result is a UQTR victory, anything can happen in single-game elimination.
UQTR vs Ontario Tech Breakdown
Players to watch: Julian Tessier (UQTR), Jack Patterson (Ontario Tech)
Game details: 7:00pm Saturday, Colisée de Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivièrs
Nipissing Lakers look for a perfect Saturday against McGill
The weekend’s biggest game at the North Bay Memorial Gardens is not the men’s hockey game but rather the OUA McCaw Cup Final. However, with the women expecting over 1,500 fans, the men’s game may draw a crowd too.
After eliminating the uOttawa Gee-Gees in the first round, the Lakers know that they have more quality within their team than just enough to play Queen’s and RMC. Now with a newfound swagger and the event atmosphere bound to take over North Bay, they have a chance to emulate the women’s teams campaign.
At the same time, the McGill Redbirds are coming off a thrilling overtime win against the top-seeded Queen’s Gaels, making them eager to force more upsets, similar to the York Lions on the other side of the bracket.
On Saturday, William Poirier and Keanu Yamamoto will be critical players for the Redbirds as they take on a stingy Nipissing team that boasts a physical yet intellectual blueline. For the Lakers, they will turn to Jacob Hickey Gael Lubwele, among others, to assert their offensive power.
The Redbirds barely got into the playoffs ahead of RMC, and now have a shot at a berth in the semifinals. Even more extreme, both 8th seeds are just two wins away from a trip to Nova Scotia.
Nipissing vs McGill Breakdown
Players to watch: Payton Vescio (Nipissing), Keanu Yamamoto (McGill)
Game details: 4:30 pm Saturday, North Bay Memorial Gardens, North Bay