TORONTO, ON – There is no longer an RSEQ division in U SPORTS men’s hockey, but the OUA Far East has done its best to create a pseudo-Quebec division. With both Ottawa-based teams out and the McGill Redbirds hitting their stride, it’s an all-Quebec semifinal in the Queen’s Cup Playoffs.
Regardless of who wins, the McGill Redbirds and UQTR Patriotes will not play another game in Quebec this season. OUA regulations require the bronze medal and Queen’s Cup Final game to be played in Ontario.
Both teams have been rolling in the second half and confidently approach the OUA semifinal. 49 Sports takes a look at where these teams are ahead of their penultimate playoff game.
McGill is a Cinderella story, but not
The McGill Redbirds are the Cinderella story of the 2022 Queen’s Cup playoffs, but their ‘upsets’ don’t compare to the 8th seeded Western Mustangs, who went on to the U CUP semifinals in 2020.
Those Mustangs were true 8th seeds, slipping deep into the standings and striking a chord of form at the right time to make their way through the playoffs. McGill, however, has been competitive all season and features a roster with some of the better players in the OUA.
In a division with the UQTR Patriotes, uOttawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens, there were no playoff race worries for the Redbirds, yet an opponent pushed them to be their best every time they took the ice.
They’re the 8th seed. Inherently, an 8th seed qualifying for the semifinals is an upset — there’s just a bit of an asterisk for the Redbirds.
It took McGill’s best to get past the Queen’s Gaels in the first round, with William Poirer scoring the winning goal in overtime against the top seed in the Eastern Conference and an inflated Gaels team.
Third-year goaltender Emmanuel Vella used that game to keep the Redbirds close and build up confidence heading into the second round against Nipissing, but it also showed McGill’s progress with a young team.
“The young team at the start of the year, going through some growing pains and understanding what it takes to play in this league, and our division was very tough with no easy nights,” said McGill head coach David Urquhart. “These are highly emotional games, and it takes some time to learn how to play in those games. Nearly every game in our division is a rivalry.”
While McGill failed to score on three powerplay opportunities against Queen’s, Uruqart’s side got their top unit rolling in the second game, with two goals on four chances with the man advantage. All the while, Vella continued strong form with 32 saves and is riding an OUA high .963 save percentage through two rounds.
Having a hot goalie like Vella, in addition to a flowing powerplay, is what a team needs for a long playoff run, and McGill has just that.
With the return of Scott Walford to the lineup and seeing out leads unlike they have all season, the Redbirds are playing their best hockey so far. However, while their two playoff wins stand out, it is not as much of a surprise as it seems, having faced difficult opponents every week this season.
Urquhart has a very structured system in his first season behind the McGill bench. With the play on the ice coming together through the first two rounds, facing UQTR, a familiar opponent in the semifinal, is a perfect situation for a team primed to take the next step.
UQTR = Les Chiens Chaud
The UQTR Patriotes have not been hot all season, but they’re heating up at the right time… almost like a hot dog at Colisée de Trois-Rivières, and the McGill Redbirds will be playing ketchup all game. However, whichever team wins will no doubt relish the victory.
Ok, enough with the puns. Seriously though, UQTR is firing on all cylinders heading into the penultimate round of the Queen’s Cup playoffs, coming off dominant wins against the Carleton Ravens and Ontario Tech Ridgebacks through the first two rounds.
After losing key players in the extended OUA pause and facing further restrictions on return to play in Quebec, the Patriotes have taken the adversity in stride, further picking up their pace in the postseason.
Simon Lafrance stood out in the postseason as an offensive threat and a presence on their top powerplay unit, scoring 20 points in just 15 games, improving his point-per-game pace in the 2020 regular season. So far in the playoffs, he has not looked as dominant with the Ridgebacks and Ravens closing in on his opportunities. Still, by drawing defenders, he opens up space for UQTR’s deep roster to find scoring opportunities.
Although Carleton zoned in on him, Lafrance, a former Victoriaville Tiger, potted two goals in the first round before adding a goal and assisting in the divisional semifinal against Ontario Tech. He is a dynamic player that could have moved on to pro and reportedly had offers during the pause but opted to stay with the Patriotes.
Head Coach Marc-Ettiene Hubert and the Pats came into the season with questions in net after losing former FISU Team Canada netminder Sebastien Auger and having former Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Zachary Bouthillier leave before playing a game.
However, the emergence of Alexis Gravel as a rookie was welcome, with the former Chicago Blackhawks prospect posting a .924 save percentage through the regular season and improving in playoffs.
UQTR is an offensive team with good goaltending. They have no problem attacking, scoring 6+ goals against Carleton and Ontario Tech, and their home rink favours their tenacious style of play. The rink in Trois Rivieres is smaller than NHL regulation size with odd bounces off lively boards, indeed a home advantage.
Like any offensive team, the Pats have their off days, and coming up against a McGill team that is rolling and is familiar with their rink and play style could prove costly. However, there’s a swagger the Patriotes have amid their playoff run, a factor that could push them over McGill.