TORONTO, ON – As the search for the 110th Queen’s Cup reaches its penultimate round, four teams continue on their quest through the OUA Playoffs as they take on the semifinals.
For each team remaining, a berth in the Queen’s Cup Final and U SPORTS National Championship means everything, yet something different at the same time.
The Badgers want another crack at the OUA banner that they lost in 2018, UQTR seeks to continue their dominance of the Quebec-based teams, McGill look adds to their illustrious history, all while Ryerson enjoys its first taste of the final four.
Rams looking for history while Brock seek to avenge 2018
The Brock Badgers are built for the playoffs, while the Ryerson Rams hope to book a spot in their first-ever Queen’s Cup Final. With spirits high on both teams, they’re bound for a physical and memorable semifinal clash.
Brock visits Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre on Wednesday, the building’s first third-round men’s playoff hockey game since the Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 NHL Western Conference Final.
On paper, Brock is a younger, less experienced and less skilled team than their counterparts, but they have the qualities to push the Rams to the brink, and potentially over. Despite that potential, Ryerson’s veteran-savvy lineup is striving to end on a high note.
There were a lot of positives for the Badgers in their 5-2 win against Laurier, a 5-2 win, and 8-2 trashing of the York Lions, however, they’ve yet to face a test like the Rams in the playoffs. At the same time, they know the Rams well from divisional clashes throughout the season.
The key to the game for the Badgers will be ensuring that their fast, skilled players are guarded and have the space to skate. Ryerson does a good job of shutting down offensive zone set-ups but is fragile against a hard forecheck. If Brock uses their grit to forecheck the Rams into turnovers, the likes of Jared Marino, Christian Girhini and Frankie Pucci can finish chances.
In addition to a ferocious style, the Badgers will want to score early. Not only have the Rams appeared vulnerable early in games, but there is also a large crowd expected in Toronto, and silencing them will only energize the visitors.
In goal, expect rookie Mario Peccia to get the start. He has a .934 save percentage through two games and brings confidence to a Brock team that may not have expected such play from a rookie netminder.
The first two rounds have not been easy for Ryerson, requiring thrilling comebacks in the final eight minutes of the third period, before winning in overtime. Against Brock, scoring first is critical to breaking the trend.
If they score first, it could allow the home defence to settle and goaltender Garett Forrest to find his rhythm. While they’ve perfected the lat game chase, it is unlikely sustainable, making that first goal integral.
While their veteran-heavy roster is desperate to win this season before 15 graduate in the spring, they will have to settle into the game earlier than they have and will need more out of some individual players.
There is little doubt that the Rams will rely on their top-line of rookies, led by OUA West Rookie of the Year Kyle Bollers when they take on Brock, and that could pay off with both he and Kevin Gursoy scoring in the last round against Waterloo. However, there needs to be more production from those potentially playing their final university hockey game, namely Patrick Fellows, who has yet to score this season.
Johnny Duco, the OUA West Coach of the Year has the experience to navigate games against familiar opponents in the playoffs. The difference with Brock to the other series is that familiarity, which allows both coaches, in particular Duco, to turn to tactics that can pick apart a stingy Badgers side.
Aside from capitalizing on familiarity, the Rams will need to get their powerplay rolling after operating at a 16% clip through the first two games. If they make the Queen’s Cup final, and the U CUP, the powerplay will be critical to further success.
Although familiarity helps both teams, their two scheduled meetings since November were cancelled, making the only direct comparisons first-half games, before important players signed professionally.
Ryerson vs Brock Breakdown
Game Details: 6:00 Wednesday, Mattamy Athletic Centre, Toronto
Players to watch: Ryan Wells (Ryerson), Jared Marino (Brock)
McGill’s young stars rounding into form, ready for UQTR
When the eighth-seed McGill Redbirds visit the second-seed UQTR Patriotes on Wednesday, it may appear to be a mismatch, but it is far from that. While the Redbirds are the lowest seed, they have hit a stride of form, and are prepared to take on an ever-powerful UQTR Patriotes hockey program.
In his first year as McGill’s head coach and with a roster featuring an abundance of rookies, Dave Urquhart expected growing pains — they were prevalent throughout the first half of the season. Yet, since the OUA’s February return, the Redbirds have been rolling and look ready to return to the Queen’s Cup for the first time since 2018.
“We had a lot of learning to do in the first part of the season, but with a young team, you can learn a lot from facing some adversity,” Urquhart told 49 Sports. “If you’re losing and learning it can be a good thing. Now in the playoffs, we’ve been in all these different situations where we might not have been otherwise, and know how to score a couple of goals late in games.”
There are 11 true freshmen on the McGill roster and 18 players had never played an OUA game before this season. Now that they are finding their form, they are proving to be a Queen’s Cup contender.
McGill goaltender Emmanuel Vella has been incredible thus far, stopping 86 of 89 shots through the first two rounds. Meanwhile, the leadership from William Tye-Fournier and the emergence of Eric Uba have helped raise the teams’ level.
Winning in overtime against the top-seeded Queen’s Gaels galvanized McGill’s group, and has given them a reason to believe that they can beat anybody, even if UQTR is a stronger team than Queen’s.
UQTR has a lot going for them in these playoffs, including playing at home, where they have taken advantage of the small ice sheet and lively boards at Colisée de Trois-Rivières, truly showing the value of a higher seed.
Headlined by Zachary Lavigne and Simon Lafrance, the Patriotes have dynamic scorers who harness their arena’s power, as well as offensive prowess. Lavigne leads the team in scoring in the Queen’s Cup Playoffs with two goals and six points through two games.
For McGill to make their way past favoured UQTR, it will take them to play with confidence from the beginning and to shut down on the likes of Lavigne and Lafrance. Keeping the puck in the middle channels through the neutral zone could also aid their Queen’s Cup hopes, not having to worry as much with odd bounces on lively boards in Trois-Rivières.
“We know that they’re a team we have to get through in the playoffs, and we kind of expect that because they are strong, they’re fast and they have a really potent offence,” Urquhart said. “There has been a really strong rivalry between the two teams for over 20 years.”
It will not be easy for either team to punch their ticket to the Queen’s Cup and U SPORTS National Championship, but the Redbirds have no doubts in their mind despite being the lowest seed in the OUA East.
UQTR vs McGill Breakdown
Game Details: 7:00 Wednesday, Colisée de Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières
Players to watch: Simon Lafrance (UQTR), Eric Uba (McGill)