U SPORTS WHKY Nationals Day 1: Overtime games required as UNB and Nipissing win first-ever nationals games

Charlottetown, PEI – “It’s our time. Why not us?”

Sarah Hilworth’s message to her team, the UNB Reds, after the second period against the McGill Martlets could be summed up in those six words. That’s according to a postgame speech she gave to her squad, anyway.

Either way, it was more than enough to spark a 5-4 comeback win in a shootout after being down 4-1 after two. In the program’s first-ever U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship game, the “It’s our time” portion really sat with the Reds, judging by their play late in the game.  

After McGill captured a 2-0 lead in the first period, UNB fought back a goal two minutes into the second off the stick of Sydney Oitomen. But exactly a minute later, U SPORTS Player of the Year Jade Downie-Landry caught UNB on a bad line change, streaking in on a breakaway and beating Kendra Woodland blocker side to restore the two-goal lead.

The Reds had a strong period, holding the 2011 and 2014 national champions to just six shots on the period. But as they pushed up the pressure late in the period, McGill’s Makenzie McCallum scored with 15 seconds left to the intermission, extending the Martlets lead to three.

There’s no denying the goal stung for UNB. But given their first few minutes of the next frame, they didn’t appear affected at all. In fact, they were much better. 

It was veteran Jana Headrick, experienced in U SPORTS championships from her days with the Toronto Varsity Blues, who cut the McGill lead back to two 38 seconds into the third. 1:25 later, AUS defensive player of the year Jenna MacLean beat McGill’s Tricia Deguire amid the chaos in front of the net to make it a 4-3 game. 

Toward the middle of the period, the Martlets began to push back. They did a bit too aggressively though. RSEQ first-team all-star Marika Labreque got tied up on a scoring chance with a UNB blueliner and collided with Woodland in net, costing her a goaltender interference call.

UNB would make her pay late in the ensuing power play. Lillian George took a pass from MacLean and made no mistake in beating Deguire. In less than 10 minutes of play, the Reds had rallied back from 4-1 down to tie the quarterfinal.

Overtime was a wide-open affair, but the 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 opportunities in 4-on-4 overtime led nowhere but a shootout. Woodland and Deguire seemed unbeatable there as well, at least to begin with. Enter Ashley Stratton in the third round, who weaved to Deguire’s left before fooling her with a snap high-glove under the bar. Downie-Landry tried a similar move on Woodland with a low shot, but the AUS playoff MVP kicked it away to seal the UNB victory.

The win isn’t only the Reds’ first at nationals in program history but the second win for an AUS team in the championship’s quarterfinal round since 2016. The StFX X-Women were the others in 2020, who beat the Montreal Carabins in 2020. That was the final game before the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Woodland finished with 30 saves in the winning effort, while Reagan Minor quietly led UNB with three assists. All came in the third period. So did MacLean and George’s two points. McCallum, Downie-Landry and Christiana Colizza put up a pair of points each as the Martlets’ losing skid extended to three games. They take the ice again Saturday morning at 10 a.m. local time against the UBC Thunderbirds.

Meanwhile, the Reds have their sights set on booking a ticket to the gold medal game in Saturday’s semifinal. They will face fellow U SPORTS first-timers the Nipissing Lakers At 4 p.m. local time.

Nipissing 1 UBC 0 (OT)

At many times Thursday night, it looked like Nipissing stopper Chloe Marshall was a shot away from getting beat. But as every UBC chance improved, Marshall stepped up to the occasion each time. 

Take MacKenzie Kordic’s scoring chance on top of the blue paint, all alone, with just over a minute to play in regulation. Marshall wasn’t phased at all, reaching way out to pull down the puck to send the scoreless game to overtime.

That would end up being the crucial moment for the Nipissing stopper. Although two Thunderbird rushes materialized early in the extra frame, no saves were required. That’s when the Lakers started to push back, after being outplayed for the vast majority of the match. 

Finally, an innocent-looking pass from Michaela Presseault to the blueline was absolutely wired at the UBC net by Madison Solie. It went through goalie Elise Hugens, sealing the game for the Lakers. That was more than a win though; it was their first-ever U SPORTS championship victory in their first nationals matchup. 

Part of the Thunderbirds’ dominance all game was Nipissing’s 10 minor penalties in the game, four coming in the middle period where the Lakers had just four shots. They registered more shots in almost eight minutes of overtime than their second frame total. UBC didn’t get any shots in overtime at all, despite forcing 40 pucks on Marshall. Nipissing had 27 shots.

With the win, the OUA runners-up will match up against the UNB Reds on Saturday afternoon, the first semifinal. For UBC, they will look to extend their tournament against the McGill Martlets earlier on Saturday, for a spot in Sunday morning’s fifth-place game.

Photo: Mike Needham/UPEI Athletics

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