UNB and McGill set to clash in opening game of WHKY Championship

OTTAWA, ON – The U SPORTS national women’s hockey championship will kick off Thursday with a game between the UNB Reds and McGill martlets.

UNB is the higher seeded team because of their victory in the AUS conference. Having finished second in the RSEQ, McGill cannot be ranked higher; however, they are the better team. The Martlets are perennial winners of U SPORTS women’s hockey with the second-most national titles. They come into this year’s tournament in a last-dance-style situation with star seniors in their last games.

Captain Jade Downie Landry has been with the team for six years and is playing her fifth season of eligibility. She is the best player in U SPORTS and dominated the RSEQ conference this year. Her strength and puck protection skills make her challenging to play against, especially for smaller and less skilled teams. On Wednesday night, she was awarded the Brodrick trophy as the clear league MVP, hoping to take her team back to the finals. Other players like Marika Labrecque contribute to McGill’s dominance on the ice. On most teams, Labrecque would be a first-line centre, but her presence on the second line indicates McGill depth. On the power play, when the two combine, they create a nearly unstoppable force.

Mcgill’s defence is far from the strongest that has ever existed; they allowed an average of almost 29 shots against per game. Their adherence to a smart structure allows them to force those shots to be of poor quality, but McGill struggles to prevent chances when faced with quick teams who can sneak around defenders. Thankfully for them, they are backed up by veteran goalie Tricia Deguire. Also a senior, Deguire had a brilliant season with a .931 save percentage as the best goalie in the RSEQ conference. She had nearly seven goals saved above average.

McGill has the development to continue to be a strong team after this, but three legends of the program will graduate, leaving the Martlets behind this summer. Watch for them to be playing especially hard for one last chance.

UNB’s journey is a remarkable story of perseverance and triumph. The Reds might not look like an underdog after winning the AUS championship, but everything about this team screams comeback. In 2008 their program had its funding cut by the university, and it was nearly a decade before it was revived. Not long after its revival, the pandemic interrupted their attempts to rebuild UNB’s hockey tradition. Now, just a few years later, the UNB Reds are at the national championship.

Many of the players from that original UNB team are now seniors motivated to complete what they started in 2018. Goaltender Kendra woodland has been with the team all through those seasons. She carried UNB on her back through the playoffs so she and her team would have the chance to play for a national title.

In the AUS championship games, UNB struggled to contend with the speed of StFX, who frequently dominated possession and outshot UNB by landslide margins. Smart defensive structure from UNB kept the puck to the outside frustrating the opposition. Kendra woodland stood on her head when she needed to, stealing the victory for the Reds. UNB doesn’t have the same distinctive offensive weapons at McGill, but with their style of play, they only need one or two goals.

Mcgill’s key to success is starting fast and never allowing UNB the time to get themselves into the game. If McGill scores first, they can disrupt UNB’s ability to hold on until they get one. UNB’s keys to success will be that defensive structure and keeping a much stronger McGill to the outside. Discipline within the system and discipline to the rules will be critical in ensuring there are no gaps left for McGill to sneak through. The tournament is single-game elimination, so anything can happen. This will be a thrilling game.

Puck drop is at 2:00 PM eastern and viewable on cbcsports.ca

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