This year’s U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship final will be very different-looking, as neither team has advanced that far in the 21st century.
With wins in Saturday’s semifinals, the Concordia Stingers and Nipissing Lakers have booked their tickets in the tournament’s primetime finale Sunday night in Charlottetown. Nipissing cruised to a win over the UNB Reds in the early semi on Saturday afternoon, while Concordia outlasted a picky but reserved Saskatchewan Huskies club 2-0 later on.
Nipissing has never made the national final, let alone the national tournament, until now. Concordia hasn’t advanced to the championship game since 1999.
The championship game will get underway at 6 p.m. local time on Sunday. UNB and Saskatchewan will square off for a bronze medal that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. local.
Semifinal #1: Nipissing 4 UNB 0
In what was a tight game to start, Nipissing didn’t take long to pull the play in their favour in Saturday’s first semifinal. Chloe Marshall, for the second straight game, picked up a shutout en route to a 4-0 win over the AUS champions from UNB. She made 16 saves in the winning effort, sending Nipissing to their first-ever national championship game.
UNB had a lot of time with the puck to start out. But Nipissing was able to do more with it, registering more shots and high-quality chances in the first 20 minutes. That would pay off for the OUA runner-ups nine minutes in. A bout of sustained pressure from the Lakers saw the puck squirt out to a wide-open Madison Desmerais. All alone in front of the net, she beat Kendra Woodland five-hole to open the scoring.
The Reds responded in the first few minutes following the intermission but not enough to take away Nipissing’s comfort. UNB had a power-play opportunity early but the Lakers quickly flipped the pressure afterward Minutes later, Thursday’s overtime hero for Nipissing, Madison Solie, threw a floater through a crowd in the slot. Deflecting off a defender in front, the puck shifted directions past an unsuspecting Woodland’s blocker into the net.
Nipissing kept the pressure on throughout the frame, building a spread of 27-13 in shots by the buzzer. With just under five to play, amid another intense Lakers shift, a rebound bounced out to Maggie Mckee. She fed a wide-open Malory Dominico for a tic-tac-goal, boosting their lead to 3-0.
The third period didn’t have much offensive action as both sides locked up defensively. UNB had two power plays but generated just three shots in the period. On their second opportunity with about five minutes to play, the Reds pulled Woodland for the extra attacker. However, Brianna Gaffney was quick to slap the loose puck the length of the ice and straight into the goal.
Mckee, Emma Thomas, Ashlyn Zaharia and Katie Chomiak supplied Nipissing’s assists, while Gaffney led the squad with five shots. On the other end, despite no scoring, Woodland was impressive again with 30 saves.
Semifinal #2: Concordia 2 Saskatchewan 0
Saskatchewan provided a bit of a stiffer test for Concordia than UPEI did the night before. But for goalie Alice Philbert, it was business as usual. With 20 saves, Philbert helped her team stave off the defensively-pesky Huskies to advance to Sunday’s gold-medal game.
The Stingers came out buzzing (pun very much intended) early in the game, throwing 10 shots on Drever in the first seven minutes. They would collect six more by the buzzer but still very well kept all the play near the Saskatchewan net. The Huskies had a pushback late in the period thanks to a power play and from that almost caught Philbert off guard. A knuckle puck flew near her head but was able to cover it before a pack of Huskies arrived at the net. But no goals emerged from that, nor from anything else through the rest of the period.
Not much changed the next period. Except Concordia played better. Oh, and they scored twice. The first one came three minutes into the second, when Audrey Belzile did it all herself by toe-dragging around a Huskies defender and fooling Drever along the ice for the first goal. The Stingers continued to blow any Saskatchewan response back in their face, maintaining possession and most of all, keeping it away from their net. Concordia outshot the Canada West finalists 11-2 in the second.
Something was to be said about the Huskies’ ability to keep the shots down, but not having the puck to start with didn’t help. Concordia was running a berzerk 70 per cent faceoff efficiency after 40 minutes. It paid off some more as the clock ticked to 3:40 in the period, when Maria Manarolis tipped a Rosalie Begin-Cyr shot past Drever to double the lead. With tournament MVP frontrunner Begin-Cyr collecting her fourth point in five periods, the Stingers took that two-goal lead to the dressing room.
Saskatchewan got the pushback they needed in the first part of the period. They had an early period power play which they didn’t score on, but it didn’t work against their confidence. The Huskies almost caught Philbert sleeping many times by the period’s midway point. Concordia wouldn’t let them have too much though, forcing the play back at Saskatchewan for the rest of the game. Although the green-and-black came close as time ticked down, including a Sara Kendall shot finding iron, they couldn’t beat Philbert.
Drever at the other end finished with 37 saves on the night, holding off the RSEQ’s highest-scoring team for all but two shots. Along with Begin-Cyr, Olivia Hale and Marie-Pascale Bernie registered assists in the win.
Consolation Semifinal #1: UBC 4 McGill 0
After struggling to find their scoring touch Thursday night against Nipissing, the UBC Thunderbirds put the puck in the net early and often as they cruised to a 4-0 victory over the McGill Martlets.
Starting with a power-play goal off the stick of Shay-Lee McConnell seven minutes in, the UBC offence didn’t look back. Rylind MacKinnon followed six minutes later to extend the lead to two, a lead they would hold over almost the next two full periods of play.
After UBC came out flying to start the game, the Martlets had a bit of a resurgence in the second frame. But Elise Hugens, who has allowed just one goal all tournament, turned aside all 11 McGill shots in the period to maintain the Thunderbirds’ two-goal advantage.
Then, UBC flipped the switch to close out the semifinal. First, it was Ashley McFadden who scored shorthanded two minutes into the third period. Mia Bierd scored the game’s final goal at the 11-minute mark, finalizing the Canada West champions’ lead at 4-0.
Along with the goal scorers, Mackenzie Kordic, Annalise Wong, Sophia Gaskell, Ireland Parrott and Emily Moore all found the scoresheet for the offensively-gifted Thunderbirds. Hugens finished with 25 saves on the day for the win, while Tricia Deguire turned aside 29 for the losing team. McGill will head home with the loss.
Consolation Semifinal #2: UPEI 2 Brock 0
After a forgettable quarterfinal Friday night versus the Concordia Stingers, UPEI goalie Camille Scherrer made a statement in Saturday afternoon’s consolation semifinal versus the Brock Badgers.
With 30 saves, Scherger shut out the OUA champions on home ice. With that, the UPEI Panthers sent Brock packing on their way to a 2-0 win.
After getting close multiple times Friday night, Jolena Gillard broke out for both Panthers goals on Tiffany Hsu in the Badgers net. Her first came midway through the second period on the power play to open the scoring. It remained a 1-0 game until the AUS’s leading goal scorer buried their second with 2:31 to play, sealing a spot in tomorrow morning’s fifth-place game.
Sydney Lyndon picked up secondary assists on both UPEI goals, with Wasyn Rice and Mireille Martin getting their names on the scoresheet too. As Scherger picked up the win, Hsu had 16 stops in the loss.
The fifth-place game will get underway at 11 a.m Sunday morning, with the Panthers and UBC battling to end their season with a win.
Photo: Nipissing Lakers