HALIFAX, NS – The first U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship in two years was weird, wacky and wonderful.
We’ve seen some strange milestones hit (when there weren’t any ice issues, anyway). Besides the first game of the tournament, all matchups ended in shutouts. That would be 10 straight for those counting, which is a tournament record. That broke the previous mark of nine, set in the 1998 edition of the women’s hockey nationals.
And of course, we were treated to the most dominant championship performance in years by the Concordia Stingers. Only three other times in history – the Alberta Pandas in 2010, the McGill Martlets in 2008 and Concordia in 1998 – has a team played the Perfect Nationals (zero goals allowed in the tournament). Accompanied by a trio of shutouts from Alice Philbert, the 2022 Stingers became just the fourth team to join that club with a 4-0 win over the Nipissing Lakers. Dating back to RSEQ playoffs, the Stingers have just allowed two goals in their seven-game postseason.
Gold-medal game: Concordia 4 Nipissing 0
Concordia had a bit of trouble in the game’s first half. In fact, they were being pushed around at many points by Nipissing. All they needed was a break. They got many in the second without much luck in the form of four power plays. It took them until the final one to score. Then everything from there fell into place, including gold medals around each Stinger’s neck.
To many’s surprise, Nipissing brought the offensive muscle from the drop of the puck. The first 10 minutes saw the Lakers lead 6-1 in shots against the best offensive team in the championships. As Concordia started getting in some cracks, the OUA runners-up pushed back, something teams have struggled to do against the RSEQ champions this week.
The best chance of the period came off a Stinger stick. On a 2-on-0, a dish to Concordia’s Marie-Pascale Bernie was stolen by a sliding Marshall, possibly the save of the tournament. The Lakers had the better period overall, but there was no score after 20.
Nipissing came out firing in the second again. However, their aggression at points would cost them most of the period as they took back-to-back-to-back penalties over the first 12 minutes. That Lakers pushback would pay off on the penalty kill, hardly allowing a high-quality Concordia scoring chance on any advantage.
But gradually, the Stingers worked back into their groove, challenging Marshall and the Lakers defence late in the second period. Concordia got their fourth power-play opportunity in the period’s final two minutes. Enter Maria Manarolis. Picking up a rolling puck from the blue line, Manarolis slapped it two or three times at Marshall before sneaking it by her right toe into the cage. With the tally, the tournament’s top-seeded team ended the frame up 1-0.
Concordia would just about seal it early in the third. Picking off a Nipissing clearing attempt, tournament MVP Stephanie Lalancette strolled into the slot and blasted one high on Marshall for the 2-0 goal.
Alike how Nipissing played most of the game, the Stingers eased up on their attack for perhaps the first time in the tournament after the second goal, with more of a focus on interrupting the Lakers’ flow and blocking shots. When the chance came though, they worked the puck up to Audrey Belzile, who would finish her breakaway chance to extend the lead to three. The Lakers wouldn’t recover from that, as Lalancette added an empty-netter to clinch the title for the Montreal-based program.
Philbert finished the night with 25 stops, while Bernie, Rosalie Begin-Cyr and Stephanie Lemelin contributed an assist each for the Stingers. Marshall was excellent for Nipissing, stopping 33 shots. Manarolis’s goal late in the second was the first she allowed all tournament.
Philbert, Lalancette and Belzile earned tournament all-star honours. Two Lakers – Madison Solie and Maria Dominico – were also named all-stars. A lone Saskatchewan Huskies player, Isabella Pozzi, took the sixth all-star selection.
Bronze-medal game: Saskatchewan 2 UNB 0
For the first time since 2014, the Saskatchewan Huskies are back on the national podium with their bronze-medal game triumph over the UNB Reds. In particular, Camryn Drever in net wrapped off an all-star-worthy performance this weekend with her second shutout in three games.
Saskatchewan put on the pressure from puck drop, which was 25 minutes behind schedule because of ice issues. They peppered Kendra Woodland with shots for the better part of the first 10 minutes. At last, Kennedy Brown walked out of the corner and passed off to Kendra Zuchotzki at the point. She wired a low one-timer through a crowd in the slot, flying past Woodland’s glove hand and in off the post. The goal at 7:51 was the only one through the first 20 minutes of play. UNB got their legs going a bit more in the final few moments of the first but to no avail.
The Reds couldn’t convert on an early-period power play, with Saskatchewan going back to smothering the AUS champs from making any noise on offence. On two occasions, however, UNB came close on separate breakaways. First, it was Melanie Drost springing in all alone on Drever, but her shot missed high. Moments later, Katherine Chadwick had a similar chance. This time, Drever got the blocker on it.
With five minutes to go in the second, Saskatchewan would make the Reds pay for both those misses and a three-on-one opportunity given up. On that, Jasper Desmarais held onto the puck and lifted it just under the bar on Woodland’s short side. The Huskies, from there, maintained puck possession until the intermission.
UNB had their longest stint of sustained pressure all game to begin the final period. With the control didn’t come as many shots, as the Huskies kept play to the outside and away from Drever. The period didn’t have a ton of shots, only 9-7 in favour of Saskatchewan. But the saves made were seismic. Woodland turned aside a pair of breakaways in the period while Drever stood tall during a late UNB power play.
Drever finished with just 17 saves. But over three games, she racked up a .975 save percentage and a goals-against average of 0.67. Dating back to the CanWest playoffs, she’s won six of her last eight, allowing two or fewer goals in each of those games except one. Brown, Kara Kondrat and Bronwyn Boucher picked up assists Sunday afternoon. In the UNB net, Woodland stopped 23 shots in a losing effort.
Fifth-place game: UBC 4 UPEI 0
The UBC Thunderbirds’ Ireland Perrott has put up a decent season, tied for second on both her team and in Canada West in scoring. She’s also had a good tournament so far, closing it out with one of her best games of the season.
Parrott scored two goals, including one on the power play, and added an assist on the road to a UBC 4-0 win over the host UPEI Panthers. With the win, the Thunderbirds will head home with back-to-back victories, despite dropping their first game of the nationals to a pesky Nipissing team.
UBC got on the board very, very early. 1:09 into the game, Perrott set up Hannah Koroll who beat UPEI’s Camille Scherger for what would be the game-winning goal. Perrott’s power-play goal came near the 17-minute mark of the period, securing a 2-0 Thunderbirds lead at the siren.
Perrott struck again just 2:38 into the second frame, this time putting the puck past Shaylin MacFarlane in the Panthers crease. She replaced Scherger in net before the period began. Not even six minutes later, UBC would strike once more on the power play as Kenzie Robinson got onto the scoresheet with a goal. By the period’s halfway point, it was already 4-0. That would be all the scoring in the Sunday morning game.
Elise Hugens capped off a fantastic tournament with a 21-save shutout. She has allowed just one goal, Nipissing’s overtime winner in UBC’s Thursday quarterfinal. Altogether, Hugens put up a .986 save percentage over three games this weekend. Despite leaving early, Scherger was credited with the loss.
Photo: Mike Needham/UPEI