WOLFVILLE, NS – It’s almost like the hockey gods didn’t want the UQTR Patriotes to clinch a berth in Sunday’s U SPORTS U CUP Men’s Hockey Championship final.
They were fresh off a double-overtime win over the UBC Thunderbirds the night before. After a late-night getting back to the hotel in Halifax, their bus broke down partway through the hour-long hike to Wolfville on Saturday afternoon. That delayed their game against Ryerson by 30 minutes.
How did they respond? UQTR scored seven goals on the team that beat the UNB Reds on Friday, beating the Rams 7-2 and clinching a coveted spot alongside the Alberta Golden Bears in the gold-medal game.
“We had to keep the focus,” said UQTR’s Olivier Garneau, who had a goal and an assist against Ryerson. He grinned throughout the press conference as his gitty teammates observed from the arena concourse above.
After the extended game the night before, he emphasized the importance of the cold and hot tubs before getting sleep. That was before the bus breakdown.
“We went for a little walk and [had] a little soccer game,” is what the team, he said, did to keep loose before their biggest game of the season. “Once we got to the rink, we were ready to go.”
A motivational speech or two must have happened in there too because UQTR was on a mission. Ryerson goaltender Garrett Forrest continued his hot form early in the game before UQTR blueliner Justin Bergeron broke the ice 11 minutes in, stealing a Ryerson breakout pass and squeezing the shot past Forrest’s short-side.
Ryerson’s Jeremiah Addison scored on the power play with just under five left in the frame. But 41 seconds later, Garneau and Felix Lauzon stormed down on a 2-on-1, with Garneau shovelling in the rebound.
As UQTR jumped ahead 3-1 early in the second period, the Rams’ Chris Playfair cut the deficit back to one just 5:34 in. Again, UQTR minced no time. David Noel fooled Forrest with a five-hole shot just 59 seconds later.
Patriotes head coach Marc-Etienne Hebert, much like his players, was a proponent for “The Focus” and said it was key in quick answers to Ryerson’s goals.
“We cheer for the guys from behind the bench. We make sure we know what everyone has to do on the ice,” he said. “It was a matter of focus and emotion control tonight.”
Ryerson fought to stay within a goal and challenge Alexis Gravel in net in the opening period. However, by the semifinal’s latter half, the Rams drew quiet.
“I thought that was the best hockey team we’ve seen all year. But we turned too many pucks over and made too many mistakes,” Ryerson head coach Johnny Duco said. “We didn’t have the same level of urgency and jump we did yesterday.”
UQTR added three more goals in the third period and had seven different goal-scorers, including Garneau and Lauzon’s two points apiece. Simon Lafrance had three helpers.
Gravel hot and moves on with Patriotes
Gravel, in one net, cruised to his second win of nationals. He stopped 29 shots, now boasting a .957 save percentage at the U CUP.
As he did against UNB, Forrest stopped 36 shots against UQTR. But the same magic wasn’t there as the day before.
“Emotions were pretty high. We hoped it would go the other way, and we could ride them into this game,” Rams captain Jared Walsh said on the quick turnaround from their UNB win. “I want to say our emotions peaked there, but we couldn’t find it today.”
The gold-medal game versus Alberta Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Atlantic will be UQTR’s third game in as many nights. Ryerson will have even less time to prepare for their bronze-medal matchup, with puck drop at 1:00 p.m. local against the StFX X-Men.
Garneau has big expectations for himself.
“I have to be a leader. So we’re going to the hotel to eat, sleep and get ready for the biggest game of the year tomorrow.”