WOLFVILLE, NS – Simon Lafrance’s shout could be heard around the rink, “F—!” ricocheting off the metal roof and reverberating around the Andrew H. McCain Arena in Wolfville, NS.
While over 1,500 fans packed the Acadia Axemen’s home rink for the 2022 University Cup final, they were tame, just enjoying the hockey rather than pulling for the UQTR Patriotes or Alberta Golden Bears.
LaFrance’s exclamation came in the second overtime period — he had just missed the net on a clear-cut chance to win the U CUP for the Patriotes.
On the next shot, Lafrance scored an OT-winning goal to win the U SPORTS title for UQTR, their first since 2003.
“They dominated us in overtime, and we knew that we had to score if we got our chance, and I missed it,” Lafrance said. “That’s why everyone heard the F—!.”
Minutes later, and after stretching his leg awkwardly to stay onside, that didn’t matter. “It was pure emotion, I just threw my gloves up and smiled, and the boys swamped me,” Lafrance said, finishing his next shot to win the U CUP.
His goal ended the game at the 14:18 mark of overtime, making Sunday’s final the second-longest in U CUP history, only behind their loss to Western in 2002, which took 43:17 of extra hockey.
The win also marked the first time an OUA team has won the title since the McGill Redbirds beat Western in 2012.
All Alberta for 50 minutes of 60
The game did not start the way the Patriotes wanted. Until the last 10 minutes, the game looked done and dusted for Alberta.
The Golden Bears controlled the play early in the game and opened the scoring less than eight minutes in when Matt Fonteyne snapped a shot over the shoulder of UQTR goaltender Alexis Gravel to make it 1-0.
Alberta added a second within five minutes, cashing in on a powerplay as Luc Smith pushed the puck from in close and past a sprawling Gravel. For Alberta, however, the lead did not last long as UQTR’s Jordan Martel rushed down the ice and slotted the puck over goaltender Taz Burman’s pad.
While the Golden Bears controlled the puck possession in the first frame, the Patriotes showed that their forechecking game could force turnovers. Despite trailing, getting a goal in the immediate moments after going down 2-0 was critical to keeping morale and belief high among the Patriotes.
Alberta threw 12 shots on Alexis Gravel through the first 20 minutes, while Gravel’s UQTR only mustered five. However, the Patriotes picked up their play in the last two frames.
UQTR’s comeback and Kirichenko’s penalty
The second began as the first started, with the Golden Bears scoring quickly, extending the lead to 3-2 just 45 seconds into the period through Noah Philp’s sharp shot over Gravel’s shoulder.
After relying on the post for a few saves, UQTR returned within a goal as Felix Lauzon finished off a sharp passing play, giving Burman no chance to make the save and bringing the game to 3-2.
Once again, Alberta responded quickly to restore their 4-2 lead, but that is when everything changed. UQTR came out in full force to start the final frame, testing Burman early, before Loik Levillie squeezed a puck past to bring the Patriotes within a goal.
With Alberta’s veteran captain and lone fourth-year Clayton Kirichenko in the penalty box, UQTR scored their tying goal through Jordan Martel, putting them on level terms at 4-4, heading into the final moments of regulation.
The slides exchanged chances in the first overtime, but both goaltenders continued their strong play until the second extra period when Lafrance potted the winning goal to capture UQTR’s first title since 2003.
Alexis Gravel completes UQTR’s goaltending drama
At the start of the season, Marc-Ettiene Hubert planned to ride the tandem of Tristan Cote-Cazenave and Zachary Bouthiller, two goaltenders with outstanding junior resumes ready to fill the void left by Sebastien Auger’s graduation.
Both netminders signed professional contracts during the COVID pause, leading Hubert to turn to another goaltender he had worked in recruiting, former Halifax Moosehead Alexis Gravel.
What once appeared to be a detriment became a blessing, as Gravel stopped 66 shots through four periods en route to ensuring UQTR’s U SPORTS Championship.
For Gravel, who played every minute in the U CUP, Sunday’s win was cathartic and let him rest. “Yes, a little bit [tired] now, but we are f—n national champions,” he said post-game.
From five periods against UBC to three against Ryerson and another five in the final, Gravel turned aside 132 shots of 139 he faced, posting a .950 save percentage through the U CUP.
For a goaltender who joined midseason and a team that thought they would be in tough, Gravel’s emergence is of historic proportions.
COVID season in the books
The 2021-22 seasons was an interesting one to put it lightly, in particular for UQTR and the other Quebec school competing in the OUA. UQTR, McGill and Concordia all had to contend with the Ontario Government’s “elite sport” debate, and eventually push Quebec to allow them to resume. All of that while losing integral team members.
While the 2022 U CUP wasn’t under the lights of a CHL rink, nor in a major city, the UQTR Patriotes lifted the trophy, something that had not been done since 2019 in Lethbridge when the UNB Reds captured gold.