Kingston, ON – It wasn’t until he slammed into the boards in the southwest corner of the Leon’s Centre, turning to accept a bear hug from teammate Jack Duff, thousands of Queen’s fans in a bedlam above him, his team pouring off the bench behind him to greet him, that Alex Robert realized he’d just scored one of the biggest goals of his life.
Seventy-six seconds into overtime, on the 49th Queen’s shot on a night the Gaels couldn’t stop shooting, Robert had finally slipped the game-winner past RMC’s Joey May to give Queen’s a 2-1 overtime win in the 35th Carr-Harris Cup.
“Honestly, it took me a couple of seconds,” Robert said. “I shot it; it was rolling over his [Joey May’s] shoulder, and then once I scored, I just forget what was going on.”
In front of a crowd of 3800 at the Leon’s Centre in Kingston, the Carr-Harris Cup made its long-awaited return after a three-year COVID-19 cancellation. The trophy, given out to the winner of the annual matchup between the Queen’s Gaels and RMC Paladins, marked as hockey’s oldest rivalry with roots back to 1886. It’s a game that’s seen wild comebacks, upset victories and everything in between.
On Thursday, with a Queen’s team four points back of the final playoff spot in the OUA East and running out of time to qualify for the Queen’s Cup squaring off against an RMC side all the more happy to be the ones to send them home, another chapter in a historic rivalry was written as the Gaels fought to last for one more night.
The temperature in Kingston continued to drop into the evening on Thursday, but from the moment the doors to Leon’s Centre opened, the chants between the Gaels and Paladins faithful only seemed to heat up. With three years gone by since Queen’s 4-2 victory in the 2020 Carr-Harris Cup, as red and white stretch across one half of the Leon’s Centre and blue and yellow across the other, the sounds were deafening.
“I told the guys before the game to enjoy it and soak it in, and if you don’t have butterflies, you’re playing the wrong sport,” RMC coach Richard Lim said.
After a ceremonial puck drop and a quick ceremony that served as a delayed honouring of Queen’s head coach Brett Gibson for 400 games behind the Gael’s bench, the puck dropped at just past 7:30 pm, and from the moment the clock started, it was clear Queen’s was in full on desperation mode to score early and often.
The one thing standing in between the Gaels and the net? The RMC Paladins’ fourth-year goalie Joey May. In his final season in the OUA, May has already broken every personal best in wins with five, GAA at 3.57 and save percentage at .912. On Thursday, though, as the wall of RMC fans wrapped around May’s net in the first period grew louder and louder, May seemed to grow stronger and stronger.
“Last time we played this game [2019-2020′ I was in my first year, so being a senior guy and now my last year at the college, I was really excited to play in this game,” May said.
The shots finished 21-8 for the Queen’s Gaels after 20 minutes of play but 0-0 on the scoresheet.
Dalton Duhart finally got a break for Queen’s midway through the second as he got on a break and wired one over the shoulder of Joey May to make it 1-0 for the Gaels.
Despite the goal, May finished the second period with 40 saves for the Paladins, including multiple complex sequences of stops.
“That’s the Joey that we know can be there; he’s had a few of those performances this year; he was awesome; there’s no way around it,” coach Lim said.
“The puck must have looked like a beachball for him because he seemed to stop everything.”
Late in the second period, it was Paladins captain Noah Rowe, also in his final Carr-Harris Cup as a senior, who picked up a pass into the slot from Josh Spratt and buried it behind Luke Richardson before jumping into the glass and letting out a yell that sent the RMC fans into hysterics as the second period wound down.
With his counterpart at the other end seemingly otherworldly, it was a quieter night for Luke Richardson, but that meant the ability to bounce back was even more critical.
“As a goalie, you’ve gotta have a short memory. You can’t think on things too hard,” Richardson said. “Once the puck drops, you gotta reset and start from scratch again.”
Both May and Richardson started from scratch in the third, as with both teams feeling each other out, the shots finally slowed down, and the saves kept coming.
“It’s always the way it is; an RMC goalie makes 50 saves, and we have to find a way to score a goal; it seems to be a theme at the Carr-Harris,” Queen’s coach Brett Gibson said.
No goals came through in the third before it was Robert cashing in and keeping the Queen’s season alive. “I knew we had to get something going and not leave it up to a shootout,” Robert said.
It’s been a difficult season for the Paladins and to lose the chance to eliminate their biggest rival from the playoff race has to especially disappointing, but even the Paladins can acknowledge the level of hockey that took place on Thursday.
“I wish we got the win but other than that; you can’t ask for much more than a 2-1 overtime game. I mean, I wish we got the win, but this was about as good as it gets,” Joey May said.
The Gaels now sit two points back of the Ottawa Gee-Gees for the final playoff spot in the OUA East. To their coach, the message is still pretty simple. “Feet on the ground, you gotta just take it one day at a time,” Gibson said.
After a performance like Thursday, the Gaels have earned the right to play for at least one more night.