TORONTO, ON – Just like that, the first games of the OUA Queen’s Cup men’s hockey playoffs are in the books, with four teams on the brink of elimination and the rest a game away from advancing.
Over Wednesday and Thursday nights, the opening round of the playoffs took centre stage in the conference, re-igniting rivalries in the first best-of-three series since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
49 Sports takes you through the four opening games and looks ahead to the weekend’s decisive matchups.
OUA WEST: TMU Bold 1-4 Toronto Varsity Blues
The Toronto Varsity Blues may have been outshot, but they outplayed the TMU Bold on Thursday night, earning a 4-1 win to open the series against their downtown rivals.
Rookie Nick Wong scored twice in his first OUA Playoff game, while Cole Purboo and Peyton Reeves opened the scoring before him. Meanwhile, TMU got on the board just once on an odd goal off the face of Connor Bowie, but that was all they could muster past Toronto’s Jett Alexander, who stopped 41 shots of TMU’s 42.
Although the final score appeared tilted, there were opportunities on either side and a clear chance for both teams to take Game 2.
“Yeah, the shots were great, 14-2 or whatever it was…but it’s 0-0, and it means nothing,” said TMU head coach Johnny Duco. “41 shots is great on paper, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot if we’re not capitalizing.”
While TMU had ample time in the offensive zone, there were several turnovers on bobbled pucks by defenders, particularly on the third goal when second-year defenceman Aaron Hyman couldn’t break out the puck, leading to Wong’s wrist shot past Edmonds.
As well, Toronto played a physically demanding game, winning 60% of total puck battles while also generating their few chances from high-scoring areas in front of the goal.
Toronto’s journey to the playoffs hadn’t been an easy one. They had to heat up late to qualify; meanwhile, their downtown counterparts limped to the finish, losing three of their final four games.
“Down the stretch, we had to make sure we did a job to get in; we had talked about it coming out after Christmas, it was going to be as close to playoff hockey as you can get, and that was evident for us the few games leading up to this,” said Toronto head coach Ryan Medel.
“We have to reset; you can’t have highs and lows in these short series; you have to be emotionally stable, so for us, we have to stay focused and see how we can get better, and we have to be ready to go on Saturday night.”
For Wong, however, who returned from injury after the winter break, there’s still a little hesitancy on the confidence heading into Saturday night’s clash, with a chance to eliminate the Bold.
“Saturday is a long way away, but we’re going to focus on tomorrow and getting some rest and being ready to go,” he said. “I’ve been trying to improve my game off other people, seeing how this group works together and just bringing my level up to that.”
OUA WEST: Brock Badgers 2-0 Laurier Golden Hawks
The Brock Badgers took Game 1 against the Laurier Golden Hawks 2-0, but it’s a positive result for the Kitcher-Waterloo school visitors in the opening matchup.
After just sneaking into the OUA post-season, the Golden Hawks pushed a tough Badgers team throughout the night but couldn’t get any pucks past Brock goaltender Roman Basran on 34 shots.
There wasn’t a clear weak spot in the matchup, and Laurier did a stellar job of keeping the game close and not allowing Brock’s best players to have time and space on the puck. Similar to how Brock played in 2021-22, Laurier kept things tight by relying on physical play and rush chances.
Yet, despite an overall positive performance, the Badgers took the win, and that’s all that matters at this point of the season. Now, the TJ Manastersky-led Badgers are on the brink of advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Badgers relied on their veteran players for scoring and some of the big minutes, with Cole Tymkin and Tyler Rollo providing the markers. Despite likely relying on a similar move in the next game, they could face a challenge as well, with leading scorer Jacob Roach in doubt for Game 2.
Expect Laurier to approach the second game with even more desire to get to pucks first, and keep up the physical style of play they showcased through the regular season. At the same time, they’ll need even more stellar goaltending from Christian Propp in the crease.
The Golden Hawks look to avoid elimination when they welcome the Badgers on Saturday night with puck drop set for 7:00 pm ET.
OUA EAST: McGill Redbirds 4-2 uOttawa Gee-Gees
The McGill Redbirds look like a team that is determined to make U SPORTS Nationals after missing out by a single game last season. While they’re taking on a younger and developing uOttawa program, the Redbirds looked a step above.
Head coach Dave Uruquart’s team took the series-opening game at McConnel Arena 4-2, with Mtich Prowse and William Rouleau both posting a pair of points in the victory, while McGill controlled the pace of play throughout the night.
Although the Redbirds can bend and sometimes break in their own end, their offensive transition is among the OUA’s best, and it’s what powered them over uOttawa on Wednesday.
For the Gee-Gees to stay alive, they’ll need better goaltending, and that’s been an issue for them all season. Although they’ve quickly developed some chemistry on the ice, the young tandem of J.P Tourigny and Christian Sbaraglia and still growing in their roles, and the 2022-23 season just looks a bit early for them.
On the other side, the Redbirds have a strong chance of completing the series sweep on Friday night at the Minto Sports Complex in Ottawa, drawing on their experience, as well as their dynamism throughout the lineup, led from the back and blueliner Scott Walford.
The Redbirds may not be a strong contender to win the OUA on paper, but they’ve put up a strong effort against Ottawa so far. They could see themselves in a potential OUA quarter-final with Montreal-rival Concordia Stingers.
OUA EAST: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks 0-4 Carleton Ravens
On the scoreboard, it looked like the Carleton Ravens dismantled the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. Yet, a look at shots, shot attempts or chance creation and it’s clear that’s anything but true.
The 4-0 scoreline is pretty for uOttawa, but much of it came down to a 47-save shutout from Mark Grametbauer and a high-shooting percentage from the Gee-Gees forwards, beating Ontario Tech’s Leif Hertz four times on a mere 19 shots.
Simply, it came Majid Kaddoura potted a goal and two assists in the effort. Still, Carleton were outplayed throughout the evening, with much of their win simply credited to Grametbauer’s excellence in the net.
While the Ravens are the higher seed and will host Game 2 and a potential Game 3, the Ridgebacks aren’t far off from making it an intriguing series, with their chance creation and scoring opportunities ever present and just requiring a breakthrough.
Game 2 goes Saturday at Carleton’s Ice House, with puck drop set for 7:00 pm ET.