TORONTO, ON – The second round of the 2023 OUA Queen’s Cup Playoffs has arrived.
After winning the OUA and U SPORTS Championships last season, the UQTR Patriotes are back in the postseason and ready to chase a championship once again, while the Concordia Stingers also join the fold in search of their first-ever Queen’s Cup title.
Those two top seeds, which earned first-round byes, match up with the Carleton Ravens and McGill Redbirds, with all four teams vying for a spot in the OUA East final, and a chance to play for a spot at the 2023 U SPORTS National Championships.
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UQTR Patriotes vs Carleton Ravens
The UQTR Patriotes are the favourites to win the 111th Queen’s Cup and will aim to be the first program to claim the trophy in back-to-back seasons since McGill won three in a row from 2010-2012.
Led by head coach Marc-Ettiene Hubert, the Patriotes have been on another level this season, jumping out to a big early lead in the OUA East standings before securing the top spot by season’s end by a five-point margin, topping out at 43 points.
They enter as the favourites against the Carleton Ravens in their second round matchup, despite not sweeping their regular season tilts. In those head-to-head encounters, UQTR won twice, Carleton once, and the Patriotes outscored the Ravens 12-9.
UQTR approach the game with breakneck speed in transition, and their possessive offensive zone play isn’t paralleled anywhere in the OUA. While they have outstanding offensive talent, they’ve also got players that can play with a gritty style while also putting up points.
Despite missing three critical players for a few games in January, with OUA leading scorer Simon Lafrance, alongside Zachary Lavigne and Justin Bergeron at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, the team adjusted and elevated their level upon their return.
Lafrance’s quick release and elusive positioning saw him top OUA scoring with 38 points in 23 games, while Lavigne’s tight-checking play held opponents off the puck. At the same time, Bergeron proved to be a critical transitional facet on the backend.
Outside of the FISU trio, Julien Tessier raised his game in their absence and topped the season at 30 points, while Felix Lafrance, brother of Simon, quickly settled into his first OUA season, finishing the year with 15 goals in 26 games, just one fewer than his brother.
UQTR’s depth is what makes them a well-built team for the grind that is the OUA postseason, and they look to maintain the form that saw them post 4.1 expected goals (xG) per game, good for second in the OUA and 13.8 hits per game, seventh in U SPORTS.
In net, the Patriotes missed out on goaltender Alexis Gravel for a few games in December. Still, their starting netminder finished the year with 19 games, playing up to the level that pushed the Patriotes to the OUA and U SPORTS titles last season with a .932 save percentage.
UQTR’s deep roster and offensive talent will come up against a tough test in Carleton. Notably, goaltender Mark Grametbauer, the reigning OUA athlete of the week, who comes into the series off two 4-0 shutouts wins from the first round against Ontario Tech, where he turned aside all 87 shots he faced.
Aside from strong goaltending, head coach Shaun Van Allen and the Ravens showcased their qualities and playoff abilities in that opening-round sweep over the Ridgebacks. Defenceman Majid Kaddoura scored once and added three assists while maintaining calm play in his own end, and forward Oliver Castleman stepped up his forechecking game as well.
It will be an intriguing battle for Carleton’s defenders to go up against UQTR’s top six, but the difference for the Ravens will fall on their offensive production and their ability to ‘run-and-gun’ with the Patriotes in what could likely be a high-scoring series.
For that to happen, Carleton needs to get top-line players Parker Aucoin and Nick McCarry scoring regularly after Ontario Tech shut them down effectively in the opening round.
With Carleton and UQTR going head to head for a chance to play for an OUA medal, the second round of the Queen’s Cup Playoffs is bound to feature excitement as the Ravens look to pull off an upset and advance to the OUA East final.
Concordia Stingers vs McGill Redbirds
Two Montreal rivals couldn’t have finished the season much closer. The OUA East semifinal matchup between the second-seeded Concordia Stingers and third-seeded McGill Redbirds is bound to be one of the most intriguing matchups in not only the OUA but the U SPORTS playoffs.
The Stingers had a breakout season under head coach Marc-Andre Element this season. Not only did the bench boss pick up his 100th career OUA victory, but led them 39 points and a first-round bye, rebounding from a 2021-22 playoffs that ended in disappointing fashion against Ontario Tech.
Taking on McGill, the Stingers start their playoffs with a heated matchup and get a chance to sharpen their habits against a tough opponent before potentially taking on further rounds in the OUA postseason. At the same time, the Redbirds can build some contagious momentum should they push past their Montreal foes.
Concordia is one of the more intriguing teams in the OUA. They don’t necessarily play with the fastest players or most skilled, but in an organized unit, they finished the year with the most scoring chances created per game in the OUA with 24.1, and the highest xG in Canada with 4.8. Although the Stingers finished behind the UQTR Patriotes, they’ve played in a way conducive to improvement.
The Stingers also led U SPORTS in defensive zone faceoffs, with a 57.5 percent win rate.
Isiah Campbell led the team in scoring with 24 points in 26 games, slightly dipping below the point-per-game pace he achieved as a rookie last season. Meanwhile, Maxime Trepanier and Charles Tremblay posted 22 and 20 points, respectively.
However, two of the most important players for the Stingers were forward Tyler Hylland and defenceman Kyle Havlena. Hylland took on a two-way forward focus, playing a defensively responsible game while also contributing to the attack, while Havlena is one of the best shutdown defenders in the OUA.
Hylland missed time as a late addition to Canada’s roster at the FISU Games, but the gold medal only buoyed him to an even stronger second half. As well, he’s pushed to that level after losing his mother just days before the FISU Games in December.
“Before she passed, we spoke about potentially getting this [FISU Games] opportunity, and she was super excited for me, and I know she would have been at every single game watching online or [in Lake Placid,]” Hylland said.
“She would have loved the opportunity, and I want to do it for her, my whole family.”
With Concordia brimming with drive and confidence, they take on a McGill team that swiftly beat the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the opening round. Head coach David Urquhart has developed the McGill playing style over the last two seasons and relies on a structured top two lines that can go against the best in in the nation.
McGill’s difference makers will no doubt have to be blueliner Scott Walford, as well as forwards William Rouleau and Alexandre Gagnon, who posted five and four points in just two games against the Gee-Gees.
McGill hasn’t won the Queen’s Cup since 2012, and Concordia has never earned a chance to lift the trophy. This season, the two schools played three times, with Concordia winning twice.
It’s always a special moment when the two Montreal programs go head to head in OUA hockey, but even moreso when it’s in the Queen’s Cup playoffs and a chance to move onto the OUA East final is on the line.
Concordia host Game 1 on Wednesday night at Ed Meagher Arena, before McGill welcome the series to McConnell Arena for Game 2. A potential Game 3 would head back to Concordia’s barn.