Toronto, ON- Four teams remain in the quest for the 2023 OUA McCaw Cup, each taking a unique path to reach this point.
The Nipissing Lakers are chasing redemption after finishing with the silver at both the OUA and U SPORTS level in 2022. The Toronto Varsity Blues are in search of a repeat after a 2020 McCaw Cup title and a nearly perfect season. The Waterloo Warriors are eyeing their first McCaw Cup title and hoping they can put to rest the inconsistencies that have plagued them the last few seasons. Finally, the Guelph Gryphons are looking to ride the momentum that their sensational sophomore netminder provided them in the opening round and add another storybook chapter to their playoff push.
Guelph Gryphons vs Toronto Varsity Blues
On paper, this may seem like the more predictable series, but that’s through no fault of the Guelph Gryphons. The Toronto Varsity Blues have simply just been on a different level than most of the teams in the country in 2022-23, and it showed in the quarterfinal despite a spirited effort by the TMU Bold.
Game 1 against TMU saw Erica Fryer give up an early goal but shut the door after that making 19 saves on the evening. That was enough for Kaitlyn McKnight early in the third and Sophie Grawbarger in the dying seconds to get the goals that ultimately gave the Blues a 2-1 win. A night later, despite giving up a goal with 15 seconds left in the second to go into the final frame tied at two, the Blues didn’t break and instead saw Emma Potter and Kaitlyn McKnight pot late goals to give them the 4-2 win and the 2-0 series sweep.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Varsity Blues in the opening round is they demonstrated that proverbial ‘find a way to win’ mentality that is so necessary the deeper it gets into the playoffs. Despite going down early in Game 1 and losing their lead in Game 2, the Varsity Blues continued to push and found the goals they needed.
The ability to not give up will come in handy against a Guelph Gryphons team that seemed keen to just never to stop playing in the first round. A double-overtime 1-0 shutout loss in Game 1, a 3-0 shutout win in Game 2, and a quadruple-overtime 3-2 win in the decisive finale proved one thing for Guelph in 2023, and that is they will go as far as Martina Fedel will take them. If there is anyone who could help the Gryphons pull off the upset, though, it would be their sophomore goalie.
Fedel led the OUA in wins with 15 in the regular season, while also finishing third in GAA at 1.48 and eighth in save percentage at .930, and that sparkling play carried over into the playoffs. Her coming out party, though, came in the thrilling series-clincher, where she turned aside 44 shots across nearly seven periods of hockey before Hannah Tait potted the OT winner for Guelph.
When it comes down to it, the storyline for this series is relatively straightforward. Toronto is the favourite to win because Toronto has been the favourite to win nearly every game they’ve played in this year, but if Martina Fedel continues to carry her hot streak, the Gryphons might just be able to pull off a surprise.
Waterloo Warriors vs Nipissing Lakers
This series is truly the OUA’s redemption battle. For the Waterloo Warriors, the redemption stems from a season ago in which they finished 13-1-1 to lead the OUA West Division by 12 points before falling 2-1 in the quarterfinal to the Western Mustangs, who held the fifth and final playoff spot in the division.
The Warriors responded in 2022-23 by coming out like gangbusters and being nearly unbeatable as the top team in the OUA through much of the fall. The Varsity Blues’ month-long win streak bumped the Warriors to second overall in the conference, but the black and gold still hung on and took the top spot in the OUA West from a late-charging Guelph team.
As we discussed in reviewing the first round, the Warriors saw multiple different teams against Brock in the quarterfinal, spanning their blowout win in Game 1, their loss in Game 2, and their tight win in Game 3. If the team that put 85 goals in the net in the regular season and six past Brock in the opening game shows up, though, the Warriors might just be able to get one step closer to their first McCaw Cup.
The one team standing in Waterloo’s way, though, is perhaps the team most desperate for a championship out of all four. After a tough loss in the McCaw Cup semifinal to York in 2020, the Nipissing Lakers returned in 2022 and made it to the final for the very first time against the Brock Badgers. The St. Catharines squad ultimately took the 2-1 win for their first title, though, leaving the North Bay side with silver.
Travelling to nationals, the six-seed Lakers upset the No. 3 UBC Thunderbirds in the quarterfinal and the No. 2 UNB Reds in the semifinal, but fell to the top-ranked Concordia Stingers in the 2022 National Championship, once again settling for silver.
The Lakers came back in 2023 looking for more. The otherworldly 70 points of the Varsity Blues in the regular season might make 55 points from the Lakers seem only okay, but Nipissing finished 18 points up on the Queen’s Gaels, showing that, at a minimum, they were the clear second-best team in the OUA East in 2022-23.
The pieces are there for Nipissing to break through to get another shot at the McCaw Cup. Katie Chomiak led the way with a pair of goals in a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the team’s quarterfinal versus Queen’s before five different Lakers got goals in a 5-3 win in Game 2 to sweep the matchup.
This series is much more difficult to predict, but at the same time, that adds so many more layers of suspense as both teams enter the week in search of redemption.