TORONTO, ON – Céline Frappier knows what it means when big moments come calling, and she answered the call in the OUA McCaw Cup Final.
After training for much of the game, the Toronto Varsity Blues senior stationed herself just above the crease with 26.3 seconds remaining in regulation and, while falling, fired a snap shot off a pass from Kaitlyn McKnight.
She scored. Toronto took a 2-1 lead that turned into the 2023 OUA McCaw Cup Championship over the Nipissing Lakers.
It would be an understatement to say the 1,000+ fans at Varsity Arena enjoyed the program’s 19th conference title. The 97-year-old barn on Bloor Street was electric.
However, the night was far from easy for the Varsity Blues, and the idea of a championship seemed doubtful for much of the evening as they trailed their North Bay foes.
Nipissing scored the opening goal 14:08 into the second period when Lana Duriez beat Toronto’s Erica Fryer. Yet, with heavy pressure through the final 25 minutes, Toronto pushed back and evened the game with less than four minutes to play.
Katy McKenna scored the tying goal shorthanded as Toronto finally beat Nipissing’s Chantelle Sandquist on their 49th shot of the night. Minutes later, Frappier found the back of the net for the eventual winning tally.
“I’m speechless, I’m so proud of this team, and it was a team effort. We stuck it to the end, we didn’t get down on ourselves, we knew that it would be a hard game, so we played to the buzzer,” Frappier said post-game.
“It just shows that this team, when we work together, and we stick together, results can happen.”
While Toronto began the game on the front foot, they could only find a little offensive momentum as Sandquist stopped everything that came her way. Meanwhile, at the other end, Fryer had to deal with counter-attacking breaks from Nipissing’s fast offensive players, coming up big at several moments.
In the first period, Fryer made a sprawling save on a two-on-one rush from Maria Dominico and Maddison Stitt to keep her team level. Still, the goal support wasn’t there from Toronto’s forwards, and Fryer had to stay sharp to give her team a chance.
It wasn’t the only moment on a rush for Fryer, as Toronto continued dominating puck possession.
“I just kept telling myself that I have to take it one shot at a time,” Fryer said. “I knew eventually that my team was going to pull through, so I knew I had to give them a chance from the backend and back them up.”
The two-on-ones were near expected for the Varsity Blues as well. Knowing they’re a puck-possessive team, head coach Vicky Sunhohara had emphasized the game situation in practice over the last week in preparation for the Lakers’ dynamic counterattack.
“I just have to take myself back to our practice sessions on those,” Fryer added. “We practice two-on-ones a lot, so I knew I was capable of making those saves and that we just had to stay in the game.”
Toronto’s ability to hold themselves in games and attack late had somewhat become their identity this season in much of the same way that slick skating had become Nipissing’s. On Saturday, both were centre stage.
“They kept saying, ‘just stick with it, and keep playing Blues hockey,” Sunohara said. “The momentum was good, we changed the momentum, and we got opportunities, and they just stuck to what we had planned and just kept going. They didn’t panic at all; you get rewarded when you do that.”
Frappier earns OUA gold to complement FISU gold
For Frappier, playing in her final home game as a university student-athlete, the winning moment rang bigger than the rest. Additionally, her composure under intense pressure allowed her to put a gold medal around her neck for the second time this season, having won gold with Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games.
“Any chance I can get a gold around my neck is special,” she said. “But this group is special, and to be able to do it on home ice with all these amazing fans and family and friends is unbelievable and something I won’t forget.”
With the win, Toronto enters the U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Championship next weekend in Montreal as the top-seeded OUA team. At the same time, Nipissing heads to nationals trying to raise eyebrows as a highly-rated underdog.
Other teams at the U SPORTS tournament include the UBC Thunderbirds, MRU Cougars, UNB Reds, StFX X-Women, Montreal Carabins and Concordia Stingers, with Concordia looking to defend their title from 2022.
“We’re really excited for Montreal, and we were excited to earn the right to go to Montreal last week,” Sunohara said. “We’re going to take a day to celebrate, it’s important to celebrate success along the way, but if this group keeps going and we keep getting closer one step at a time, we have a good chance at nationals.”