Hockey: McGill victory clears way for Golden Bears

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the McGill Redmen recovered from last night's 7-3 thrashing at the hands of the Alberta Golden Bears to beat the Moncton Aigles Bleus 3-0 tonight in the CIS championships. The McGill victory means that all three Pool B teams finished 1-1, so Alberta advances to tomorrow night's final against the defending champion UNB Varsity Reds on goal differential.

The Redmen, who earlier this month recorded a decisive 4-1 victory over the Brock Badgers to claim the Queen's Cup as the OUA champions, hadn't been particularly impressive at the nationals until tonight: they were outshot 50-24 in the opener against Alberta, and trailed for the last 39 minutes of the game. However, they came out with a terrific effort to beat Moncton in a game that really didn't mean all that much to them, apart from pride: they would have needed to win by an almost unthinkable eight-goal margin to advance to the finals. Good for McGill for refusing to roll over and play dead: it would have been a shame if they'd coasted to a loss, dictating the final matchup in the process. Their performance also speaks well for OUA hockey: Brock lost both of their matches, so McGill pulling off a win kept the league from going 0 for 4.

For the Redmen, it was again goalie Mathieu Poitras who came up big, stopping 39 shots from the Aigles Bleus. Poitras had an excellent year for McGill, putting up a .917 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against-average: however, his contributions may have flown below the radar a bit due to the tremendous all-around strength of his team. He got dinged for seven goals against the Golden Bears yesterday, but also made 43 saves: the 12 penalties taken by the Redmen were a larger part of the problem than any goaltending deficiency. Poitras was rightfully selected as McGill's player of the game.

McGill only put 31 shots on the Moncton net, but a lot of those were excellent scoring chances. The Redmen also got plenty of offense from their blueline, with defencemen Yan Turcotte and Ben Gadzic contributing goals (forward Guillame Demers scored the remaining McGill goal). They played a much better all-around game tonight than they did yesterday, and the scoresheet reflected it.

An interesting aspect of this win is how it reflects the parity across the country. In Pool B, all three teams finished with a win and a loss, requiring goal differentials to break the tie (which meant that Alberta's creaming of McGill yesterday put them through). Moreover, they pulled off the rock-paper-scissors model, with Alberta losing to Moncton but beating McGill, while McGill couldn't handle Alberta but knocked out the team that beat the Golden Bears. If these teams are that even, that speaks well for the state of CIS hockey, and also implies that the right teams made it this far.

Tomorrow night's final should be a good contest. It will be the first time in any of the big CIS championships this year that the No.1 and No.2 seeds have met in the final, so even if Alberta wins, it's not as big of an upset. The other two sports where the No.1 seed eventually claimed the championship saw lower-ranked teams taking on the top seed in the final (No.3 Laurier in women's hockey, No.7 Winnipeg in men's volleyball). Perhaps men's hockey is the exception that proves the rule about upsets in CIS competition.
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