Resistance is futile with the McGill Martlets.
There were some grumbling about how that unbeaten record was fashioned when they kept thumping the same three teams over and over during the regular season. No matter, though. Charline Labonté and Co. showed they're legit in a 2-0 win over a game but outgunned Laurier team tonight in Ottawa. National team coach Peter Smith's Martlets, which got goals from Cathy Chartrand and Ann-Sophie Bettez, in the final minute of the second and the final minute of the game (the clincher with 16 seconds left came after a penalty all but sealed the game) didn't give the third-best team in the country much breathing room for the entire 60 minutes.
McGill, which won the school's first CIS title in a women's team sport, seemed several gears faster than Laurier. (Kylie Richardson, who did a great job as a colour analyst for The Score once she settled in, pointed out during the third period that McGill was so aggressive on the puck that it seemed like they were down 1-0 instead of being ahead.)
Get used to seeing McGill in this game. The school has a lot invested in women's hockey, it has a strong coach and the chance to be play on a winning team while surrounded by everything a McGill education and downtown Montreal has to offer is tough to turn down. McGill's win tonight is a good prologue for the rivalry that will hopefully develop once their new neighbours, Danielle Sauvageau's Montréal Carabins, get their program up to speed.
There was just an air of inevitability to the entire night. Laurier just didn't have the hammers, no matter what they tried or how brilliantly their goalie, Liz Knox, played. Their best chance at tying the game in the third period actually came when a McGill defender tipped a pass on net, but Labonté adjusted quickly to the deflection and made the save.
Labonté probably didn't give up a bad rebound all night on her way to finishing with a clean sheet for the entire tournament -- three games, three shutouts. Chartrand had a tournament-high six points. It would be remiss not to mention Shauna Denis, the Martlets captain who was The Score's performer of the game. On The Score telecast, Arash Madani related a good anecdote about how Denis, who's from Stittsville just south of Ottawa, passed up a good job opportunity to come back and try and win the long-elusive national title in her own backyard. It worked out well for her.
Laurier played the role of the plucky longshot to the hilt. It was probably too much to ask of a young team to keep McGill from the national title that was theirs to lose all season, especially when penalties in the final two minutes of each of the first two periods gave the Redmen a pair of 5-on-3s, the second resulting in Chartrand's goal after an ill-timed line change.
It's probably the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic to wonder too much about Laurier coach Rick Osborne's strategy in the final two minutes. He opted not to call timeout with 1:43 left and a faceoff in McGill's zone. Seconds later, rookie Heather Fortuna took a penalty that basically decided the game. He also didn't lift Knox for an extra skater with about 40 seconds left when the Golden Hawks, despite being short-handed, got the puck deep into McGill's end. Bottom line, though, the Golden Hawks gave it a good go and they had their shining moment by helping knock Alberta off the podium for the first time in a while. (Manitoba took the bronze by beating the Pandas 4-2 earlier today.)
Alberta will be back, but it looks like the the torch is headed east.
You're all witnesses -- the comment was made during the first intermission about how annoying it is women's teams getting put two skaters down by a body contact penalty. Damned if that might not decide the national championship.
Chartrand broke the goose egg with 52 seconds left in the period on a 5-on-3, about 40 seconds after Laurier's Andrea Bevan was penalized for elbowing (although it probably goes uncalled if the McGill player hadn't landed on her duff). It was the second time that Bevan was sent off in the final two minutes of a period. The Golden Hawks are good, but not good enough to get away with that twice.
Laurier, perhaps a little shaken by that, was doing fine on the penalty kill until the forward they had out tried to change when McGill had the puck at its own blueline. That was a killer; it was 5-on-2 for a few seconds, giving Chartrand time to wind up.
Liz Knox is stealing the show -- along with 3-4 potential goals -- in the first period, making 15 saves for the Golden Hawks.
It's shaping up to be quite a second period, the crowd at the uOttawa rink is pretty loud and it's a slow sports night. What's your excuse for not tuning in? You can get a pretty drinking game going -- chug every time The Score's colour commentator refers to a player's conditioning. You can get drunk in ironic fashion.
Knox has been impressive, robbing the Martlets' Ann-Sophie Bettez and Caroline Hill and denying Rebecca Martindale twice.
One adjustment that comes with watching a women's game is the penalties that are issued for body contact. It's especially annoying when a team gets a body contact penalty in their own zone when it's already short-handed. McGill got a 5-on-3 for the final 1:41 of the first period after Laurier's best defender, Bevan, got the gate for taking down a Martlets player. It was a clear penalty under the rules, but talk about putting a team behind the 8-ball.