When the Carleton Ravens men's hockey team steamrolled the University of Ottawa Gee Gees 8-0 on Jan. 7, Ottawa head coach David Leger said the Ravens are the team to beat in the OUA East.
The Ravens quickly had a chance to put his theory to the test with a pair of visits to McGill to face the undefeated Redmen, but the Ravens came up just short, losing 5-4 and 4-2 respectively.
This past Saturday at the Ice House, the pressure was suddenly on Marty Johnston's Ravens to prove they can beat the division's top team.
Coming off a 6-3 win on home ice over UQTR the night before, the Ravens had less than a day to get ready for a well-rested McGill squad - ranked #2 nationally - who had yet to lose in regulation.
But with the Ravens looking to continue their surge to second place in the OUA East, Carleton responded in a big way, knocking off McGill 4-0 for its first regulation loss of the season.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen...
But not quite. Marty Johnston was the first to downplay the win after the game, citing some key players out of the lineup for McGill. This includes injured superstar Francis Verreault-Paul and former CIS defenseman of the year Marc-Andre Dorion, who was at the World University Games.
The Ravens didn't have it easy either though. If it wasn't bad enough that team leading scorer Brandon MacLean and playmaker Ryan Berard are in Turkey representing Team Canada, Ravens Hockey Live learned at the beginning of the weekend that Matthew Dopud couldn't start against UQTR or McGill with the dreaded "upper body injury." (We later found out from Dopud himself that he likely won't play next weekend either, and that he received a concussion at the end of the Concordia game.)
Of course Marty Johnston isn't going to dwell on one of the biggest wins in his career, because even despite consecutive home wins against Ottawa U, Concordia, UQTR and McGill, Carleton still sits in fourth place in the OUA East.
So what exactly does this win mean?
- it means McGill's 24-game regulation unbeaten streak came to an end;
- it means Carleton can compete with the elite teams in the CIS; and most importantly for the Ravens;
- it means Carleton hockey is suddenly relevant.
Yet when the dust settled, Ryan Dube became the first goaltender in more than two years to shut out McGill's high-octane offence. Heading into this one, McGill boasted the top offence in the country, averaging around 5.4 goals per game.
Here's Marty Johnston on the stellar play of his second-year goalie:
But the great play extended beyond Dube. Just like they did to Ottawa U's scoring tandem Luc Blain and Kyle Ireland, Carleton effectively shut CIS leading scorer Alex Picard-Hooper by using physical play and eliminating space for the elusive playmaker to create.
No team can look forward to playing these Ravens. Forwards like Jordan Deagle and Shane Bakker have leaped at the opportunity to play good, physical, clean hockey and play shut-down roles against opposing teams' top centres.
Before Carleton's recent stretch against Quebec teams, Deagle said the key to beat them was to "hit them" because the Quebec teams aren't huge fans of contact.
Meanwhile the Ravens have outscored their opponents 25-5 in their first four home games of 2011, which makes Carleton's Ice House a very unfriendly place for visiting teams. McGill's bench was quite obviously disturbed by the constant heckling of the Red Zone, Carleton's fan section.
But back to the game.
The Ravens jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Linden Bahm halfway through the first period - another testament to the role Carleton's depth players have played. After that McGill carried the play, peppering shots on goal for the remainder of the period. Still, not enough to beat Dube.
For the second game in a row the second period was the Ravens' strongest. Carleton out-hustled, out-shot, and out-chanced McGill in what turned out to be the game's most physical, energetic period, leaving the Ravens with a 3-0 lead through 40 minutes.
And once again the Ravens struggled out of the gate in the third period. It wasn't until after back-to-back penalty kills midway through the final frame, led by the strong play of Dube, that the Ravens got their wind back. The Ravens took that momentum and Joey Manley followed up on a rebound from a Joe Pleckaitis chance for his 16th goal of the season.
That sent the crowd at the Ice House into a frenzy, and at the same time you could feel a collective sigh of relief behind the Carleton bench.
There are three main reasons the Ravens were able to come away from this tight battle with such a decisive win:
First, Joey Manley and Andrew Self, as if it were even possible, stepped their game up another notch filling in the void left by the temporarily departed combination of Berard and MacLean.
Second, Ryan Dube gave the Ravens the goaltending that eluded them in their two previous trips to McGill, where Dopud was average but unspectacular.
Finally, the Ravens were more opportunistic than McGill - something that is rare for a McGill team that seldom loses. The Ravens took advantage of their powerplay opportunities, and notched impressive back-to-back penalty kills while McGill was still hanging around in the third.
Johnston played it cool after the game, just as he always does. But he couldn't hide how happy he was for his players. Every player on the team should be excited about Saturday's win. It was a milestone win for the Ravens, and it was an accomplishment that no other team in Canada has achieved this season.
Still, now that the players have had a chance to enjoy the victory, it's back to ground zero.
Because somehow, despite a weekend to remember for this young hockey program, the Ravens haven't moved a spot in the OUA East standings.
This monumental win for Carleton hockey will be put to the test this weekend. It's one thing to beat the best once, but where teams really prove themselves is if they can beat them twice. The rematch is set to go Saturday afternoon at the Ice House. If Carleton can beat the Redmen again they can really send a message to not only the OUA - but the entire country - about what kind of team they are.
A version of this post originally appeared at Ravens Hockey Live.