All eight OUA Eastern Conference playoff teams were in action last night, as the conference quarterfinals kicked off with a wild night of near-upsets and surprising results.
Toronto took advantage of OUA travel rules to upset the tenth-ranked Carleton Ravens 2-1 in the friendly confines of Varsity Arena. Ottawa and Concordia almost managed to do the same, as the top two teams in the conference, McGill and UQTR, needed multiple-goal third periods to pick up a pair of victories. Meanwhile, Nipissing flipped the script with a 7-0 shellacking of Queen’s in what was “supposed to be” the closest series in the conference.
Say what you will about OUA hockey, but it certainly isn’t dull.
With game one of each series complete, we’ll take a closer look at each playoff matchup, and the losing team’s chances of staging a comeback in their best-of-three series.
(The “original odds” and “current odds” for each series are courtesy of CIS Blog editor, and resident statistician, Rob Pettapiece, and are based on his team rankings.)
(#1) McGill 2, (#8) Ottawa 1
Original odds: 57.1% McGill wins
Current odds: 77.8% McGill wins
Game in Brief: Christophe Longpre-Poirier scored with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, as the top-seeded McGill Redmen came-from-behind to defeat the Ottawa Gee-Gees 2-1.
Comments: Despite outscoring the Gee-Gees 25-8 in the regular season, McGill was lucky to escape with a victory last night, needing a pair of third period goals and a successful 6-on-3 penalty kill in the dying minutes to complete a come-from-behind first game victory.
The good news for McGill is that they’re finally healthy. Francis Verreault-Paul, who led the CIS with 28 goals despite missing 9 games, returned to the lineup and scored the game-tying goal midway through the third period. Second line winger Andrew Wright also returned from a shoulder injury suffered two weeks ago, and goaltender Hubert Morin had another solid outing (making 25 saves) after battling concussion symptoms in January.
Chance of an Ottawa comeback: Not likely. The biggest problem for Ottawa is a lack of depth. The Gee-Gees top-line of Kyle Ireland, Mathieu Methot, and Luc Blain gave the Redmen all they could handle, but lines two through four failed to generate a decent scoring chance and were playing the neutral zone trap from the opening faceoff. Ireland, Methot, and Blain combined for 136 points this year, whereas the remaining 16 players to dress at forward for Ottawa during the regular season combined for only 53 points. That’s not a winning recipe against a team that can roll four lines like the Redmen.
(#2) UQTR 5, (#7) Concordia 2
Original odds: 56.4% UQTR wins
Current odds: 77.3% UQTR wins
Game in Brief: The Patriotes scored four unanswered goals in the third period—including a pair of markers by Etienne Bellavance-Martin—to knock off the Stingers 5-2 in game one.
Comments: This one was a lot closer than the score would indicate, as the Patriotes scored four times in 14 minutes to run away with what had been a tight game to that point.
UQTR dressed only 15 skaters for last night’s game, and are missing five regulars (including explosive forward Francis Charland). Nonetheless, they outshot Concordia 36-20, and got a top-notch performance out of their second line of Bellavance-Martin, Jean-Sebastien Breton, and Pierre-Alexandre Joncas, who combined for 6 points. When the Patriotes are healthy, they’re as deep at forward as anyone in the OUA.
Chance of a Concordia comeback: Unless they can find a goaltender and some mobile defencemen, not good. Concordia can score with the best of them, averaging 3.82 goals per game, but allowed more goals against per game (4.54) than any other CIS playoff team. Home ice also hasn’t been very advantageous to the Stingers — they’ve been outscored 57-53 at the Ed Meagher Arena this year.
(#6) Toronto 2, (#3) Carleton 1
Original odds: 57.1% Carleton wins
Current odds: 64.8% Toronto wins
Game in Brief: Rookie goaltender Garrett Sheehan made 31 saves, as the Varsity Blues withstood a late Carleton flurry to capture a 2-1 upset victory.
Comments: After shutting out the McGill Redmen in back-to-back games and securing a top 10 ranking, many Carleton followers were setting their sights on an OUA Eastern Conference Championship.
However, the Toronto Varsity Blues had different ideas — getting goals from Anthony Bergin and Byron Elliott to upset the Ravens in game one.
Toronto was perhaps the worst matchup the Ravens could draw in the first round — as they split the season series in two close games (a 4-3 SO win for Toronto and a 4-2 Carleton victory). The Varsity Blues have been a maddeningly inconsistent team all season—they defeated Western, Carleton, Laurier, and Nipissing (all very good teams), yet also lost to RMC twice.
Last night it was the “good” Varsity Blues who showed up, and as a result, they’re one game away from the second round.
Chance of a Carleton comeback: Quite good (and the highest among any team down 0-1). Due to OUA travel rules, the Varsity Blues hosted game one, which means Carleton will play game two and (if necessary) game three at home. The Ravens have an 11-3-0 record, and have outscored their opposition by 35 goals, at the Ice House this season. Carleton will need continued stellar goaltending from Matthew Dopud (25 saves last night), and a return-to-form for Brandon MacLean and Ryan Berard if they hope to win this series.
(#4) Nipissing 7, (#5) Queen’s 0
Original odds: 54.0% Nipissing wins
Current odds: 81.8% Nipissing wins
Game in Brief: Ryan Maunu and Brogan Bailey each scored twice, as the Nipissing Lakers captured their first-ever playoff victory with a 7-0 win over the Queen’s Golden Gaels. Matt Hache made 24 saves—including stopping Jordan Soquila on a penalty shot—to pick up his second career shutout for the Lakers.
Comments: The Nipissing Lakers’ incredible season just keeps getting better.
I wrote at-length last week about the remarkable success of the Lakers hockey program in just its second-year of existence, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.
The Lakers “win-by-committee” approach keeps working. Nipissing had only one player (Andrew Marcoux) in the top 45 in OUA scoring this season, and has only two players in their third or fourth year of eligibility. Yet they continue to get timely performances out of players like Bailey (2 goals last night, after scoring only 6 during the regular season), and defenceman Jason Gray (a goal and 2 assists yesterday; only 16 points in the regular season).
There was some bad news out of last night’s game, however, as Maunu suffered a broken hand, and captain Brodie Beard sustained a leg injury. Both will likely miss Game 2 of the series.
I had my reservations about Nipissing before last night. They played the third-easiest schedule in the CIS, and drew the easiest possible matchup for a fourth seed. But that was a statement game, and the rest of the league will definitely take notice.
Chance of a Queen’s comeback: Slim. The Gaels snuck into fifth place by taking advantage of a very easy post-Christmas schedule (seven of their last 13 games were against Ryerson and RMC—the two worst teams in the OUA) and would have to win back-to-back games in the raucous Memorial Gardens (where the Lakers were 10-4-0 during the regular season) to pull off the upset.
With season-ending injuries to Payton Liske and Joey Derochie, and the third-worst save percentage (.881%) of any playoff team in the CIS, the Gaels are likely done.