The 100th Queen's Cup Champion will be crowned on Saturday afternoon, as the Western Mustangs host the McGill Redmen to determine the top team in the OUA.
The Mustangs are coming off a two-game sweep of the Guelph Gryphons to capture the OUA West Championship, while the Redmen needed three games to knock off the UQTR Patriotes in the OUA East Final.
McGill has won the Queen's Cup twice in the last three years (2007-08 and 2009-10) — losing to the Mustangs in 2008-09.
Below, our OUA West Hockey correspondent (and Gazette sports editor) Daniel Da Silva and I will break down the key matchups in Saturday afternoon's game. We hope you'll join us both back here at The CIS Blog on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. ET for a live blog of the game. (Fair warning: Dan's a Western student, while I'm currently attending McGill. Our biases should be evident.)
Matt: This is the only area in which I think the Redmen have a clear advantage. McGill’s top line of Francis Verreault-Paul, Alex Picard-Hooper, and Andrew Wright contains the leading goal scorer in the CIS, the man who led the nation in points, and the leading playoff scorer, respectively. They have combined for 261 points in 153 games over the past two seasons, and 42 points in 21 playoff games thus far.
They’re also the reason McGill has scored on 36.8% of its powerplays (14-for-38) in the playoffs.
Dan: The beauty of Western’s offence is you don’t really know where the goals are coming from. So key in on Keaton Turkiewicz, Kevin Baker and Jason Furlong all you want. They will just get production from Steve Reese, Yashar Farmanara, and Kyle Lamb. Or Chris Corbeil and Josh McQuade. You don’t get six point-per-game players without a lot of depth.
Though, statistically, Western has nobody that comes anywhere near McGill’s all-star trio. McQuade and Lamb are leading the team with 9 points each in the playoffs, which would put them well behind McGill's big three. The regular season wasn’t much different. And Western has shown a penchant for falling asleep at times and letting the opposition impose themselves on the game. That's not good.
And Western’s powerplay could be better. It has picked up a little steam over the past two series but it’s still only at 21%. That being said, that’s way up from the awful 17% they had going during the season.
Matt: While Western is definitely deep at forward (at least more than in past years) keep in mind that both Evan Vossen and Guillaume Doucet tallied as many goals (15) as Western’s leading scorer Steve Reese, while playing primarily on the second line. McGill also had six point-per-game players, so the Redmen have some secondary scoring if their top line falters.
Dan: Let’s face it, these two teams were first and second in goals scored during the season and in the playoffs (at least on a per-game basis). So they both can put the puck in the net. McGill is just better at it.
Dan: You don’t get two players on the Canadian Winter Universiade team without them being good. Ok, so Clarke Singer was the Canadian coach. But that shouldn’t take anything away from Geoff Killing and Scott Aarssen. The two are superb defensively (I’d quote +/- here, if the OUA could get it together and start tracking it) and can definitely contribute offensively (Aarssen especially).
But Western has some depth beyond those guys. Adam Nemeth has the most experience and is arguably their best player defensively. Brandon Greenside put up 13 points as a rookie during the season. So this is more of a strength than their offence.
In the playoffs, however, they aren’t getting points from the point aside from Aarssen and Nemeth. But they have only allowed 10 goals in seven games, so they are effectively shutting down opposition forwards.
Matt: I think I’m a little more bullish on this matchup for Western than you are, Dan. One of McGill’s big weaknesses is its lack of a shutdown defensive pairing. They ask reigning CIS Defenceman of the Year Marc-André Dorion to do a lot: to play on both the first unit powerplay and penalty kill, while matching up against an opposition’s top players. They’ll often shift the latter burden to Ben Morse and Stephen Valente, who are solid, but not dominant, defencemen. Accordingly McGill has given up an average of 3 goals per game in the playoffs, which doesn’t compare favorably to the 1.4 GPG given up by Western.
These shortcomings are partly mitigated by a group of superb defensive forwards, however. Vossen is a point-per-game player who also kills penalties, Marc-André Daneau will frustrate the hell out of an opposition’s best player, and Maxime Langalier-Parent is —according to McGill Coach Kelly Nobes — the “best defensive forward in the OUA.”
Dan: Though with McGill's offence, I think it's fair to say the Redmen can survive without a true shutdown pairing.
Matt: Very true, I'm definitely nit-picking at this point. Especially since the McGill defence moves the puck so well, and can put up big point totals. McGill's top-six blueliners tallied 99 points during the regular season, which dwarfs the 71 notched by Western's defenders (who are no slouches offensively).
I just thought it was worth noting that the Redmen had two big problems at last year's Nationals: a lack of discipline and an inability to nullify an opposition's top offensive players. This year they've addressed the first problem, but not the second.
Dan: While McGill has a clear advantage up front, and picking between the defences requires splitting hairs, Western has an advantage in net. I’d say it’s a pretty substantial advantage too.
Anthony Grieco and Josh Unice were superb all year, sporting save percentages of .921 and .934 during the season. They combined to allow fewer than 2.5 goals a game.
Grieco has been even better in the playoffs. He’s got an unbelievable .952 save percentage with a sweet 1.43 goals against average. That equals 10 goals allowed, only one loss, and the top spot of the goalie statistical chart.
I’ve commented before that Western has a habit of taking large sections of games off and not paying for it (They will if they do it against McGill though). It’s because of Grieco. He doesn’t face a lot of tough shots, but when he does, he makes it look easy. Grieco vs. McGill’s forward corps is going to be a spectacular battle.
Matt: Agreed, on all the above — Western has a substantial edge in goaltending.
For McGill, Hubert Morin was not asked to do much during the regular season, but was solid when called upon, posting a .915 save percentage and winning the OUA East Top Goaltender award.
He has been awful at times in the playoffs, however. Charting his game-by-game save percentage is like plotting Christian Bale’s weight — it swings wildly up and down. In seven playoff games, he has posted a save percentage of .960 or greater three times. In the remaining four games his highest save percentage was .833.
So who knows which Morin will show up against Western. If it’s the one who allowed five goals on 21 shots against UQTR in game two of the OUA East Final, it’s unlikely McGill’s offensive firepower will be able to bail him out."
Dan: This is definitely a huge homer pick. I truthfully think McGill will win this game, but I'm going to go ahead and say 5-3 Western. Maybe they take it on home-ice advantage. I'm also going to say Kyle Lamb scores the winner. And that McGill has a hefty shot advantage.
Matt: Picking between two teams that haven't played a meaningful game against each other all season is tough (the Redmen won an exhibition game between the two teams back in September). My gut says that Western takes it in a close game, based mostly on the goaltending matchup. I'll say 3-2 Mustangs.