Kingston, Ont. – It has been a whirlwind postseason through the first three rounds, with a flurry of upsets and closely-contested results leading to each division’s No. 4 seed punching their ticket to the Queen’s Cup finale. Both the Guelph Gryphons and Queen’s Gaels have proven time and time again that they can compete with the best and brightest the conference has to offer, and they’ll need to show that resiliency once more if they want to bring home the provincial gold.
It has been four seasons since the Gryphons hoisted the Queen’s Cup, but nearly three decades since the Tricolour completed the feat, which means just about everyone hitting the ice will be seeing their first taste of championship play. Even with this Queen’s Cup inexperience, the veteran presence that both teams boast should more than make up for it. And when it comes to senior talent, these two finalists have it by the barrelful.
Up front, Queen’s is led by fourth-year forward Slater Doggett (Oakville, Ont.), who ranked third in the OUA in goals this season. The dynamic scorer was at the forefront of the conference’s sixth-ranked offence (3.39 goals per game) this season, not to mention their continued success through the postseason. In guiding the Gaels to series wins over Concordia, Ottawa, and Carleton – the latter two representing two of the country’s top-10 teams – this year’s East Division Player of the Year has put home four goals and 11 points (3rd in OUA playoffs). His continued contributions have also been flanked by another four tallies apiece from rookie Jared Bethune (Fort Frances, Ont.) and fifth-year star Spencer Abraham (Campbellville, Ont.).
Abraham, the team’s veteran on the back end, has continued to turn heads in his final season with the Kingston squad. He is an all-star blueliner once again, but his play in both the regular season and playoffs cannot be understated. The fifth-year player recently set the record for points by a Gaels defenceman; an impressive accolade to add to the resume, but it’s the Queen’s Cup trophy that is next on the to-do list before he wraps up his university career.
Countering this Gaels attack is an offence that, while only ranking 10th this season, has been able to apply consistent pressure against teams game in and game out in the playoffs. Their top-ranked 38.6 shots per game in the regular season were enough to pepper the competition, but they have seen more of those chances find the back of the net in the playoffs (35 goals; 1st in OUA playoffs). It was the usual suspects who stepped up this season for the Gryphs, including veterans Scott Simmonds (Uxbridge, Ont.) and Cody Thompson (Mississauga, Ont.), but a trio of double-digit point-producers have taken the reins this postseason to help get Guelph to where they are today, including one that saw similar success in the teams’ one and only meeting this year.
When the two championship combatants crossed paths in the regular season, it was Guelph that got the better of the Gaels, exploding for seven goals in the win. Five different Gryphons registered multi-point performances, including a five-point game from Todd Winder (Uxbridge, Ont.; 2G, 3A). Queen’s will need to watch out for Winder once again in the final, as he has continued his productive play this postseason. His 13 points are second in the OUA, behind another one of the team’s clutch contributors of late – Mikkel Aagaard (Frederikshavn, Denmark). This season’s premier playoff performer has recorded eight goals and 16 points, including the double-OT winner that punched Guelph’s ticket to the OUA finale.
For Guelph to maintain the emotional high of their thrilling divisional final, they’ll need to attack a key area of strength for the Gaels – their goaltending. While the play between the pipes proved to be a difference-maker for both teams during the regular season, it has seen its fair share of ups and downs during the always difficult postseason journey. Despite surrendering a goals-against average of 2.74, however, Justin Fazio (Sarnia, Ont.) has been able to maintain the team’s in-season average of a .928 save percentage as the postseason’s top-tested goalie (272 saves). With a championship on the line, the rookie will be tasked with standing on his head once again against a team that loves to put the puck on net, but he won’t be the only netminder in tough.
The Gryphons, meanwhile, have surrendered 22 goals this postseason, but Andrew Masters (Kitchener, Ont.) has stood tall when it has counted most, including an opening round shutout against Windsor, two big wins against the conference’s top-ranked offence (Ryerson), and the aforementioned double-overtime thriller against Western. He has churned out a 2.47 goals-against average (4th in OUA playoffs) after serving as a key contributor to the team’s third-ranked mark in the regular season (2.44) and fourth-ranked .920 save percentage as a group. Once again, he’ll be tasked with turning away championship-calibre competition, but if he can battle hard in the blue paint, the Gryphons might just be able to score the win.
There are plenty of question marks heading into the OUA’s final 60 minutes of play, and they’ll need to be answered from all parties to find out which No. 4 seed will reign supreme. The front-end talent can turn to their peak performers to step up, the defensive efforts can corral the competition with their stingy play, and both teams have shown their ability to perform under the bright lights of the quest for the Cup. And while each side has done well to get where they are this season, the Guelph Gryphons and Queen’s Gaels will both be looking for the feather in their cap with a Queen’s Cup victory.
Fans can catch all the action LIVE on oua.tv at 7:30pm on Saturday, March 9 from the Kingston Memorial Centre.