Ottawa – The crème of the OUA crop are heading to the nation’s capital to battle in the Final Four; an event that will see three returning squads and one new face from a year ago. And while York may be roaring loud after their championship win a year ago, the likes of Carleton, Ryerson, and Western will be pressing hard to dethrone the Lions and claim this season’s top spot at MNP Park.
Three of the top five seeds in the national ranks are taking the field this weekend, with the No. 2 York Lions leading the way amongst their fellow Ontario squads. Guiding the reigning champions to their 12th consecutive division-leading record were a number of key contributors, with Omar Marzouk (North York, Ont.) chief among them. The talented goal-scorer provided the offensive spark for the team this year with 14 goals to his name. Alongside last year’s West Division Player of the Year, Cristian Cavallini (Woodbridge, Ont.), the dynamic duo poses one of the most lethal threats in all of U SPORTS, which has sparked a third-ranked team total of 44 goals.
While the Lions rank among the top squads in several offensive categories, providing well-sustained pressure on the opposition with 14.4 shots per game and a .494 SOG percentage, they have an all-star worthy crew keeping the ball out of their net as well. The pairing of Daniel Gogarty (Scarborough, Ont.) and Josh Kiselyov (Maple, Ont.) is one of the most effective across the province, helping keep the Lions to a division-low 12 goals against. Their physical presence, intelligent play, and ability to ignite the offence are just some of the ways that the Lions defensive corps is so effective, ensuring that they have a double-pronged approach to achieve repeat championship success.
They were the only team not to find the loss column this year, finishing with a 13-0-3 record, and they’ll look to continue that streak into the banner season weekend; something that they’ll enter with an eight-game winning streak under their belts. Their latest win, a 3-0 decision over the Waterloo Warriors in quarterfinal action, catapulted the Lions to their ninth straight Final Four appearance, where they’ll take on cross-town rivals Ryerson for a shot to play in their sixth consecutive gold medal match.
Ryerson enters the championship with a No. 5 rank and plenty of Final Four experience on their side, with their latest quest into the Final Four coming against the very same Lions in what was a 2-1 (PK) semifinal victory for York.
In last year’s meeting, Ryerson took an early lead on a goal from Raheem Rose (Toronto, Ont.) and carried it into injury time, but the Lions top-scorer, Marzouk, offered up the late heroics with a tying mark to send the game to extra time, and eventually, penalty kicks. In the game’s final stage, the Lions stepped up with a clutch 5-for-5 performance to advance. This year’s task of advancing to the final will be no easier for either squad, but Ryerson will surely be looking to flip the script this time around.
At the forefront of the Rams attack is an electrifying offence, one that earned a one-goal edge over the Lions during the regular season (45). Their 28 assists not only ranked second in the conference as well, but also showcased their unselfish play and wide collection of contributors when they have possession. Rookie of the Year, Kai Martin (Toronto, Ont.), paced the Rams in the passing game with five assists from the back end, but it was third-year midfielder Abdallah El-Chanti (Toronto, Ont.) who once again offered the unmatched scoring touch. His 11 goals and 12 points led Ryerson, but with a total of 12 players putting home at least two goals this season, and 16 overall notching at least one, there are plenty of weapons at their disposal to avenge last year’s loss.
Ali Ghazanfari (Stouffville, Ont.), who started 11 games for the Rams, will also aim to do his part on Friday, shutting the door like he has all season long. The senior goalkeeper ranked third in the conference with an .852 SV%, while also earning top-5 marks with a 0.82 GAA. He picked up eight wins on the season as part of the team’s 14-1-1 finish, including four clean sheets. Also chipping in to the team’s overall 0.82 goals-against average on the year was all-star defender Alex Meczarski (Richmond Hill, Ont.), and he’ll be aiming to reprise that leading role with another outstanding effort as part of the team’s back four.
Also making their return to the Final Four festivities are the Carleton Ravens, who are playing host to the quartet of powerhouses this weekend. They’ll be looking to spoil the fun for the visiting squads and will do so with a No. 3 ranked roster on their side.
Entering play, the Ravens boast a top-ranked offence and defence, making them one of the truly elite in all of Canada. Buoying the league-best 0.47 goals-against average, to go along with 11 total shutouts, is first-team all-star Nick Jeffs (Ottawa, Ont.), who topped the conference’s netminders with a .900 SV% and only three goals allowed. But the all-star talent doesn’t stop there, with five others taking the field for Carleton in their quest for a repeat gold medal appearance.
Up front, the Ravens boast two of the OUA’s top five scorers, with Gabriel Bitar (Ottawa, Ont.) and Stefan Karajovanovic (Gatineau, Que.) combining for 25 markers on the year. The goal-scoring combo, not to mention further support from the divisional MVP Dario Conte (Ottawa, Ont.), has remained steady all season long for the black birds, who were far and away the top scoring squad in Ontario with 61 goals. They take the most shots, produce the most on target, and pass the ball at the highest level, which gives credence to the team’s 14-1-1 record from another triumphant campaign.
The likes of Diego Politis (Ottawa, Ont.) and Cristopher Malekos (Saint-Hyppolyte, Que.) anchor the back end to help complete the well-rounded roster, who will hope that they can turn their five-game winning streak into six for another shot at the title. And after not allowing a goal in their final four regular season games before recording a convincing 5-1 victory in their quarterfinal match with Nipissing, the Ravens will be soaring with confidence when they line up against the weekend’s final participants – the Western Mustangs – for their semifinal clash.
The Mustangs are the only team in this year’s crop that didn’t take part in the 2017 edition, but have more than earned their spot this year. After finishing the season with a fourth-place finish in the West Division (7-5-4), the purple and white took their game to another level in the postseason, scoring a pair of wins via the penalty kicks.
Their playoff stretch started with a closely-contested match with Windsor, and after playing to a 1-1 draw through extra time, four goals in the PK earned the ‘Stangs the win. From there, Western went on to face perennial powerhouse Guelph in a match that saw neither team score in the first 120 minutes. With neither team giving an inch all game long, it all came down to the shootout, which also needed a little extra to be decided. After eight kickers stepped up to the spot for each side, Western’s Lucas Ventura (Richmond Hill, Ont.) eventually ended it with a goal to propel the Mustangs into the Final Four.
Western may not boast the same type of firepower in the offensive game as their semifinal foes, ranking eighth in the OUA with 1.56 goals per game, but they are by no means an easy out. Their sixth-ranked goals-against average (1.14) keeps them in many games, thanks in large part to first-team all-star Kody Thomson (Calgary, Alta.), and will surely be a key factor against Carleton. His three saves in their quarterfinal shootout cemented his status among the best keepers in the country, but they’ll need another clutch performance in front of him to notch another victory in their 2018 quest for the championship.
Among those who could play an additional role for the purple ponies is the team’s leading scorer, Anthony Chysanthou (Mississauga, Ont.); who poured in five goals from the midfield position, Jon Hodge (London, Ont.), who stood tall as an OUA all-star to limit the opposition’s scoring chances; and Jeremy Arnold (Kingston, Ont.), who was a catalyst in the transition game, leading the squad with four helpers.
All of the weekend’s action will take place at MNP Park, with the Carleton Ravens hosting the conference’s elite from November 2 to 3. On Friday, the semifinals will hit the field, starting with Western against Carleton at 3:00pm and wrapping up with York against Ryerson at 6:00pm. The gold medal game will take place the following day at 4:00pm, with the bronze medal match being played in advance. Fans can also see all four of the weekend’s matches live on oua.tv or via the oua.tv app on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.