GUELPH, ON – Judy is the kind of house guest that you hope will stick around.
And the Guelph Gryphons women's hockey team is one win away from making sure that Judy stays for at least another year.
The Gryphs beat the Waterloo Warriors 4-1 on Sunday afternoon at the Gryphon Centre to take their OUA semifinal playoff series 2-1. They'll now host the Nipissing Lakers next Saturday for the OUA championship and the McCaw Cup.
The McCaw Cup is what the Gryphs affectionately call "Judy." The trophy was named after the late Dr. Judy McCaw, and the Gryphs won it last year at home. They're one step closer to doing it again after eliminating Waterloo.
"When we play Waterloo, we love it," said Gryphs head coach Rachel Flanagan. "I really enjoy coaching against Shaun (Reagan, the Warriors head coach). He's done a really good job with his program and his players, and they just work. They're clean, and they play the game the right way, and that's what made it such a great series."
Game 3 on Sunday was necessary after the Warriors won 2-1 yesterday in Waterloo to tie the best-of-three series at one win apiece. It snapped Guelph's five-game winning streak, which the Gryphs began after the Warriors snapped their earlier 10-game streak.
"We struggled in their barn, and we've got to find a way to get better on a smaller ice surface, but all credit to them," Flanagan said. "They really know how to play in their rink, and they made it really tough for us."
Kelly Gribbons and Kaitlin Lowy scored 97 seconds apart late in the first period on Sunday to give the Gryphs a lead they wouldn't relinquish, but Waterloo made it interesting throughout. Marissa Redmond scored early in the second period, moments after being stopped on a breakaway by Guelph netminder Valerie Lamenta.
The second period was fast and furious, with lots of physical play and plenty of scoring chances at both ends of the rink. Flanagan said it was a bit stressful for the Gryphs coaching staff as their players clung to the narrowest of leads.
"If I was a fan, I would have really enjoyed that period. It was back and forth and really enjoyable – not so much for a coach," she said, laughing. "But as a fan I think it would have been a really great game to watch. It never seemed to get held up, and it was really wide open."
"We just banded together as a team and kind of realized that they wanted it as much as we did," Gribbons said of how the Gryphs maintained their focus. "So we had to step up, and I thought we did a really good job of doing that.
"The emotions were running high. It was do or die for both teams, so the energy was great. It was a really great game overall."
The intensity remained through the third period, with the Warriors continually pressing for the equalizer that never came. The Gryphs finally got some breathing room with less than two minutes left when Gribbons sent Sophie Contant in all alone on Warriors netminder Stephanie Sluys.
Contant said she initially didn't know if she was going to shoot on Sluys, or try to deke her.
"No idea, actually," she said. "I was just kind of hoping for the best, and then I saw a little opening on her glove side. I was like, okay, that's the spot right there. It went in, and I got really excited. Seeing all the fans cheering was a really good feeling."
Claire Merrick scored into an empty net with 12.5 seconds left to seal the win. Lowy ended up with a three-point game.
Lamenta made 28 saves for the win. Sluys stopped 19 of 22 shots in a losing cause.
Flanagan says the team will start preparing on Monday for Nipissing's visit next weekend. She said it means everything to the team to be able to defend their title at home.
"We came into this season not really knowing what to expect," she said, noting the Gryphs experienced a lot of turnover from last year's championship squad.
"About halfway through the season, we decided – and not we as coaches, the team decided – that it wasn't a rebuilding year, it was a defending year. We were absolutely set on finishing in first place so that we could defend at home, because it was really important to us to not just keep Judy here but to physically literally keep her in the building, and not have to have her travel somewhere else."
Also at stake next Saturday is a berth in the U SPORTS championship tournament from March 16 to 19 in Napanee. A total of eight teams will make up the field at nationals. Seven of those spots have already been decided. Ontario will send two teams to nationals. As hosts, the Queen's Gaels are guaranteed a spot, meaning either Guelph or Nipissing will be grabbing the eighth and final spot. The Gryphs are looking for their third consecutive trip to nationals, but Gribbons, a fourth-year forward from Port Elgin, ON, said it hasn't been their primary focus.
The focus, everyone agreed, has been Judy.
"We think about it a little bit," Gribbons said. "We're mainly thinking about bringing Judy back to Guelph again."
"Both teams are going to be very, very good," added Conant, a third-year forward from Cornwall, ON. "I think for us it's going to be all about passion and heart. Whoever wants it more is going to come out with Judy at the end of it.
"We've just got to give it all we've got, and hope for the best."
The McCaw Cup game is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre.
Source: Guelph Gryphons