Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the ice this week

Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the ice this week

Burlington, Ont. - Let the quest for the McCaw Cup begin. Eight teams are set to hit the ice as part of this year's postseason play, but only time will tell who will light the lamp on their way to the next round and who will have the door slammed shut on their championship aspirations. 

 

No. 8 Brock Badgers (14-8-2) v. No. 1 Guelph Gryphons (18-3-3)


Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Brock @ Guelph | Wednesday, February 20 @ 7:30pm
Game 2 | Guelph @ Brock | Thursday, February 21 @ 7:15pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Brock @ Guelph | Sunday, February 24 @ 2:00pm

Quick Hits: In a rematch of last year’s opening round, the Brock Badgers will once again battle the Guelph Gryphons for a shot at the semifinals. Things didn’t go the way of the underdogs a year ago, as Guelph ultimately swept away the St. Catharines squad, but a win in their final regular season meeting may give the Badgers a boost of confidence in their quest to turn the tables on the top seed. Once the puck drops on that opening faceoff, however, Guelph will be looking to showcase exactly why they are the top-ranked team in the conference and will do so with dominant two-way talent on their side.

Players to Watch: The Gryphons boast a pick-your-poison type of lineup, with strengths from the crease-out. They were the best team on both offence (79 goals for) and defence (33 goals against) during the regular season and have no intentions of slowing down in the second season. Not only do they boast on of the best goal-scorers in the province – Kaitlin Lowy (Toronto, Ont.; 13 goals) – but also some of the most skilled passers to set up the vaunted attack, including Claire Merrick (Oakville, Ont.; 15 assists), Karli Shell (Lively, Ont.; 11 assists), and the aforementioned Lowy (12 assists). On the other side of the coin is a relentless defensive presence that starts on the blue line with Laura Crowdis (Oakville, Ont.) and keeps going between the pipes with the conference’s top statistical goaltender – Valerie Lamenta (Montreal, Que.). The fifth-year puck-stopper led the OUA in both goals-against average (1.24) and save percentage (.952) en route to her 10 wins this year.

It’s not easy for any squad to line up against the top offence in the league, but the Badgers have one of the best weapons at their disposal to help make it happen. Jensen Murphy (Kingston, Ont.) has been a rock between the pipes for Brock, and despite the team seeing the most shots against on the year, the senior goaltender has held her own. Her 2.07 GAA and sparkling .944 SV% are testament to her unpalpable presence, with the latter ranking her third in the conference. Up front, the team’s most noticeable asset is Annie Berg (Beamsville, Ont.), who paced the club in both goals and assists on the year – the only Badger to record double-digits in either category. Berg, alongside Amanda Ieradi (Stittsville, Ont.) and her four powerplay markers that helped Brock to the third-most goals with the player advantage, will need to be firing on all cylinders for their team to pull off the upset.

Season Series: It was a tale of two tilts when these two squads met during the regular season, with the first coming late in the fall semester and the second hitting the ice early in the home stretch. All told, Guelph was able to outscore the Badgers by a 9-5 mark, but it was a win apiece once the final buzzers sounded, which will have both sides aiming for the edge this week.

In the first meeting, it looked as though a low-scoring affair was in the cards after neither team lit the lamp in the first 20 minutes, but Guelph quickly changed that moving forward. Three goals in the second frame, including two from Lowy burst the door open, and a pair of late empty-netters, one of which resulted in the hat trick marker for Lowy, slammed it shut. In their next meeting, however, the Badgers were set on getting that bad taste out of their mouth, which is exactly what they did. Hailey McCallum (Strathmore, Alta.) opened the scoring for Brock – the first of four combined goals in the evenly-matched first frame – before Ieradi gave the St. Catharines squad the lead after two. The victor was ultimately decided in a shootout, and it was Brock that prevailed on a goal from Cassidy Maplethorpe (Wetaskiwin, Alta.).

November 29, 2018 | Guelph 6 Brock 1
January 9, 2019 | Brock 4 Guelph 3 (SO)

 

No. 7 Waterloo Warriors (12-7-5) v. No. 2 Western Mustangs (15-5-4)


Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Waterloo @ Western | Wednesday, February 20 @ 7:00pm
Game 2 | Western @ Waterloo | Saturday, February 23 @ 2:30pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Waterloo @ Western | Sunday, February 24 @ 2:30pm

Quick Hits: The Mustangs have been ranked among the country’s top squads all season, while the Warriors were fighting for their playoff lives until the home stretch. But when the two teams hit the ice this week, those results are out the window and it is all about the best-of-three in front of them. Western is no stranger to that winning mentality, as they carried their postseason prowess to a McCaw Cup title last year, while the Warriors were defeated in the opening round. The Waterloo squad will have the first crack at dethroning the defending champs this year, and while they’ll surely look forward to the challenge, the task won’t be an easy one.

Players to Watch: The Mustangs showed why they are still one of the best in the business throughout the regular season, with some of the most noteworthy talent on both sides of the puck donning the purple and white. Up front, the offence starts with April Clark (St. Mary’s, Ont.), who checked in with an OUA-best 20 goals on the year. Her electric play paced the team’s nearly 2.6 goals per game (4th in OUA) and was a considerable component of their relentless attack (30.0 shots per game; 2nd in OUA). Even when the offence isn’t clicking – which is rare – the team can turn to their miniscule 1.61 GAA to give them a chance to win. Sophomore Carmen Lasis (Toronto, Ont.) was a leading figure in that stat, as she turned away nearly 500 shots in her 20 starts (10 wins), which catapulted her to fourth-ranked marks of 1.49 GAA and .941 SV%. Not a bad one-two punch to power the potent two-way play of the reigning champions.

One of the ways that Waterloo found success this year was with their pristine passing, ranking fourth in the conference, and chief among those dynamic distributors was Taytum Clairmont (Waterloo, Ont.). The team’s leading point-producer racked up 15 helpers on the year (T-2nd in OUA) and was a key member of the conference’s seventh-ranked offence. Despite their capabilities offensively, the team only boasts four double-digit point-getters and are led in goals by Dollee Meigs’ (Owen Sound, Ont.) eight, so they’ll need to see those four and more step up to slay the reigning champs in Round 1. Another way they can take down Western, however, is with their special teams play, most notably on the penalty kill, as they allowed a league-low four goals against when down a player (94.8%). They’ll need that and the rest of their arsenal to be in full swing to complement their offence and limit the Western attack.

Season Series: These two first-round foes met twice during the regular season and the results suggest that this series could very well go down to the wire, with neither team earning a definitive edge during their 120+ minutes of play. In the first meeting, the Warriors hit the scoreboard first with a pair of tallies. The Mustangs, however, would chip away the rest of the game to tie things up at two and send the contest to overtime. In the extra frame, Waterloo’s Samantha Burbidge (Brantford, Ont.) came up clutch to secure the win for the Warriors on their home ice. The rematch didn’t go quite the same for the black and gold, as they were unable to find the back of the net in their limited attempts against Lasis. The Western goalie turned away all 13 shots she faced, and behind first-period goals from Emma Suitor (Burlington, Ont.) and Shana Alexander (Bainsville, Ont.), the ‘Stangs galloped their way to a season series split.

November 10, 2018 | Western 2 Waterloo 3 (OT)
February 10, 2019 | Waterloo 0 Western 2

 

No. 6 Nipissing Lakers (14-7-3) v. No. 3 Toronto Varsity Blues (15-6-3)


Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Nipissing @ Toronto | Wednesday, February 20 @ 7:00pm
Game 2 | Toronto @ Nipissing | Friday, February 22 @ 7:30pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Nipissing @ Toronto | Sunday, February 24 @ 4:00pm

Quick Hits: The Nipissing Lakers sputtered down the stretch, while the Varsity Blues used a strong second half to power their way up the standings. Upon returning from the winter break, No. 3 Toronto turned in an eight-game winning streak that spanned the month of January and staked their claim as one of the top contenders for this year’s McCaw Cup. Despite Nipissing picking up just two wins in their final eight games, meanwhile, they bring a strong postseason pedigree to any matchup they encounter. So while Toronto will look to carry their momentum into a spot in the semis, Nipissing will hope their experience and talent turns the tables on their tough finish and gets them back among the final four squads. 

Players to Watch: Toronto scored the third-most goals on the year (65), with over 35% coming on the powerplay (24). Their 25% success rate with the player advantage topped the pack and will surely be something they’ll look to parlay into continued success on the offensive end. The team’s top two scorers – Lauren Straatman (Thorndale, Ont.) and Kassie Roach (Corunna Ont.) – are unsurprisingly among those who have clicked most on the powerplay with five goals apiece. They’ll look to remain on top of their game when given the opportunities against Nipissing. On the flip side, the team’s penalty kill is also among the best in the province, ranking fourth overall (93.2%), and was also a big part of their stingy 1.90 GAA average as a team. For those stats, the team can largely thank the strong play of Erica Fryer (Amherstburg, Ont.), especially down the stretch, as the rookie goaltender found her footing in a big way to spearhead the Blues second half surge.

Nipissing, meanwhile, boasts one of the most bountiful back ends in the OUA to help shoulder the load of their team’s consistent success. Certainly, Danika Ranger’s (Astorville, Ont.) 1.68 GAA and .928 SV% are big reasons for their fourth-ranked goals against, but she doesn’t do it alone. Flanking her is one of the top defenders at the university level, Zosia Davis (Cobden, Ont.), who has backed up her award-winning campaign with yet another dynamic performance for the Lakers. Davis, alongside sophomore Katelyn Heppner (Winkler, Man.), is yet another line of defence for the No. 6 seed – while also combining for 25 points on the year – and can cause matchup nightmares for any opponent they face. Add in another four double-digit producers up front and the Lakers have one of the most well-rounded rosters hitting the ice in Round 1.

Season Series: Even though Nipissing was able to score 94 goals during the regular season, they mustered just one in their two meetings with Toronto, as the Varsity Blues shone on the defensive end to sweep the season series with the Lakers.

The Blues lit the lamp three times in their first meeting, but the only one they ended up needing was the first-period goal from Stephanie Ayres (Hearst, Ont.). The pair of powerplay markers were simply gravy for Toronto in their 3-0 victory, thanks to Fryer’s stingy play between the pipes. She wasn’t busy, but she was sharp when called upon, turning away 13 shots for the first goose egg of her university career.

Fryer needed to be on her toes again in the rematch, as this one was close from the get-go. Jana Headrick (Garden River, Ont.) opened the scoring for Toronto – a lead that held for the next period and a half – but this time, Nipissing had the answer. Brianna Gaffney (Tamworth, Ont.) bulged the twine five minutes into the final period to knot things up at one and ultimately warrant some extra hockey. Just over a minute in to the overtime period, Toronto secured the win thanks to a powerplay goal from Mathilde De Serres (Ville Mont-Royal, Que.), which was the team’s sixth win during their aforementioned eight-game streak.

October 20, 2018 | Toronto 3 Nipissing 0
January 20, 2019 | Nipissing 1 Toronto 2 (OT)

 

No. 5 Ryerson Rams (15-7-2) v. No. 4 Queen’s Gaels (15-9-0)


Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Ryerson @ Queen’s | Wednesday, February 20 @ 8:00pm
Game 2 | Queen’s @ Ryerson | Saturday, February 23 @ 7:15pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Ryerson @ Queen’s | Sunday, February 24 @ 2:30pm

Quick Hits: The Queen’s Gaels played their way to the finals a year ago, but fell just shy of the provincial title against Western. With several of the same pieces back, however, they’ll look to complete the feat this time around, albeit from the No. 4 seed. Standing in their way first is an offensively-gifted Ryerson squad that is looking to improve on their first-round exit from a year ago. With some terrific talents lacing up their skates on either side, both teams have the ingredients to make a title run this time around, but while both teams can score, it may come down to which side can step it up defensively.

Players to Watch: The Gaels were one of the classes of the OUA offensively a year ago, and while that production hasn’t carried over quite as well this year, they still boast the fire power to make an impact on the scoresheet. One consistent piece from a year ago is the play of Katrina Manoukarakis (Scarborough, Ont.), who once again led her team in scoring after her award-winning efforts a year ago. Her 11 goals and 19 points make her a threat from anywhere on the ice, but with another seven players that boast 9+ points, the group as a whole still knows a thing or two about when firing on all cylinders. A young defensive core will be tested against the high-scoring Rams, but with Makenzy Arsenault (Whitby, Ont.; 1.39 GAA, .939 SV%) - one of the OUA’s top tenders - patrolling the blue paint for the Tricolour, the Gaels should be up for the test.

While Queen’s was a top-three scoring team a year ago, the Rams are there this season thanks to their 2.96 goals per game (2nd in OUA). Their defensive ranks leave something to be desired, but there is enough fire power up front for Ryerson to still make a splash in the postseason. Six players eclipsed the 10-point plateau, with four of them posting 20+ during the year. Brooklyn Gemmill (Cambridge, Ont.) leads the way with 23 points (10 G, 11 A), but along with Erika Crouse (Kirkland Lake, Ont.; 22 points), Lauren Nicholson (Dresden, Ont.; 22 points), and captain Kryshanda Green (Brampton, Ont.; 21 points), it is easy to understand how the team notched 71 tallies on the year. Stopping this four-headed monster is no easy task, with each having the ability to go off on any night, and for Ryerson to knock off last year’s finalists, they’ll hope they can keep scoring up to their lofty potential while continuing to pepper the opposition with their OUA-leading 32.1 shots per game.

Season Series: The road team reigned supreme in this season series; a theme that started thanks to a shutout performance from the visiting Ryerson Rams in November. The No. 5 seed headed east for an early season clash and made the most of their trip to Kingston with a 3-0 win; an example of what can happen when the defensive performance matches their offensive capabilities. Gemmill got the scoring started in the first period and was later joined by Green and Crouse to make up the offensive contributions, but it was Fanny Vigeant (St-Hyacinthe, Que.) that was the true difference-maker in that one. The third-year goaltender faced 24 shots and stood tall against each of them to secure the shutout.

Addi Halladay (North Augusta, Ont.) made sure their rematch wasn’t a repeat of their first encounter, as she got the Gaels on the board late in the first period. Queen’s would grab a two-goal lead not long after that, but Ryerson responded with a pair of their own. The Gaels battled back to retake the lead, which they once again doubled thanks to a last-minute empty-netter. Another goal from Green with just five seconds left was too little too late for Ryerson, as the teams ultimately split their two meetings on the year.

November 11, 2018 | Ryerson 3 Queen’s 0
January 11, 2019 | Queen’s 4 Ryerson 3