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

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

Burlington, Ont. - After a wide range of series outcomes in the opening round, the McCaw Cup field has been cut in half, leaving just four teams left with a chance to hoist the provincial title this year. Both of the remaining series are set to hit the ice this week, but before the puck drops, see how these semifinal showdowns stack up.

No. 5 Ryerson Rams (15-7-2) v. No. 1 Guelph Gryphons (18-3-3)

Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Ryerson @ Guelph | Wednesday, February 27 @ 7:30pm
Game 2 | Guelph @ Ryerson | Friday, March 1 @ 7:15pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Ryerson @ Guelph | Sunday, March 3 @ 2:00pm

Quick Hits: While both the Ryerson Rams and Guelph Gryphons secured their spot in the second round this year, they took two very different paths to get there. The Rams were required to scratch and claw their way to an impressive three-game victory over Queen’s, while Guelph flexed their first-place muscle to power past the Badgers. But no matter how they got here, they’re both here now and have a chance to punch their ticket to the provincial championship; a feeling that the No. 1 seeded Gryphons are quite familiar with, having won the banner in two of the last three seasons.

Last Round: The first two playoffs game went about as well as one could hope for the Guelph Gryphons, as they made quick and decisive work of their first-round foes from Brock. After picking up the conference’s top marks on both offence and defence this season, the Gryphons were quick to keep up that electric play in the postseason. Offensively, Claire Merrick (Oakville, Ont.) potted a pair – one to open and one to close the scoring – for the Gryphons, who exploded out of the gates with five goals in Game 1. On the other side of the ice, Valerie Lamenta (Montréal, Que.) was her usual brick-wall self in net in limited action, as she turned away all 17 shots to seal the deal on the team’s 5-0 shutout win.

In the second game, the offence might not have been clicking at the same pace, but Lamenta and the vaunted Gryphon defence sure was. Merrick once again found the back of the net to open the game’s scoring, but unlike the game prior, that was all the Gryphs could muster against one of the best goalies in the province. Thankfully, that was all the team needed, as Lamenta once again shut the door on the Badgers’ attack. Brock mustered 22 shots on net this time around, but not once were they able to beat the potent puck-stopper, and when a team can’t find the back of the net in a series, their playoff lives don’t last long; a notion that the top seed will look to uphold against the Ryerson Rams as well.

The Ryerson offence, which will need to be at its peak to upend the Gryphons in Round 2, wasn’t clicking at every turn against Queen’s last round, but it did enough to secure the hard-fought series victory. The Rams fell behind in Game 1, but used a pair of goals – including one from their captain Kryshanda Green (Brampton, Ont.) – to knot things up at 2-apiece. The tie was upheld until the dying seconds of the game, but the Gaels were able to break through with under a minute to play to put the Rams on the ropes after Game 1.

Green didn’t want her Rams to perish in the opening round like they did a year ago; however, and came out with the opening punch in Game 2 halfway through the second frame. In the final period, Queen’s would find the equalizer, but this time, the tie was not resolved in regulation. In fact, the stalemate needed not one, but two extra frames to decide a winner, and it wasn’t until the 15:41 mark of the second overtime that Ryerson’s Erika Crouse (Kirkland Lake, Ont.) provided the heroics and wristed one home to keep the Rams’ season alive.

A similar script was written in the deciding game, meanwhile, but it was Queen’s who put home the game’s first goal. Five minutes into the final period and with her team trailing by one, Karli Nummikoski (Thunder Bay, Ont.) tied the game and ultimately, once again, forced a little extra hockey between the two evenly-matched squads. Just ten minutes in the first overtime, it was Mariah Hinds’ (Toronto, Ont.) turn to send her club into a frenzy and secure a date with the Guelph Gryphons in Round 2.

Season Series: Neither team earned the clear edge in their season series, but both the Rams and Gryphons will look to change that when they clash for their best-of-three this week. In the opener, two of Guelph’s key contributors showed off their skill set in fine form. Kaitlin Lowy (Toronto, Ont.) scored just 48 seconds in and followed that up with her second of the game halfway through the period. That two-goal output was enough for Guelph to secure the win, as the conference’s leader in goals-against average and save percentage, Lamenta, was on her game. She turned away 36 of Ryerson’s 37 shots on the night to help the Gryphons secure the 3-1 win.

Despite hoping to make more of an impact on the scoreboard in their next encounter, Ryerson once again had to watch the Gryphons open the scoring. Merrick tipped the scales in Guelph’s direction, but the Rams were quick to offer up a counter this time around. Just 59 seconds later, Hinds tied things up, before Crouse gave Ryerson the lead ahead of the period’s final buzzer. They’d add another to score the two-goal cushion, which was enough to combat Guelph’s late comeback attempt and record the 3-2 victory.

October 25, 2018 | Guelph 3 Ryerson 1
November 21, 2018 | Ryerson 3 Guelph 2


No. 3 Toronto Varsity Blues (15-6-3) v. No. 2 Western Mustangs (15-5-4)

Schedule (Best-of-Three):
Game 1 | Toronto @ Western | Wednesday, February 27 @ 7:00pm
Game 2 | Western @ Toronto | Friday, March 1 @ 7:00pm
Game 3 (if necessary) | Toronto @ Western | Sunday, March 3 @ 2:30pm

Quick Hits: These two teams met a year ago in the postseason, albeit in the first round, and it was the Western Mustangs that prevailed in two games. The purple ponies went on to win the provincial title, while the Toronto Varsity Blues went back to the drawing board. But some fruitful efforts therein have helped Toronto boast a stronger team than they had a year ago, and with a spot in the McCaw Cup final on their minds, they’ll look to earn their place in the provincial finale while exacting some revenge against the reigning champs in the process.

Last Round: While the Mustangs didn’t blow the Warriors out of the water in Round 1, the purple ponies handled their first-round opponents in fine fashion to earn the sweep. The No. 2 seed trailed for just over two minutes of action all series long and made sure they were in the driver’s seat for much of the way in all facets of the game.

Western got off to a dream start behind the play of Evra Levesque (Wawa, Ont.) and Catherine O’Connor (Halifax, N.S.). The pair got the ‘Stangs cooking early with a pair of goals in the opening five minutes of play, and while Waterloo got one back before the period was out, it didn’t phase the Mustangs and their overall play. An insurance tally from Beatrice Arsenault Dufour (Sarnia, Ont.) pushed the lead back to two and proved to be the winner in a strong Game 1 performance.

Waterloo fired home the opening goal in Game 2, but aside from their brief 1-0 lead, the black and gold were stymied once again. The Warriors goal marked one of just 12 shots on the game against Carmen Lasis (Toronto, Ont.), and thanks to the quick equalizer from Shailyn Waites (Leamington, Ont.) and the game-winner from Sydnee Baker (Chatham, Ont.) just seven minutes later, the Mustangs put a bow on the sweep and turned their attention to Round 2, where the defending champs will face a Toronto team that is peaking at the right time.

The Varsity Blues ended their season as one of the hottest teams in the league and it looked like they’d keep that moniker intact to roll past the Nipissing Lakers in Round 1. Kiyono Cox (Redondo Beach, CA) got Toronto on the board just 2:22 into their Game 1 affair – a lead that they would later double – and Jessica Robichaud (Whitby, Ont.) sealed the deal with her first of the postseason to give the Blues a 3-1 win. Both the offence and the defence, which allowed just 16 shots on net, were in fine form, but their momentum didn’t carry into a series sweep.

The Blues fell behind early in Game 2, allowing three goals in the opening period, and that all but did in the visiting Toronto squad, but it set up a deciding game back at home and gave the opportunity for one of their brightest to shine. The Blues got on the score sheet first thanks to a powerplay marker from Kassie Roache (Corunna, Ont.); a name that was heard on more than one occasion in this one. Nipissing would answer, but Roache responded back with her second of the game. Like a broken record, the Lakers answered to tie things up for the second time heading into the final 20 minutes, and in that third period, it was a Roache wrister from the high slot that gave her the hat trick and gave Toronto the 3-2 win. If Roache can keep that scoring touch and continue to lead her squad offensively, the team may find themselves in a position to play for their first title since 2002-03 when all is said and done.

Season Series: These semifinal combatants met twice during the regular season and each side found the win column on the opposing team’s domain. Interestingly, the two meetings came at very different stretches of the season for the Blues, with the first – a loss – coming during a first-half stretch in which they lost six of nine, and the next – a win – representing the second of their eight consecutive victories to kick off the winter semester.

Western got the better of the Blues in late October when they headed to Toronto for an early-season clash and they can thank a three-goal first period for the boost. The trio of tallies, which included two from the OUA’s top goal-scorer April Clark (St. Mary’s, Ont.), were enough to give the Mustangs a cushion they wouldn’t give up. Toronto did make them work for it, cutting the lead to just one early in the third, but another two goals from Western in just a seven-second span shut the home side down for good and secured the 5-3 win.

With victory on their minds in the second meeting – part of each team’s opening weekend in the second half – Toronto was the one to get out of the gates quickly. Christine Chao (Toronto, Ont.) beat Lasis just under four minutes in and Roache doubled the lead mere seconds into period number two. Western battled back the rest of the way to tie things up and eventually, take the decision to a shootout. In that final stage, however, Erica Fryer (Amherstburg, Ont.) shut the door on a pair of Mustangs, while the Blues scored twice to earn the slim 3-2 victory and the split in the season series.

October 27, 2018 | Western 5 Toronto 3
January 6, 2019 | Toronto 3 Western 2 (SO)