By Earl Zukerman
SASKATOON – Johnny Lazo scored at 16:22 of double overtime to give top-seeded Alberta a 3-2 victory over No.4 McGill at the PotashCorp CIS men’s hockey championship in front of 3,041 fans at Credit Union Centre, Saturday afternoon.
It was a heart-breaking loss to a marathon 12-day road trip for McGill — the longest in team history excluding holiday trips over the Christmas break. Goaltender Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, a 6-foot-1, 186-pound rookie literally stole the show with a stellar 52-save performance in a losing cause which lasted 86 minutes and 22 seconds and he was selected as his team’s player of the game. The Bears had a 55-20 advantage in shots, including a 22-3 barrage in the third period, where he made 21 saves.
With the win, Canada West champion Alberta finishes atop Pool A with a 2-0 record and will face No. 5 Saskatchewan (2-0) for the University Cup Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (Mountain). The Huskies (2-0) skunked third-seeded Windsor (1-1) 9-0 in the Saturday nightcap. The Bears hold the all-time mark with 13 CIS titles and will skate in their 19th championship match on Sunday, another record. They last triumphed in 2008, losing the 2010 final to Saint Mary’s since then.
McGill returns home with a 1-1 record at the tourney and a 30-12-2 mark on the season overall.
Lazo broke a 2-2 tie when he was able to get free in front of the net and tip a Kruise Reddick centring pass past Gervais-Chouinard, whose attempted clearing pass behind the net had been intercepted by Reddick along the boards.
“I was just in the right spot and the right time,” said Lazo of his game-winning goal. “It’s such an amazing feeling. We played so well the entire game, it would have been a shame to drop that one.”
After a scoreless opening period, Alberta took a 1-0 lead at 7:52 of the middle frame on a goal from Reddick. The third-year forward skated to the high slot and beat Gervais-Chouinard with a wrist shot to the glove side.
McGill tied the affair at 1-1 eight minutes later on an unassisted tally from Guillaume Langelier-Parent, who came out of the corner with the puck to beat freshman Lucas Siemens with a low back-handed shot. Siemens, who was making his first start of the tournament after backing up veteran Kurtis Mucha in Thursday’s win over Carleton, made 18 saves for Alberta, while Ferguson was named player of the game for the Bears.
The Redmen took a 2-1 lead early in the third with a power play goal from defenceman Jean-Philippe Mathieu, who connected on a power-play with a long wrist shot at exactly the one-minute mark. It was his third marker in 10 post-season games.
Alberta forced overtime when they finally netted the equalizer at 7:13 of the final stanza. A shot from Jamie Crooks found its way through traffic in front of the net before hitting the post. The rebound landed in the crease and Brett Ferguson tapped the loose puck into the open side.
The Redmen played primarily a neutral-zone trap as a result of running into a sudden plethora of injuries on the blueline and had to survive for most of the game with four defencemen or less. They lost Vincent Barnard and Etienne Boutet, two key rearguards in Friday’s opener against Carleton — the former with a dislocated shoulder, the latter with a shoulder separation. Boutet dressed against Alberta but reinjured his shoulder early on and saw limited duty. Then Hugo Laporte, a third-year blueliner, left the game after blocking a first-period shot on his left arm. He went to hospital for x-rays, which were negative and made it back in time to play the third period. While all this was going on, four of McGill’s six shorthanded situations were called against their remaining rearguards, including a two-man disadvantage – with defenders J.P. Mathieu and Ryan McKiernan – early in the second period.
They survived that storm but had to play a conservative style against the aggressive Bears, a powerhouse team that led the nation with 146 goals in 28 games.against”It was an unbelievable performance by (Chouinard),” said McGill head coach Kelly Nobes, whose troops were making their sixth University Cup appearance in the past seven years and had claimed the first title in program history in 2012. “He made some miraculous saves tonight and certainly he kept us in the game.”
“I’ve got to tip my cap to the guys who played in front of me, especially all the d-men that were hurt, they deserved a better (fate),” said Gervais-Chouinard, a 22-year-old education freshman, who joined the Redmen this season after starring for his hometown Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and meriting a stint in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs. “I tried my best and wish we could’ve come away with a win but… hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
Only three players are expected to be lost to graduation, including McKienan, who will be the toughest to replace after earning all-Canadian honours and receiving the CIS defenceman-of-the-year trophy. The finance senior from White Plains, N.Y., finished with an overall career mark of 41-76-117 in 160 contests, the fourth-best point total for a defenceman in school history. His 41 goals was the second-best in school history, three shy of the record set by Gilles Hudon, who accomplished his feat in only 130 games between 1980 and 1984. The team’s all-time points leader along the blueline is Marc-Andre Dorion, who had a 38-154-192 record in 174 contests from 2008 to 2012.
The other two departing veterans are defenceman Neil Blunden, a political science senior and goaltender Andrew Flemming, a master’s student in kinesiology and physical education, who transferred to McGill last season from RMC, where he earned his undergraduate degree.
“As a coach you couldn’t be more proud of the group of guys with the level they went to in terms of character and heart,” added Nobes. “We had 23 guys who had never been here before, 23 guys who are in the first or second year with us, and I think we showed pretty well, we gave ourselves a chance. We certainly grew as a team and as a program this weekend.”
Redmen captain Benoit Levesque, an economics senior from Vaudreuil, Que., who will be back for a fifth season, vowed that the team would return to compete for another national title.
“The amount of character that we had in our dressing room was just unbelievable,” he said. “Most of them were leaders on their respective teams in junior, so we had a ton of leadership in the room, which makes my job so much easier… There all-around awesome guys and it’s been a pleasure and we’re gonna be back (with a vengeance) next year.”
REDMEN RAP: Among the familiar faces spotted in the crowd were former Redmen stars Tim Iannone, Jamie Reeve, Paul Grech, Scott Giroux and Mike Nelson… The Friends of McGill Hockey sent out a note asking for donations to help support the team’s expenses over the 12-day road trip and have raised close to $20,000 in less than five days.