By Earl Zukerman
If they scripted it for a Hollywood movie, nobody would believe it. But for the umpteenth time this season, defenceman Samuel Labrecque waited until the drama of high noon – and celebrated his birthday in style – by scoring twice in 17 seconds late in the game as McGill rallied for a 3-1 road victory over Queen’s at the Kingston Memorial Centre, Friday.
The triumph, McGill’s 29th consecutive over Queen’s dating back 11 years, gave the Redmen a 2-0 series sweep in their OUA East best-of-three hockey semifinal. McGill won the opener 2-1 at home last Wednesday with Labrecque assisting on both goals. It was also the sixth straight post-season win over Queen’s for the Redmen, who hadn’t lost a playoff game to the Gaels in more than a century, dating back to an 8-2 loss way back on March 7, 1910. McGill is now 123-50-2 in 175 lifetime meetings in hockey’s third-oldest rivalry that dates back to 1895.
McGill badly outshot Queen’s 58-31, including a 20-9 margin in the final frame but found them selves trailing 1-0 after two periods.
Facing elimination, Queen’s drew first blood at the 48-second mark of the second period when Patrick McGillis converted a pass from Darcy Greenaway on the power-play. The goal stood until late in the third period, when Labrecque struck for back-to-back power-play markers at 12:45 and 13:02. Both goals were one-timers, assisted by Jonathan Brunelle and Cedric McNicoll. Teammate Max Le Sieur added an empty-netter, assisted by captain Benoit Levesque, at 19:50.
After Labrecque had tied it at 1-1, someone on the Queen’s bench, believed to be one of the coaches, said something that drew the ire of the officials and they immediately whistled the Gaels for a bench minor penalty, which led to the winning marker before they could shout “Watch out for Sam Labrecque!”
“It was definitely a fun way to celebrate my birthday,” said the native of Granby, Que., who turned 23 years old with a night to remember. “I think the key was that we stayed composed the entire game. We we’re putting a lot of pucks on their goalie and we knew that if we kept on doing that, one was eventually going to go in. We’re confident enough to know that we can win those type of games, especially in the third if we are down by one.”
Labrecque now leads all OUA goal-scorers in the playoffs, finding the back of tyhe net five times (in addition to three assists) in as many games. During the regular season, he led all CIS rearguards with 13 goals in 26 contests. He has been especially deadly against Queen’s, netting a game-winner in dramatic fashion, three times in four meetings. It all started in the OUA season opener on Oct. 10, where he teamed up with Brunelle and McNicoll and connected for the winner at 19:46 of the third period in a 4-3 victory. In the rematch, at McConnell Arena on Jan. 23, he became the first McGill blueliner in 19 years to notch a hat-trick with three consecutive goals in less than eight minutes, including the deciding marker in a 4-1 conquest.
An economics student who joined the Redmen this season transfer after three years at Clarkson University, Labrecque has now potted 18 goals in 35 games overall, four shy of the McGill single-season record for blueliners set by Gilles Hudon in 40 games during the 1981-82 campaign. With seven game-winniers, he needs two more in that department to match the Redmen single-season overall record of nine held by Tim Iannone, who accomplished the feat in 38 outings during 1987-88.
Goaltender Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, a sophomore from Sherbrooke, Que., made 30 saves for the victory, improving his playoff record to 4-1 this year and 11-4 over his two seasons with the Redmen. Gaels sophomore Kevin Bailie, the league’s goaltender of the year in his freshman campaign, made an astonishing 55 saves in a losing cause
McGill will now get a few days off before hosting the winner of the Carleton-UQTR series in the OUA East best-of-three final. The series will open at McConnell Arena on Wed., Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. A series victory would clinch a berth in both, the Queen’s Cup final (Mar. 7) for the OUA banner and at the CIS Final Eight championship in Halifax, March 13-15.
The Redmen were 2-for-5 on the power-play, while Queen’s was 0-for-2. After five playoff games, McGill is operating at 36.8 per cent efficiency on the power-play (7/19) and 75.0 on the penalty-kill (12/16).
“We were pleased with the way that we played, especially in the second half. As the game wore on, we just kept playing the right way,” said Kelly Nobes, who improved to 150-60-3 in 213 games overall during his five seasons behind the McGill bench, including an impressive 30-9-0 mark in post-season play. “We had well over 50 shots and when you put that many pucks on the net, you’re gonna score eventually. We were confident that were were going to score and fortunately, we got a couple of power-play chances in the third and capitalized.”