Earn first national title in program history
By Earl Zukerman and Jim Hynes
Team captain Evan Vossen, playing in the final game of his five-year career, scored six minutes into overtime to lead the McGill Redmen to a dramatic 4-3 win against the Western Mustangs and the first CIS men’s hockey title in program history, Sunday night, at the University of New Brunswick’s Aitken Centre.
The oldest hockey team in the world, playing in their 136th season, triumphed in the 50th anniversary edition of the University Cup championship.
Vossen, a senior forward from Swift Current, Sask., took a pass from Alexandre Picard-Hooper, shot from the left face-off circle and beat goaltender Josh Unice though the legs along the ice, on a play that was reminiscent of the Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal scored by Chicago’s Patrick Kane in 2010.
It was the ninth University Cup final to be decided in overtime, including eight in the last 13 years.
“It’s like a storybook ending,” said Vossen, who had also scored on Saturday against Saskatchewan. “It couldn’t have been any better for us and for myself. Especially after last year’s heartbreak.”
McGill had reached the national final for the first time in team history a year ago, but fell 4-0 to tournament host UNB.
Following the game, McGill head coach Kelly Nobes, in his second season behind the Redmen bench, said he couldn’t have been happier for his captain.
“It’s so fitting that Evan Vossen scored that goal,” Nobes said. “What an unbelievable captain this guy’s been for the program. He did it at both ends of the ice, for 200 feet.”
“This is such a huge victory for the McGill hockey program. It’s a win for the ages,” added Nobes. “This program is bigger than just this team. Redmen Hockey has a large family and this championship is for all of those people. I’m so proud of the guys. Not only are they among the top-student athletes in the country but they are now the top hockey program in the country.”
Redmen alum rejoice
The historic victory reverberated throughout the McGill hockey family immediately following the game. Congratulatory messages flooded Facebook and Twitter and hundreds of emails poured in from Redmen hockey family members from around the world, including curren Tampa Bay Lightning coaches Guy Boucher and Martin Raymond, Los Angeles Kings assistant Jamie Kompon, and Montreal Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche, who watched the game in Montreal with a group of fellow alumni. Boucher and Raymond, watching from a hotel room in Philadelphia, wrote a congratulatory email to the team noting that they had woken their neighbours with shouts of joy after Vossen’s winning goal.
Benoit Lévesque of Vaudreuil, Que., with two, and Nicolas Biniek of Montreal, with his third of the tourney, also scored for McGill. Lévesque earned game-MVP honours for the winners.
With an assist on Vossen’s game-winner, Picard-Hooper, a fourth-year centre from Boucherville, Que., set a team record with his 268th career overall point. The helper also gave last year’s CIS player of the year the tournament scoring title with six points (1-5-6).
Picard-Hooper was selected to the all-tournament team along with teammates Francis Verreault-Paul, a forward from Mashteuiatsh, Que., and Marc-André Dorion, a defenceman from St. Hubert, Que., forward Keaton Turkiewicz and goalie Unice, both of Western, as well as UNB rearguard Jonathan Harty.
Verreault-Paul, who was named McGill player of the game in each of the Redmen’s first two University Cup outings, finished the tournament with a 3-2-5 mark and received the Major W.J. ‘Danny’ McLeod Award as the most valuable player of the championship.
The fourth-year sniper had to watch the end of the final on a TV monitor however after he was ejected from the game 7:14 left in regulation. With his team holding on to a 3-2 lead, Verreault-Paul was assessed a controversial five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging the goalie on a partial breakaway.
Western took only 32 seconds to take advantage of the golden opportunity and tie the contest. Turkiewicz deflected a Kevin Baker shot for his second goal of the night. The senior from Brantford, Ont., who led the nation in the regular season with 47 points in 28 matches, had five points and a tournament-leading four goals this weekend.
Baker, a fourth-year centre from Georgetown, Ont., also found the back of the net for the Mustangs.
“I didn’t see the replay but I didn’t want to hit the goalie, obviously. I was on a (partial) breakaway and the guy tripped me. Maybe I deserved two minutes but not five,” said Verreault-Paul, who led the OUA in conference play with 21 markers in only 23 games. “I was so proud of Evan and so happy for him. He’s a clutch player and a tremendous captain. He deserved it.”
Mustangs classy in defeat
Clarke Singer, the 13-year Western head coach who led the Mustangs to their lone University Cup title in 2002, was quick to praise his opponents and his own troops.
“First of all I want to give credit to McGill. They had a great season and a great tournament. We certainly would have loved to see it go a different way but that’s sports I guess. I’m very proud of our guys, they left it all on the ice,” said Singer, whose team had dropped a 4-1 decision to McGill in the OUA final two weeks ago. “We would have needed a second goal on that five-minute power play but McGill did a great job on the PK.”
“[Goalie] Josh [Unice] was our best player in the playoffs and he was our best player this weekend,” continued Singer. “He gave us a chance to win every game this weekend and that’s all you can ask of your goaltender.”
Unice turned aside 36 of 40 pucks fired his way by McGill and averaged 38 saves in his three starts at the championship. The native of Holland, Ohio, was the Mustangs’ game MVP on Friday and Saturday.
The Redmen outshot Western 29-10 in the first two periods and finished with a 40-27 advantage.
McGill dominated the play for most of the first frame. Verreault-Paul almost opened the scoring three minutes in but hit the post to the right of Unice on a wrap-around.
The Mustangs got on the board first however. The Redmen were caught with too many men on the ice at 7:21 and Western made them pay only 77 seconds later. Turkiewicz skated around the net and beat netminder Hubert Morin, who was caught out of position.
McGill responded at 15:38 when Lévesque tipped the puck behind Unice after Dorion, who had joined the rush, threw it in front of the net after skating around a sprawling defenceman.
Lévesque gave McGill its first lead of the evening only 48 seconds into the second period. The sophomore left-winger pushed a rebound past Unice after the goalie stopped Marc-André Daneau twice from close range.
Western tied it up at 2-2 with 6:11 left before the second intermission. Rearguard Scott Aarssen found Baker to the right of the net with a perfect cross-ice pass and the sniper easily beat an outstretched Morin.
McGill jumped back in the lead less than two minutes later. On a two-on-one rush, Christophe Longpré-Poirier patiently waited until the last second and passed the puck to Biniek, who deflected it into an empty cage.