Jerome Verrier of Drummondville, Que., and Samuel Tremblay of St. Hubert, Que., each tallied twice and added a helper as the McGill men’s hockey team skated to a 6-2 triumph over Concordia to capture the OUA East title before a capacity crowd of 1,024 at McConnell Arena, Sunday. The Redmen had lost the opener 3-1 at home last Wednesday, but rallied to even the series with a 3-2 overtime victory at Concordia on Friday.
It was McGill’s eighth divisional championship in 12 years, which guarantees both a spot in next Saturday’s Queen’s Cup contest against Brock – a one-game final for OUA bragging rights — and more importantly, a berth at the U SPORTS University Cup championship in Halifax, Mar. 15-18. A win in the OUA final would ensure a top three seeding at the Final Eight tourney, while a loss would likely mean a bottom three placing. The Redmen have won 17 Queen’s Cups since their first one in 1903 but none since 2012, when they went on to capture their first-ever national crown.
The Stingers will host York in the OUA bronze medal game on Friday, Mar. 9, at 7:30 p.m., with the winner earning a wild-card berth to Nationals.
McGill, which had a 29-17 edge in shots over Concordia, led 3-2 after a wild first period, then upped that to 4-2 after two, and outscored the visitors 2-0 in the final stanza.
“It was a really interesting game, the way it went,” said McGill head coach Kelly Nobes, who will be guiding his troops to a fifth participation at Nationals in his eight seasons with the Redmen. “The first period was very emotional and chaotic. It didn’t have a lot of structure. The energy was good… we settled things down a bit in the second and then in the third, I thought that our structure really came through. It was a great game for us in terms of our growth. It was a really tough game… we got better as the game went on. It was a lot of fun to win that.”
Concordia opened the scoring only 31 seconds after the initial puck drop when team captain Philippe Hudon converted a 2-on-1 for his sixth of the post-season. But the Stingers then self-destructed with a plethora of penalties, beginning with a five-minute major and game misconduct assessed to Alexis Pepin, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound behemoth who was penalized for a hit to the head of McGill rookie Quinn Syrdyiuk, who played sparingly after that. Pepin will receive at least a one-game suspension for his penalty, perhaps more, depending on what the video reveals.
McGill struck twice on the ensuing major, which took the momentum out of Concordia’s early goal.
Verrier, who had NHL tryouts with Winnipeg and Detroit before joining the Redmen in 2015, set up defenceman Nikolas Brouillard to tie the score at 1-1 before the three-minute mark, then scored a power play marker of his own to give McGill a 2-1 lead. A 5-foot-11, 185-pound centre who is an economics junior, Verrier added an empty-netter for his fifth of the playoffs and now leads the OUA playoff scoring race with 14 points in eight contests.
“There were five goals on the board (in the first 12 minutes) so it was kind of a crazy game with lots of emotion and I think the fans loved it,” said Verrier, who also scored the OT winner in Game 2 of the series two days earlier. “You’re not supposed to allow a goal in the first 30 seconds… so we just talked on the bench about regrouping and going back to playing the way we normally do. Then we had that quick power play (on the major penalty) and scored two goals.”
Tremblay assisted on Jan Kaminsky’s game-winning goal, which made the score 3-2 midway through the first period. He then tallied a pair of nifty back-breaking goals, both on snap shots, which made the score 5-2, including an unassisted shorthanded goal.
“[Tremblay] was really good tonight, one of our key guys on the PK and to capitalize shorthanded there… that fifth goal was a big one for us,” noted Nobes. “I’m glad to see him shoot the puck and he set up Kaminsky for a goal, so he had a great game.”
Rounding out the scoring was Concordia defenceman Philippe Charbonneau, who had tied the score at 2-2 in the first period.
The Redmen ended up going 2-for-6 on the power play, with both goals occurring on that costly major penalty by Pepin, The vaunted ConU power play came up empty on their three chances.The Stingers took 33 of the 41 penalty minutes dished out by the officials.
Concordia goaltender Marc-Antoine Turcotte, who had seemed unbeatable earlier in the series, was beaten five times on 28 shots. He was pulled for an extra attacker with 6:11 remaining in the contest, which eventually led to Verrier’s empty-netter.
McGill’s Louis-Philip Guindon made his ninth consecutive start – eight of them in the playoffs – and saved 15 of 17 shots for the victory, improving to 6-2 in post-season play.
McGill, which split the four-game regular season series with Concordia, finished with a 4-3 record against them overall. The Redmen are now 104-99-14 in 217 lifetime meetings with their cross-town rivals, including a 57-43-7 record at McConnell Arena and an 18-12 mark in 30 post-season games. McGill has won 10 of the 14 series meetings in post-season play.
“That was a real tough series to win. They’re a real good team, so you have to give [Concordia] credit but I was really proud of our guys,” added Nobes, who skated for McGill from 1993 to 1997. “The way we battled tonight and particularly guys like Kaminsky, a fifth-year guy. Last year, he got knocked out in the OUA bronze medal game and wasn’t able to play at the national championship. We’ve given ourselves a chance now to get back there. [As coach], you’re happy for all your guys but especially for the older [players] because they’ve been around for a while. A guy like “Kammy” has paid his dues and I’m really pleased for someone like that.”
The Redmen concluded their home schedule with a 17-4 record overall at McConnell Arena. All of their remaining games will be on the road, where they have a 16-5 record, beginning with the Queen’s Cup championship game on March 10 against Brock in St. Catharines, Ont. The game is slated for a 7:15 p.m. start and will be streamed on OUA.tv. McGill only met the Badgers once this season, a 3-2 victory at McConnell Arena. The Redmen are 27-4-2 lifetime against Brock, including a 4-1 win in their only previous Queen’s Cup meeting on March 3, 2008. The Badgers finished fifth in the OUA West this season with a 14-9-5 record, outscoring their opponents 77-72. The got hot in the post-season, sweeping fourth-place Laurier 2-0 in the quarter-finals, then upsetting top-seeded Guelph 2-0 in the semifinals and third-seeded York in the finals.