Gryphon hockey women get shot at keeping McCaw Cup

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – It was thought that this might be a rebuilding season for the Guelph Gryphons in the OUA women’s hockey league.

“We came into this season not knowing what to expect,” Gryphon coach Rachel Flanagan said. “We’re young. We had a lot of turnover of some of our all-star players so we weren’t really sure. About halfway through the season we decided, not we as coaches, the team decided that it was not a rebuild year, it was a defending year and we were absolutely set on finishing in first place so we could defend at home.”

That desire came true Sunday when the Gryphs defeated the Waterloo Warriors in the third and final game of their semifinal series. They’ll get a chance to lift the league championship McCaw Cup again Saturday when they host the Nipissing Lakers at the Gryphon Centre.

“It was really good to get that (win),” Gryphon forward Kelly Gribbons said. “I’m really excited for next week.”

Last season the Gryphs won the OUA title for the first time in 18 years and then finished fourth at the national Canadian Interuniversity Sport (now U Sports) championship tournament. When the Gryphs started this season, nine players from that championship team had moved on including forwards Averi Nooren, Jessica Pinkerton, Christine Grant and Marcie Landman who accounted for 33 goals and 41 assists during the regular season, defencemen Leigh Shilton and Jessica Pellegrino and goaltender Stephanie Nehring, a former starter who became back-up to national player of the year Valerie Lamenta.

Losing what amounted to two forward lines, a defence pairing and a goalie dropped the Gryphons’ level of experience and also their age, but not their desire.

The Gryphs split their first four games, winning two and losing two – same as last season — then put together a streak of six consecutive wins to cement the feeling that it really wasn’t a rebuilding campaign any more.

Sunday afternoon, the Gryphs prevailed in a close, tight-checking match that the Gryphs didn’t secure until they scored a pair of goals in the final two minutes.

“It was physical, but intense physical,” Flanagan said. “Not dirty. When we play Waterloo, we love it as a game because I really enjoy coaching against Shaun (Reagan). He’s done a really good job with his program and his players. They just work and they’re clean. They play the game the right way and that’s what made it a great series.”

“The emotions were running high,” Gribbons said. “The emotions were running high for both teams. The energy was great and it was a really great game overall.”

Guelph led 2-0 at the end of the first period after netting a pair of goals about a minute and a half apart late in the period. Waterloo scored the lone goal of the second to narrow the gap before the Gryphs scored twice just over a minute apart in the final 75 seconds of the series.

“The second period, if I was a fan I would’ve really enjoyed that period because it was back and forth,” Flanagan said. “They scored a goal, but it was really back and forth and really enjoyable – not so much for the coach, but as a fan I thought it would be a really great game to watch because it never seemed to get held up. It was just wide open.”

“Waterloo’s a really fast team and I thought we kept our feet moving really well and got pucks in and got pucks out so it was really good,” Gribbons said.

The win gave Guelph a 2-1 victory in the best-of-three semifinal.

Gribbons, Kaitlin Lowy, Sophie Contant and Claire Merrick scored the goals while Lowy had two assists and Merrick and Gribbons had one each.

Marissa Redmond scored the lone goal for Waterloo.

Lamenta turned aside 22 shots for the win in net for Guelph while Stephanie Sluys faced 28 shots in the Waterloo net.

The Gryphs advance to host the OUA McCaw Cup final Saturday at the Gryphon Centre where they’ll battle for the right to keep the Cup affectionately named Judy on campus. It was originally known as the WIAU trophy from when it was first presented in 1922 until the University of Guelph rededicated it in 1972 to the memory of Dr. Judy McCaw. Game time Saturday is 2 p.m.

“We’ve just got to keep the same energy we had today,” Gribbons said looking ahead to the final. “Keep our feet moving and we tend to get into penalty trouble so stay out of that. Just bring our own game.”

This season only the OUA champion advances to the U Sports tournament as the Queen’s Gaels are already assured of being the second OUA team as they’re hosting the national tournament. That adds a little more importance to the McCaw Cup final.

“I don’t think it makes you grip your stick any tighter because everyone wants to win a championship game,” Flanagan said. “Nobody wants to finish second. It certainly puts a little more on the line, but it’s not going to change the way we prepare or the girls prepare. It just means that when you win it’s extra sweet because you get to go on.”

“We think about it a little bit, but we’re more going toward OUAs than nationals right now. We’re thinking about bringing Judy back to Guelph again.”