Guelph Gryphons lift Judy on home ice again

GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons might have responded a little late to their invitation, but they replied in time to have another party with Judy on the Gryphon Centre ice.

The Gryphs rallied with three unanswered goals to defeat the Toronto Varsity Blues 4-2 and win the OUA women’s hockey league’s McCaw Cup championship game Saturday at the Gryphon Centre. The championship trophy is named after Dr. Judy McCaw and members of her family were in attendance to see the Gryphs twice come back from one-goal deficits to claim the title for the third time in four years.

“You don’t ever get used to it,” Gryphon coach Rachel Flanagan said of the championship win during the on-ice celebrations. “How do you ever get used to it? You never go in expecting to win and every year it’s just as exciting as the first time.”

For the Varsity Blues, they were Guelph’s third victim in McCaw Cup games at the Gryphon Centre as the Gryphs had defeated the Nipissing Lakers 6-1 in the 2017 final and the Western Mustangs 5-1 in the 2016 final. Western ousted the Gryphs in last year’s semifinals.

“I keep saying they’re such a special group,” Flanagan said of this season’s squad. “We’re graduating so many of them, but they’re so strong in their leadership. They’ve dealt with a lot this year. We had a lot of hard decisions as coaches and everyone played a role. They were amazing.”

This year’s McCaw Cup final was the toughest of the three conference wins on home ice for the Gryphs.

“We’ve been lucky with our McCaw Cup victories to be sitting with a couple-goal leads heading into the third,” said Gryphon captain Kaitlin Lowy, an OUA first-team all-star. “This was a grind and we knew it was going to be. Toronto’s a great team and we respect their talent, but we knew with our resilience and our talent that it would carry us.”

The title win was Guelph’s seventh since 1972 when the championship trophy was rededicated in honour of McCaw, captain of the Gryphons during their 1967 OUA championship year. The Gryphs hoisted the trophy in 1972 and followed that up with crowns in 1974, 1995 and 1998. They also won the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union title four consecutive years from 1967 to 1970.

In this year’s final, the Gryphons rolled four lines through the first two periods before cutting back a little in the third.

“We’ve got a couple of young players and it was hard,” said Flanagan, this season’s OUA coach of the year. “The pressure was a lot and we were down a goal. But they get it, too. They know that those are the shoes that they will have to fill next year and they’ll be a huge part of our success next year so they understand. They were the biggest encouragers on the bench knowing that they might not get to play much in the third period, but they nailed it.”

Claire Merrick scored Guelph’s first and last goals of the match to be named the game’s most valuable player. Katie Mikkelsen had a goal and two assists and Kristen Jay netted the eventual game-winner just past the eight-minute mark of the third period. Karli Shell and Lowy also had two assists apiece and Mallory Young and Miranda Lantz had one each. Lowy and Merrick also picked up points in Guelph’s previous two McCaw Cup wins.

“I think it was an initial shot by Katie and then the rebound popped out,” said Jay, who also scored in the 2017 McCaw Cup game. “It was bobbling and I was able to get a stick on it and hammer it away.”

Kassie Roache scored both goals for the Varsity Blues while Guelph native Louie Bieman assisted on both of them. Kiyono Cox and Cristine Chao each had one assist.

Just as she had been on the previous Gryphon championship wins, OUA goaltender of the year and first-team all-star Valerie Lamenta was the winning netminder as she made 16 saves. Erica Fryer had 19 saves, but was charged with the loss in the Toronto net.

Both teams had three power plays with Mikkelsen’s goal midway through the opening minute of the final period being the only power-play marker.

The game was fairly similar to the Gryphons’ regular-season finale that they lost 1-0 to Toronto on Guelph’s Senior Day when their nine graduating players were recognized in a pre-game ceremony.

“We knew what Toronto was going to bring,” Flanagan said. “It’s been a long time since they’ve been here and we knew they weren’t just going to settle for getting a berth in Nationals. They played us really hard all year. There are some things that they do really well and we had to break those things down, but I knew going into the third that if we could get the next goal that it was going to be an advantage to us. I think that’s kind of what happened. I think they got scared after we got that second one. They still played very hard, but it’s tough when you’re playing against an experienced team who gets one early in the third and is coming after you. It gave us a lot of momentum.”

“It was tight,” Jay said. “We weren’t too concerned because we know how talented this group is and we know that when we bring it we’ll usually come through and we did. We brought it and here we are.”

“We hadn’t been down all playoffs so to face a little bit of adversity, it really pushed us and we came out flying in the third period,” Lamenta said. “We knew we could do it, it was just a matter of getting the puck to the net and scoring those goals.”

Players on both teams who won the league’s major awards this season were honoured before the game.

Flanagan, Lamenta, Lowy and defenceman Laura Crowdis, a second-team all-star, were recognized as were Toronto’s Cristine Chao as defender of the year, most sportsmanlike player and first-team all-star, forward Lauren Straatman as second-team all-star and forward Taylor Trussler and goaltender Fryer as members of the all-rookie team.

While the game was a little more physical than most non-contact matches, it didn’t knock the Gryphons off their game.

“We might be small, and we might not be as tough as other teams might think we are, but we’ll kill teams with kindness and that’s what we did today,” Lowy said.

The crowd recorded as 550 was the largest to see a Gryphon women’s game at the Gryphon Centre this season. The men’s team attracted 615 to their School Day Game last October, their largest crowd at the on-campus arena this season.

“That was awesome,” Jay said. “It’s really fun to see everybody wrapped around. It was really exciting.”

That crowd saw the final home games for both Lowy and Lamenta who have both used up their five years of eligibility.

“It’s come to mind and, honestly, this is the best way to go out,” Lamenta said. “This is the best memory and I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life, for sure.”

“It’s hard to think about the last moments when they are as good as that,” Lowy said. “I’m just soaking in all the wonderful, wonderful play and experiences I’ve had on this ice right now. I’m just so happy it went out on a good note. I’m so proud of this team.

“You can’t write it up any better. This is the best group I’ve been able to be a part of over these years and I’m so honoured to have done it and leave this ice with a lasting legacy.”

Both the Gryphs and Varsity Blues advance to the U Sports national tournament at Charlottetown where they’ll attempt to become the fourth OUA team to win the Canadian championship. Western won it in 2015, Laurier in 2005 and Toronto in 2001. The Golden Path Trophy has been awarded to the U Sports women’s hockey champion annually since 1998.

While the McCaw Cup game was good for bragging rights in the OUA, it’ll also be used for the seeding for the national tournament.

“We’ll probably go in as the third seeds based on the national rankings, but it doesn’t matter,” Flanagan said. “When you get to Nationals, you’ve got to win three games to win so it doesn’t really matter who you start against. There are no easy games out there so you’ve just got to take it one game at a time and try to get into the medal round and go from there.”

There won’t be much for the Gryphs to do before they head to Charlottetown as they’ll be climbing aboard the bus headed for the airport Monday at 6 a.m.

“We’ve got a bit of time when we get there which is nice,” Flanagan said. “We’ll have a bit of time to prep and get settled in, so that’ll be good.”

And for the Gryphs to be successful there?

“We just have to do more of the same,” Lamenta said. “We just have to keep elevating our game. Obviously, the calibre is going to be very, very good, but we’re a very good team, too. I think as long as we stick to our game plan and we play a full 60 minutes of hockey, we’re going to have some good games and a really good chance to get that national championship.”

“We just have to keep getting better every day,” Lowy said. “I think that’s something that we’ve been doing all year, just making sure that our team is peaking at the right time. I think there’s a lot more room for this team to grow and I look forward to next week.”

Can the Gryphs elevate their game even more for the Nationals?

“Of course,” Lamenta said. “Every day we’re just using it as a learning experience and I definitely think we get better every single day.”

Joining the Gryphs and Varsity Blues at the National tournament in Charlottetown are to be the Atlantic champion St. Thomas Tommies, Quebec champion Montreal Carabins, Canada West champion Alberta Pandas, Quebec finalist McGill Martlets, Canada West finalist Manitoba Bisons and host Prince Edward Island Panthers.

Seedings are expected to be announced Sunday.

Quarter-finals are set for Thursday and Friday while the semifinals, both championship and consolation round, are to go Saturday and the consolation final medal games (gold and bronze) are scheduled for March 17.

 

Gryphons 4 Varsity Blues 2
Toronto     1-1-0–2
Guelph     1-0-3–4
First Period
1. Toronto, Roache (Cox, Bieman), 11:50
2. Guelph, Merrick (Shell, Young), 14:18
Penalty: Bieman Tor (goaltender interference), 6:23.
Second Period
3. Toronto, Roache (Chao, Bieman), 3:43
Penalties: Smyth Gue (tripping), 10:56; Lowy Gue (kneeing), 11:18; Ayres Tor (tripping), 19:14.
Third Period
4. Guelph, Mikkelsen (Shell, Lowy), 0:31 pp
5. Guelph, Jay (Lantz, Mikkelsen), 8:09
6. Guelph, Merrick (Lowy, Mikkelsen), 17:08
Penalties: Melo Gue (hooking), 3:02; Cox Tor (delay of game), 10:44; Chao Tor (roughing after the whistle), Merrick Gue (head contact) 12:48.
Shots on Goal
Toronto     4-10-4–18
Guelph        8-7-8–23
Goalies: Fryer (L, 23 shots-19 saves); Lamenta (W, 18 shots-16 saves), Guelph.
Power Plays (goals-chances): Toronto 0-3; Guelph 1-3.

 

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