Gryphons grab berths in OUA final and national tournament
GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons have earned a shot at atonement.
The Gryphs, wanting to get a chance to avenge their OUA men’s hockey Queen’s Cup championship game loss to the Queen’s Gaels last year, rallied in the third period to edge the Western Mustangs 4-3 in the semifinals Sunday night at the Gryphon Centre.
“We were in the Queen’s Cup last year and we left with a bitter taste in our mouth because we didn’t get it done,” Gryphon coach Shawn Camp said. “It feels like there’s unfinished business.”
Sunday’s win gave the Gryphs a return trip to the OUA final as it gave them a 2-1 win in the best-of-three series.
Three consecutive goals in the third period turned a 2-1 deficit at the end of the second into a two-goal advantage. A goal by Guelph native Gio Finoro at 7:33 put the Gryphs ahead for good.
“I poked it down to Pudge (Zach Poirier) and when Pudge put it on net, I saw that it went high and it bounced out,” Finoro said. “When I got the puck, I knew he (Western goalie Luke Peresinni) was going to cheat to go to the blocker side because I beat him last time on the blocker side. So I just thought to fake the pull and then try to get it back as high as I could short side.”
Sounds like a lot of thinking before the goal-scoring shot.
“It was split second, but in big games like that it just kind of comes natural,” Finoro said.
The Gryphs had scored the lone goal of the first and Western created an exciting finish in the fast-paced game with a goal with 1:28 to go in regulation time and with netminder Peresinni on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
“We challenged our guys after the second period to just bear down a little bit more because we were creating lots of chances and we had lots of shots on net, but we weren’t getting second and third rebounds like we had earlier in the series,” Camp said. “The challenge was put out and the guys responded in all the right ways. They deserve all the credit in the world for the way they played.”
The Gryphs did respond as the third period was their best of the game as has been the case in most of their playoff outings.
“It seems that we just get better as we go,” Camp said. “We had a little sag in the second for a few minutes, yesterday as well, but in the third period we seem to respond really well. It was a great effort in the third here tonight.”
Ryan O’Bonsawin, Cole Cameron, Gio Finoro and Matt Kenney scored the goals for the Gryphs while Zach Poirier had two assists and Justin Lemcke, Todd Winder and Ryan Da Silva had one each.
Sean Montgomery, Rylan Bechtel and Anthony Stefano had the goals for Western while assists went to Ethan Szypula, Cordell James, Kolten Olynek, Franco Sproviero and Stephen Desrocher.
The Gryphs outshot the Mustangs 36-20 after getting off to a 17-5 advantage in that department in the opening period.
Andrew Masters had 17 saves for the win while Peresinni had 32 saves. Both teams went 0-for-3 on their power plays.
The game attracted a crowd of 1,106 to the Gryphon Centre, the largest of the season at the on-campus facility. Previous best for the season were the 759 who took in the Aggies Night game in November. The usual crowd size is around 300.
“The crowd was fantastic,” Camp said. “It’s like having an extra player on the ice, the lift that they give us when they’re here. The crowds have been good all season, but tonight especially was extra loud and supportive. We so appreciate that.”
“That was fantastic. It was absolutely electric,” Finoro said. “When we kind of got into the low parts, the crowd got us back into it and kept us rolling and keeping the pressure on them.”
The win also guarantees the Gryphs a spot in the U Sports University Cup national tournament at Halifax March 12 to 15.
Seven of the eight teams that are to compete in the national tournament have been decided. The Gryphs and Ottawa Gee-Gees are in as the OUA representatives while the Concordia Stingers are in as the Quebec representatives. Qualifying from Canada West are the Saskatchewan Huskies and UBC Thunderbirds while the Acadia Axemen are in as hosts and the New Brunswick Varsity Reds get a berth for advancing to the Atlantic final with Acadia. The third Atlantic berth will got to the winner of a best-of-three bronze-medal series between the Moncton Aigles Bleus or Saint Mary’s Huskies.
The Gryphs and Ottawa are to meet in the single-game OUA Queen’s Cup championship match at the Gryphon Centre Saturday.
While both teams are assured of berths in the national tournament, the game is important for deciding more than just the OUA champion. It’ll also be important for seeding at the University Cup tourney and a win will send the league champ into the tournament at Halifax with some momentum.
“We’re not even thinking about Nationals right now,” Finoro said. “We’ve got one more game to solidify a great season that we’ve put together and we’re all just focusing on the next game and not looking too far ahead.”
“You don’t want to go into the national championships having lost your last game,” Camp said. “It’s a downer with momentum and we want to make sure that we’re going in on a high as we did coming into the playoffs this year with the way we were playing.”
The Gryphs had six wins in their final seven games of the regular season and carried that momentum into the playoffs.
Game time Saturday is 7 p.m.
Gryphons 4 Mustangs 3
- Guelph Sports Journal