Gryphons push their way into divisional semifinals
GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons were determined to push all the distraction behind themselves to get into the OUA men’s hockey league’s West Division semifinals.
The Gryphs scored twice in the final 12 and a half minutes of the third period to down the Laurier Golden Hawks 4-2 in the third and final game of their best-of-three divisional quarter-final Sunday night at the Gryphon Centre.
“It’s all about handling any adversity that comes our way and our guys have responded in all the right ways,” Gryphon coach Shawn Cap said. “This was a tough series — two nationally-ranked teams. Laurier is an excellent team and they made us work for every inch of ice. It was a great series and not surprising that it went to three.”
Laurier took the opening game of the series before the Gryphs won Games 2 and 3 to take the series.
“It’s not easy being down 1-0, but we just really came together as a group and the guys just had the motivation to come back and win,” Gryphon forward Todd Winder said. “We weren’t too happy after the finish of the first game so coming into the second game we just wanted to really kind of put an emphasis on the series. We did that and then came here tonight to grind out a nice 4-2 win.”
The Gryphs finished third in the West Division at the end of the regular season with a 17-6-4-1 record. Laurier was sixth at 13-12-2-1, 10 points behind the Gryphs.
The teams split their two regular-season meetings, Laurier winning 4-2 at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex Oct. 26 and the Gryphs prevailed 4-3 in the Frosty Mug game at the Sleeman Centre Jan. 23.
“It was tight all the way,” Camp said. “The Frosty Mug was a great preview of maybe what was to come and the series didn’t disappoint in any way that way.”
Guelph entered the series ranked sixth in the country while Laurier was ranked ninth.”
Marc Stevens, Winder, Bobby Dow and Ryan Valentini scored a goal apiece for the Gryphs, two of them on power plays. Single assists went to Winder, Luke Kutkevicius, Jesse Saban, Ryan Da Silva, Zach Poirier, Gio Finoro, Zach McFadden and Stephen Templeton.
Neil Aird and Matt McJannet scored for Laurier while Kyle Jenkins assisted on both goals and Michael Silveri had one assist.
The Gryphs outshot Laurier 27-20 and went 2-for-3 on their power play while the Golden Hawks were scoreless on three power plays.
Brendan Cregan turned aside 18 shots for the win in the Guelph net while Matt Williams had 23 saves for Laurier.
The Gryphs will be without captain Mikkel Aagaard for the rest of the season. He played in the opening game of the divisional quarter-final, but the Dane left for Europe on the weekend after signing a contract to play in the top division of the German DEL league.
“The timing was terrible for our team, but our guys are rallying around the fact that we don’t rally around any one particular player to get it done for us,” Camp said. “We’re a family and a team and we play for each other and stick together and that’s been the way that our culture has evolved here. There was not any doubt that we could get it done.”
Aagaard was tops in the country with 22 goals and second in points with 46. He’s also 12th in penalty minutes with 70.
“He has an opportunity to play pro so that’s what wonderful,” Camp said. “Everyone who comes through our program will have that opportunity. He led the conference in scoring so he was an impact player, but we have enough depth that we could absorb that kind of loss and still move forward. That’s full credit to the guys.”
The Gryphs have had players leave mid-season in the last few years, most notably goalies Evan Cormier last season and Brandon Maxwell in 2012.
“We’ve had a few guys that have had professional offers that they feel that they can’t refuse so we have to be ready for that and that’s part of having a program where players thankfully develop and get better and then have the opportunity to move on and play pro,” Camp said. “Sometimes their progress accelerates and these opportunities present themselves a little earlier than later. We are always prepared to deal with that.”
With the Toronto Varsity Blues, the top seed in the division, being ousted by the eighth-seed Western Mustangs, the Gryphs get home-ice advantage in the divisional semifinals. They’ll play the Brock Badgers, a team they’ve already played six times this season — four wins and two losses, both in overtime, for the Gryphs – four times last season and seven times in 2017-18 when the Badgers won 2-0 in the best-of-three divisional semifinals.
“We’ve played them so much. I don’t think there are any secrets,” Winder said. “They’re a hard-working team and they’ve got some skill. It’s really going to be about grinding out another series. They’re a good team so it’s going to be tough.”
“We understand each other’s game pretty well and it’s going to be a terrific battle for sure,” Camp said. “We’ve played Brock more times than any team in the country in the last couple of years. We are very familiar with them and very respectful of how well they play. We know this is the next step in our journey.”
The series is to start Thursday with Game 1 at the Gryphon Centre. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Brock is to host Game 2 Friday at 7:15 p.m. and Game 3, if it’s required, is to be played Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre.
“They bring out the best in us, for sure,” Camp said. “This series will be extremely fast and it’ll be extremely tight as the games are always close with them. This should be a really good series — fun to watch, fun to play, fun to be a part of for sure.”
Gryphons 4 Golden Hawks 2
- Guelph Sports Journal