The U of T Varsity Blues men’s hockey team took on the University of Quebec Trois-Rivières Patriots in their penultimate game of the first half of the season on November 30.
The Blues entered the game with a 9-7 record and hoped to end a losing run that had taken the past two games. The Patriots were coming from the previous night’s 5-1 victory over Ryerson. U of T goaltenders Brett Willows and Garret Sheehan have been splitting ice time this season, and Saturday’s game saw Willows between the pipes.
The Blues had a tough time keeping the puck inside the Patriots’ zone and out of their own at the start of the first period. The Patriots played a strong defence and didn’t allow the Blues to get any shots on net. The Blues switched to a more physical game for the rest of the first period and gained an advantage over the Patriots.
The Blues’ Tyler Liukkonen scored the first goal on a breakaway after receiving a stretch pass from defenceman Connor Cleverly to end the first period with a 1-0 lead.
One and a half minutes into the second period, UQTR forward Tommy Tremblay scored a tip-in goal off a shot from defenceman Jesse Gauthier Le Breton, tying the game at 1-1. U of T made frequent use of the power play, yet couldn’t capitalize on any goals, going 0 for 3 through the first two periods. They had plenty of scoring opportunities at even strength but struggled to put the puck in.
The second period saw a lot of action and physical play. Both teams’ skaters played well, but Willows and Quebec’s goalie Guillame Nadeau were on their A-game, each stopping eight shots in the second period alone.
As the second period wound to a close, a questionable call on Patriots’ Billy Lacasse sent the arena into a frenzy and Lacasse was punched in the back of the head, lost his helmet, and then received a slash on the back of the legs. Despite the dangerous play, the Toronto aggressors got away without a call, while Lacasse’s harsh words to the referee afterwards landed him in the penalty box.
During the third period, it was evident that neither team wielded a strong advantage. U of T took seven shots during the third period while the Patriots had 11, yet the goalies’ outstanding play kept the game close and the fans on their heels. A scary incident took place near the end of the game when the Patriots’ Thomas Martin took a slapshot to his midsection, collapsing and screaming in pain, which led to a short hiatus. But then Martin shook it off and stayed in the game.
A recurring problem for the Blues was their inability to convert the power plays. With less than four minutes left in the third period, the Blues were granted their final power play of the game. Head coach Darren Lowe called a timeout to ensure his team would have an effective power play and hopefully score a game-winning goal. This effort turned out to be effective for their competition, though, as the Patriots Tommy Tremblay scored an unassisted shorthand goal, his second of the game, and secured his team’s victory. Tremblay intercepted the puck in his own zone, broke past U of T’s blue line, and wired a wrist shot past a screen into the net.
The very close final score was 26-23 in favour of the Patriots.
“You’re not [going to] win a game when you only score one goal, usually,” commented Lowe. “We played very well, though. I thought that it was an even game for the most part.”
As for his team’s inability to make anything of the power plays, eventually giving up a shorthanded goal, Lowe said, “For both teams, penalty killing was really good […] I hope [in] the second half of the season we’ll be better. When you get a power play near the end of the game and the other team ends up scoring, it’s a little bit like a knife in the back.”
Willows also commented on the game. “We put together a complete 60 minutes, but unfortunately it was one of those nights where we hit the post in the third period and it bounced out, whereas they hit the post in the third period and it bounced in,” he said. “It’s never a great feeling losing three straight games […] two of the three losses came in either overtime or a shootout, which means we picked up crucial points.”
“I don’t think we need to go and re-invent the wheel over the break. The pieces are in place, we just need to work on having consistent efforts like we had on Saturday against UQ and the results will come,” he added.
The Varsity Blues will enjoy a month off before taking on the Carleton University Ravens on December 29 in Ottawa in the hopes of ending their three-game losing streak.