One of UTM’s fiercest rivalries was renewed as the Division 1 campus rec ball hockey finals were played on Thursday at the RAWC. The Average Joes took on the Rookies in their championship-deciding matchup, in which the Joes looked to claim their third straight crown.
It was a scrappy start, with the Joes winning the opening faceoff. Their strategy was to control the ball with short, quick, constant passes to keep their opponents on the defensive. But they let up after a lapse allowed a pass near their own goal to be intercepted by Geoff Estabrokas, who made the most of the game’s opening shot only one minute into the contest.
The Rookies—made up predominately of RAWC staff, including Jack Krist, Cam Walker, Michael Foley, Rob Brown, Jordan Stinson, and Estabrokas—kept up their momentum to push the ball forward. They kept two men deep in Average Joe territory playing the net, and one man back by the goalie for defence.
Just as the Rookies looked like they were getting synchronized in their positions, the Joes found a weakness to exploit. The Joes pushed all of their men into their opponents’ zone with short passes, advancing the ball forward with every pass, until they had backed the Rookies fully into their own defence. At this point the Joes had their opponents watching not only for passes but also for shots from close range. After a flurry of attempts, the Joes finally got a shot in the net when Alex Santini banked his first goal off an assist by Philip Arci.
Following the faceoff, the Rookies tried to re-establish their positions, holding the ball at half-court. The Average Joes, playing more defensively than usual, found themselves in many scrums in front of their goalie, Ryan Zarrabi. The Joes’ aggressive defence only hurt them: Joey El-Shimy found himself facing a three-minute penalty for tripping, making it a three-on-two matchup in the Rookies’ favour.
Zarrabi came through in the clutch by making a beautiful glove save by the top right corner of the net. But this was only the start of the pressure the Rookies would apply over the two and a half minutes of their power play. Even though they were down a player, the Joes persevered. Santini scored his second goal unassisted off some brilliant stick work to weave through the Rookies’ defence.
When their power play ended, the Rookies found themselves back on the defensive. The Joes came out as aggressive as before the penalty, again pushing the ball into their opponents’ territory.
Adrian “Big A” Di Federico found himself in a clear path of the net, with only Krist between himself and the goalie. Di Federico’s shot got past Krist and squeezed through the goaltender’s legs, but it somehow avoided crossing the line for a goal, hit the post, and bounced out. El-Shimy soon found himself in front of the net’s left corner after a pass from Juliano (the other Di Federico on the team) and fired a precise slap shot between the pipes that pushed the Joes’ lead to 3–1.
Arci punched in the Joes’ fourth and final goal of the first 20-minute half, taking a pass from Elie Jbeili out of a scrum and netting the ball.
“Big A” Di Federico served a three-minute penalty for roughing with 3:06 left in the half. While he sat out his penalty, his teammate Jbeili was given a breakaway chance at the net. His wrist shot to the upper right corner of the net failed to score the team’s fifth goal, and the teams went to a short half-time break.
When the whistle was blown to begin the second half, it was back to the Rookies keeping the ball at mid-court and the Average Joes finding holes in their strategy. The Joes pushed in front of their opponents’ goal and delivered a barrage of shots at the net. Juliano Di Federico rebounded El-Shimy’s miss into the net, bringing the score to 5–1.
The Rookies, now facing a four-goal deficit, adopted a new strategy: firing from all angles. But Zarrabi was a wall, blocking shots and making two highlight glove saves in the process.
Jbeili scored his first goal of the game and made it 6–1. The Rookies got a sudden burst of excitement from a fluke: Stinson shot the ball and it bounced off Jbeili’s leg into the net. The score was 6–2 with 11:30 left in the match.
The game looked like it had already been won, and the Rookies looked worn out and tired, but the Average Joes kept the pressure up, running the ball up and around the Rookies’ net. Estabrokas received a three-minute penalty for interference while trying to will a comeback for his team. While the Rookies were shorthanded, Arci scored on a one-timer shot from half-court after receiving a pass from Jbeili, restoring his team’s five-goal lead to 7–2.
The Average Joes’ bench could be heard yelling “Dump and chase!”, calling for a new offensive strategy wrap up the match. This new plan was effective; they took every possession they had and shot the ball from any and every range toward the Rookies’ goalie, keeping them on the defensive.
With 3:52 left, the Rookies’ Walker scored a scrappy goal after emerging from a scrum in front of the Joes’ net. But a minute later, Arci completed his hat trick.
The Joes claimed their third ball hockey title in a row with the 8–3 win. Zarrabi was named MVP for his brilliant performance, standing on his head with over 30 saves, of which 10 were highlights.
“Our strategy was blocking and pushing aside opponents. It made me more mobile and I kept myself low to the ground. I had a clear view of the ball and I always stayed in position,” said a jubilant Zarrabi after the game. “With our communication, it was easy to see if it was a high or low shot. But we kept good communication and we got it done.”
The Average Joes hope to gain their fourth straight ball hockey championship next semester. They may even face the Rookies a sixth time—and intensify the hottest rivalry in UTM sports.