Twenty-four hours after getting ousted in London by a score of 7-1 by the Western Mustangs, the Blues were on home ice at Varsity Centre to prove that they could compete for a playoff position. Taking on the Brock Badgers, the Blues’ fatigue was evident and culminated in their losing the Saturday evening game 5-3, yielding an 11-10-2 record.
The Brock Badgers, who are now 11-9-3 for the season, started off the game with tremendous spirit, scoring three and a half minutes into the first frame. Badgers forward Josh Schram grabbed a rebound off the pad of Blues goaltender Brett Willows and tucked it in glove-side.
Brock continued to pressure the Blues, forcing them into unnecessary retaliation penalties. The Badgers kept possession of the puck through much of the beginning period, exhausting the Blues’ defence and converting on their offensive pressure, with Sammy Banga potting the team’s second goal of the game.
With a minute and nine seconds left on the clock, Badgers forward Matt Abercrombie netted another goal for his team, snapping an uncontested shot past Willows and ending the period with a score of 3-0.
The second period saw the Blues’ special teams execute expertly; taking advantage of an early 5-on-3 power play, the Varsity Blues gave the crowd something to cheer about when former OHL Windsor Spitfire Jeff Brown slapped a shot past Badgers goaltender Real Cormier.
The game became more physical and turned into a hard-nosed battle once the Blues capitalized on another power play, scoring again five minutes after their first goal. Forward Tyler von Engelbrechten pounced on a rebound in front of the net, snapping the puck past a sprawling Cormier.
The Blues’ attempt to claw their way back into the game came to a halt after fifth-year veteran defenceman Tyler Turcotte was penalized, which allowed Brock to take advantage of a power play that saw C.J. Dickson of the Badgers score to make it 4-2 going into the third.
Happily for U of T fans, the Blues entered the third period with a “never say die” attitude. In the second half of the final period, Blues defender Lane Werbowski muscled the puck into the back of Brock’s net, cutting the Badgers’ lead to one point with nine minutes left in the game.
The Blues gave themselves the man advantage by pulling their goalie in the dying seconds of play, but conceded an empty net goal, cementing the Badgers’ victory.
While Brett Willows allowed four goals on 31 shots, he demonstrated why he was a Toronto Maple Leaf emergency back-up for Jonathan Bernier back in October.
Willows used great positional play between the pipes during the final two periods and eliminated rebounds and opportunities for the Badgers. “Brett played great for us. We’re happy to have a goaltender of his calibre on the team,” says head coach Darren Lowe.
The club knows that they’ve struggled lately, losing eight out of their past 10 games, but they’re capable enough to compete with anyone in the league. “With hard work, we know we can challenge hard for a championship,” says Lowe.
The Blues now sit one point behind the sixth-place Brock squad for a West Division playoff spot, and hope to climb the standings over the final five games in the season. The team will have a much-needed week off before they compete at Varsity Arena on February 1 against the Laurier Golden Hawks at 7-12-2.