The University of Alberta Pandas defeated the McGill Martlets 2-1 in double-overtime to capture the U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship, Sunday, at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ont.
It marked the first time since 2010 that Alberta and McGill—the country's two most decorated programs—have clashed for a national title. The final matchup was unexpected on paper, as the Pandas were seeded sixth and the Martlets were ranked fourth, despite being the RSEQ champions.
If anything can be said about the gold medal game, it’s that the Pandas' goaltender, Lindsey Post, stole the show by making improbable saves to keep her team in it. Post, a fifth-year senior playing in her final contest, turned away 40 of 41 shots, including a series of saves during a McGill power play in the second overtime period that saved the game for the Pandas. She undoubtedly had the best game of her season at the most important moment, when her only motivation was “just to stop the puck.” Post’s performance earned her tournament MVP honors, a fitting end to a career full of broken records in the Canada West conference.
At the other end of the ice, goaltender Tricia Deguire was also solid. The 19-year-old U SPORTS rookie of the year made 24 saves on 26 shots through 78 minutes, 13 seconds of play. Deguire saw considerably fewer shots than her Alberta counterpart as McGill was able to limit the amount of time the Pandas spent with control of the puck in dangerous areas of the ice.
The Martlets’ offense harried the Alberta defense with McGill outshooting its opponent from start to finish, including an 8-4 margin in the second overtime session. The tight game remained scoreless until late in the second when Amy Boucher got the Pandas on the board. Boucher’s goal, her third of the tournament, left the Pandas leading at the second intermission with the shots a respectable 14 for the Pandas and 18 for McGill.
However, Pandas would continue to struggle to stay out of the penalty box in their efforts to contain the powerful McGill offence. Over the course of the game, Alberta took twice as many penalties as the Martlets. It comes as little surprise that Martlets captain Mélodie Daoust was able to convert on the first McGill power play of the third, tying the game at 1-1 at 3:15 of the period.
With both goaltenders standing strong, the teams went to a 10-minute four-on-four overtime period, which settled nothing and was followed by double-overtime. Post was especially sensational during the final three stanzas, facing 23 shots and allowing only one goal. In comparison, Deguire faced just 12 shots through that stretch as McGill maintained control of the game.
After more than 18 extra minutes of play, the Pandas finally managed to deflect a shot past Deguire, ending the game at 8:13 of the second overtime period. Taylor Kezama, a rookie defender, capitalized on a turnover and banked a shot off a McGill player in front to finish her first season as a gold-medal game hero. Pandas captain Sasha Lutz was credited with an assist on the play and ends her university career as a national champion. Along with Lutz and Post, defender Megan Eady, an NCAA transfer, also ends her career at the very top. The Pandas remain a strong team as many of their most influential players like Poznikoff, Ganser, Dillon, and Kezama are all in the their first or second years of eligibility.
It was a heartbreaking finish for McGill captain Daoust, who was seeking a national title six years in the making. While the other three members of the Martlets' graduating class won the championship in 2014, Daoust missed that season to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Though she will not add the Golden Path Trophy to her lengthy resume, Daoust boasts an incredible university career that has seen her accumulate more than 250 career points and 100 career goals. She finishes as the fifth-leading scorer in Martlets team history, despite appearing in just 143 contests, and maintains the best points-per-game average among top scorers in program history, with 1.90. The 25-year-old was named RSEQ player of the year in every season except 2015, when she missed all but three games due to injury. She was the CIS rookie of the year in 2012, won the Brodrick Trophy as the CIS player of the year in 2013 (becoming the first player to win them in consecutive seasons), and was twice nominated for the BLG Award, presented to the top student athlete in the country across all sports.
McGill will graduate four players this year: Daoust, Gabrielle Davidson, Pamela Psihogios, and Emily Davies. This year's young team featured 10 rookies and exceeded the expectations of many, which holds promise for the future. That said, the program is losing two of its best-ever forwards in Daoust and Davidson, who are leaders both on and off the ice. Davidson, a fifth-year senior, sits seventh all-time among Martlets scorers and was responsible for 40% of the team's playoff goals this year, with eight in as many games.
The Pandas' win marked their nation-leading eighth title in the 20 years that the national tournament has been played, all under head coach Howie Draper. McGill, with nine appearances in the final and four wins in coach Peter Smith's 17-year tenure, are second only to the Pandas, who have emerged victorious in all four gold-medal meetings between the pair. With a small number of players graduating from each program, both teams have a lot of potential, and it remains possible that McGill and Alberta will renew their rivalry again in the next few years.
Earlier in the day, the UBC Thunderbirds blanked Concordia 2-0 for bronze. If any one team was expected to be a fixture in Sunday’s final, it was top-seeded UBC. The Thunderbirds were fresh from defeating Alberta in the Canada West conference final and had held the position of top-ranked team in the national poll from week three onwards. The Concordia Stingers, meanwhile, were the Cinderella story of the championship. After finishing third in the five-team RSEQ conference, Concordia swept defending national champion Montreal to reach its first national tournament since 2005. Led by head coach Julie Chu, the seventh-seed Stingers defied all expectations just by making it to the medal round.
McGill had ended UBC’s hopes of claiming their first national title with a 1-0 victory in the semifinal, ensuring that the Martlets would return to the championship game after only a one-year absence. For Alberta, this marked the first appearance in the national final since its victory over McGill in 2010. The Pandas had an impressive semifinal game against Concordia, where they came from behind twice on their way to a 6-2 win, the largest margin of any of the games in the U SPORTS tournament.
G Lindsey Post (Alberta)
D Emilia Cotter (McGill)
D Kelly Murray (UBC)
F Gabrielle Davidson (McGill)
F Mélodie Daoust (McGill)
F Alex Poznikoff (Alberta)
Championship MVP: Lindsey Post (Alberta)