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Concordia and Nipissing to meet in U Sports Finals

The Concordia Stingers and Nipissing Lakers will play Sunday for the Golden Path Trophy

Al Saniuk

The RSEQ Champions Concordia will face the OUA finalists Nipissing in the U Sports women’s hockey championship game. The teams will play for the Golden Path Trophy at 6:00 PM local time on Sunday, March 27th, in Charlottetown, PEI. You can watch the game online at cbcsports.ca

How They Got Here

The legendary Les Lawton coached the Concordia women’s hockey team for 34 years between 1983 and 2015. Lawton coached Concordia to 14 conference championships and two national championships in 1998 and 1999. Lawton suffered a stroke in 2015 and was forced to step down from his position but remains an advisor to the team. Former US Olympian Julie Chu was promoted from her position as assistant coach to head coach succeeding Lawton. This season, joining Chu behind the bench as an associate coach is Caroline Ouellette – Canadian Olympian and former Stinger who played for Lawton in the early 2000s. Together, Chu and Ouellette have developed a deadly team that relentlessly pursues the win every time they step on the ice. The work ethic of this team has become evident, and Stingers have not lost a game since November 26th, 2021. The Stingers have outscored opponents 56-7 over that 12-game winning streak. The Stingers are the hottest team in hockey, and they’ve taken that into this tournament. They’ve sailed into the final with two confident wins and without a goal against. This game will be Concordia’s first appearance in the finals since their 1999 victory. The Stingers have to be coming into this final with confidence, but knowing the way they play, they won’t let that dictate their approach.

Nipissing became a varsity hockey program in 2013, joining the OUA. Their first season was poor, but they’ve surpassed .500 every year since, becoming mainstays near the top of the OUA table. Despite multiple years in the top 3, the Lakers had never qualified for the national tournament before this year. COVID-19, of course, had a serious impact on the hockey seasons, and as a result, the OUA playoffs were condensed. The rounds were single elimination making it harder to guarantee a win for the statistically stronger teams. After an easy win over Ryerson, Nipissing advanced to the eastern division final against Toronto; the number one ranked team in Canada. Nipissing scored first before Toronto potted two seconds apart to take the lead. The Lakers fought back, upsetting the giants to advance to the McCaw cup finals and secure a berth in the national tournament.

The Nipissing Lakers lost to Brock in the OUA finals, but they have fared better than the Badgers in Charlottetown. They snuck by the highly favoured UBC Thunderbirds in a one-nothing overtime win before cruising through UNB in the semifinals. Sunday will be the team’s first-ever finals appearance in their first-ever tournament appearance. The Lakers are a maturing program with an exciting future ahead.

Keys to Success

The Nipissing Lakers are an offensively gifted team Despite this not being on display in their opening game against UBC. The Lakers won that game on the shoulders of goaltender Chloe Marshall who stopped 41/41 shots. The 41-27 discrepancy in shots may have been due to Nipissing’s ten penalties. Marshall was sharp again in the second game but only needed to make 16 saves. The Nipissing forwards were strong with a consistent lead and shots and goals but took too many penalties again. Any number of penalties against Concordia will be unacceptable. The Stingers’ powerplay ran at 27.8% during the regular season, and so far in this tournament, they’ve converted on half of their powerplays. Discipline will be critical in Nipissing’s game. They need to stay out of the penalty box, make responsible defensive plays within their system, and play every shift like it’s overtime because Concordia doesn’t take breaks.

Concordia play total hockey. They have skill, strength, and tactic all 200 feet of the ice. With no remorse for their opponents, the Stingers play to the fullest of their abilities on every shift. This style of play means they regularly run up the score and are incredibly difficult to play against. They are nearly impossible to score against in tight games primarily because of Concordia’s dominance in possession. The stingers will capitalize on any slight error, and once Concordia takes the lead, it is nearly impossible to win it back. Like in other games, I expect Concordia to fly into the lead and not look back. Their non-stop pressure means that they become more and more likely to score as the game goes on. This team doesn’t allow roadblocks to impede their progress.

Players to watch

Maria Dominico (F) Nipissing

Dominico is an electric forward from North Bay who led the OUA in points this season. She has played a critical role in Nipissing’s success through her four seasons, making substantial scoring contributions in every season and playoff run. She doesn’t even crack the top ten in Nipissing all-time games played, but she is number one in both goals and points for Nipissing with 38 and 74 respectively over her career. This year, Dominico scored what I thought was the prettiest goal of the year in the OUA when she scored with both feet above her head. Dominico has a goal and an assist so far in Charlottetown.

Émilie Lavoie (F) Concordia

Lavoie was nominated for the rookie of the year award as the best first year from the RSEQ. She was the only RSEQ player to make the all-rookie team and the only all-rookie player still playing. She has an incredible ability to produce offence boasting seven shots in Concordia’s semifinal matchup. Her skating, handling, and nose for the net make Lavoie an exciting player to follow.