The University of Alberta Pandas met the McGill Martlets in the gold medal game of the U Sports Championship on Sunday in the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee, Ontario. The tournament started on Thursday and progressed in a single elimination format. Each team would play some combination of three games to rank them among the competing teams. Two teams from each of the four U Sports Conferences make up the field with OUA hosting the event.
This was the first time that Alberta and McGill would clash for a National title since 2010 but the fourth time that these two teams have met in the gold medal game; the Pandas have won all four games. The Pandas have struggled to reach the U Sports Championship tournament, which previous to a recent format change, the only way to participate was to either be the champion of a conference or hosting the event.
This was an unexpected final in many ways as the Pandas were seeded sixth and the Martlets were ranked fourth despite being the RESQ champions. If any one team was expected to be a fixture in Sunday’s final, it was the top ranked UBC Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds were fresh from defeating the University of Alberta Pandas in the Canada West Conference Finals and had held the position of top ranked team in all U Sports conferences for several weeks leading up to the National Championship tournament.
McGill ended UBC’s hopes of claiming their first National title with a 1-0 victory in the semi-finals ensuring that McGill would return to the championship game with only a one-year absence. The Pandas, however, made their first appearance since their victory over McGill in 2010. The Pandas had impressive semi-final game against the Concordia Stingers 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.
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 and keeping her team in the game. At the other end of the ice, Tricia Deguire was solid as the Martlet’s offense harried the Pandas defense. The 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 Alberta and 18 for McGill. Abby Benning and Hannah Olenyk assisted on Boucher’s goal giving Benning her fourth point in eight playoff games
However, Pandas would continue to struggle with staying out of the penalty box in their efforts to contain the powerful McGill offense. Over the course of the game, the Pandas took twice as many penalties as the Martlets. If comes as little surprise that Martlet captain, Melodie Daoust was able to convert of the first McGill power play of the third, tying the game at one.
With both goaltenders standing strong, the teams went to overtime and then double overtime. Post especially was sensational during this stretch facing 23 shots and allowing only one goal. Tricia Deguire faced only 12 shots in comparison as McGill maintained control of the game. Post would make 40 saves on 41 shots through the game, including a series of saves on the second overtime period during a McGill power play which saved the game for the Pandas. Post’s performance earned her tournament MVP honours, a fitting end to a career full of broken records in the Canada West Conference. Both Lindsey Post and Alex Poznikoff had their strong tournament play recognized with positions on the All – Tournament team.
Poznikoff’s play throughout the tournament was much the same as her play in the regular season. She was able to create chances and managed a hat trick on the Pandas semi final game against the Concordia Stingers, giving her a point per game in the U Sports Championship tournament and almost a third of the Pandas 10 goals.
During the second overtime period, the Pandas were outshot eight to four which helped contribute to the lopsided shots on goal which heavily favoured McGill, 41 shots for McGill to only 26 for Alberta. Post undoubtedly had the best game of her season in the most important and last game of it where her only motivation was "just to stop the puck." Tricia Deguire, U Sports rookie of the year, saw considerably less shoots as McGill were able to limit the amount of tome Alberta spent with control of the puck in dangerous area of the ice.
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 defenseman, ended her first season with as a gold medal game hero. Her shot was assisted by graduating Pandas captain Sasha Lutz who had a fantastic game and ends her career as a Pandas as a National Champion. Both Post and defenseman Megan Eady, a NCAA transfer, end their careers 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.
The case wasn’t the same for Martlet graduating captain Melodie Daost and the other graduating Marlet players as their team had to settle for silver in their last game in team colours. Daoust finishes an incredible career which as seen her accumulate more than 250 career points and 100 career goals. She was awarded the RESQ Player of the Year for 2017 and lead an impressive young McGill team featuring nine players in their first year.
The Pandas claim their eighth national title under Head Coach Howie Draper and the eighth title in the program’s 20-year history. With a small number of players graduating from each program, both teams have a lot of potential and the possibility of yet another chance for McGill and Alberta to renew their rivalry sometime in the next few years.