Redmen oust upstart Gee-Gees, will confront Concordia in conference finals

Photo by Derek Drummond
Photo by Derek Drummond

MONTREAL, Que. - Jerome Verrier scored once and added a pair of helpers as McGill eliminated the Ottawa Gee-Gees with a 6-3 victory in the rubber match of the OUA East men's hockey semifinal series at McConnell Arena, Sunday.

It was the second consecutive win for top-seeded McGill, which came from behind to win the series 2-1 after dropping the opener 3-2 at home on Feb. 21, then won 4-1 in the nation's capital on Feb. 23.

McGill, the No.4 ranked team in the nation, now owns a 4-1 playoff record after posting a 22-4-2 mark in OUA play. They will meet third-seeded Concordia (4-1 playoffs, 18-7-3), when they cross paths in the OUA East best-of-three final in the coming week. The Stingers upset Queen's 3-2 in overtime on Sunday at Kingston to win that series 2-1.

The upcoming McGill-Concordia playoff match-up will be their first-ever confrontation in a divisional final. The series is slated to begin at McConnell Arena on Wed., Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. Game 2 is unconfirmed but tentatively slated to be at Concordia's Ed Meagher Arena on Friday at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, the deciding game will be back at McConnell on Sunday at 7 p.m.

The Redmen, who outshot Ottawa 32-28, led 1-0 after the first period and 3-1 after two, then outscored the Gee-Gees 3-2 in the final stanza, including an empty-net goal.

"We were relentless tonight and showed good composure," said Kelly Nobes, in his eighth season as McGill head coach. "We had lots of good hard plays and that's what you need to do to close out a series. Ottawa was a good test for us. They played a solid series. They are a fast team, work real hard and forced us to play better. I thought that we grew as a team over the course of the three games."

Verrier, a 23-year-old economics junior from Drummondville, Que., was one of five different players to score for the Redmen. He  set up the game's first goal by defenceman Maximilian Daigle at 5:26 of the opening period, then scored his second of the playoffs to put McGill ahead 3-1 at 11:11 of the middle period.

On that play, he was the last of all five McGill skaters on the ice to touch the puck. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound centre also assisted on defenceman Dominic Talbot-Tassi 's playoff marker to give the Redmen a commanding 5-2 lead at 12:08 of the final period.

Verrier, who had an NHL tryout with Detroit in 2015, was second in the OUA scoring race this season with a 12-29-41 record in 28 games. He now finds himself tied for first in the OUA playoff scoring race with 10 points, including a league-leading eight assists in five contests.

Rounding out the scoring for McGill was freshman Keanu Yamamoto, a native of Spokane, Wash., who played in the WHL, rookie Michael Cramarossa, an OHL product from Hamilton, Ont., and senior Jan Kaminsky, another OHL grad who hails from Kennesaw, GA, with the empty-netter.

The Redmen have now outscored opponents 26-10 in five post-season contests with a dozen different players finding the back of the net.

"We had a real collective effort in the last two games," noted Nobes. "To win at this time of the year, you need goals from your whole group. When you have so many different people scoring, that's a real positive."

Replying for the Gee-Gees was Mathieu NewcombKevin Dominingue and Connor Sills.

Goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon of Sherbrooke, Que., saved 25 of 28 shots between the pipes for the victory and improved his playoff record to 4-1. One of his saves came on a penalty shot by Dominigue with McGill ahead 4-1 at 6:36 of the third period. He was awarded the shot after being tripped from behind by defenceman Nathanael Halbert.

On the ensuing faceoff, Dominigue got sweet revenge by scoring just three seconds later.

Guindon, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound kinesiology sophomore now has a stingy 1.93 goals-against average in the playoffs with a .929 save percentage.

In the Gee-Gees net was Graham Hunt, a sophomore from Concord, N.H., who was beaten five times on 31 shots. He took over the netminding chores at the beginning of this series after starter Anthony Brodeur was injured with 15 seconds left in the Game 3 of the Ottawa-Carleton quarter-final.

McGill was 1-for-4 on the power-play while snuffing out all three shorthanded situations. The PP unit ranks second best in the OUA playoffs with a success rate of 25 per cent efficiency (5/20), while the PK unit is operating at 80 per cent (12/15).

McGill improved to 104-82-10 in 196 games overall against Ottawa, including a 17-14 record in post-season play.

McGill split their four-game season series with Concordia, each team scoring 10 goals. All four encounters were one-goal decisions with McGill winning 2-1 and 3-1, sandwiched around Concordia prevailing 3-2 and 4-3 in an overtime shootout.

The Redmen own a 102-98-14 overall record in 214 lifetime meetings against Concordia dating back to their first confrontation in 1975. The crosstown rivals have met 13 times in post-season play and McGill has won nine of the 13 series with a 16-11 record in 27 playoff games. The Redmen defeated Concordia in 1988, 1989, 1993, 1995, 2000, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Stingers won in 1977, 1979, 1998 and 2001.
 
The winner of the OUA East final will travel to the OUA Queen's Cup championship game on Mar. 10 against the winner of OUA West final between fifth-seeded Brock (14-9-5) and second-seeded York (17-10-1). Both OUA finalists will qualify for the U SPORTS University Cup national championship tournament in Fredericton, Mar. 15-18, along with the OUA bronze medalist. The loser of the McGill-Concordia series will host the OUA bronze medal game on Mar. 10 against the loser of the York-Brock series for the OUA's wild-card berth to the Nationals.

Source: McGill Redmen