Valiant Verrier venomous, nets OT winner as hockey Redmen force rubber match

Photo by Derek Drummond
Photo by Derek Drummond

MONTREAL, Que. - Jerome Verrier scored the overtime winner as fourth-ranked McGill skated to a hard-fought 3-2 victory in a playoff thriller over No.8 Concordia to even their OUA East best-of-three men's hockey final series at 1-1 before a capacity crowd of close to 1,000 at the Ed Meagher Arena, Friday.

The bitter cross-town rivals will continue this "Battle of Montreal" when they head back to McGill's McConnell Arena to play a third and deciding game on Sunday at 7 p.m. At stake is a spot in the league's Queen's Cup championship and an automatic berth (with a Top 3 seeding) at the U SPORTS Final Eight national championship in Fredericton. Concordia is looking for their first trip to the show since 1984, while the Redmen are hoping for ninth appearance in 13 years.

"It was back-and-forth, a great playoff game with a lot of emotion and a great crowd," said Kelly Nobes, who improved his record to 236-102-3 in 341 games overall behind the McGill bench. "I thought we gew a lot as a team today. Our backs were against the wall, we we're facing adversity and we found a way to win. That's what real good teams do, so I thought there was great growth for our group tonight."

The teams were tied 1-1 after the first period and 2-2 after two. The third period was scoreless. The official stats had Concordia outshooting McGill 52-47 but the McGill stats people had the count at 45-39. Regardless, winning netminder Louis-Philip Guindon was credited with 50-saves, while losing goalie Marc-Antoine Turcotte made 44 stops.

Verrier, an economics junior who has had NHL tryouts with Winnipeg (2014) and Detroit (2015), broke the deadlock at 13:40 of the first 20-minute sudden-death period, converting a pass from fellow Drummondville native Guillaume Gauthier, a sophomore who also tallied earlier in the game.

"I jumped on a turnover at the blueline and was able to chip the puck past their 'D' to 'Goats', and he made an awesome play to get it back to me. I had tried shooting for the five-hole earlier but the goalie stopped me then, so I thought that maybe doing that twice would work and it was the right decision," said the 23-year-old Verrier,  a six-foot, 196-pound centre who finished second in the OUA scoring race with 41 points in 28 games and now leads all playoff scorers with 11 points, including eight assists, in seven post-season contests. "It was a huge relief because we we're getting tired but now we can focus on Sunday's game and be ready to go from the puck drop. We're back in this series and everybody's pretty happy about that."

Concordia captain Philippe Hudon opened the scoring on a power-play at 5:29 of the first period but McGill rallied 37 seconds later with a goal by the aforementioned Gauthier, who now shares the OUA lead in playoff goals with six in seven games. The Redmen took a 2-1 lead on freshman Michael Cramarossa's marker at 7:21 of the middle stanza but the Stingers knotted the score at 2-2 when rookie Massimo Carozza struck on the power-play at 15:44 of the third.

This hard-hitting affair had everything but the kitchen sink, with both teams missing a plethora of glorious scoring chances.The Stingers were 2-for-5 on the power-play and could have easily been 4-for-5 had they been able to convert on successive power-plays where McGill defencemen Nathanael Halbert and Nathan Chiarlitti each became incapacitated with a rare broken skate blade, which for all intents and purposes, left the Redmen with huge 5-on-3 manpower disadvantages, which they managed to stave off.

"Verrier pushed me to the bench so I could get off the ice quicker," said Chiarlitti, the team captain, who is in his second season with the Redmen but fifth and final year of collegiate eligibility. My thanks to Earl Hawke, the team's long-time equipment manager, who repaired it quickly and I was able to get back on the ice.

"It was exciting, this is why we play hockey," he continued. "For some of the older guys, this could be the last time we play in an atmosphere like that. So we're kind of embracing it and playing for each other. It feels like we're part of a really special team right now. I never go into a game thinking it might be my last. It's a special feeling that I can't explain and I'm already excited for Sunday's game.

Source: McGill Redmen