BURLINGTON, Ont. – Hello old friends, we meet again.
In rematches of the 2014 OUA Final Four semifinals, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, Ryerson Rams, McMaster Marauders will head to York University Stadium this weekend looking to upset the two-time defending OUA champion York Lions.
York was a force to be reckoned with last year, completing an undefeated campaign after going 14-0-2 in conference play and 6-0 in postseason action. The Lions finished that year on a remarkable streak of seven straight shutouts, with their last goal allowed coming in a regular season game against Windsor on Oct. 18.
This season, the Lions showed they were still mortal finishing the season with a 13-1-2 record, after suffering their first loss in almost two years at the hands of nationally ranked Windsor Lancers by a score of 1-0. Their last defeat before that game came almost two years ago, when they lost to their rivals from McMaster 1-0 on Sept. 13, 2013. York maintained their dominance over the rest of the OUA West division, finishing the regular season on a seven game win streak where they posted 32 goals for and only one goal against.
First-team all-star Michael Cox (Calgary, Alta.) led the nation's highest-scoring offence with 16 goals on his way the CIS scoring title. Cox also netted two goals in their 4-3 double-overtime win over the Guelph Gryphons to advance them to this year's Final Four. First-team all-star goalkeeper Colm Vance (Bradford, Ont.) let in a mere eight goals this season, good for a save percentage of .840, third best in the conference. Vance also led OUA in goals against average, allowing a stingy 0.52 goals per game over the course of the season. York will rely on a trio of first-team midfielders in Jonathan Lao (Unionville, Ont.), Joey Cicchillo (North York, Ont.), and Jarek Whiteman (Brampton, Ont.) to help propel them through the Final Four, while the Lions will look to fellow first-team all-star Tyrone Downes (Markham, Ont.) to continue to anchor the York defence.
Lining up across the pitch from the Lions on Saturday afternoon will be the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. Despite playing in the same city, the line separating the East and West divisions splits the otherwise geographic rivals. Toronto will be looking for revenge as this will be the first meeting between the two teams since the Lions defeated the Blues 2-0 in the semifinal last season.
Toronto barely missed finishing the regular season atop East division, finishing behind Ryerson by just a single point. Regardless, the Varsity Blues had a stellar season with an 11-3-2 record and enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in OUA after only tallying one loss in the month of October.
Second-team all-star Nirun Sivananthan (Brampton, Ont.) has been putting the ball in the back of the net all year for the Blues, collecting six goals over the regular season, as well as scoring the only goal in their quarter-final win over Queen's.
Led by first-team all-star defenders Devon Bowyer (Toronto, Ont.) and Lukas MacNaughton (Brussels, Belgium), the Blues enter Saturday's contest as one of the best defensive teams in the league after only surrendering 11 goals against in 16 games during the regular season. Midfielder Nikolay Saveliev (Nagoya, Japan) also took home first-team all-star honours.
Midfielder Yousef Helmy was a major contributor for Toronto all season and recently was named East Rookie of the Year after starting in 15 of 16 games this season for the Blues.
If the Lions manage to somehow get through the Blues defence, they'll still need to find a way to solve first-team all-star goalkeeper Rab Bruce-Lockhart (Victoria, B.C). Starting in 13 games this season for the Blues, Bruce-Lockhart went 9-3-1 with a 0.62 goals against average and .830 save percentage.
After splitting their regular season series one game apiece, McMaster finally closed the door on nationally ranked Windsor Lancers 1-0 in the quarter-finals to advance to this weekend's Final Four. The Marauders finished the regular season with an 11-5 record, third in the West behind York and Windsor. Despite limping into the postseason with a 4-3 record in October, Mac has proven they can win big games when the calendar turns to November. Before York's recent run of dominance, it was the Marauders who were the powerhouse in the conference, winning three of four provincial titles from 2009-2012.
Yunus Mollayev (Toronto, Ont.) led the Marauder attack with eight goals this year, while on the defensive side Nic Vecchi (Niagara Falls, Ont.) and Marco Gennaccaro (Hamilton, Ont.) took home first and second-team all-star honours, respectively. Midfielder Ryan Garnett (Kitchener, Ont.) was made a second team all-star to round out McMaster's nominations. The Marauders will look to goalkeeper Angelo Cavalluzzo (Hamilton, Ont) to continue to stand on his head. Cavalluzzo, a fifth-year chemical engineering & bioengineering student-athlete, already has two clean sheets this postseason.
In another rematch of last year's semifinal, the Marauders will take on the Rams on Saturday morning to open the Final Four championship. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the hometown Marauders narrowly slipped past the Rams 4-3 on penalty kicks, a result Ryerson surely has put behind them.
Rams' midfielder Raheem Rose (Etobicoke, Ont.) was an absolute force in the OUA this year, taking home first-team honours as well as collecting the East MVP award on his way to a Final Four appearance. Rose, a former East division Rookie of the Year, scored nine goals for the Rams this year on their way to a first place finish in the division.
First team all-star Nick Lambis (Pickering, Ont.) netted two goals against Carleton on their way to a 3-0 win in the quarter-final bout, and will be looked upon to put points on the board for the Rams against Mac.
Martin Dybrowski (Barrie, Ont.) joins his teammate Rose as a first-team midfielder, and defender Kyle Stewart (Kingston, Jamaica) rounds out the Ryerson first team all-stars. Netminder Praveen Ahilan (Unionville, Ont.) was a brick wall for the Rams in playoff opener against Carleton and the Rams know the second-year business management major will be up to the task against the Marauders
Fans who aren't lucky enough to make it down to York University in person to watch these phenomenal games will be thankful to learn that all Final Four matchups will be streamed on OUA.tv.
On Saturday, November 7th, at 11:00 a.m. McMaster will take on Ryerson in the first semifinal matchup, followed at 2:00 p.m. with Toronto battling York. The winner of both semifinal games will advance to the gold medal game on Sunday at 2:00 p.m., while the other teams will battle for bronze to start the day at 11:00 a.m.
With York playing host to the 2015 CIS championship, two additional OUA teams will qualify for the tournament this weekend. The Lions automatically receive a berth in the national championship, however, should York advance to the gold medal game on Sunday, their opponent would also qualify for the national championship, along with the winner of the bronze medal game. If the Lions were to lose their semifinal game, both teams in the gold medal match would punch their ticket to the CIS championship.