The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team was looking for their eighth straight victory coming into Friday night’s match against the Queen’s Golden Gaels. The visitors, backed up by solid goaltending, quashed the home team’s hopes as they capitalized on Blues mistakes to win 4 to 3.
The arena had a large crowd, including lots of Queen’s supporters right next to the Varsity Blues Flag on the north side. Feeding on energy from the fans, the teams started the game with a lot of jumps. The first five minutes, producing one shot and four icing calls, was a series of continuous end-to-end rushes.
Queen’s would open the scoring at 6:50 in the first, cashing in on a Blues turnover. Forward Payton Liske took a pass from Jonathon Lawrance and patiently dragged the puck across the slot before flipping it over the sprawling Blues keeper, Andrew Martin, for his team-leading 17th of the season. Opposing keeper Steele De Fazio was sensational in the first, stopping all 10 Blues shots, many of them high quality chances. The Blues increased pressure midway through the first, and De Fazio denied two chances in tight by Blues forward Joe Rand, and flopped around to cover the rebound in classic Dominik Hasek style.
The middle frame saw the Blues spend most of the first half on the attack, including a full two-minute shift in the offensive zone, firing from all angles at the Gaels’ net. They were finally rewarded on the man-advantage just past the 10-minute mark. Rand, who had two great chances early on, made no mistake this time. After De Fazio stopped the initial wrist shot, the fifth-year senior pounced on the rebound, and buried his ninth of the season.
The Gaels would go up again on their own power play. Joey Derochie wristed home a goal on the five-on-three. The Blues, however, still shorthanded, were able to tie the game. Blues forward Bryden Teich blocked a pass from the point and went on a partial two-on-one with Joel Lenius. Queen’s keeper De Fazio got a piece of the puck from Teich’s blast, but Lenius, showing great hand-eye-coordination, drew the puck from behind the net and tied the game up, top shelf.
The Blues had a glorious chance to take the lead for the first time. A beautiful feed from the side of the net found a Blues forward just outside the blue paint, but his stick shattered from the impact of the shot. The Blues would have another stick broken in the same shift and this proved costly. Miscommunication, caused by these incidents, led to Queen’s forward Liske’s second goal of the game.
Blues’ leading scorer Bryon Elliott tied the game up again for the Blues. A scrum behind the net resulted in the puck bouncing in the slot, and Elliott bulldozed his way and registered his 19th goal of the season on De Fazio.
The Blues celebrate one of their three goals in Friday’s close game against the Gaels.
As the final frame winded down, it seemed like overtime was destined. With under two minutes remaining, the Gaels broke in two-on-one on yet another Blues turnover. Blues netminder Martin made a miraculous save when he stretched across the crease for a left toe save, only to have Queen’s Scott Kenway crash in to tip the rebound over his shoulder.
The crowd was now on its feet as the Blues, with the extra attacker, battled furiously. The Gaels kept the Blues on the parameter and effectively cleared the puck out of the zone. The dying seconds saw another close chance in the slot, but the Blues fanned on the shot as the buzzer sounded. As the Gaels poured off the bench to celebrate the victory, the Blues looked around and wondered what could have been.
With the loss, Toronto’s season record stands at 12-8-3 for 27 points, and they fall back into a tie with the Gaels for fourth in the OUA East division. Carleton moves into sole possession of third place with a win over the McGill Redmen.
The Blues didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on the loss, as they were preparing for their Saturday night 3-2 overtime.
Next home game:
Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Varsity Arena vs. Nipissing Lakers