Varsity Blues assistant captain flies up the wing. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

The woes continue for the Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team after losing a spirited, physical contest to the Laurentian Voyageurs 4–2 on November 13 at Varsity Arena.

Despite leading in shots on goal for the entirety of the game, the Blues (1–10–2) never gained a lead over the Voyageurs (7–6–1). The Blues surrendered the first goal 13 seconds into the game. A turnover in the Blues’ end allowed Voyageurs forward Chris Smith to bank the puck off teammate Nick Esposto’s skate and into the Blues’ net to take the early 1–0 lead.

A high-sticking penalty to Laurentian forward Graham Yeo at 13:17 of the first period allowed the Blues’ powerplay unit to respond. The Blues gained the offensive zone, and after receiving a pass from teammate Matt Campagna, forward Russell Turner fired a blistering snapshot over the glove hand of Voyageurs goaltender Charlie Millen to tie the game. Only a minute and a half later, the Voyageurs answered back making the score 2–1. Defenseman Vincent Llorca tallied a shorthanded goal, outflanking the Toronto defenders in a 2-on-1 rush with teammate Brent Pedersen, who earned the assist.

The game took a more physical turn in the second period. The game-winning goal was scored at 9:12 during another Toronto power play, the seconded shorthanded goal Toronto allowed. Later in the period, after the Blues gained the offensive zone, a turnover at the blue line allowed Smith to skate in alone and beat Blues’ goaltender Evan Howard with a backhand into the top corner rounding out the score at 3–1.

At 15:08 in the second period, the home team cut the deficit to one when Turner scored his second goal of the game during a goalmouth scramble at the Voyageurs’ net. The score was 3–2 for the Voyageurs going into the second intermission.

After producing the previously game-tying goal in the first period, the Blues’ powerplay unit was stymied for the rest of the game — including during two lengthy 5-on-3 opportunities in the third period — and went 1-for-9 with the man-advantage. While blocked and missed shots contributed to the lack of goal production, the main factor was the superb goaltending by Millen, who had one of the top save percentages (.925) in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) entering Sunday’s match. He stopped 29 of 31 shots, including several key saves in the last minutes of the game as the Blues pressed for the tying goal. At the other end of the ice, Howard made 27 saves in his first OUA career start, including a sprawling stick save late in the third period to rob Voyageur forward Pedersen, who found the puck on his stick in front of a gaping net. An empty-net goal at 19:27 sealed the Voyageurs’ 4–2 victory.

Winning their following game on November 19 and losing the next one after that on November 20, Toronto’s four points in 13 games set them firmly in last place in the OUA standings, with 15 games remaining on the 2016–2017 schedule.

The Blues face off next against Ryerson University in Toronto on November 23.

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