TEAM CHINA BEATS BLUES

It seemed like an Olympics in miniature as the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team hosted the Chinese national women’s team on Wednesday, September 30. Opening remarks flowed in English and Mandarin as the players stood at attention for the Chinese national anthem, followed by “O Canada.” Though Team China defeated the Blues 4-3, the latter showed their hospitality by keeping China on their toes.

China scored in the first three minutes into the game with a surprise move from Sun Rui. Toronto captain Karolina Urban returned the favour minutes later, and a second goal by forward Lindsay Hall kept the Blues in the lead into the second period. Though the score remained steady at 2-1, the second period saw heated end-to-end play between the two teams with several flashy saves from goalie Kendyl Valenta.

Only 57 seconds into the third period, Team China captain Wang Linuo evened the score. China refused to let up—Jin Fengling found the net after intercepting a Toronto pass, and forward Zhang Ben scored another goal, making the score 4-2 in China’s favour. Annie DelGuidice managed to score with two seconds remaining in the third period but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference.

Players from both teams expressed gratitude for the experience the match provided them. “To play another team at such a high calibre […] just to know that you played against them is an amazing experience,” commented second-year defenceman Alli White. The teams exchanged gifts—a set of U of T wristbands for Team China and pins bearing the Chinese and Canadian flags for the Blues—and enjoyed dinner together after the game.

“I think it’s about getting our systems in play and coming together as a team so that come season-time we’re at the next level,” said Urban. “There’s still a lot that we have to work on but we’re going in the right direction.”

Wednesday’s game was the first loss of the year for the Blues, who will face the University of Ontario Institute of Technology on October 10 at Varsity Stadium.

Chinese captain Wang Linuo also saw the game as a learning experience. “We want some experience, we want to play [a] good game,” she said. Team China will play a total of 21 games during their visit to Canada against various club and university teams, and will be participating in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. “I really like Canada,” commented Linuo, “because this is a hockey country.”—HILARY BARLOW

DON’T ’CROSSE THE BLUES

It’s nice to see an outright success story at Varsity Stadium, and no, it’s not Blues football making a miraculous recovery. Varsity Blues Women’s Lacrosse is 5-0 this season, the only women’s lacrosse team undefeated in Ontario University Athletics. The Blues managed to hold the position after a round robin U of T hosted the weekend of September 26 and 27. After defeating Queen’s in a nail-biter on the Sunday, the Blues are firmly in front in the OUA standings.

The home team breezed through their first two games of the round robin, beating the McMaster Marauders for an easy 19-8 win. Later that day, the Guelph Gryphons posed even less of a threat, with a final score of 19-5.

The story of the weekend became the Blues versus the Golden Gaels. The Queen’s game early in the weekend against Laurier was no replay of Laurier’s championship win over the Gaels last year. The Golden Hawks seem to be having a transitional year with their roster, and are currently middle-of-the-pack in the OUA standings. Laurier put up some stiff competition in Saturday’s game, but Queen’s came out victorious 11-7.

Last year was a Cinderella season for the Blues. With only four returning starters, the team pulled athletes from other sports just to fill the roster, yet managed to carry the bronze-medal game. Attacker Taryn Grieder, one of the three Blues in the OUA top ten leaders for points (and a Neuroscience PhD to boot), often shows her hockey experience in her approaches on the net. Another all-arounder, Toronto middie Tory Merrill is a pentathlete. While last year’s team finished with some success, this year’s team looks more cohesive.

Toronto went into the round robin knowing that Queen’s was the team to beat. “What we talked about before the game was composure, control, possession,” said coach Todd Pepper.

It was clear from the start that the Toronto-Queen’s game would be a close contest, though Toronto came on strongest during the first quarter. By half-time, the Blues had managed to pull ahead 9-5, thanks in large part to Medicine student Jennifer Held’s back-to-back goals in the span of a minute. Held also had an assist on Toronto’s first goal of the game. The game showcased Toronto’s very strong roster of attackers, as Yoko Murphy, Martha Ross, and Kristin Smart brought the same work ethic to their goals against Queen’s as they’ve shown throughout the season.

But the Gaels were quick to put on the pressure in the second half, almost to the point of taking the game.

Queen’s dominated the opening of the second half, shutting out Toronto and adding a quick succession of seven goals to the score board, turning the game to 9-12 in their favour within the span of 12 minutes.

Of the Gaels’ quick turn-around in the second half, Pepper remarked simply, “We weren’t getting possession of the ball for a while there and that hurt us.” It looked for a while like the Blues had forgotten how to pass to one another.

With 12 minutes left in the game, Queen’s defender Kalyn Bolland was awarded a yellow card. The turning point for the Blues morale seemed to come shortly after with a goal by Held, her third of four in the game. The Blues fought back in the next eight minutes to bring the game to 14-12 in their favour, the final score. The last bit of play went goalless, though entirely in the Gaels’ end. The Blues made up for not passing to one another earlier in the game by spending the entire four final minutes doing nothing but passing back and forth, tiring out the Gaels’s spirit more than anything else, in the end.

Pepper said the Blues’ ability to bring back their offensive game resulted from nothing more than refocusing: “We controlled the ball, we were composed, and we took control,” he said.

Pepper was cautiously optimistic by the end of Sunday afternoon. “5-0 to start the season is very exciting,” he said, though noted that the team shouldn’t get ahead of itself.

“Queen’s is a very good team, but Western and Laurier are very good teams. We have to play Western again. We haven’t played Laurier yet. We have to play them twice, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

That Pepper is setting his sights on a second win against Western is no surprise. Though the Blues did not face Western over the two days, the Mustangs were also undefeated in Toronto, taking on McGill (which they won 13-7) and Queen’s (which they won 13-9).—JADE COLBERT

The next Blues game is at last-place McGill on Oct. 10. Their first game of the season against Laurier is on Oct. 11 in Guelph.

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