The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team won their first game of the season this Friday, with a tight 3–2 score over Guelph. The Blues played in front of a packed stadium at the Varsity Arena, the crowd excited to see the opening game in a season where the Blues hope to improve on their record from last season.
Blues head coach Ryan Medel started out with a line of Chase Olsen, David Thomson, and Joey Manchurek, with the latter getting on the board immediately with an early goal. Thompson shot the puck from the point, causing a scramble in front of the Gryphons net and giving Manchurek the opportunity to tap in the 1–0 goal.
For the rest of the first period, the Blues spent more time in their own zone than in Guelph’s, but Toronto goalie Alex Bishop stopped some key chances for the Gryphon’s to maintain the lead. Toronto also managed to kill off two penalties, with the defensive players clogging up the lanes and stopping some key passes to keep Guelph off the scoreboard.
The Blues heavily relied on the line of Olsen, Thomson, and Manchurek throughout the game, both at five-on-five and on the power-play. “I thought right from the first shift that [the line] showed a lot of jump,” Medel said in a post-game interview. “Obviously they scored early, and any time a line scores early, they kind of play with a little bit of extra confidence.”
He continued, “But I think for the most part they played two ways the entire night. I liked their shift length and they seem to be fresh every time. I called their name and they played more in the offensive zone. So they got rewarded for that.”
In the second period, there was a large scrum in front of the Toronto net, which resulted in only one holding penalty for Guelph’s Stephen Templeton. On the ensuing Toronto power-play, newcomer Kyle Potts won the draw back for his defenseman Justin Brand. Brand passed it across to his defensive partner Willy Paul, who teed up a quick slapshot under the glove of Guelph goalie Andrew Masters, giving Toronto a 2–0 lead.
Play was much less one-sided in the second period, as Toronto was able to trap Guelph in the neutral zone and prevent them from breaking into Toronto’s end with ease. However, Toronto was unable to stay out of the penalty box, and were penalized three times throughout the period.
Toronto’s penalty kill was relatively strong, but with Riley Bruce — one of Toronto’s top penalty killers — being assessed with an interference penalty at the 2:45 mark of the second period, Guelph was able to get on the board. Guelph defenseman Ryan DaSilva made an innocent-looking shot toward the Blues goal, which was redirected into the net by Gryphons’ forward Connor Bramwell.
Toronto was better at staying out of the box in the third period, with only one minor penalty committed. Their lone penalty kill saw excellent forechecking from forwards Curtis Harvey and Scott Kirton. “I thought our [penalty killers] did a decent job,” Medel said. “I thought we got better as the game went on.”
“We had a real good kill in the third. We were more aggressive and didn’t give them an opportunity to set up. They do have a real good power-play. They find seems, take a lot of shots. It’s an area we’re gonna continue to work on and improve.”
On a routine breakout at even strength, Manchurek was able to turn the puck over from a Guelph defenseman, and passed it over to David Thomson, who sniped it home for the 3–1 goal. Although this looked to be the insurance marker, the Gryphons were able to bring the game back within one goal, when a shot from defenseman Cole Cameron fluttered over Bishop’s right shoulder with 3:39 left on the clock.
That was, however, the last goal of the game, as the Blues were able to hold off the Gryphons’ last-ditch efforts to tie it up. The game ended 3–2 for Toronto, and Bishop ended the game with 29 saves on 31 shots.
The women’s hockey team is set to play their home opener on October 26 against Windsor.