Blues eliminated in first round of OUA playoff

Toronto win first game against Western, but drop final two for a disappointing end to an otherwise strong season
The Blues capped off a first-place finish with a first-round exit. SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES
The Blues capped off a first-place finish with a first-round exit. SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES

Game one

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team trounced the Western University Western Mustangs 6–2 on February 12 at the Varsity Arena. The victory saw Toronto take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinal series. Four different Blues scored in the game, led by Scott Kirton, who scored a penalty shot and notched his first career hat trick. Toronto goalie Alex Bishop got the start in net and notched 37 saves in the win.

The first period saw end-to-end action right off of the opening whistle. Western, which barely snuck into the playoffs after ending the regular season in eighth place — the last playoff spot — showed their usual aggression and tenacity. Toronto head coach Ryan Medel described them as an “opportunistic team.”

The Blues knew they would have to be sharp, since their last matchup with the Mustangs saw a narrow 4–3 Toronto victory. Ross Krieger and Joey Manchurek each had brilliant opportunities of their own, but it was Kirton who opened the scoring off a Justin Brand rebound with less than two minutes to go in the first period.

Toronto came out strong in the second period as they looked to widen their lead. Kevin Lavoie was particularly dangerous for the Blues on the counter, and captain Willy Paul was a rock on defense. Despite Bishop’s standout goalkeeping, Western managed to sneak in a tying goal halfway through the second period. However, the Blues were undeterred, and stuck to their game plan; this move was rewarding, as Chase Olsen smashed home a rebound from defender Riley Bruce.

Soon after, Kirton was fouled on a goal scoring opportunity, and was awarded a penalty shot. Kirton said he was “pretty nervous” going into the shot, but he showed absolutely no nerves as he faked a shot before drawing and smashing the puck into the net. The Toronto bench and Blues fans both erupted in cheers, and from then on it was all Toronto.

It was evident that Western was growing frustrated as they became more chippy in the third period. Penalties piled up for both teams, with Western taking three and Toronto taking four for the game. Toronto used their power plays well, though, and Manchurek’s efforts were finally rewarded with a top-shelf goal to widen the Blues’ lead to 4–1.

Western tried pulling their goalie in an attempt to get back into the game, but Krieger calmly notched an open net goal for the fifth goal. Western managed to scrape back a goal, but Kirton completed his hat trick with an empty-net goal, giving the Blues a 6–2 victory.

Game three

After losing on the road at Western, the Blues came back to the Varsity Arena for a third and final do-or-die match up between the two teams.

The first and second periods were quiet in terms of offense, as the score was 0–0 after 40 minutes of play. Western slightly outshot Toronto by a margin of 20–16, but chances were had at both ends, and each goalie was able to keep their shutout intact.

Western finally opened the scoring in the third period, when Western’s Kyle Pettit snuck a shot from the far corner of the field, finding the net behind Bishop. With around 12 minutes left of the game, Toronto gave up a turnover at their own blue line, leading to a two-on-one for Western. Reed Morison was able to snipe it into the back of the net to give his team the 2–0 lead.

Looking for offense, Toronto needed their goal scorers to come up big, and leading scorer David Thompson delivered, with a great give-and-go goal to cut the lead in half. Unfortunately for Toronto, this was the only goal they got in the game, and Western put away the game with an empty-net goal.

With this loss, the Blues are eliminated from the OUA playoffs. Despite finishing first in the OUA West standings, they were knocked out of the playoffs much earlier than they had hoped.

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