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Women’s hockey hoists McCaw Cup

Blues come back to win 3–1 in packed Varsity Arena
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The women’s hockey team won their first provincial championship since the 2002–2003 season. NICOLE GIEBLER/THE VARSITY
The women’s hockey team won their first provincial championship since the 2002–2003 season. NICOLE GIEBLER/THE VARSITY

Despite going down early in the first period, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team staged a triumphant comeback to beat cross-town rivals York University Lions 3–1, ultimately claiming the McCaw Cup and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) banner. This championship win marked the first for the Blues since their 2002–2003 season.

Standout goalkeeper and OUA All-Star Erica Fryer made 33 saves in the game and was named Player of the Game. Veteran forward Jessica Robichaud, Captain Stephanie Ayres, and the OUA Defender of the Year Cristine Chao all notched goals in the exciting victory.

The opening minutes of the first period set the tone of the match. Both Toronto and York fans crowded into the Varsity Arena, sporting team gear, face paint, and cowbells. The Varsity Blues men’s football team, avid supporters of the women’s hockey team, responded to apparent members of the York Lions football team painting “LIONS” onto their stomachs with the words “LION HUNT” emblazoned onto their bodies in bright blue paint of their own.

Every hit, pass, and save sparked a chorus of cheers and chants from both sides of the arena. Despite York opening the scoring just five minutes in, Toronto — both the players and fans — remained undaunted. Fryer showed a tremendous amount of poise, intelligence, and skill to come far out of her net and swipe away the puck to thwart what would have been a dangerous York breakaway. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, Robichaud got on the end of a Chao point shot to deflect the puck past the York goalie, and was promptly mobbed by her enthusiastic teammates.

The energetic buzz of the rink continued into the second period. Despite a lack of scoring, there was no shortage of excitement, close calls, and screams from fans. Fryer stood tall in net to notch 14 of her 33 saves in the period alone. At one point, Blues fans began chanting “we love Fryer!” as she deftly handled dangerous York shots with the composure of a seasoned veteran.

With the game tied and only 20 minutes left in regular time, Ayres took matters into her own hands, receiving a pass from Robichaud and skillfully dangling the York goalie to put the Blues ahead for the first time in the match. York amped up the pressure, putting 11 shots on frame to Toronto’s four, but Fryer was up to the challenge every single time.

The Lions pulled their goalie in an attempt to find a tying goal, but the Blues handled the pressure handily. Chao found a sliver of time and space and slammed the puck down the ice and into the empty net for the dagger to the Lions gold medal hopes. With the Blues fans on their feet for the final minutes, Toronto held on to claim the win and the provincial title.

Toronto was already guaranteed a berth at nationals with their semifinals series win, but will take the added sweetness of a banner to the University of Prince Edward Island as they hunt for a national title there. Seeding and scheduling of the tournament is yet to be announced.