Bittersweet final regular season home game for Blues women

Blues women’s hockey team falls to Gaels 3–1

Bittersweet final regular season home game for Blues women

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team surrendered a close 3–1 match against the Queen’s Gaels on Friday night.

The last home game of the regular season marked grad night, a special occasion for graduating players Rebecca Bourgeois and Katey Teekasingh. Both players were honoured in a pre-game ceremony.

The Blues drew first blood as Breanna Berndsen found an open space in the slot and capitalized, scoring in the first period and giving Toronto a 1–0 lead. The Gaels still managed to create more opportunities on offense, leading 10–7 shots on goal after the first period. Blues goalie Madeline Albert finished the night with a save percentage of 0.905, stopping 19 of 21 shots.

Despite scoring on Gaels goalie Stephanie Pascal in the first period, the Blues failed to get the puck past her for the rest of the game. Pascal was sensational, saving an impressive 22 of 23 shots.

The second period turned sloppy for the Blues as they committed unfortunate penalties, providing the Gaels with the chance to take the lead. Blues player Stephanie Ayres was called for holding, which Queen’s capitalized on. The Gaels’ Katrina Manoukarakis, who is the Ontario University Athletics’ second leading scorer, immediately scored just six seconds into the power play, tying the game. Late in the second period, Manoukarakis found the back of the net again to give the Gaels their first lead.

Toronto failed to score in the final period despite having five more shots. Queen’s forward Jessica Wakefield scored an empty netter that went off of Blues defender Julia Szulewska, extending the lead to 3–1 and ending any hopes of a comeback.

“I loved every minute of it,” said Blues captain Rebecca Bourgeois when asked of her time as a Varsity Blue. “I’ve sat through a lot of these grad ceremonies and I’m so thankful that I had all my friends here for this one. I really enjoyed my five years here and everyone who has come through during that time.”

“We’re really just focusing on playing the full 60 minutes. Queen’s is a good team and I think we‘ve had a good run, but… we just need to focus on the little things and I think we’re well set-up for the future,” said Bourgeois.

With the loss, the Blues drop to a 13-8-2 record and fall to the fifth seed in a tight playoff race.

“I think definitely we want to make a run at it as far as we can. We’re aiming for that OUA banner… We’re going to go into it with pride and hopefully we’re going to play that way and come out successful,” said Bourgeois.

Toronto will finish their regular season on the road against the York Lions on February 16.

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

Blues head coach talks coaching and Olympics

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

As the 2018 Winter Olympics draw near, University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey head coach Vicky Sunohara reflects on the highs and lows of competing in the Olympics.

Twenty years ago, as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team, Vicky Sunohara lost to the United States in the inaugural women’s hockey tournament during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Sunohara says she was devastated after losing that hockey game, a combination of not only the magnitude of the event but the personal importance playing in Japan meant to her.

Sunohara’s first Olympic experience brought her closer to home in a familial sense. The extended family of her late father — who passed away when she was only seven — lived just 80 kilometres away from where the games were being held.

“I encountered many family members and relatives [who] I didn’t even know existed. It was just pretty special to be there and it’s just funny how things happen,” says Sunohara.

Sunohara rebounded four years later, as Canada beat the United States in the gold medal game in Salt Lake City. The lead up to the 2002 Winter Olympics was a challenging one for Canada — who lost eight straight exhibition games to the Americans, not to mention that the games were held five months after 9/11, adding to the already heightened importance of the event. The taxing journey, however, made the end result all the more special for Sunohara.

“There were so many things that were a part of our journey that were difficult to manage,” recalls Sunohara. She describes the experience of beating the defending champions at home, as “a great experience, and very special.”

Sunohara returned with Canada for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, an Olympics she knew, deep down, would be her last. That year, she played on a line affectionately nicknamed the ‘Old Dogs’ alongside Cassie Campbell and Danielle Goyette, two other veteran players and Canadian legends in their own right. The fact that it was her last Olympics made everything feel all the more special.

The tournament marked a big year for the growth of women’s hockey; Canada defeated Sweden for gold, breaking up the prospect of a third consecutive Canada-US gold medal final, as the United States instead earned bronze.

In Italy, Sunohara was surrounded by her teammates and family. While her last Olympics would be memorable no matter what, Canada winning their second consecutive gold medal was the perfect ending to her Olympic career.

“I wanted the moment to kind of stand still,” she explains.

Sunohara brings the lessons learned from her Olympic experiences with her everywhere she goes, from her hockey camp in Whitby, Ontario to her current role as head coach of the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. “Those Olympic values are what we hold here at the University of Toronto,” she says.

Sunohara believes in teaching what she defines as “Olympic values,” naming integrity, accountability, and commitment as a few key traits. “It’s more than just teaching a wrist shot or slap shot; it’s teaching the team, it’s teaching anybody that I have the opportunity to be in contact with those Olympic values.”

It’s a big responsibility to pass these values on, but it’s one that she’s happy to have. Being able to share her experiences with young players is one of the reasons that she became a coach. As she got older and felt less able to compete at the highest level, she turned to coaching and found that she loved it. “It was a whole different side of how I looked at the game and what I’ve done and what I can do.”

Sunohara has coached and mentored players at a variety of ages and skill levels, from national-level camps down to kids who just want to make their local rep team, and she finds it all gratifying.

“I felt it rewarding, being able to give back and to help these younger players possibly experience the dreams that I lived.” She tries to instil in her players more than just skills, and through Olympic values also endeavours to “teach them to be better people.”

The Blues have had an up and down season. Despite this, Sunohara feels that by pacing themselves, they’ll have a shot at the playoffs.

“We’re talking about having a playoff mentality right now,” she adds. “Every game is important.”

With the NHL opting not to send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, there is potential for more focus to be centred on the women’s hockey tournament. Media coverage can be hugely influential in sports — Sunohara remembers what it was like following the inclusion of women’s hockey in the Olympics in 1998 and the boom of female registration that this inclusion in the media created. “I want to say 200 per cent or something, registration grew.”

As women’s hockey continues to grow, the focus turns to keeping girls involved in the game as they get older. For Sunohara, the key to continued involvement lies in creating opportunities for female coaches and mentors in the game.

Since Sunohara has started coaching in Ontario University Athletics, she believes that more female coaches have become involved, a step in the right direction. For her, it all comes back to the league creating the opportunities.

“The opportunity to teach, an opportunity to coach, to teach skills. I think that that definitely will keep females involved in the game.”

Recent Varsity Blues captain and U of T graduate Alessandra Bianchi highlights the success of the Blues women’s hockey program. Bianchi was selected by the Toronto Furies in the 11th round of the 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Draft.

Sunohara takes pride in Bianchi’s growth but understands that playing hockey at the next level won’t be the case for all of her players.

“It’s really cool,” comments Sunohara. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of it… it’s not just playing hockey at the next level, it’s seeing what they do and how they’ve gone on and started their careers.”

Ahead of Pyeongchang, Sunohara is excited by the prospect of the tournament. She highlights Canada’s decision to play in a midget-triple A boys’ league in Alberta as a key part of the team’s preparation, especially for the United States. In order for the team to win their fifth straight gold medal, Canada must first deal with the speed and skill of America’s high-powered offense, led by Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel. Sunohara notes that goaltending has been one of the team’s biggest strengths, a key factor that may prove the difference for Canada.

“From goaltending up, they’ve got speed, talent, depth. I think they really think that in the exhibition games they had to figure out the speed and the skill of the Americans… and their offense.”

Women’s hockey has grown exponentially since 1998, and Sunohara, who sits on the board of directors for the CWHL, is looking toward the future. This year, the CWHL is paying its players a salary, something that Sunohara says the league is trying to implement in the right way. In terms of the future, she is optimistic that there are enough players and talent to create one professional league where currently there are many, with the CWHL and the US-based National Women’s Hockey League among them.

“We’ve got to find a way to have all the best players playing, and I think that we could have a very successful professional league, and perhaps be part of the NHL.”

“I think that those things are coming… I believe that it’s a matter of time.”

Blues defeat Voyageurs for fourth straight win

Chao, Straatman, and Roache all score to beat Laurentian

Blues defeat Voyageurs for fourth straight win

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team skated out with a win on Friday night at Varsity Arena after defeating the Laurentian Voyageurs. Many Toronto players displayed strength and skill in the 3–0 victory, with goaltender Madeline Albert gaining a shutout. But their teamwork was also key: the Blues’ ability to rely on each other made all the difference.

Toronto took the early lead, finding the back of the net seven minutes into the game. Defenseman Cristine Chao scored the power play goal, and Gabrielle De Serres earned the assist.

After Toronto took the one-goal lead, both teams had some great scoring chances, but no further goals were scored by the end of the first frame. Toronto’s defense kept the puck under control and after the first period allowed only four shots on net. Laurentian came out strong in the second period and changed the pace in search for the victory. The Blues quickly matched their level with outstanding plays and saves.

Toward the end of the second period and with 21 seconds left, Toronto’s leading scorer, Kassie Roache, committed a penalty putting the Voyageurs on power play that would carry into the third period. Toronto’s work ethic as a team prevailed even while one player down. Although under pressure, they were able to keep the 1–0 lead as they ended the second period, with thanks going especially to rookie goalie Albert, who made key saves.

Despite being a player down at the start of the third period, the Blues fought hard to keep their lead, and once the fifth player was out of the penalty box and back on the ice, most of the game action was spent in Voyageur territory. The nerves behind having only a one-goal lead showed in the energy of the crowd and in the Blues’ work ethic and strategies. It was evident that they wanted the win as they fought down to every last second.

The Voyageurs subbed out goaltender Dolighan for Karen Collins, while captain Ellery Veerman continued her team’s strong defensive play to prevent the Blues from scoring in the opening minutes of the third period. However, the Blues eventually found their way around the Voyageurs’ defense as Lauren Straatman added a second goal eight minutes into the third.

Following the second goal, the Blues found their confidence and dominated possession of the puck. Collins carried Laurentian’s defense, making some key stops in the period, but Toronto’s forwards continued to string together scoring opportunities and quickly found the back of the net, less than two minutes after Straatman’s goal. This time it was Roache who scored, finding Collins’ weak spot to increase Toronto’s lead to 3–0.

Toward the end of period, possession evened out and the two teams were neck and neck with their shots on goal. With two minutes left in the game, Laurentian continued their attack, although they were still unable to score on Albert. They fought hard, but it was evident that they had run out of time, despite the valiant comeback effort they attempted. Now, almost in the last minute of play, Voyageurs forward Annie Sheridan committed a crucial slashing penalty, providing the Blues with a power play and effectively ending any hope the Voyageurs had of making an improbable comeback.

With seconds left, Toronto was able to maintain complete possession of the puck, and when the final buzzer went off, the team had succeeded. After launching 20 shots on goal, the Blues won with a final score of 3–0, sending the Voyageurs packing with nothing.

Blues men’s hockey triumph in third straight home ice win

Ryan Kirkup nets game-winning goal

Blues men’s hockey triumph in third straight home ice win

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey’s 4–3 win against the Ryerson Rams on Saturday marks the team’s third straight home ice victory. Toronto lost an early lead but came back to beat the Rams for the first time this season.

The Blues took the lead two minutes into the game, when defenseman Corey Jackson registered a quick slap shot from high slot. Halfway through the first period, the Blues looked to improve on their power-play — ranked 19th in the OUA — after the Rams were called for too many men.

Failing to score on their first power play due to Ryerson’s speed and ability to close down space, Toronto went back on the power play with four minutes remaining in the first period. A shot from Blues forward Matt Campagna was robbed by the stick of a diving Rams goaltender Taylor Dupuis with only a few seconds left in a one-man advantage.

Campagna opened the second period scoring off a scramble in front of the Ryerson goal in the second minute of play, marking his third goal of the weekend. Following the goal, the physical game opened up, with hits from Charlie Connell, Justin Brand, and Corey Jackson exciting the players on both benches.

Eight minutes into the second period, Ryerson forward Erik DeLaurentis fired a shot over the shoulder of first-year Blues goalie Frederic Foulem to open the scoring for the Rams. Ryerson then added two quick goals later in the period: in the 13th minute, Steven Harlan dogged a sprawling Blues defender and rifled the puck into the top of the net and, two minutes later, Aaron Armstrong capitalized on a scrambling Toronto penalty kill to put the Rams up 3–2.

Nearing the end of the period, Blues forward Connor Bebb rushed the Rams net, narrowly missing but drawing a penalty. On the power play, Hunter Atchison beat a sliding Dupuis to tie the game at three with two minutes remaining in the second period — a key goal for the Blues, disrupting the Rams’ momentum heading into the second intermission.

The third period began with quick end-to-end passing and strong defense by both teams. Seven minutes into the period, the Blues stole the puck and in a four-on-two rush, Hunter Atchison dropped the puck to Ryan Kirkup, who found the net with a shot under the arm of Dupuis.

As the clock wound down, Ryerson rallied to find a goal; Blues defender Willy Paul made a clutch shot block with three minutes to go. Rams head coach Jonny Duco pulled Dupuis with 50 seconds to go, but the Blues held on to win the game 4–3.

The Blues return to home ice this weekend hosting the Guelph Gryphons on January 26, and they will also host a rematch against the Rams on January 27.

The journey of a professional women’s hockey player

Toronto Furies forward Danielle Gagne talks her life on and off the ice

The journey of a professional women’s hockey player

The faint scent of stale hockey equipment emanates from Danielle Gagne’s bag. It’s an aroma that, while generally unpleasant, can trigger memories of past victories and dressing rooms. Gagne admits the smell could be far worse, alluding to her swollen left ankle visible above her low-top sneaker.

“I wish I would’ve hurt it doing something cool, it was the stupidest thing, we were doing a warmup for CrossFit, we were doing hurdles, and I was clearing them all no problem,” she says. “I didn’t jump as hard, and it was just that stupid thing that my toe clipped it, it landed, and I landed and I immediately felt like I was going to throw up because it hurt so bad.”

“I’m tough, I don’t cry,” she adds.

In mid-November, the Toronto Furies boasted a .500 record ahead of their two-week trip to China. The 2017–2018 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) season marks the first time in the league’s history that players will be paid, a step forward made possible by an influx of cash from new sponsorships and the league’s new Chinese teams, the Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays. Still, the salaries — ranging from $2,000–$10,000 — don’t provide a livable wage. As a result, Gagne works full-time at a software company in her hometown of Bolton, Ontario.

In her second season with the Furies, Gagne has steadily grown into her role, developing a brand of confidence that only comes from hard work and overcoming adversity. Her first CWHL career goal came in a 4–2 loss to the Boston Blades. “I still can’t believe it took me that long to score, but I’m glad I finally broke down that mental block in my head,” she says.

The journey that changed her life

Despite hockey’s place at Gagne’s core, it’s not everything in her life. She defines the 4K for Cancer bike ride across America she endured in 2015 as the most important moment of her life. Gagne began the ride with the intention of honouring her late grandfathers, who both died of cancer. That all changed eight months from the start of her trek, when she learned her then-three-year-old cousin Otis Spencer had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

“My cousin Alex, they have three kids… and ended up having [another child] Darius when Otis was in the hospital going through chemo,” she says. “It’s always nice to celebrate him because he’s an amazing kid and my inspiration.”

The daunting ride presented Gagne with a daily opportunity to triumph over adversity. The Baltimore to San Francisco route saw her bike up and over the Rocky Mountains and sleep on an air mattress on various church floors in Nebraska. She even got lost for eight hours in the Oregon desert.

“We were so dehydrated, I felt drunk for the next two days and I got so sick, but that was the worst part. Everything else was awesome,” she adds.

“Everything we ate for the whole trip was based on donations, so we’d go to restaurants and asked if they’d give us food,” she says. “Utah was beautiful… I remember the biggest incline was 15 per cent, and you’d have to keep moving because you’d fall over.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE GAGNE

“The day that my bike ride ended, [Otis] was said to be clear as of that day, which was the weirdest coincidence ever,” she says. “I just started bawling my eyes out.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE GAGNE

Teammates that inspire

Each CWHL franchise has felt the effects of Hockey Canada’s Olympic centralization ahead of the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. Natalie Spooner, Erin Ambrose, and Renata Fast are all absent from the Furies. A combination of factors contribute to the Furies’ 11-game winless streak, but it mostly stems from their inability to score — the team is second from last in the league in goals scored.

Toronto has also struggled to find the back of the net in the absence of Spooner, the team’s leading goal-scorer with 13 in the 2016–2017 season. Alongside Olympic captain Marie Philip-Poulin and fellow alternate captain Brianne Jenner, Spooner serves as one of the faces of women’s hockey in Canada. This time of year, Spooner’s image can be found on cereal boxes as Canada’s women’s hockey team is poised to earn its fifth consecutive Olympic gold next month.

Spooner’s talent and leadership isn’t new to Gagne, who played alongside her during her freshman year at Ohio State. “She’s just unbelievable,” recalls Gagne. “I remember being at U18 tryouts for Team Canada and she was U22 at the time, and she had the highest score for strength and one of the highest scores for cardio. That’s unheard of.”

The college experience

The warmth in Gagne’s voice increases as she reflects on the people she’s played with during her collegiate career. “God, she’s so fast,” she whispers, referring to the speed of Amanda Kessel, the former Minnesota Golden Gophers star who routinely terrorized Ohio State.

The only time Gagne defeated Minnesota was via a nine-round shootout in early 2014, a miraculous result that upset a high-ranking program. The win earned her team a shoutout from ESPN’s SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross and a place on the network’s top 10 college plays of the week.

The Buckeyes celebrated with ice cream and milkshakes at Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown, while Kessel — absent from the Minnesota roster — was training with the US national team ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

“We were pumped, I don’t think we got undressed for about 45 minutes we were just running around the dressing room,” she laughs. “Minnesota was always the worst because you always thought, ‘Yeah we’re ready,’ and they’d just come and kick your ass so bad.”

Gagne says that every game against the University of North Dakota (UND) was competitive, mentioning in particular her experience battling against the Lamoureux twins.

“One time I went for a Hail Mary breakaway pass, [one of the twins] caught it and tried to bring it down, and I should’ve gotten a penalty for this, but I two-handed her in the arm and the puck went through her legs, and I picked it up went on a breakaway and scored, so that was unreal.”

She questions UND’s decision to cut its women’s hockey program last March, a program that developed a wave of Olympians, including the Lamoureux twins, who contributed to its initial stardom both transferring to UND in 2010 and after their freshman season at Minnesota.

“Again that goes toward helping women’s hockey grow, just kidding, we don’t want you at our school anymore,” adds Gagne. “[UND] women’s hockey is top five in the nation every year but they had to cut it… But the men’s program is still there.”

Gagne couldn’t imagine a life without hockey. She admits she cried when she visited Ohio State’s campus in early November, overwhelmed by the incredible memories she made over her four years in Columbus.

How good is Auston Matthews?

Answer: really good

How good is Auston Matthews?

“At what point do [the] Toronto Maple Leafs have to start playing Matthews one versus five to make it fair for other teams?” asked Brad Marchand, after Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ centre-man and the NHL’s 2016 first-round draft pick, finished on an incredible end-to-end effort against the Montreal Canadiens.

This question is warranted. Matthews has been off to a rapid start this season, netting 12 goals and 21 points in 19 games while leading the Leafs to second place in the Atlantic Division.

If you aren’t already a member of the Matthews fandom, I suggest you join now.

Following his 40-goal rookie season, Matthews has quickly proven himself as a prolific, exciting, and timely goal scorer. That lofty total was enough to tie him for second in the league, a feat comparable only to that of Alex Ovechkin in his rookie season, arguably the greatest pure goal scorer in the league, with 52.

Yet the NHL has taken a dramatic shift since then, with scoring generally on the decline. To put things into perspective, 11 players in Ovechkin’s rookie year had 40 or more goals, while that number drops to just three in Matthews’ year.

In addition, this admirable output is produced in less than ideal circumstances.

Matthews does not skate on the first power play unit, which can often be a dramatic goal boost for many players. Instead, he led the league last year with 32 even-strength goals, which is not only incredibly difficult, but valuable in the playoffs where less power plays take place.

Further, one player alone cannot win a game, despite what Brad Marchand suggests. In the case of Matthews, he plays a majority of his shifts with two very talented and hardworking players, William Nylander and Zach Hyman.

Despite their success, these players are still learning and developing their game, finding their place in a relentless league. In comparison, other leading centers such as Steven Stamkos have the privilege of centering a line with Nikita Kucherov, who has been utterly unstoppable this season. Similarly in Edmonton, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are proving to be a perfect pair.

Respectfully, Matthews plays with very capable players, but they unfortunately aren’t comparable to Draisaitl or Kucherov. Yet this does not stop him from producing goals like he plays with those stars. One can only imagine what his assist total would be if he were passing to players who converted like those two.

Understandably, there are always cases against star players — seeing as they garner so much attention, their inconsistencies are highlighted just as much as their accomplishments. A case can be made that Matthews fails to provide the same opportunities for his teammates as he does for himself, leaving a sub-par assist total and players working for him rather than with him.

Yet, as per Sportsnet, the Leafs’ top line is among the best in the NHL in high danger chances, scoring chances on net, and passes to the slot. Essentially, the chances are there, and they aren’t all for Matthews.

Regardless, it seems that a respective shooting percentage thus far of 10.9 per cent and 6.2 per cent for Hyman and Nylander are not up to par. In comparison to Matthews’ 16.7 per cent chance shooting, he seems to be able to convert on his chances. Still, there is little concern that these players won’t begin converting soon, as their play advances.

Granted, his output is impressive, but there’s another side to the ice, and the defensive play will frequently distinguish the elite from the complete. As for Matthews, he has been superb in the defensive end as Chris Johnston from Sportsnet notes, “Matthews has only been on the ice for one goal against in 128 minutes at 5-on-5 this season”.

That is wildly impressive considering Leafs head coach Mike Babcock refuses to coddle his young superstar, putting him on for defensive zone face-offs more than half the time, where they must battle to shift the direction of play.

The added level of difficulty is not showing, as Matthews currently has the fifth highest plus/minus in the league (+14), and again as Sportsnet notes, “He has been stripping opponents of the puck at the same rate as Patrice Bergeron.” To say he routinely makes defensive plays comparable to former Selke Trophy winners is impressive at the least.

It’s easy to see how Matthews can be ranked among the best two-way forwards in the league and it’s also intangible which can solidify him among the ranks of the best. McDavid and Stamkos may very likely finish the season with more points and gather a surreal amount of attention. However, Babcock refuses to let his star players run amok and rely solely on talent.

He wants a balanced style of play and is molding Matthews in this image of balance. This image is one of consistency, hustle, and intelligent hockey that few will find anywhere else.

In other words, Matthews is elite and on his way to being complete.

Meet the new head coach of the Blues men’s hockey team

Ryan Medel talks coaching, Toronto, and the 2017 squad

Meet the new head coach of the Blues men’s hockey team

In July, for the first time in more than two decades, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team made a change at the head of its coaching staff. Ryan Medel joined Toronto as a first-time head coach this season after seven years in an assistant coaching role at Carleton University, where he attended university.

Medel took over from former head coach Darren Lowe, who left after a long run — he had headed up the team since 1995, and he had been on the Blues coaching staff since 1992.

Originally from Ruthven, Ontario, Medel comes to Toronto after a very successful run with the Carleton Ravens, where he was a part of seven straight playoff appearances. He has a lot of love for the Carleton program but is excited to start a new chapter of his career here with the Blues.

“Carleton was a newer program and coming here there’s just a rich tradition of success, and a lot of history here,” said Medel. The move has been a change in atmosphere. “Just being downtown Toronto too, it’s just a different feel. The city is alive, it’s always going,” he added. “It’s been a lot of fun here.”

He hasn’t been met with any surprises in his new role so far, but there has been a certain level of increased responsibility in making the big decisions.

“I think the one thing I’m just finding as a head coach is you have to be bringing your A-game and energy every single day. You know, I think you’re the person that the guys are looking to, and you just have to make sure you’re at your very best.”

Medel has a real love for the game, especially the strategy behind it — a passion that resulted in him getting into coaching right after graduating.

“[I] just thought that if I could stay inside the game somehow I would give that a try. I had the opportunity there after graduating at Carleton to jump right in as an assistant coach,” said Medel.

Medel described his coaching style as being heavily dependent on communication, relationships, and preparation. “I think the biggest thing is I want our group to grow as a team, [and] grow into a family.”

He credits his fellow coaches from Carleton, who were with him from the beginning of his career, with helping to shape him as a coach. Marty Johnson, who was an assistant coach during Medel’s playing career and head coach while he was an assistant, was a huge influence. “I got to learn from him for nine years, and just learn what it was to basically be a professional, coming to the rink every day.”

Medel credits a lot of his coaching abilities to Shaun Van Allen, a former NHL player and former head coach of the Ravens. “I feel that he’s got so much valuable experience. He just was really able to open my eyes in a couple different areas of the game.”

The trio has been scattered this year: Johnson is coaching in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose, while Van Allen has taken over the head coaching duties back at Carleton, but Medel said they’re still in “constant communication.”

In terms of less personal coaching influences, Medel named head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he grew up cheering, and Washington Capitals bench boss Barry Trotz as some of his favourite NHL coaches. Babcock also started at the university level, providing Medel with an example to look up to. He also likes to learn from the greats of the past, like Pat Quinn, and often reads coaching biographies in his spare time.

Medel praised his new team for their speed and their work ethic in particular. “This is an extremely hard-working group, on and off the ice. We have a lot of great students on our team, but also guys that are coming each and every day and working really hard,” he said.

Hard work and commitment are very important to him and he wants his players to focus on improving every day as a team. “We know if we do that… we’re going to win more games than not.”

For Medel, the thing that gives him the most fulfillment in his job is being able to have a positive influence on the young guys, and to see them take steps forward.

“We tell the guys that we want to get better each day, and when you see improvements in not only the individuals but in our team game… that gives me a lot of fulfillment.”

Ultimately, Medel wants his team to grow both as players and as people this year. Through hard work and dedication, he hopes to have a lot of success with the men that make up this year’s team. However, no matter what happens at the end of the season, it’s the relationships that Medel thinks are going to be the most valuable takeaway.

“I want guys to not only enjoy their time here but look back at it as one of their favourite years when they’re older.”

Varsity Blues take to the ice to open 2017–2018 hockey season

Blues women undefeated, men split two games

Varsity Blues take to the ice to open 2017–2018 hockey season

Varsity Blues women blow out Lions 7–0 in home opener

Varsity Arena hosted the Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team home opener on Thursday, seeing a dominant 7–0 win against York. The score opened with rookie Louie Bieman scoring on the power play, off of a scramble in front of the net. Shortly after, Blues forward Kassie Roache made a pass from behind the York net to Lauren Straatman, for the one-timer goal. This was Roache’s second assist of the night.

York tried to score a goal to make the score 2–1 off of a scramble in front of the net. It was called a goal on the ice, but upon further discussion among the referees, they decided that the puck had never crossed the line. The Blues dominated York’s end, out-shooting them 11–2 in the first period.

The Blues’ dominance continued in the second period with Bieman scoring an unassisted goal, and her second of the night, on the power play. Toronto goalie Madeline Albert stopped all 10 shots this period, after only having faced two in the first. Toward the end of the second period, O’Brien scored off of a rebound to make it 4–0 for the Blues.

Toronto’s offense continued to dominate in the third period as Cristine Chao scored off another rebound. O’Brien scored her second of the night midway through the period, making the score 6–0 for the Blues.

Following the sixth goal, York forward Tayler Murphy was injured in a collision in front of the York net. She lay on the ice until paramedics arrived and took her off on a stretcher.

When the game resumed, York pulled their goalie and maintained pressure in Toronto’s zone. Albert made some key stops to keep her shutout intact. Laura Ellis scored an empty net goal with 50 seconds remaining in the game to make the score 7–0 for the Blues.

—Silas Le Blanc

Blues captain Charlie Connell to circle around the net.
WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Blues men victorious in home opener

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team had a thrilling 2–1 victory over the Queen’s Gaels in their home opener on October 20.

The victory followed a 3–1 victory over Waterloo on October 13, in which Ryan Mendel made his head-coaching debut for the Blues. Mendel spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Carleton Ravens.

There was excitement in the stands as many students came out to support their Varsity Blues. Queen’s dominated the first period with numerous scoring chances. First-year goaltender Frederic Foulem was up to the task, saving 15 shots Queen’s fired at him in the period.

Despite the Gaels’ domination, the Blues were able to convert on the power play as second-year kinesiology major Evan MacEachern scored on a shot from the point to give the Blues a 1–0 lead. Matt Campagna and Aidan Wallace were credited with the assists.

The second period was fast-paced and evenly matched, with both teams having strong scoring chances. Both teams killed off two penalties in the second period and the Blues entered the third period with their lead intact. But just four minutes into to the third period Queen’s tied it up with a goal from Luke Bertolucci.

Shortly thereafter, the Blues took a penalty but were able to prevent Queen’s from scoring in large part due to a relentless effort from second-year Curtis Harvey. Harvey pressed the puck against the wall in the Gaels’ zone holding off four Gaels who tried to pry the puck lose.

The rest of the third period was full of tension as each side tried to break the deadlock. With the game tied 1–1 at the end of regulation the game headed to overtime. The three-on-three format in overtime opened up the ice and created multiple thrilling scoring chances on both sides.

Finally, Evan MacEachern picked the puck up in the Blues zone and blazed down the ice scoring top corner to give the Blues the 2–1 victory. The Blues are now 2-0 on the season and will look to build this momentum moving forward.

—Joseph Rossi

Russell Rodrigues looks to play the ball across the box.
PHOTO BY DAVID ZHAO, COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

Blues men have no answer for Ridgebacks’ third period comeback

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team led for the majority of the game against the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks on Saturday night at Varsity Arena, but they gave up three goals in the third period, dropping the game 3–2.

The Blues got off to a bit of a slow start in the first period, logging only two shots to UOIT’s eight midway through the frame. Toronto picked it up in the second half of the period and were rewarded for their hard work when they found a way to the back of the net. Ryan Kirkup began the play, streaking into the Ridgebacks zone down the left wing and, along with Connor Graham, claimed assists for Luca Leone, who buried the goal past Ridgebacks netminder Tyson Teichmann with some neat stick-work. The period ended 1–0 Blues, although the shot clock still favoured the Ridgebacks at nine to seven.

Although the shots in the second period were dead even, the Blues added to their lead, off a power-play tally from Aidan Wallace, assisted by Willy Paul and Evan MacEachern. The goal came off a hooking call to the Ridgebacks’ Spencer Roberts. Both teams had an aggressive period, driving hard to the net, which resulted in a few minor net-side scrums that referees needed to break up. The shots were 14-16 for the Ridgebacks when the buzzer sounded to end the second, but the Blues still held the lead at 2–0.

Both teams came out hard in the third period. Kirkup had a near breakaway in the early minutes, and the play led to a slashing penalty to Ridgebacks captain Danny Elser.

Play was held up for a few minutes before the Blues began their power play due to an injury on the play – UOIT’s Mike Robinson was helped off the ice, but he returned later in the game. On the ensuing Blues power play, Josh Maguire sniped home a beautifully placed shorthanded goal for the Ridgebacks going bar-down and chopping the Blues’ lead in half.

The goal seemed to invigorate the Ridgebacks, and they pressed hard, searching for the equalizer. The Blues responded but were unable to find the back of the net on two different two-on-one chances, and soon they were forced to the penalty-kill once again, after a hooking penalty to captain Charlie Connell. UOIT took advantage, with Robinson capitalizing off a big rebound, tying the game at two goals apiece.

The Ridgebacks took their first lead of the game less than a minute later, with Elser burying the pass from Ben Blasko on a two-on-one.

Both teams continued to press hard for the rest of the period, and although Blues goalie Frederic Foulem made some big saves to keep them within one, the Blues were unable to come back and the final whistle sounded with the Ridgebacks still up one.

The final score was 3–2 for UOIT, with the shots on goal finishing at 28-19 in favour of the Ridgebacks.

The Blues men’s next home game is against York University on October 27, while the women’s team returns to Varsity Arena on November 4 against Brock University.

 —Rachel Quade