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

Blues eliminated in first round of OUA playoff

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.

Women’s hockey wins game one of playoffs

Blues take down the defending champions in overtime period

Women’s hockey wins game one of playoffs

This past Wednesday, the U of T Varsity Blues women’s hockey team secured the first win of their conference playoffs against the University of Guelph Gryphons. The intense game ended in overtime with a score of 3–2.

The Blues and the Gryphons’ conference opener was an evenly matched, aggressive game that promised an exciting series to come. In the first period, Toronto controlled the ice: defender Gabrielle De Serres opened the scoring when she found the back of the Gryphons’ net with an assist from Mathilde De Serres. The Blues followed up on this with a tip-in goal from fellow defender Christine Chao, assisted by Jana Headrick. However, the Gryphons cut the Blues’ lead in half when forward Lauren Ianni took advantage of Toronto’s double penalty and scored Guelph’s first goal of the game.

This fast-paced and physical playing style continued into the second period, as the Gryphons managed to tie the score in the first 10 minutes with a goal from Stephanie Gava. Toronto remained scoreless throughout the second period, but the Blues’ defensive line and goalie Erica Fryer were successful in holding off any further goals from Guelph.

The third period began with several great shots on the net by Blues players Chao and Laura Ellis, who really challenged Gryphons’ goalie Aurore Beaulieu. On the other end of the ice, Guelph forwards Gabriele Underwood and Karli Shell had the opportunity to go ahead with a two-on-one play in the Toronto zone, but Beaulieu held them off. The period continued with rapid back-and-forth plays between the two teams, but both goalies rose to the challenge with some great saves. The period ended in a 2–2 deadlock, in spite of Toronto having 11 shots on goal and Guelph having 10.

With the score tied, intensity ramped up dramatically as the already high-pressure game entered a 20-minute sudden-death period. This high-speed period consisted of a major struggle for control of the rink, as the Blues would not give up. The game seemed to turn in the Blues’ favour, with about 10 minutes left in overtime when Guelph received a two-minute penalty for tripping. Despite the extra player advantage, the Blues were not able to capitalize on the penalty with a goal.

With just over three minutes left in the game, Guelph called a timeout that allowed the Blues to regroup. Madelyn Walsh delivered a blistering shot on net that almost ended the game, but it wasn’t over until Lauren MacDonnell and Chao set up Gabrielle De Serres for the winning tip-in with under three minutes remaining.

Toronto emerged victorious against the defending 2019 champions with a great finish. The Blues will play their second game of the conference when they travel to Guelph on Saturday, February 22.

Rowing in the winter: how to compete when the lake freezes over

The Varsity Blues rowing team compete at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships

Rowing in the winter: how to compete when the lake freezes over

On February 9, the Varsity Blues rowing team woke up before dawn to a cold winter day. Each team member pulled on their ‘T’-emblazoned unisuit and braved the frigid weather to trek to a bus parked outside of the Varsity Centre, en route to the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships (CIRCs) in Mississauga.

Very few things are as stressful for a rower as a two-kilometre test on the rowing machine. The test is a main marker of physical and mental fitness, and every rower knows it ­— the time you get is your ticket to making the team. Every second in a two-kilometre sprint counts, and every minute of training that an athlete clocks is motivated by shaving off as much time as possible. That’s why when rowers are competing not just against themselves, but against others in a massive stadium at the CIRC, the pressure is on.

The CIRCs are annual competitions held at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre that beckon rowing clubs from all over Canada to send their fastest athletes to compete purely on rowing machines. Despite the pressure that it puts on a rower’s off-season, it’s a welcomed outlet for all the pent-up competitiveness that can build in long, cold winters of indoor training and no races.

“A two-kilometre race is very stressful, it takes a week of mental preparation,” said Matthew D’Amico, third-year member of the men’s open weight team. “I go to bed early [the night before] because I know I’m going to be up and stressed for a few hours.” D’Amico said that CIRCs only heightens his pre-race anxiety: “It’s a lot tougher when there’s a crowd watching you.”

The pressure of the competition, however, is addictive: “You love to hate it,” said CIRC silver medalist and U of T rower Claire Kendall. This year, Kendall entered as third seed overall, and crushed a personal best to snag second place. “I make very specific plans weeks ahead,” she elaborated. “I went to [my coach’s] office twice the week before the competition so he could look it over.” Despite her nerves, Kendall said that the hard work of winter training will push you through: “my fitness really paid off.”

Most of all, it’s worth doing because when you row, you do it as a team. Katy Myler, silver medalist of the 1,000-metre coxswain race, said that the best part is to “prepare together, and win together” as Blues. “It was a fun race, and it felt nice to see [my teammate] Zoe Thompson and I ahead and everyone else way behind.”

So despite the nerves, the fierce competition, and the preference for the on-water races of warmer weather, the Blues will certainly be a regular sight at the CIRCs for years to come. There is, after all, no better feeling than a medal around your neck.

Disclosure: Laura Ashwood is a member of the 2019-2020 Varsity Blues Rowing team.

Blues beat Laurentian in graduates game

Toronto clinches first place with a 2–0 win

Blues beat Laurentian in graduates game

The University of Toronto women’s hockey team scored two goals in the second period of their February 8 game to beat the Laurentian University Voyageurs 2–0 and clinch first place in the Ontario University Athletics standings.

The win was extra special for the Blues, as they celebrated graduating seniors Breanna Berndsen, Shaelynn Waite, Mathilde De Serres, Jana Headrick, Stephanie Ayres, Jessica Robichaud, and Cristine Chao in a pregame ceremony. The departure of the seven talented veterans will leave big holes for players like rookie up-and-comer Natasha Athanasakos, second-year standout Taylor Trussler, and third-year stars Louie Bieman and Laura Ellis to fill.

Toronto and Laurentian were neck in neck for most of the game. Madeline Albert shone in the net, thwarting numerous attacks from the Voyageurs. Rookie forwards Juliette Blais-Savoie and Lauren Macdonnell did well to challenge the Laurentian goalie, but the first period ended in a 0–0 tie.

The Blues found their offensive spark in the second period when Gabrielle De Serres broke the deadlock with a fantastic finish off of an assist from her sister Mathilde. Invigorated by the scoring, Taylor Trussler rocketed a backhand past the Voyageur goalie not even a minute later. Throughout the offensive flurry the Blues were unable to score again.

Despite a fast-paced third period, neither team was able to find the back of the net. Albert did well to block numerous Laurentian shots, and the defensive combination of Chao and Headrick broke up any dangerous plays as soon as they occurred.

With the win, Toronto guaranteed themselves the top spot of the league, and a first round playoff spot against the still-to-be-determined eighth-place team. Toronto will play their final game of the regular season on the road on February 14, when they head to London, Ontario to play the Western University Western Mustangs.

Blues sweep subway series

Men and women volleyball teams triumph 3–1 over York

Blues sweep subway series

Women’s team

The University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team took down the York University Lions at the Tait McKenzie Centre on February 7. The match ended with a score of 3–1 in favour of the nationally fourth-ranked Blues.

This was a part of the “subway series” matches, which are games between York and either U of T or Ryerson University.

The Blues’ Jenna Woock got the match started with a big kill off a Hayley Goodwin assist. The two teams traded points, with Toronto eventually taking the lead with York always tightly behind. A handful of service errors from York, combined with big kills from veteran standouts Alina Dormann and Anna Licht, was enough for Toronto to take the set 25–21. The close score was indicative of York’s scrappiness and reluctance to let Toronto win easily.

The second set, however, was all about the Blues. Woock once again started things off with a booming kill, and Toronto quickly climbed ahead to a 6–1 lead early on. Hope Kotun notched four of her game leading 12 kills in this set alone. Kotun’s attacking was bolstered by Caleigh Cruickshank and Dormann, who added another seven kills between the two of them. Goodwin notched a kill of her own, and with a final kill from Cruickshank, the Blues took the set by a dominant 25–11 score.

York then came out of the gates roaring, unwilling to be swept by the Blues. After some back and forth, York eventually climbed to a 14–7 lead, in spite of some early attacking errors. Service aces from Dormann and Kotun, along with a pair of big blocks from Licht, weren’t enough for the Blues to overtake the Lions, and they dropped the third set 25–21.

The set loss shook Toronto out of their slump, and they jumped ahead to a quick 3–0 lead thanks to kills from Dormann and Kotun and an ace from Woock. York managed to lead briefly after a flurry of activity, but a pair of massive blocks — a solo block from Licht, and a double block from Cruickshank and Kotun — brought Toronto ahead once more. From there, Toronto extended their lead to 16–6. York clawed back some points, but Goodwin emphatically ended the match 25–16 on a beautiful ace.

Toronto will spend one of their final three matches of the season at home, playing at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on February 23. They will be hoping to overtake the Ryerson Rams for first place in the Ontario University Athletics East Conference within these games.

Men’s team

The University of Toronto men’s volleyball team beat the York University Lions 3–1 on February 7 in the inaugural subway series match at the Tait McKenzie Centre. With this win, the nationally sixth-ranked team retained first place in the Ontario University Athletic East Conference as they head into the final stretch before playoffs.

The first set offered spectators a taste of how the entirety of the game would play out: bullet-like kills, back-and-forth points, and breathtaking rallies were sprinkled throughout. Toronto took the first point of the set, but the lead switched between them and the Lions for the entirety of the set.

Veteran Nicholas Trewern notched the first of his 10 kills of the match early on in the set, while setter Jordan Figueira dished out assists and libero Daniel Tudor put his body on the line repeatedly in attempts to keep rallies going. Despite the Blues’ efforts, York barely nudged out the Blues 26–24.

The second set started off tight as well, with both teams deadlocked at 3–3 early on. In order to defend against York’s big hits, Toronto relied heavily on their blocking skills to steal points from the Lions. Trewern, along with rookies Benedikt Licht and Jasper Neale, notched crucial blocks to stifle York’s attack. Veteran Martin Kosic added a pair of kills, and along with an Evan Falardeau ace, the Blues withstood the Lions to even the match up with a set victory of 25–22.

Service errors saw both the Lions and Blues struggle to get an attacking rhythm going in the third set. The teams traded leads, but relentless playing from Christopher Towe — who would end the night with a game-high 17 kills — and Falardeau carried Toronto to a 25–20 third set victory, their largest win margin of the night.

York fought honourably to keep the game within reach, but it was evident the match was Toronto’s when they started the set with a pair of massive kills from Towe and  stellar defending from Figueira. Tudor even notched a kill of his own after a York player erroneously thought the ricochet off his body would land out of the court. Both teams were eager to regain control, but the Blues always held off the surging Lions. Falardeau capped off his stellar 14-point night with the game-winning kill to give the Blues victory.

Toronto will spend two games on the road before playing their final home match of the season against York on February 23.

Blues go 2–0 in volleyball doubleheader

Women pull off huge comeback to defeat Western, men hold on to stop Mustang comeback

Blues go 2–0 in volleyball doubleheader

Women’s team

The University of Toronto women’s volleyball team came back from 2–0 down to beat the University of Western Ontario Western Mustangs in a 3–2 decision on February 1. The thriller, which pitted the nationally fourth-ranked Blues against Western, saw Toronto maintain possession of their second-place standing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East Conference.

The first set showcased just how close and intense of a game it would be, as Western quickly took the first three points of the set against the seemingly beleaguered Blues. Service errors and poor defense against tip kills, combined with relentless defense from the Mustangs, saw Toronto struggle to break into the set. A pair of Alina Dormann’s aces, two nifty kills from setter Lidya Canturk, and big blocks from Hayley Goodwin and Mia Workman all pushed the Blues closer to Western, but they were unable to make up the deficit, and dropped the first set 20–25.

Western used their confidence from the first set win and ran away with the second set, dropping Toronto 12–25. Hope Kotun stood out with her kills, but the Blues were overwhelmed by the Mustangs and generated scarce offense.

Despite the game looking well out of reach by the third period, the Blues came out of the gates roaring. Kotun and veteran Caleigh Cruickshank shone offensively, helping build a 16–6 cushion for the Blues by the technical timeout. Western steadily chipped away at Toronto’s lead, but a laser of a service ace by Anna Licht sealed the third set win at 25–18.

Western was reluctant to relinquish their victory, leading to a back-and-forth affair for the fourth set. Jenna Woock used both her offensive and defensive talents to keep the Blues evenly paced with the Mustangs, combining with Dormann for some big blocks and monster kills. Dormann, who had been stifled by Western’s defense for most of the game, came alive to help the Blues pull ahead and edge the Mustangs 25–22.

The final set was all Toronto. Canturk started the Blues off with a service ace, and the team never looked back, pulling ahead from a 6–6 tie midway through the set to beat Western 15–9 and complete the improbable comeback.

Toronto’s next home game will be February 9 against Trent University, and their final home match will be February 23 against the York University Lions. The Blues are looking strong heading into playoffs, and hope to use the momentum to qualify for a spot at the 2020 U SPORTS National Tournament, which will take place in March in Calgary, Alberta.

HENRY ZHAO/VARSITY BLUES

Men’s team

The University of Toronto men’s volleyball team overcame a late comeback from the Western Mustangs to win 3–2 on February 1. The Blues led for the first two sets before Western claimed the next two, leading to a close fifth set where Toronto came out on top.

Toronto seemed poised to run away with the game after a brilliant first set. Chris Towe notched the first of his game-high 18 kills early on, setting the mood for what would be a hard-hitting and tightly contested match. Benedikt Licht and Alex Barnes also stood out with their precise hitting and unbeatable blocks, respectively. The Blues easily took set one by a score of 25–18.

The second set continued with more dominant playing from Towe and veteran setter Jordan Figueira, the latter of whom notched an ace on the first serve of the set. Despite the bright start, service errors from the Blues saw the Mustangs begin to creep back into the match. Strong attacks from Jasper Neale and Evan Falardeau were enough to keep Western at bay, and Toronto escaped the set with a 25–23 victory.

However, Western was undeterred by the margin and came out blazing in the third set, leading by a score of 16–12 by the technical timeout. Brilliant defensive plays from libero Daniel Tudor, tricky assists from Figueira, and a tireless work ethic from substitute Andrew Kos brought the Blues within three, but they ultimately dropped set three 22–25.

The Blues’ serving woes continued into the fourth set, where they struggled to gain their rhythm against the Mustangs. Toronto went on an offensive run towards the end of the set, but were unable to overtake Western, losing the set 22–25 once again.

Despite their struggles, the Blues were able to get it together for the last set. Evgeny Osokin set the tone with a beautiful ace, and Barnes stifled Western’s kill attempts. Neale, Falardeau, and Towe all notched kills as the Blues pulled away from Western to win the final set 15–9.

The Blues will spend one game on the road against York before returning to U of T on February 9 for a match against Trent University.

Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

Toronto was unable to stop a fourth quarter flurry of offense

Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team played the Carleton University Ravens on Friday — the number five ranked team in U SPORTS. They battled throughout the whole game, but were unable to prevent the strong Ravens offense in the final quarter.

The Blues jumped out to an early 13–6 lead in the first quarter, thanks in part to a pair of free throws and back-to-back three-pointers from Ellen Ougrinov. Toronto’s offensive rebounding served them well in the period, but they were unable to hit shots to close out the half, as Carleton went on an 8–1 run to close it out. The Blues were also unable to stop Alyssa Cerino, who had eight points in the quarter.

The Blues offense remained persistent into the second quarter, with first-year player Nakeisha Ekwandja driving into the paint and taking a foul, which was almost converted for an and-one, and hitting a free throw to open scoring in the second quarter. Ougrinov drove to the rim on a following possession and made a nice bounce pass to Nada Radonjic to convert the easy layup.

However, the Carleton offense quickly came alive, going on an 8–0 run and hitting two three-pointers in the process, forcing Toronto to call a timeout to stop the onslaught. Coming out of the timeout, there was no scoring and a few turnovers, but Carleton soon found their rhythm again, hitting another wide open three-pointer off of a kick-out pass. The Blues stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws. Ougrinov hit a layup, and Mikhaela Ekwandja converted an and-one layup, to cut the Ravens’ lead to only two points.

Carleton’s offense came alive once again, this time on an 11–1 run. The Blues were able to get the final two buckets of the quarter, with a three-pointer from Ougrinov, and a layup from Sarah Bennett. Despite the runs that Carleton went on, the Blues were able to stay hang in there, and didn’t allow the score to stay out of reach.

It was a similar story in the third quarter as the Blues started hitting some of their mid-range jumpers, and brought the deficit to three points. Toronto kept the score relatively close, despite signs that Carleton might pull away with it. Ougrinov kept them in it with another three-pointer, and the Blues remained hitting their mid-range shots. The score was 47–42 to end the third quarter — well within striking distance for the Blues.

Despite their tenacity, the Carleton offense was too much for Toronto to overcome in the fourth quarter. Cerino once again started the run with two made layups, and later on made two free throws. The Blues were unable to continue hitting their shots, and mainly got their fourth quarter points off of free throws.

The final score was 72–54 for Carleton, as the Blues let the game get away from them in the fourth quarter.

Ougrinov was the Blues’ leading scorer with 21 points. She made four three-pointers and some key buckets, keeping the score close throughout three quarters. Mikhaela was the Blues’ leading rebounder with seven rebounds and five points — five of the rebounds coming off the offensive glass.

This loss brings the Blues record to 3-13, and 1-7 at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Women’s hockey defeat Ryerson, men lose overtime affair against Western

Both teams gave up two-goal leads, but women held off Ryerson’s momentum

Women’s hockey defeat Ryerson, men lose overtime affair against Western

Women’s game

The Varsity Blues women’s team won in a high-scoring affair against the Ryerson University Rams this Thursday with an early 11:00 am start time.

Toronto opened the scoring with a little over six minutes left in the first period, after captain Stephanie Ayres was tied up in the faceoff circle. They managed to regain possession, deke past the Ryerson defender, and backhand it into the back of the net. Shortly after, Taylor Trussler picked the pocket of the Ryerson defender attempting to break out of the zone, skated to the high slot, and let go a shot that would deflect off the pants of Cristine Chao for the 2–0 goal.

However, Ryerson would respond with two quick goals of their own. The first was a powerplay goal from Lauren Nicholson, and soon after, Nicholson found herself alone on a breakaway, and made a nice forehand-to-backhand move to put it past Blues goalie Erica Fryer.

Toronto stayed composed, and after a great forecheck to keep the puck in the Ryerson zone, they were able to create a chance in front of the net, which was put home after Laura Ellis shot a puck that trickled past the Rams’ goalie. The Blues’ excellent forechecking would pay off again, as Gabrielle De Serres created a turnover right in front of the Rams’ net and found her sister Mathilde De Serres, who sniped it into the back of the net to give Toronto another two-goal lead.

Keeping their momentum going in the third period, Toronto scored just eight seconds in, with Ayres scoring her second goal of the game. Ryerson wasn’t ready to give up, and only a few minutes later they were able to score off a rather innocent-looking shot that was tipped in front of the net.

Afterward, Nicholson again found herself with tons of space in front of the net and put it past Fryer to cut Toronto’s lead to just one and give herself the hat trick.

However, Ryerson was not able to channel this momentum into another goal, and the De Serres sisters scored Toronto’s final goal, with Gabrielle making some nice moves to get the puck on net, and Mathilde picking up the rebound, giving her sister a no-look pass to ice the game for the Blues.

Toronto’s next home game will be against Western on Friday, January 31 at 7:00 pm.

SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES

Men’s game

The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team lost in a 3–2 decision in overtime on Wednesday to the University of Western Ontario Western Mustangs.

The Blues opened up the scoring when a turnover from the Western defense found the stick of Kevin Lavoie behind the net, who then passed to Ross Krieger for the 1–0 goal at the 9:55-minute mark of the first period.

Early in the second period, the Blues’ leading point-getter David Thomson had control of the puck at the half-wall of the Mustangs’ zone. He made an excellent stretch pass across the ice to find Oliver Benwell in the slot, who made a quick move and sniped the puck bottom corner to give the Blues a 2–0 lead.

The Blues would go into the third period with the lead, with goaltender Alex Bishop making some key saves to keep the Blues up a pair. However, the Blues were much less fortunate in the third period.

Midway through the frame, the Mustangs were able to create a great chance with three men entering the zone. The initial cross-ice one-timer was saved by Bishop, but Toronto’s back checkers were not able to get back in time to prevent Western’s Kenny Huether from tapping in the rebound.

Then, in the dying seconds of the period, and with their goalie pulled, Western created a scramble in front of the net. The Blues were unable to cover it or clear the puck out of the crease, as Stephen Desrocher tied the game with just eight seconds remaining.

Western carried this momentum into overtime, with Franco Sproviero ripping a shot from the high slot into the back of the net to give Western the come-from-behind victory. Alex Bishop made 37 saves, but it was ultimately not enough to prevent the Mustangs’ onslaught in the third period and overtime.

The Blues’ next home game will be against the University of Windsor Lancers on Saturday, February 1 at 7:00 pm.