At Concordia’s Ed Meagher Arena, the Martlets completed their best of three series sweep by decisively defeating the Concordia Stingers, 10-1. This victory secured their spot in both the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) division finals and the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) Nationals. The first game of this series was a home game for McGill on Friday, February 21st. The Martlets entered the playoffs in an unfamiliar place, coming off back-to-back losses that ended their regular season winning streak at 43 games. The streak was ended by a familiar foe: the Université de Montreal (UdeM) Carabins.
The Martlets have had a hard time against the Carabins. Last year they failed to make Nationals after losing to them in the first round of the RSEQ playoffs. This trend will have to change if they hope to clinch a RSEQ championship and make it to a national championship, as UdeM usually has a strong showing at the tournament. The Martlets began their journey with a chip on their shoulder and a considerable amount of pressure, and it began to show in the first game against Concordia. Concordia is a hard team to play. They are fast, big, and extremely physical. In the first game of the series, the physical play of the Stingers worked. They were able to achieve a rarity and get under the Martlets’ skin with their physical play; leading the Martlets to take several undisciplined penalties. This gave the Stingers the room they needed to take the lead and hold it for most of the game. But this lead was not enough.
The Martlets were trailing 2-1 entering the third period. Things were not looking good; Concordia had found a rhythm. While the Martlets were stumbling, their power play had been held silent and the physical play of the Stingers was starting to take its toll. McGill went down two skaters on a five on three power play, and things looked like they were about to go from bad to worse. Then Katia Clement-Heydra broke out of her defensive zone, drove down the boards, cut to centre, crashed the net, and scored the tying goal shorthanded. This impressive clutch play proved yet again that she is one of the most decisive forwards in the league. Later in the third, she assisted the game winner, setting up Jordan McDonell for a textbook back-door play. McGill was able to survive their first test against Concordia. Not only did they achieve a 1-0 lead in the series, but it was a sharp stop to what could become a losing skid. The win also gave them much needed confidence going into their next game.
The second game was at Concordia. The Stingers had their backs to the wall, and being a physical team, things got pretty chippy pretty fast. After one period, the score was tied at 1-1. This scoreline echoed a recent problem for the Martlets: putting pucks in the net. It’s not that the shots weren’t coming but that they just weren’t going in. Everything changed in the second period. McGill unleashed a relentless offence that yielded six unanswered goals to lift the score to 7-1. In the third, they added another three goals for safe measure. By the final whistle, McGill not only walked away with a win, but with the confidence they will need to compete in the RSEQ championship. Their scoring drought was over. Not only did they score more goals during this game than their last 3 contests, but there was depth in scoring, as nine different players contributed for ten goals with Gabrielle Davidson contributing two of her own. Head coach Peter Smith expressed his happiness with his team’s performance and said, “We’re looking forward to the finals, it’s exactly where we wanted to be and coming off a good complete game like that just gives us more confidence and motivation.”
Looking ahead, the Martlets have their work cut out for them. UdeM is a tough opponent and have recently handed the Martlets some tough losses. But the Martlets are ready to end that narrative. Even though McGill is ranked number one in the CIS polls, when they play the Carabins they are the underdogs.
When playing UdeM, the Martlets share characteristics with the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks. Even though Chicago had significant amounts of talent and skill, when they faced Detroit in the western conference semi-finals they were viewed as underdogs. Detroit was a team that had given Chicago trouble in the regular season and in past playoff series. Both of these factors resulted in some post season predictions siding with Detroit. Chicago did not only go on to win the series, but ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The Martlets are facing their Detroit.
Martlets games up to this point have been sparsely attended by the student body, due in some part to misguided perceptions about women’s sports and student apathy towards athletics. During the playoffs, fans should all make an effort to support this team as they strive for a championship, and pack the stands. You don’t have to like hockey or fear falling into the trap of school pride jingoism. All I’m saying is: not only are these players incredible athletes but they‘re also a part of our McGill community who do not get enough attention. We should show support the same way we would want to receive support when we strive for our dreams and reach out for our aspirations. It’s great hockey for a great price. Think about it.
The Martlets won their first game against the Carabins 4-3 and hold a 1-0 lead in the series. The next game in the series is Thursday at UdeM.