While the Toronto Maple Leafs clashed with the New York Rangers at the ACC Saturday night, a couple of blocks away was another big hockey showdown: the U of T men’s Varsity Blues took on the Windsor Lancers at Varsity Arena.
The Leafs grabbed a “W” that night, but the same could not be said for the Blues. They watched a 4-2 third period lead evaporate as the undefeated 10-0 Lancers came back with a vengeance, scoring four goals in the final frame to seal a 6-5 comeback victory.
“We let the game get away from us,” says head coach Darren Lowe. “We skated well out there and our competing level was high, but unfortunately we made too many mistakes and it ended up costing us.”
With the loss, the Blues drop to 4-6-0, while the Lancers improve to 11-0-0 in the OUA West division.
After the Lancers opened the scoring midway through the first period, the game quickly turned chippy as both teams came out hitting.
Tempers finally flared on the visitor’s end as Windsor’s Paul Bezzo dropped the gloves to instigate a fight with Toronto’s Paul Van De Velde after a post-whistle scrum. Bezzo was ejected and the officials handed him a 10-minute major penalty.
This was opportunity knocking for the Varsity Blues. Christian Finch and assistant captain Michael Markovic buried goals with the man-advantage to make it 2-1 early in the second.
“The 10-minute power play definitely helped with some momentum,” says captain Andrew Doyle. “We changed up a couple of things in practice [with] some different looks on the power play and it’s good to see it working.”
Forward Casey Knight later added to the lead, banging home a loose puck during a scramble in front of the net to make it 3-1.
The Lancers cut the deficit to one with just over six minutes remaining in the second period, but Toronto restored their two-goal cushion before the intermission as defenceman Marcus Yolevski received a centring pass in front and one-timed it in.
At 1:49 into the third period, Windsor’s Matt Beaudoin beat goaltender Michael Nishi with a screened shot to make it 4-3.
Two minutes later, Nishi came up with a big breakaway save on point-leader Spencer Pommells to prevent the equalizer.
The Blues scored another goal with Jeff Brown’s power play marker, but that just about capped off Toronto’s output for the night. The back-to-back game against Waterloo the night before might have had an effect on the team. They played the majority of the final frame in their own end.
Cue the comeback. Lancers defenceman Kenny Bradford scored on a 5-on-3 opportunity to bring it back within reach. Soon afterwards, Eric Noel knotted it up to make it 5-5, and then Dylan Denomme gave the last twist of the knife with a goal on a horrendous defensive zone giveaway with 3:22 left in the game.
U of T, with the goalie pulled, came very close to tying on a grade-A chance in the dying moments, but a Blues’ player missed and looked skyward on what looked like an empty-net chance.
It was a tough loss for the Blues to swallow, coming so close to defeating one of the best teams in the league.
“We definitely need to start focusing on doing the little things right,” says Doyle. “Just know that we’ve got to win the games against teams close to us in the standings. There’s no giving away points. The season is almost half-over, so we really need to start turning it up.”
The Varsity Blues will return to the ice this upcoming Friday to host the UOIT Ridgebacks at Varsity Arena.