On a cold Tuesday morning at 11 a.m., another instalment of the annual Downtown Showdown between the Varsity Blues and Ryerson Rams was played at Varsity Stadium. Stands filled with nearly 3,600 elementary school kids from all over the GTA, buzzing with excitement and ready to cheer on their favourite of the hometown teams. With pregame events for the students and lots of food and activities to partake in, it was a great day to be a hockey fan.
The game didn’t start off as planned for the Blues; the Rams got on the board early with a goal from right-winger Mitch Gallant, whose goal would end up being the only goal of the first.
After a slow start to the game, the Blues managed to get the crowd back on their feet after a quick goal by Paul Van De Velde, a Varsity Blues senior, tying the game only 32 seconds into the second period. On a shot off the rush, Van De Velde had no trouble beating the Rams’ goaltender high glove side. Five minutes later, the Rams managed to take back their lead in the game with a goal from Michael Fine off a quick transition out of the Rams’ defensive zone and a high blocker side shot from the half boards.
With the period reaching its halfway point, the Blues managed to tie the game back up with a great stick-handling play along the blue line and a quick snapshot from the point by defenceman Corey Jackson.
The period went back and forth, with both teams getting solid chances to take the lead. Tight fore-checking and solid defensive play by both sides gave little to no time for players to think with the puck on their stick.
It wasn’t until near the end of the second that the game opened up, beginning with a breakaway stop by Blues goaltender Brett Willows after a poor mix-up between Blues defencemen Finch and Yolevski at the blue line. Following the breakaway stop, the Blues went on the power play.
After a sloppy first minute on the PP, the Blues managed to set up in the opposing zone, giving Michael Marcovic the open space to tap in what would be the game-winning goal, also his team-leading 14th goal of the season, at the 17:44 mark in the second period.
Going into the third period with the lead, the Blues faced a lot of challenges from the Rams. As in the first two periods, plenty of back-and-forth action and heavy physicality seemed to be the story of the game. The Blues, however, managed to prove once and for all that the Rams’ offence was no match for their defence. Marcovic showcased his defensive capabilities 12 minutes into the third with his three consecutive blocks on Rams point shooter Brian Birkhoff.
Along with the shutdown play of the Blues, goaltender Brett Willows showed off his stellar performance by making a spectacular glove-hand save from a hard Rams slapshot off the point with four minutes to play in the third. He kept it up, making three crucial saves in the final minute of the third to help earn his team the win.
“Going into the third with the lead is always crucial—it allows us to play with more composure and helps us control the play for the rest of the game,” said Blues defenceman Corey Jackson about having played catch-up for two thirds of the game.
He also gave credit to his goalie Willows for the hard-earned victory. “Both goalies [Sheehan and Willows] do a great job of keeping us in the game,” he said. “When they play well we’re able to win games and play the way we need to in order to win.”
With the final home game of the season in the books, the Blues now enter a four-game road trip to end the regular season against Royal Military College, Carleton, Brock, and York.
The team will continue to push for a playoff position. They are currently sitting at 11-12, which makes them fifth in the division.