The skates were laced up and the sticks were taped. Across the rink sat the Jennings Cup, the oldest continuously awarded trophy for ice hockey in the world. Established in 1898, the trophy has been handled by over 100 teams at the interfaculty and intramural level. Last Monday at Varsity Arena, the Jennings awaited the victor of the U of T men’s tri-campus hockey final.
UTM had advanced to the final a week prior with a 3-1 win over UTSC in the famed East-West rivalry. The St. George Black were the only team standing in the Eagles’ way. St. George finished atop league standings in men’s tri-campus and received a by, granting them a spot in the finals.
St. George brought firepower with them. Eagles goalie Ben Gryshuck was the main reason UTM wasn’t down a couple goals at the end of the first period, sprawling to save anything and everything that came into his territory. Zach Berg had the best scoring opportunity for the Eagles, creating a rush on the opposing goal, dangling the puck around the defender, and battling his way in on goal to no avail.
Less than 30 seconds into the second period, UTSG managed to get a puck over Gryshuck’s blocker despite being shorthanded. It was a shock to the UTM team, who had just begun their power play. Now the Eagles were angry. Attack after attack was mounted on St. George’s goal, but the defence was rock-solid and avoided any slip-ups that’d give UTM the equalizer.
The bad luck continued. A bounce that tapped off the blade of a UTSG forward and trickled past the Eagles’ goaltender put the downtown campus up two goals. Minutes later a shot on Gryschuk ricocheted and was batted in in midair by a UTSG player who had slipped past UTM’s defence. The UTM fans, who had been carried to Varsity Arena by a shuttle organized by the RAWC, had their hands up in the air over the questionable goal. The St. George player’s stick seemed to be higher than the crossbar, which usually means no goal on account of high-sticking. In this instance, the referees didn’t review the call, and the goal stood. Just like that, the Eagles were down three goals, and their future, like the puck, was very much up in the air.
Even so, UTM gave their fans quite a game. After putting on pressure in the offensive zone UTSG took a reckless penalty, giving UTM the boost they needed. UTM’s Jacob Berseth scored by picking a spot over the goalie’s glove and reduced St. George’s lead to two goals.
The team couldn’t pot another one, but their pressure in the offensive zone had the St. George defensemen anxiously scrambling and significantly rattled their goalie after he was mowed over by a UTM player.
The third period was the biggest of this young team’s season up to that point, and they delivered. A backhanded shot soared to the top right corner of the net, beating the UTSG goalie and reducing St. George’s lead to a slim 3-2. The Eagles had found their game again, and used this momentum to their advantage. Berg went five-hole to light the lamp for his second of the game, tying it up 3-3. Suddenly, the reason these two teams were in the finals was apparent: they were on equal footing at this point and the game could swing in either direction with a single shot.
Then the scoreboard stopped working. It was one of those hockey oddities, the type that tends to happen in the biggest games with no explanation. The score and time on the clock went black. But, as any player in hockey knows, you play no matter what. And so the game continued, with the timekeepers between the penalty boxes using their cellphones to count down the time left in the game.
The scoreboard is a player’s best friend. It’s reassuring to look up at the clock and see the time remaining, allowing a team to strategize on how to make the most out of what’s left in the game. It’s tough to say whether that uncertainty was what let St. George score their fourth goal, but it’s a possibility. Amid the confusion, UTSG took the lead and made the remaining few minutes, or however much time was really left, a period of desperation for UTM. Forwards Zach Berg and Mike Florindo rushed the goal and facilitated the offence without result.
Then, all of a sudden, that desperation turned to hope. St. George took a penalty. UTM called a timeout. It was evident there was little time remaining because the goalie was pulled when play resumed. UTM had a 6-on-4 in the dying seconds of the game, throwing everything they could muster at St. George.
It wasn’t enough. The whistle blew, time ran out, and UTM lost 4-3.