The tension was high as the Zamboni circled the ice one last time at Varsity Arena. UTSC fans littered the stands across from the benches, and the notorious “Duck Hunt” was about to begin. The first game of this season was the latest in a historic rivalry between the UTSC Raccoons and the UTM Eagles—a rivalry that the Eagles have not won since 2008.
The players power onto the ice and start warm-ups and dozens of UTSC fans cheer. The Eagles are not only up against the team on the ice, but also the fans in the stands.
When asked about how it felt playing his first game as an Eagle, third-year rookie defenseman Zakk Collins said, “I felt confident that I’d bring my A game.”
UTSC fans cheered and pounded on the glass as the puck dropped and the rivalry game began. Thirty seconds into the game, UTM had their first breakaway chance. Knocked aside by the goaltender, UTSC regrouped and broke out of the zone, which led to their first goal. UTSC was leading 1-0 in under two minutes. With a shaky start from the Eagles, they collected themselves and shut down the UTSC forwards, only allowing another four shots in the first period.
The Eagles trailed 1-0 going into the second period until Eagles defenseman Zach Zubac opened the scoring for the Eagles with a shot from the blue line. With the offense being shut down by Eagles defense, UTSC began playing an extremely physical game, drawing three penalties and giving UTM another chance to take the lead. UTM ended the second period leading the game 3-1 and the teams headed to the change rooms for the Zamboni to flood the ice.
The Eagles, taking a run of penalties, were forced to kill a 5-on-3 penalty kill for nearly four minutes. UTM goaltender Andrew Anastas faced 15 shots in the third period and made more than one incredible save to keep UTM ahead. The Eagles slowed down the game and took a commanding lead, defeating the UTSC Raccoons 6-1 to win the East vs. West Classic Challenge Game for the first time in seven years.
“It feels amazing. The last few years those guys have been goons and would run us through the boards,” said third-year Eagles forward Philip Power. “It feels nice to start the season showing them up in front of their fans. They said they were going on a duck hunt, but I say we went raccoon exterminating.”
This year’s annual East vs. West Classic celebrated 13 years of the bitter rivalry. A devastating win to end a losing streak for UTM has the players fired up, ready to take on the rest of the season, and continue to play their best.
The Eagles will face off next against UTSG Red on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the historic Varsity Arena.