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RECAP: Men’s hockey falls to Paladins, Mantha returns

Photo of Jean-Robin Mantha
Photo: Greg Mason

The men's hockey team lost Sunday night, but Jean-Robin Mantha won.

Nearly two full years have passed since February 25, 2018. Seven-hundred and seven days to be exact.

That's how many days Mantha has waited to step back on the ice with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men's hockey team. A testicular cancer diagnosis in the 2018 offseason sidelined him for 23 long months.

He beat the cancer and made his much-anticipated return Sunday at the Minto Sports Complex.

"What an awesome feeling seeing all the support I have from the Gee-Gees family," Mantha said of the standing ovation he received before puck drop. "Yesterday, I got that feeling you have before a game. I knew it – oh, I'm back. I felt so good."

Mantha and his teammates fell in overtime by a 4-3 score to the Royal Military College Paladins. Defenceman Liam Murray got the winner, handing Ottawa their fourth consecutive loss.

A rugged rearguard, Mantha was named to the starting lineup. He was informed he would be dressing for Sunday's game earlier in the week, when his teammates surprised him after practice by hanging his game jersey in his locker.

"I was like, 'Oh my God,' it was awesome," said Mantha. "Of course, there's a little bit of rust, getting back into game sharp, but I felt pretty good over there, so it was fine."

It was a night Paladins players and fans won't soon forget, as the overtime victory punched their ticket to the playoffs. RMC have been the doormats of the OUA for the past decade, but a series of positive results this season has vaulted them into the postseason.

Murray took advantage of a scrappy play from teammate Mitchell Larabie, who centred the puck. Murray put it past Graham Hunt, sending his bench into delirium.

Hunt made 24 saves in his third start of the season and remains undefeated in regulation.

RMC erased a 3-1 advantage the Gee-Gees held heading into the first intermission. Brendan Jacome scored on the powerplay for the Garnet and Grey, while Connor Sills potted twice in less than two minutes.

Kyle Ward, playing in just his tenth game of the season, picked up two assists.

Star Paladin forward Chris Paquette did the damage for the visitors, scoring on the powerplay in the second and then forcing overtime with a clutch breakaway goal late in the third period. RMC will take on the division-leading Carleton Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.

Ottawa (15-7-4) now sits tied with McGill (16-8-2) for third in the OUA East (McGill holds the tiebreaker with more victories) and will face either Concordia, Queen's or Ontario Tech in the first round of the playoffs.

The Gee-Gees face the Laurentian Voyageurs (5-18-2) at the Minto Sports Complex on Saturday, February 8 at 3:00 p.m. Ottawa hits the road to wrap up their regular season on Sunday versus Queen's Gaels (11-12-3) in a potential playoff preview. Puck drop in Kingston is at 2:30 p.m.