With a berth at the 2020 U SPORTS National Championship already secured, the Gee-Gees men's hockey team eyes an OUA championship when they take on the Guelph Gryphons in the Queen's Cup Final on Saturday, March 7.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre Arena.
Ottawa enters having swept the Concordia Stingers in the OUA East Final. They beat the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks and the UQTR Patriotes in back-to-back three-game series earlier in the postseason.
Guelph were taken to the brink by the upstart Western Mustangs in the OUA West Final, winning the third and deciding game 4-3. They knocked off Wilfrid Laurier and Brock to reach the final. Each of the Gryphons last five games have been one-goal affairs.
The teams met earlier this season in a dramatic contest at the Minto Sports Complex in October. Guelph enjoyed a two-goal lead with ten minutes to go in the third period, but the Gee-Gees came storming back with goals from Jacob Hanlon and Yvan Mongo to force overtime.
Cody Drover capped off a hat trick by netting the overtime winner, beating Gryphons goaltender Brendan Cregan, who made 43 saves. Domenic Graham steered aside 26 shots for Ottawa.
"Right now, we've only looked at games at Guelph, just because they have a bigger ice surface. We want to see what other teams have done, how they play there," explained Gee-Gees head coach Patrick Grandmaître. "The next couple days, we'll look at the game we played against them. Even us, I think we're a different team than we were in week two. We're obviously going to do our homework and look at it, but I don't put too much into that first match-up with them, I put more into the playoff games they've had recently in their own barn."
Graham has been playing arguably the best hockey of his university career in the playoffs. The transfer from Nipissing University had never surpassed the first round while a member of the Lakers, but he has backstopped the Ottawa to a pair of game three wins en route to the Queen's Cup.
The fifth year netminder boasts the best goals-against average in the playoffs (1.99) and the second highest save percentage (.934).
The Gee-Gees have been relying on clutch performances from their marquee players these playoffs. Drover, Nicolas Mattinen and Kevin Domingue each have ten points, three more than any other player in the conference.
Domingue's seven goals are the most in the conference, while Mattinen, Drover and Dominic Cormier rank one-two-three among OUA assists leaders.
Ottawa couldn't have advanced without solid production from their bottom six, though. Kyle Ward scored the overtime winner in game one of the quarterfinal series against Ontario Tech, while Marco Azzano earned the game winner in game three of the semis against the UQTR Patriotes.
"I think if you look at any playoff run in hockey, you need depth scoring. Usually the top lines will equal each other out — hopefully your top line outplays the other one — but the match-up game is so critical in playoffs," Grandmaître said. "When you get scoring from your third- and fourth-line guys, it's a huge bonus. On the road, sometimes the match-ups are not favourable, so when your third- and fourth-line guys are not getting exposed and having positive zone time and creating momentum with their physicality, that's what makes good teams. And right now they're a huge part of our success."
Guelph has been on an improbable run of play throughout the postseason. The team unexpectedly lost captain Mikkel Aagaard after game one of the first-round matchup when he suddenly signed a professional contract in Germany. Aagaard's 22 goals and 46 points led the OUA, but Guelph have shown no ill effects after losing their leader.
Veteran forward Todd Winder has stepped up with four goals and defenceman Stephen Templeton has seven points. On the back end, goaltender Andrew Masters has faced the fewest shots of any netminder remaining in the playoffs (24.7-per-game). His save percentage sits at .908.
Despite losing to the Gee-Gees during the regular season, the Gryphons are hosting the Queen's Cup by virtue of compiling a 17-6-5 regular season record, one point superior to Ottawa's 17-7-4 record.
Guelph has won the Queen's Cup on six occasions, including most recently in 2015. Ottawa haven't hoisted the trophy during its 118-year history.
This is the Gryphons second consecutive appearance in the Queen's Cup final, having lost last year by a 4-1 score to the Queen's Gaels. Masters gave up three goals on 25 shots and Marc Stevens got the lone marker for the Guelph.
The powerplay has been a catalyst for the Gee-Gees. They scored four times in the OUA East Final series and their man advantage is firing at 26 percent for the playoffs. They'll be facing their stiffest competition yet however, as Guelph have allowed just a single powerplay goal these playoffs.
Both teams have already qualified for the 2020 U SPORTS National Championship, which is being held from March 12-15 in Halifax. The final OUA team earning a spot at the championship will be the winner of the third-place game between Western and Concordia.
For in-game updates, follow @GeeGeesMHKY on Twitter. The game will be streamed on OUA.tv.