Another overtime period for the women’s hockey team–their 13th of the playoffs–was ending against the Guelph Gryphons. As the crowd began counting the period down for Queen’s, rookie forward Kelly Eustace took one last shot at the net. With the Guelph goaltender out of position, the puck slid in and the Gaels became OUA champions for the first time in 32 years.
The Gaels swept the Guelph Gryphons in the OUA finals after tying the game midway through the third on a goal by forward Morgan McHaffie. This was their first appearance in the OUA finals since 2006-07.
With one more overtime period to play, forward Kelsey Thomson said there’s the risk of playing too carefully.
“Everyone plays a little more cautious but also we know that one shot could be the goal,” she said. “Just like [the winning goal], she shot the puck from the [centre-ice] side of the red line and it went in. The goalie thought the period was over.
“It was a fluky goal but we’ve worked so hard and we haven’t had a bounce go our way all year.”
The first game of the OUA Finals series went to an historic six overtimes; the game which the Gaels won 2-1 is the longest game played in NCAA or CIS history. With Guelph scoring midway through the third, the Gaels battled until the end and forward Beck Conroy scored with five seconds to go in regulation.
Goaltender Mel Dodd-Moher faced 47 shots throughout the six overtime periods. She shut down the Gryphons’ offence who had scored eight goals throughout their playoff run.
“When you have a goalie like Mel you don’t get too worked up,” Thomson said. “When they’re on a breakaway against her you’re kind of calm because she’s such a great goaltender.”
The OUA Championship was the Gaels’ first since the 1978-79 season. Thomson said the win was biggest for the veterans.
“Tonight was a big win,” Thomson said. “It took five years for some us to achieve it and here we are.”
The Gaels had surrendered the first goal in each game of the playoffs. With the Gaels down 2-0 midway through the second period, Thomson said the team came together after a talk from their coach Matt Holmberg.
“Our coach brought us in and told us ‘we’re going to come back from these two goals and we’re going to win this game,’” Thomson said. “We just did, we rallied around each other and we got one goal and the momentum started going our way.”
Thomson converted on a pass at the end of the second from forward Liz Kench who battled through the neutral zone against two Guelph defenders to put the score at 2-1. Off a shot on net by Kench, the Gaels’ tying goal came midway through the third from forward Morgan McHaffie who snuck a loose puck past the Guelph goaltender.
“We were prepared for war tonight,” Kench said. “After the last game we knew they were going to come out strong. We just knew we had to be one step ahead of them. This is the most resilient team I’ve ever play on. We came back every single game and it just goes to show how much heart and dedication we have.” Goaltender Mel Dodd-Moher had an impressive playoffs with a save percentage of 0.971; the best of the OUA postseason. She has faced 207 shots and only allowed six goals. Dodd-Moher has kept her team in the playoff run after being down in each game with stellar focus which has seen her block breakaways and aggressive play as her team looked for every opportunity to capitalize in front.
“She stood on her head this whole year basically,” Kench said. “She came out to play in the playoffs. We let her down a few times. She was there to help us out. We couldn’t have done this without her for sure.”
The Gaels have been the underdogs through their playoff run. They have swept two nationally ranked teams, Laurier and Guelph. Laurier had won seven straight OUA titles before being ousted by Queens.
“We just believed in each other,” Kench said. “We have a lot of fifth year players on the team. We were not going to take no for an answer. We weren’t leaving here without a victory.”
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