In playoff hockey, a single goal can be the difference between elation and heartbreak.
This past Sunday, the women’s hockey team endured the latter, falling to the Ryerson Rams in overtime of game three of their opening playoff series.
“When your hearts are as big as they are on this team, it makes it more painful when it’s ripped out of your chest,” Head Coach Matt Holmberg told The Journal in his office Tuesday morning.
The Rams spoiled the Gaels’ plans of playing on the national stage after reaching the U Sports Championships for the past two seasons—in 2017, they qualified by way of hosting the tournament. In 2018, a run to the OUA Finals earned them their spot.
Holmberg said the series didn’t come down to a coin toss, but was “quite literally that close.” Ryerson outscored Queen’s 6-5 over the series’ three games and 12 periods. It was perhaps symbolic of the regular season’s standings, in which the Gaels’ 44 points edged out the Rams’ 43.
In game one, Queen’s found its way to an early 2-0 lead—the largest lead they’d hold throughout the series. Despite giving up two quick goals in the second period to tie the game, forward Alex Maw struck the back of the net with 50 seconds left to give Queen’s a 1-0 series lead and a chance to close the series in Toronto.
“I think that set the tone for the whole series. It was obvious it was going to be a close series,” Holmberg said.
In game two last Saturday, the Gaels looked severely outmatched on Ryerson’s home ice, getting outshot 59-30 in a 2-1 double-overtime loss. Getting pelted with 24 shots in the first two periods, graduating goaltender Stephanie Pascal turned aside all but one attempt, allowing a goal midway through the second period.
“While everyone was aware Ryerson was going to play desperate […] they did take it to us at the beginning,” Holmberg said.
The Gaels tied the game with an early goal in the third period from defenceman Nicole Posesorski, and the teams fought into a second overtime frame, backed by strong goaltending on both ends. While Ryerson outshot Queen’s 12-6 in the two overtime periods, Holmberg saw Queen’s inch closer to Ryerson’s level as the game went on.
“When I reflect—and this doesn’t blame any players—but when I look back on the chances we had in overtime in game two it’s like, ‘Wow, we could’ve avoided game three,’” Holmberg said. “But that’s hockey.”
With four and a half minutes remaining in the second overtime, Ryerson snapped the puck past Pascal to send the series-decider back to Kingston the following day. Both teams had less than 16 hours to recover, with Saturday’s game finishing near 11 p.m. and Sunday’s starting at 2:30 p.m.
In the series deciding game, much like the night prior, both team’s goaltending kept the game at a tie. Despite Queen’s holding a 1-0 lead for most of the second and third periods, Ryerson forced overtime with a goal in the final five minutes.
In a back-and-forth overtime, Ryerson capitalized with 10 minutes left, firing the clincher over Pascal’s left shoulder.
WATCH: Mariah Hinds buries the OT winner to send @RyersonRamsWHKY to their first playoff series win and into the @OUAsport semifinals! #weRrams pic.twitter.com/G4hQaOzSnR
— Ryerson Rams (@ryersonrams) February 24, 2019
“Hockey being a game of inches, that shot could’ve gone over the net or hit the crossbar, but it found its way into [the] top shelf, and that was it,” Holmberg said.
Putting a bow on their 2018-19 season, the Gaels are saying goodbye to five instrumental graduating players: the aforementioned Pascal, captain Addi Halladay, assistant captains Katrina Manoukarakis and Caroline DeBruin, and defenceman Abby LaFreniere.
Holmberg, despite still reeling from the loss himself, hopes his departing players look past the loss to Ryerson and focus on their achievements with the team, which included their two trips to the national championships.
“When that sting fades a little bit and [they’re] able to reflect on the totality of their careers, they’ll be able to be quite happy to see what they’ve achieved on-and-off the ice here,” he said, alluding to the contributions his graduating players made surrounding the program’s culture. “I found the unity—the singular unity on this team—was incredible.”
With their entire defensive core returning—as well as promising goaltender Makenzy Arsenault—and a significant portion of their offensive lineup, Holmberg’s optimistic his group will maintain their strong, team-oriented culture as he heads into his 11th season as head coach.
“I’m hoping [players] saw how powerful that can be, and those stepping into those leadership roles can continue to carry that torch,” he said.
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