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Kyle Ward tries to beat Concordia goalie Kyle Jessiman late in the first period. Photo: Ryan Matte/The Fulcrum

Fourth line gets the job done for Ottawa

The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees opened their third-round series of the OUA men’s hockey playoffs with a massive 3-2 win over the Concordia Stingers in front of a roaring home crowd of 464 at the Minto Sports Complex.

After two back and forth periods, the U of O team came to life in the third scoring, three goals in 12 minutes and then holding on with a strong team effort at both ends of the ice in the final minutes. 

Ottawa entered the playoffs as the third seed in the OUA East, while Concordia finished as the fifth seed. The teams met three times this season, with Concordia coming out on top in the regular-season series.

The Gees entered the third round off of a 2-1 series win against sixth seed Ontario Tech in the first round and a comeback 2-1 series win against second seed Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in the OUA East semifinals. That series win came after dropping Game 1 in Trois-Rivières on a late and controversial goal.

Concordia pulled off a similar upset as they rallied from a game down to beat fourth seed McGill 2-1. The Stingers then pulled off another massive upset as they swept the top-ranked Carleton Ravens 2-0, winning Game 1 in triple overtime in what was the longest OUA game ever, lasting more 115:58 minutes — pretty much two hockey games in one.

The Gee-Gees and their high flying offence entered the series having scored the most goals and recorded the most shots on net through the playoffs. Ottawa boasted the top two points scorers of the playoffs in linemates Kevin Domingue and Cody Drover, each collecting points over two series. Concordia’s Tyler Hylland was tied with Domingue for the playoff lead in goals with five. Both teams relied on strong goaltending, as Ottawa’s Domenic Graham and Concordia’s Kyle Jessiman both ranked top three in goals-against average and top five in save percentage in playoffs coming into action on Thursday night.

In the first period, Concordia appeared to carry over some momentum from their win over Carleton, playing very fast and moving the puck quickly all over the ice. Despite this early momentum, Ottawa neutralized any dangerous scoring chances, while also failing to convert on two early man advantages. 

Late in the period, Kyle Ward took a roughing penalty, sending the Stingers to the powerplay. After winning the faceoff, Concordia moved the puck around the Gee-Gees zone, and Felix Lauzon sent a pass from the left circle to the right point to Gabriel Bilodeau who took a slapshot. Lauzon was in the right place at the right time, in front of the net as he scored on the rebound to give Concordia the first goal of the Eastern Conference finals and a 1-0 lead after one period.

The second period started off with Graham making a big save on Colin Grannery, who deeked past an Ottawa defender and cut in for a partial break. After that, the period was all Gee-Gees. The puck seemed to remain in the Concordia end for the whole period, as Ottawa got denied again and again by Jessiman.

On a powerplay, Marc Beckstead took a pass at the side of the net and slid the puck between Jessiman’s legs. Many fans were quick to celebrate but Jessiman kept his pad tight against the post and blocked the puck. Minutes later, Brendan Jacome picked up the puck in a scramble after a faceoff tie-up and slid the puck cross-crease to Domingue, but Jessiman made an incredible save, sliding across with his left pad.

With five minutes left in the period, Gee-Gees defenceman Mike Poirier went back to retrieve a puck and hit by a Stinger, falling awkwardly headfirst into the boards. The refs deliberated but did not call a penalty. Yvon Mongo and the Stinger both received roughing penalties after the play as Mongo stood up for his teammate.

Just 30 seconds after the collision, Beckstead drew a hooking penalty as he was robbed in front on another cross-ice pass. Jessiman made one more great save and bailed out his defenceman after Ward forechecked hard, stole the puck, passed to Drover, who was denied on the return pass alone in the slot. 

After a dominant period for the Gee-Gees in which they had 19 shots, the score remained 1-0 Stingers heading into the third. 

Entering the third period on a powerplay, Nicolas Mattinen picked up the puck in his own end and skated into the Concordia zone, passing to Connor Sills on the right-wing. Sills used his long reach to beat his man on the wing which drew another defender to him. Sills then passed it to Mattinen who was alone in front of the net. He one-timed it past Jessiman, tying the game for the Gee-Gees just 18 seconds into the third period.

“We’ve been having trouble on the powerplay so we drew up this play and it worked out, so it’s nice to get momentum and build off of it,” said Mattinen about the goal.

A scary situation occurred for the Gee-Gees minutes later, as Concordia’s Zachary Zorn came flying through the Ottawa zone and tried to split the defence. Zorn ended up falling awkwardly into Graham’s leg. Graham stayed down for a few tense minutes but stayed in the game after meeting with the team trainer. 

Just three minutes after tying the game, Ottawa had non-stop pressure in Concordia’s zone. Dominic Cormier rang a wrist shot off the post from the left circle as the Gee-Gees were able to keep a constant down-low cycle going in the Stingers zone. 

Eventually, Mattinen sent a pass from the right wall towards Marco Azzano, who was flying into the zone from off the bench. The puck hit a Concordia defender and Azzano was able to shoot it past Jessiman to give Ottawa the lead. Azzano was the Gee-Gees’ hero in Game 3 against UQTR, as he scored the game-winning goal, once again.

Gee-Gees head coach Patrick Grandmaitre credited Ward and Azzano after the game. 

“That’s playoffs, you need all four lines, you need support from everybody, it’s not just the goals, these guys are bringing us some heavy minutes, they’re very physical and kill penalties,” he said. 

Minutes later it was Graham’s turn to make a huge save as he stretched out to rob Stingers captain Phillipe Sanche, who was alone on the backdoor twice with his left pad. He made another equally impressive save the next shift with his right pad on an odd-man rush after losing his goalie stick.

A unique scene unfolded minutes later, as Mongo was hit with a high stick. No penalty was called at the time, but during the next faceoff, the linesman and referees conferred and eventually called a four-minute double-minor on Concordia, as Mongo was bleeding from his face.

Ottawa quickly took advantage as Mattinen received a pass from Domingue and took a shot from the point that Drover deflected past Jessiman, giving the Gee-Gees their third goal in just over 12 minutes. 

With their goalie pulled, Concordia’s Carl Neill was able to pick up a loose puck from a mass of bodies that had fallen in front of Graham’s crease and shot it in to give Concordia a last-minute chance. The garnet and grey was able to suppress the pressure of the Stinger six on four with some good defensive coverage, including a huge shot block by Domingue and a pin to secure the win.

After the game, coach Grandmaitre discussed Concordia’s style of play and how the Gee-Gees will approach Game 2.

“The matchups won’t be in our favour, they’ll probably try and neutralize the Domingue line, it’s going to be on us to simplify our game and put the pucks behind them,” said Grandmaitre “it’s going to be a really tough game, we had to earn our win tonight.”

Mattinen shared his coach’s view. 

“Their backs are going to be against the wall, we have to come out in the first 10 minutes and demotivate them and get them off their game”, said Mattinen.“We’re going to stick to our game, we’ll be quick up ice — they have a lot of skilled defence, so finishing our checks on them will be huge.”

With three points in the game, Mattinen now leads the OUA playoffs in scoring with nine points, followed by Drover and Domingue, who are now both tied for second with eight. Graham made 33 saves to push his save percentage to a solid .932, remaining the top goalie in all statistical categories. The Gee-Gees offence once again was overwhelming, registering 46 shots.

The three stars of the game were:

1. OTT – 52 Nicolas Mattinen

2. OTT – 31 Domenic Graham

3. OTT – 13 Marco Azzano

The Gee-Gees and Stingers faceoff Saturday at the old Ed Meagher Arena on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. The opening draw for the game will take place at 7:30 p.m.

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