Eighteen graduating Gee-Gees saw their final season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic
For the University of Ottawa men’s hockey team, the 2019-20 season didn’t lack challenges or rewarding moments.
The Gee-Gees team closed out their regular season with a 17-11 record before making a major push in the playoffs to earn a place in the longest Queen’s Cup game in history. Then, they travelled to Halifax to compete for the USports national championship, where their season came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team had one focus throughout the season, according to head coach Patrick Grandmaitre.
To “finish what we started,” Grandmaitre said. “A lot of guys were in their last year and they’re leaving, we felt like we’d started something tremendous here.”
The season didn’t come without a fair share of obstacles. Their 17-11 regular-season record gave them a third-place finish in the OUA East, below Carleton and UQTR. While the losses weren’t ideal, the team used the experience to help them find success in playoff situations.
“For us, the biggest obstacle this year was making sure we played a full 60 minutes, and in the playoffs we brought it,” said fourth-year player Brendan Jacome.
“I think the biggest part of our success was how everyone was able to buy in and make sacrifices for the good of the team, especially as playoffs started.”
To start up the playoffs, the Gee-Gees faced off against Ontario Tech. Ottawa managed to win the three-game series, sending them to the OUA quarterfinals where they met UQTR. Dropping the first game 2-1, the Gee-Gees answered with a 5-3 win at home, forcing UQTR to a third game.
The Gees took the game 4-2, then moved on to their next opponent, Concordia. Ottawa pulled off a clean two game sweep, beating the Stingers 3-2 and then 7-2.
While the Gee-Gees fought hard in those playoff matchups, the highlight was the Queen’s Cup game against the Guelph Gryphons.
“I didn’t like our first and second period,” Grandmaitre said of the game.
The opening 40 minutes were scoreless for both the Gee-Gees and the Gryphons. In the third, Guelph found the back of the net. Only seconds later, Kevin Domingue put the Gee-Gees on the board. The game went to overtime.
“We started playing better in the third and our game kept picking up in the first and second overtimes,” Grandmaitre said about the scoreless opening of the game.
“Between the second and third overtime period, the guys were so upbeat and the energy was good,” Grandmaitre said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to score.”
While the Gee-Gees outshot the Gryphons 28 to 11, Guelph’s Ted Nichol managed to score early in the third overtime to take the Queen’s Cup 2-1.
The loss was not supposed to be the end of the journey for the Gee-Gees.
The team packed up a couple of days later and headed to Halifax for the USports national championships. There, the top eight men’s hockey teams in the nation were gathered. As the fourth seed, Ottawa’s first opponent in the competition for the cup were the hosts, Acadia University.
On March 12, the first two games of the tournament were played. Western took down a strong Saskatchewan team, while Guelph was topped by Saint Mary’s. But those two games ended up being the last games of the tournament.
That night, Hockey Canada announced the cancellation of all sanctioned events as a response to COVID-19.
“I can’t say that we caught off guard. We’re in the era of social media and news travels so fast. Us coaches, the players, we were all seeing that the NBA shut down, then the NHL,” Grandmaitre explained. “Tournaments were getting shut down left and right.”
“I thought we were going to get one game in, but I was highly doubting that we would get all the way to Sunday, but it never even got to that.”
With 18 fourth-year and graduating Gee-Gees playing out their final season, the news was heavy.
“It was pretty heartbreaking, it really didn’t feel real,” said Jacome. “There were definitely some tears shed that night as 18 guys didn’t get a chance to play their last games.”
“Obviously the health of everyone is most important and it was a decision that had to be made,” Gee-Gees defenceman Dominic Cormier said. “It just hurts to have seen the fourth years and graduating guys come so far over their university career and finally make it, only to not even be able to play a game.”
“It’s for sure something that nobody ever saw coming,” Cormier continued. “Seeing the fourth years and graduating guys not being able to have an official last game left a bitter taste in the returning guys’ mouths. We will be back and remember that feeling for sure.”
“In the four years that those guys have been here, we brought back U of O hockey. We felt like we started a lot of good things, and we wanted to finish what we started. We wanted to win the trophy,” Grandmaitre said.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish what we started, but we came darn close.”