By Jacob Stoller
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) men’s hockey team’s win over the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Reds last spring at the 2022 U Sports national championship (U Cup) was hailed as the biggest win in program history and an upset for the ages.
And while the U Cup quarter-final rematch this Friday and Saturday at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) are only a pair of pre-season games, the squad is amped for another crack at UNB.
“I think a lot of guys have those two games circled on their calendar,” said Bold defenceman Elijah Roberts.
The Reds were viewed as a powerhouse program, having won three of the last five U Cups before 2022 and finishing atop the Atlantic University Sport conference in every year since the 2017-18 season.
“There’s an intimidation factor with them,” said Johnny Duco, the team’s head coach, on UNB’s dynasty. “I think some teams are beaten before they even play them.”
TMU’s road to nationals was anything but easy. They knocked off the Western Mustangs in double-overtime in round one of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs by a score of 5-4. The Bold needed overtime again three days later to defeat the Waterloo Warriors 4-3 in the OUA West Division semi-final.
The blue and gold then dropped the West Division Final against the Brock Badgers 5-2, following a pair of thrilling overtime victories on home ice. However, the squad got redemption in the OUA bronze medal game, defeating the McGill University Redbirds 2-1 and punching their first-ever ticket to the U Cup tournament.
“Our team kind’ve came into that game with a chip on their shoulders”
Leading up to the contest, a CBC Sports article said there was “every expectation” that UNB would advance to the finals, mentioning TMU as just a quarter-final opponent. The Bold were written off as just a stop on another UNB national championship run.
Bad blood between the two teams stemmed from the lead-up to last spring’s game. Roberts explained that TMU went into its first game at the U Cup feeling like their opponents disrespected them and the fact that the then-Rams deserved to be in the tournament. It also struck a chord with the rest of the roster.
“Everyone on our team kind’ve came into that game with a chip on their shoulder and we all ended up doing the job that we needed to, to win,” said Roberts.
So, when former Bold defenceman Domenico Commisso scored a go-ahead-goal just over a minute into the second frame of that game, the bench and small flock of fans that travelled to watch erupted.
“I was like holy fuck,” said Bold forward Kyle Bollers, apologizing for the profanity shortly after.
Nearly six months since their improbable 2-1 upset over UNB which punched their ticket to the U Cup semi-finals, no love has been lost between the two teams. While this year’s edition of the Bold features new personnel, with 10 player departures and 11 new additions, Duco pointed out that their nucleus is still very much the same.
“To a certain degree it might look like, from the outside looking in, that we have this brand new team, but we’ve got a lot of familiar faces,” Duco explained.
For those returning players, such as last year’s leading scorer Kyle Bollers, playing against UNB is personal.
“We have to play good,” said Bollers. “We can’t walk in here thinking we’re just going to walk all over them.”
The surreal feeling of defeating UNB in the U Cup quarter-finals eventually faded to bitterness. TMU lost its next game against the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) Patriotes 7-2 and then fell 3-2 against the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the bronze medal game.
“We can’t walk in here thinking we’re just going to walk all over them”
But heading into the upcoming 2022-23 campaign, the Bold’s standards remain high.
“The expectation for our program now every year is that we’re competing for a championship,” said Roberts. “Any year we’re not doing that, I would say it’s like a lost season for us.”
This week’s pair of exhibition games against one of the top programs in the country provides an excellent opportunity for Duco and his squad to gain the experience needed for another U Cup run.
“A test against UNB is going to do nothing but elevate our urgency and our effort,” said Duco.