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A McGill University hockey player celebrates after scoring against UBC
2024 U Cup All Recaps Sports

McGill squeaks past UBC for first win at national tournament since 2014

By Blake Talabis

The final game of the 2024 U Sports men’s hockey championship quarterfinals came to a resounding conclusion as the McGill Redbirds defeated the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds by a score of 3-2 on Friday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).

The game was tightly contested—filled with huge hits, jaw-dropping saves and a travelling McGill marching band to encapsulate what was an extremely positive evening for the Redbirds.

“You don’t know what it’s like to play at nationals until you’re here,” said McGill head coach David Urquhart. “Every single team is good…and you learn that pretty fast.”

The Thunderbirds found themselves in the penalty box early into the opening period, which allowed McGill to ride some of the momentum despite not scoring on the man advantage. 

However, eventually, after weathering an early McGill push, UBC started to find their legs—which led to the first goal of the game.

“You don’t know what it’s like to play at nationals until you’re here”

An initial shot was saved by third-year Redbirds net Alexis Shank, but second-year UBC forward Josh Williams was on the scene to bury the rebound and give the Thunderbirds an early lead.

UBC would continue this upward trend into the break and have the next 10 shots before McGill registered their next.

“No matter what the score is, you [have] to continue to play the same way,” said fourth-year defencemaen Scott Walford. “Sometimes the score or the shots don’t reveal the game that’s being played on the ice.”

The second frame continued as the first finished with UBC dominating the play. But, similar to the first, a penalty for UBC switched the momentum into the Redbirds’ favour.

This time McGill would make good on their chance.

As the UBC penalty-killers headed off for a change, a floating pass was aired from the McGill blue line to a streaking first-year winger Stephane Huard. 

First-year Rebirds forward Xavier Fortin blasted a shot past second-year Thunderbirds Cole Schwebius to tie the game for McGill at one a piece.

The newly-levelled score-line reflected the battles between players on the ice. Each team started to get more comfortable throwing the body around.

  • The McGill hockey team celebrates in a huddle on the ice
  • McGill and UBC players on the ice
  • UBC hockey players kneel on the ground, have their heads down and comfort each other after a loss
  • A UBC player fights for the puck over a McGill player
  • A UBC player cheers

Unsurprisingly, this made way for more infractions on both sides—but it was a bench minor by UBC that allowed McGill an opportunity to gain their first lead of the hockey game.

Just under halfway through the man advantage, an offensive zone faceoff was won by McGill. The puck was quickly worked to the point where a shot from the blue line was tipped in front of the net by third-year Redbirds forward Zach Gallant to give McGill their first lead of the night.

“Coming into this game, you know you don’t want to take a lot of penalties,” said Urquhart. “You really got to be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities.”

The travelling McGill band echoed the cheers in the crowd with some snooty riffs in between as the period continued.

However, it took only three minutes for UBC to even it up.

An interference call on McGill led to a power play consisting of elite puck retention by the Thunderbirds.

UBC managed to keep the puck throughout their man advantage, until a shot-pass from the boards was tipped home by third-year forward Tian Rask to restore the tie.

The final period of regulation started with some controversy as a puck was thrown to the front of the UBC net, which Schwebius had some trouble tracking in his pads.

Despite some hollering from the Thunderbirds, the call on the ice was confirmed as a no goal.

Although the score was even to this point, UBC was outshooting their opponents by double digits for a large portion of the game. It seemed both teams had an even array of opportunities—but one was hitting the net more than the other.

“When we went down we had confidence in our group,” said Walford. “We know we have the firepower that we are going to capitalize on our chances.” 

As the two teams continued to trade offensive rushes, it was McGill who found a way to create another partial odd-man rush after some nice stick work along the boards.

The puck eventually was slid over to Huard who ripped a beautiful glove-side goal behind Schwebius with just more than ten minutes to go.

Naturally, the Thunderbirds started taking more risks on offence to try and level the scoring once again with their season on the line. 

But for every attempt, McGill goaltender Shank was more than equal to the task and won himself the player of the game as a result of 35 stops.

McGill joins the University of New Brunswick, Toronto Metropolitan University and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) in the semi-finals of the 2024 U Sports men’s hockey championship.

The Redbirds are set to face UQTR in their semi-final—a rematch of the Ontario University Athletics East final from less than two weeks ago.

“I think everybody here is a little mad that we lost in the semi-finals,” said Shank. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to get them back.

UP NEXT: McGill will match up with UQTR at the MAC on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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