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TMU goalie Kai Edmonds stands in front of his post during the national anthem
2024 U Cup All Sports

TMU faces tough test in semi-final showdown against UNB

By Dexter LeRuez

The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s hockey team is a win away from playing in the U Sports national championship game at home. However, a demanding obstacle blocks their path to glory.

The Bold will face the first-seed University of New Brunswick (UNB) Reds on Saturday in the semi-finals.

“We’ve played them lots over the years, so we know how good they are,” said TMU head coach Johnny Duco after his team’s win in the quarterfinal against Calgary. “We know the margin of error is zero…we’re going to need our top players to bring their A-game.” 

Saturday’s matchup won’t be the first time these teams have met at the national tournament. Back in 2022, the then-Ryerson Rams beat the Reds 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

However, defeating the Reds is easier said than done. Since winning its first national championship in 1998, UNB has become one of the most storied programs in U Sports, winning another eight national titles, including four of the last six. 

And yet, despite all of their success, the current iteration of UNB’s hockey team may be its best. 

“You might say they are the best team there has ever been in U Sports”

UNB has established a reign of dominance over the past season in U Sports, winning last year’s national championship, 40 straight games and a litany of awards. 

For the 2023-24 season, third-year forward Austen Keating and second-year defender Kale McCallum received first-team All-Canadian honours, while UNB’s mustachioed mastermind Gardiner MacDougall received the Coach of the Year award—his sixth in a row.

“You might say they are the best team there has ever been in U Sports,” said Brock head coach TJ Manastersky following his squad’s defeat to the Reds. “They are just a complete team.”

UNB’s 4-0 victory over Brock exemplified how they play hockey. The Reds seek to control possession in the opponent’s defensive zone to take as many shots as possible. 

“One of our goals is to come out flying and try to get as many shots as we can early in the game,” said third-year UNB defenceman Kade Landry.

With a perfect season on the horizon, everyone is trying to be the one to break UNB’s streak. MacDougall feels like the target has been on their back for a long time.

“[There’s] been a target since day one,” he said. “We don’t recruit anyone here to be underdogs. It goes with the tradition and the legacy.”

  • A player on the UNB Reds team smiles on the ice
  • Members of the Bold men's hockey team celebrate in a hug on ice
  • UNB Reds players celebrate the win lifting their sticks in the air
  • Fans, some with and without shirts, cheer
  • TMU Bold hockey players raise their sticks in celebration on the ice after their win
  • A Brock player goes for the puck against a UNB player
  • TMU Bold men's hockey players hug after their win
  • A UNB Reds fans waves a cowbell in the air
  • A UNB Reds player fights for the puck against a Brock player

On the other side of the ice, the Bold’s history as a top team in U Sports is much shorter than the Reds’. Before 2024, TMU’s only national tournament appearance was in 2022.

The Bold’s quarterfinals matchup was also the polar opposite of UNB’s. Rather than a dominant shutout victory, TMU took double overtime to finish the job against the Calgary Dinos. 

Despite limited time on the national level, experienced players are a dime a dozen in the Bold’s lineup, as many Bold players remember the 2022 national championship tournament. 

The experience plays into TMU’s chances of success while providing bittersweet feelings, as for 10 graduating players, their career with the Bold will be over after the tournament.

“I think what’s most special about it is for the guys in [the locker room]…who led our program the last four years, and had success we’ve never had before,” said Duco. “To see them have the opportunity to spend a few more days together…and get a kick [at] chasing down that national championship…I wouldn’t have expected anything different from them.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about us”

Strong goaltending is necessary if the Bold want to play for the gold medal, as opposing goalies have been tested by an overwhelming barrage of UNB shots. Against Brock, the reigning national champs fired 45 shots at U Sports Rookie of the Year and first-year netminder Connor Ungar.

TMU will have second-year netminder Kai Edmonds between the posts in the semi-final matchup. Edmonds has consistently risen to the occasion during his time with the Bold. Against the Dinos, he allowed just one puck to get past him while making 51 stops. 

“Kai is our backbone,” said Bold third-year defender Ryan Wells. “Having a guy like him behind you as a defenceman, you can take more risk and play your game because you know he is going to bail you out.”

However, TMU will also need the help of two names who have yet to step up late in the postseason. Third-year forwards Kyle Bollers and Kevin Gursoy, who led the Bold with 18 and 15 regular season goals respectively, have failed to score in the last three games.

“I hope it’s just a matter of time,” said Duco. “Guys like [Bollers] and [Gursoy], we need them to produce offensively. But they’ve been really good defensively. They are out there blocking shots and finishing checks.”

Against elite teams like the Reds, it can be easy to focus on limiting mistakes and chasing the imaginary concept of perfect hockey. However, Duco knows that his men need to focus on playing their style of hockey. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about us,” said Duco. “We need to come out and play the way we can play and control the things that we can control.  If we do that, we feel like we give ourselves a chance.”

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