By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There’s a distinction that needs to be made about this edition of the Queen’s Golden Gaels from their predecessors, their coach, Brett Gibson, says. It is subtle, but not at all insignificant.
“The difference is we’ve gone up against the great teams and in not one of the games, did we hope to win,” he said.
“We expected to win.”
The Gaels, who tonight host the Concordia Stingers in an Ontario University Athletics hockey game at the Memorial Centre, are 11-4 as the season grinds into its final month. Their winning percentage, .733, is the third-best in the league, the fifth-best in Canada.
The record aside, this year’s Queen’s team is one that carries a different vibe than even the team of two years ago, one that went 17-6-5. That year, behind the national rookie of the year, goaltender Kevin Bailie, the Gaels allowed 10 fewer goals than the next-best team in the conference, yet they scored fewer goals than any other playoff team in the land.
That meant the Gaels were apt to win only one type of game. If the other team matched their defensive performance, the Gaels were in trouble. Indeed, when they won the first round of playoffs that year, they did so with wins of 3-2 and 2-1. In the next round, a three-game series with Carleton, the game Queen’s won was by the score of 2-1; in the two games they lost, the Gaels scored twice in the two games combined.
“What hasn’t changed is we’ve got excellent goaltending and excellent defence,” said Gibson, whose team has allowed 2.28 goals per game, fourth-best in the nation. “We can now score. Before we had the goaltending and the D, but we struggled to score goals.”
The Gaels still aren’t exactly offensive terrors. At 3.5 goals per game, they’re 12th among intercollegiate teams in Canada. Here’s the difference: Of the four teams Queen’s has faced that score more often than they do, the Gaels have beaten three of them—all on the road.
The main reason for his team’s success this year, Gibson believes, is simple.
“We got older,” he said. “We’ve got guys who have played for me for two, three, four years. My systems don’t really change that much and they’ve become more comfortable in them.”
Because they’ve played three to five fewer games than the teams ahead of them in the standings, the Gaels are fifth in the East division of the OUA, still not in position to claim home-ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.
Be patient, Gibson suggests.
“You can’t critique us for playing the schedule,” he said. “The nice thing is we’ve got these teams coming into our rink. At the end of the schedule we’ll know where we fall, but for the games we’ve played, we get full marks.
“We lost to York, who was ranked, we lost to McGill, who was ranked. We lost to a Guelph team that’s now second in the West. Our worst game was against (Ontaro Tech). We’ve been pretty consistent.”
If the Gaels game against Tech was the stinker—a 5-3 loss at home in a game where Queen's fell behind 4-0—Gibson says the loss to No. 2-ranked McGill in late November was Queen’s best. The Gaels matched the Redmen shot for shot, each team was 2-for-6 on the power play, and the home team only succumbed when it allowed two goals in the final five minutes of the game, the game-winner with just 50 seconds remaining.
“If we win that game, we’re having a different conversation,” said Gibson, whose team remains off the radar of the national ranking committee. Not only are the Gaels not in the Top 10, not one of the 16 panelists deigned to give Queen’s so much as a 10th-place vote in the most recent poll, even after the win at Trois-Rivieres.
“Everyone will know we’re for real,” Gibson vowed. “Right now, everyone’s still thinking of the Queen’s teams of 10 years ago, but we’ve proved over the last three years that we’re a legitimate team in the CIS.
“Teams don’t want to play us,” he continued. “Why would you want to play Kevin Baillie, Spencer Abraham (last year’s national rookie of the year, by the way) and our lineup? I wouldn’t want to play them, if I had to coach against us.”
Queen’s, winner of its last three games, defeated Concordia 4-0 at the Memorial Centre when the teams met Nov. 13. Shawn Boudreau had two goals and an assist for the Gaels that night—half of his six points so far in his rookie season—and Bailie made 39 saves for the shutout. The Gaels scored three goals in the third period to cement the victory.
The Stingers, 7-12 and struggling to secure a playoff spot, have lost three of their last four games, all at home. They’re 2-6 on the road.
Saturday night, the Trois-Rivieres Patriotes, 16-3-1 and the fifth-ranked team in Canada, come to Kingston having been beaten 4-3 at home by Queen’s last Friday. Queen’s spotted the Patriotes a 2-0 lead before scoring three times in the second period to tie the game. Eric Ming’s goal midway through it was the only goal of the third period.
Ming goes into Friday’s game having collected a point in each of his last six games and having scored a goal in his last four—after having scored three in his previous 10 games. In his last four contests, Ming has tallied six goals and eight points.
Royal Military College Paladins, who have just one game at home this month—Jan. 23 against West Point—are in Montreal Friday night for their only weekend game, against No. 2-ranked McGill. RMC, 3-15-3 and last in the East division, is coming off its best weekend in many years, having won back-to-back games at Laurentian.
The Paladins, who didn't win a game last year, have won all three of their games this year on the road.