By CLAUDE SCILLEY
At the time, it looked as if it might be the spark to propel the Royal Military College Paladins into contention.
In the final analysis, though, a goal by RMC’s Owen Gill midway through the first period may have been even more beneficial to the Queen’s Golden Gaels.
Though Gill’s goal, scored when he put a rebound off the end boards into the net from the doorstep of Gaels goaltender Kevin Bailie, tied Thursday night’s Carr-Harris Cup hockey game 1-1, it also served to stir the Queen’s team from a bit of an early game slumber. Suitably aroused, it took the Gaels less than a minute to answer the goal, and barely three more minutes passed before Queen’s scored again.
The Gaels maintained at least that two-goal cushion throughout the remainder of the game, ultimately defeating RMC 6-2 in the 30th annual contest, played at the Rogers K-Rock Centre before the best crowd in Canadian Interuniversity Sport this year, 3,363.
Eric Ming scored three goals for Queen’s, as the Gaels won the Carr-Harris Cup for the 19th time, the eighth time in the last nine years.
Ming opened scoring on a power play in the game’s third minute but the Gaels weren’t playing particularly well at the start of the game. When a shot by Gaels defenceman Spencer Abraham hit the goal post a few minutes later, and then Gill scored for RMC not long after that, you got the feeling that might be the catalyst for the last-place Paladins to make a game of it against the playoff-bound Gaels.
It took Patrick McGillis less than a minute to score for Queen’s, when he tipped a low shot from the point by Abraham past starting RMC goaltender Matthew Beirnes. Three minutes later, with the teams skating four a side, Darcy Greenaway found McGillis behind the RMC defence, and with one move McGillis put Beirnes down so he could lift a backhand shot high into the net.
“Sometimes a team needs a little wakeup call when you come out of the gate slow,” McGillis said. “I know we sored one early but we weren’t playing the right way, and when they put one in the net it was a little bit of a wakeup call for our team.
“We had to go back to dumping pucks in, battling, playing our systems. That’s what made us successful tonight.”
Gaels coach Brett Gibson agreed.
“You knew (the Paladins) were going to score,” he said. “It’s a game where mistakes are going to happen because you’re so amped up, and it was a wakeup call. It was not going to be a 7-0 game. RMC’s a better team this year, they are, but my big guys stepped up.”
It was no coincidence that McGillis, a fifth-year senior from Calgary, found himself on the ice immediately after the RMC goal.
“He’s one of those guys, when I reflect back at the end of the year, I’m going to miss,” Gibson said. “He doesn’t do anything flashy but he’s always on the scoresheet. I had him on the ice for the power play, penalty kill, even strength—he’s a guy I take advantage of.
“(Sometimes) you forget how much he brings to the team.”
One aspect the Gaels were able to remedy was an early penchant for giving the puck away. The turnover tally at the end of the first period, McGillis said, was not flattering.
“Before the game we had a goal of a maximum of four (in the first period),” he said. “We had 14. When you do three and a half times that many, that’s not the way you want to play.
“We talked about it in the dressing room in the first intermission, knowing that if we played the right way, we’d be able to out-talent them if we matched their work ethic. The one thing you can always count on with RMC is they’re going to work hard and they’re going to be physical, so you’ve got to match the intensity that they bring and, hopefully, that’s where our skill level takes over and we end up with a couple more goals.”
Gibson allowed that it “wasn’t a great hockey game.”
“We were sloppy at the start; we were sloppy throughout,” he said “but our top players were really good tonight. Ming was great, McGillis was real good. When your top players show up like that, you’re going to have a good chance to win.”
The first period ended with Queen’s leading 3-1, but Ming scored his second goal of the game just 59 seconds into the second period to increase the lead to three. Undaunted, RMC’s Scott Domenico replied just 22 seconds later.
If there was a back-breaking goal for the Paladins, it came in the ninth minute of the period, when, first, RMC failed to keep the puck in the Queen’s zone and it rolled all the way back into the Paladins end of the rink. Then, the Paladins loafed back to retrieve the puck, Beirnes mishandled it at the side of his net, Gaels forward Braden Mercier took it away from him, and got it to Alex Stothart, who may never score an easier goal, this one coming from three feet in front of a wide open net.
That made the score 5-2 and though the Paladins would outshoot Queen’s the rest of the way, including 17-10 in the third period, RMC wouldn’t score again. After a slew of penalties to both teams in the middle of the final stanza, Ming completed scoring on a power play with less than six minutes remaining, completing a nifty cross-ice give-and-go with Steve Trojanovic.
That was the only one of 14 shots to elude Matthew Murphy, who took over from Beirnes after Queen’s fifth goal.
While Gibson lamented the fact fans weren’t treated to one of his team’s best games, he was grateful for the opportunity to play in front of the big crowd.
“It was one of those games where you want to get through it, win it, and then get in that (post-game) photo and move on to the next game,” he said, “but it’s important to recognize all the hard work a lot of people put into this. Thirty-three hundred people, that’s a great crowd. The build-up was there … the atmosphere was great—it was an unbelievable thing.
“To finally have a week of promoting CIS hockey was fantastic. I had more people talk to me this week about the CIS than I would in a year, and I can’t thank them enough.”
With 10 days left in the regular year, Queen’s, 15-7, moved to within three points of fourth place Ontario Tech in the East division standings of Ontario University Athletics, and to within five of third-place Carleton. Tech has played two more games than the Gaels, while Carleton has played one.
Queen’s, which can now finish no worse than fifth, hits the road for two games this weekend in Waterloo, Saturday night against the Warriors and Sunday night against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
RMC, 3-18-3, has no time to rest, as the Trois-Rivieres Patriotes, the No. 3-ranked team in Canada, visit Constantine Arena Friday night. Sunday afternoon, the Paladins will host the Concordia Stingers.