By CLAUDE SCILLEY
With healthy defencemen becoming as scarce for the Queen’s Golden Gaels as palm trees in Whitehorse, you’d think they might be concerned as they prepare for their playoff opener Wednesday in Oshawa.
The Gaels went into their hockey game Saturday night at the Invista Centre without two of their top defencemen, and they lost another before the contest with the Laurentian Voyageurs was over.
For two reasons, though, the Gaels aren’t as concerned as they might be.
First, they turned in what coach Brett Gibson called “about as complete an effort as you’ll want” in their season-ending 4-0 Ontario University Athletics win over the Voyageurs.
Second, the remaining defence players gave him no cause for worry. “You know what? (Ontario Tech) is very similar to Laurentian. If those five defencemen can play like they did tonight, we’ll be fine. We just have to get back to playing that way.”
The Gaels will be without Spencer Abraham, last year’s national rookie of the year, for the duration, after he aggravated an injury Gibson said he has been dealing with since he played for the CIS all-stars in a game against Canada’s national junior team in December.
Captain Patrick Downe is sidelined indefinitely, with a concussion.
Saturday night, impressive rookie Steve Trojanovic was kicked out of the game, ostensibly for something he said to a referee. An automatic one-game suspension is attached, which Trojanovic will serve Wednesday when the Gaels open their best-of-three East division quarter-final in Oshawa against the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks.
Tech edged Queen’s for fourth place, and home-ice advantage in the series, when they defeated the Nipissing Lakers 3-2 in overtime Saturday night. The Gaels and Ridgebacks finished the regular year tied with 38 points, but Tech was favoured in the tie-breaker, for having gained more points, 3-2, than Queen’s in the regular-season meetings (from a victory in Kingston and an overtime loss in Oshawa).
A pair of seldom used defencemen, freshman Jake Clements and second-year man Eric Chevrier, who saw sparse duty in six and eight games, respectively, before Saturday night, were impressive. From here on, Queen’s will be relying on an inexperienced group that includes only one veteran, Joseph Luongo, with sophomore Brendan Kennedy and rookie Cory Genovese.
It was without doubt a terrific job done by a group of such collective inexperience that they and freshman goaltender Jacob Brennan blanked the Voyageurs. In just his fifth intercollegiate game, it was Brennan’s first shutout, and he made 30 saves in posting it.
Just as remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that the Gaels did it in their sixth game in 10 days.
Gibson, whose team had lost three games in a row before Saturday, believes his team began to turn the corner back to respectability in Friday’s double-overtime loss to Nipissing.
“We did the right things,” he said. “We didn’t get rewarded for it (Friday), but we carried it over to tonight. The guys have stepped it up. The Chevriers, the Brendan Kennedys, the guys on defence, really stepped it up.”
That Trojanovic got the boot as quickly as he did was puzzling. It was in the latter stages of the second period, and the Gaels had just begun a power play, when he was whistled for cross-checking. In a matter of seconds, it went from the minor penalty to an unsportsmanlike minor on top of it, to a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct.
Gibson was displeased with the rapid turn of events.
“He probably went across the line, but that’s what a 10-minute misconduct is for,” Gibson said. “It should be two and a 10, right away, not a game. Let the guy sit for 12 minutes and think about what he did.
“If they cross the line, punish them for the crime, and that should be a 10-minute misconduct, with a warning that if you keep going, it’s a game misconduct. (The referee) went straight there—gone.
“It’s unfortunate for us to be the least penalized team in the country and then all of a sudden now we’re an undisciplined hockey team in the last game of the year? That makes no sense to me.”
The Gaels could ill afford to lose a player of any description. In addition to Abraham and Downe, in the last week Queen’s lost forward Andrew Wiebe, who broke his arm in the game with RMC on Wednesday, and rookie Alex Stothart, who broke his ankle Friday against Nipissing.
That’s in addition to forwards Brent Wentworth (knee ligament) and Jordan Coccimiglio (herniated disc) who had previously been lost to season-ending injuries.
After an impressive 10-4 start, the Gaels limped home by winning just seven of their last 14 games, but Gibson, who was furious after his team lost to last-place RMC Wednesday—the Paladins went meekly Saturday night, closing their season by losing 8-0 at Carleton—was taking a different perspective after a couple of more spirited efforts followed.
“We were 10-4 in the first half of the year and we were on Cloud 9,” he said. “We just finished the second half 7-3-4, which is just two points behind what we did in the first half, and we tied a school record (for points) in the process.
“Sometimes as coaches we have to take a step back and say, hey, that’s a lot of hockey we played in the last three weeks, and to be only two points behind a first half we were ecstatic about, we maybe have to look back (and feel better about it).”
Taylor Clements opened scoring for Queen’s with the only goal of the first period. Eric Ming gave the Gaels a 2-0 lead with the only goal of the second and the home team put the game away when Slater Doggett and Peter Angelopoulos scored in the first eight minutes of the third. Ryan Bloom and Harrison Hendrix each had two assists for Queen’s.
Laurentian, which finished the season in eighth place at 7-15-6, was outshot 33-30.