By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Ultimately, the Queen’s Golden Gaels’ demise boiled down to two crucial shortcomings.
“We ran out of time,” coach Brett Gibson said, “and we ran out of bodies.”
Queen’s ran out of time in the sense that there were just two minutes remaining in the hockey game when the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks scored the go-ahead goal in the third period Sunday night in Oshawa, and it proved not to be enough.
The Gaels ran out of bodies in that Queen’s, crippled with injuries from the start of the series, lost two more players before this game was done. That particular detail meant that, even if they had been able to avoid the 4-3 defeat in the deciding game of their first-round Ontario University Athletics playoff series, prospects going forward would have been bleak.
“You always tell your guys injuries aren’t excuses, they’re opportunities,” Gibson said. “Well, there was no opportunity because we had no one else to put on the ice.”
The Gaels’ ill fortune is summarized in a staggering list of injuries. Forwards Jordan Coccimiglio and Blair Wentworth went out of the lineup with season-ending injuries some time ago. In the final week of the regular year, they were joined on the sideline by forwards Alex Stothart (broken ankle) and Andrew Wiebe (broken arm).
Defencemen Spencer Abraham, last year’s national rookie of the year, and team captain Patrick Downe were lost to the team before the playoffs began. Defenceman Eric Chevrier suffered a knee injury in Game 1 of the series; Slater Doggett, one of the team’s best forwards the last month, was hurt Friday in Game 2.
That meant the Gaels started Sunday’s game two short of the normal complement. Of them, centre Yannick Laflamme dressed but didn’t play because of a broken finger. Darcy Greenaway played despite a sprained knee ligament.
Early in Sunday’s game, Joseph Luongo took a check to the head and suffered a concussion. Late in the second period, Braden Mercier was similarly fouled and also left the game with a head injury.
(Of the five penalties Tech was assessed, one was for goaltender interference, one was a major for checking from behind and another was for a check to the head—of someone besides Luongo.)
His infraction wasn’t detected.
And, of course, it was just bad luck that the Gaels’ only remaining veteran defenceman would be hurt in such a way so early in a series-deciding game.
So, there were the Gaels, trying to protect a 3-2 lead with nine forwards and a four-man defence corps comprising three rookies and a second-year man. “It caught up to us,” Gibson said.
“I feel cheated. When you work so hard in the regular season, even take it back further to recruiting, and you come into a playoff game and you dress 17 and you lose two more and you’re down to 15—that’s almost like minor hockey, but these guys battled.
“I’ll never make excuses but injuries are facts. When you have guys who are playing in situations that you never thought they’d play in their fourth year, let alone their first year, it’s tough. Give them full credit, to lose 4-3 on the road in a deciding game with (those few) guys … the guys who were healthy gave me everything they had.”
Jesse Stoughton opened scoring for the Ridgebacks in the game’s fifth minute but Eric Ming tied the game for Queen’s with a power-play goal before the first period ended. A shorthanded goal by Ryan Doucette, Tech’s overtime hero of Game 2, put the home team ahead again but a goal by Greenaway, his third of the series, just as that penalty ended, and another by Ming sent Queen’s into the third period with a 3-2 lead.
A goal by James Woodcroft at 2:23 of the third period was the crusher.
“You’re going with just two lines and four defencemen, so I knew we were in some trouble,” Gibson said, “and when you give up a goal two minutes into the period, it kind of deflated us.”
The Gaels weathered the storm that followed as the Ridgebacks outshot Queen’s 12-7 in the period. They got the game winner from rookie Danny Elser, just his third of the season but his second point of the night, at 17:59.
“A typical game-winning goal in the playoffs,” Gibson said. “A seeing-eye shot that got through us.”
Kingston’s Ben Blasko assisted on both of Tech’s third-period goals, as the Ridgebacks became the first team to win at home in five regular-season and playoff games between the teams.
The Gaels had opportunities to score in the final minute, with goaltender Kevin Bailie on the bench for an extra skater, but they were unsuccessful.
Ming, with two goals and an assist Sunday, ended the series with six points. Ryan Bloom had two assists Sunday, as he and Patrick McGillis each finished with five points in the three post-season games for Queen’s.
Tech will go on to face the Trois-Rivieres Patriotes in an East division semifinal series that will start next week.