Alberta drops opener in gold medal rematch

The thorn in the side of the McGill Martlets women’s hockey team has been brushed aside… for now.

The defending champion University of Alberta Pandas, the only team to beat the McGill powerhouse squad in the past four years at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships- both times in the gold-medal game in 2010 and 2007, dropped the CIS tournament opener to the Martlets 4-2.

Karla Bourke notched a goal and an assist (that was misattributed to teammate Brandi Buss) and received player of the game honours for the Pandas.

The runners-up from the Canada West conference ran into penalty trouble early and often but discipline between both teams seemed nonexistent throughout the match.

Combined, the Martlets and Pandas sat in the sin bin or 26 minutes, with McGill converting on two of their seven powerplay opportunities and Alberta cashing in for two of six.

A backbreaking goal by Caroline Hill of the Martlets with under 40 seconds remaining in the first put McGill up front and the team featuring three Canadian national team stars never looked back.

“It was critical,” said Pandas’ head coach Howie Draper of Hill’s tally. “That first goal is such a big one and unfortunately McGill got it.”

It wasn’t a dominating performance by the Martlets, but as has been the case all year, a strong speed and transition game was too much to handle for the Pandas within stretches of the game.

“We practiced a lot to be prepared for this game and we knew we needed to play a full 60 minutes,” said Bourke.

Very few of the Pandas saw very much of the ice all game as special teams hijacked each teams’ ice time.

“It kills your momentum,” said Draper of his teams undisciplined penalties.

“We’d get a goal and then take a penalty right after and when you’re sticking out the same four to six girls on the special teams all game, it gets tiring.”

McGill’s national team players, Cathy Chartrand, Gillian Ferrari and goaltender Charline Labonte were frequent faces on the ice and all were involved in the rough stuff.

“Our hope was to stop them right in their tracks and there’s only one way you can do that and that’s physically,” said Draper.

“We don’t tend to shy away from the physical play so it makes for exciting hockey.”

The Pandas’ quick legs of Bourke and season scoring leader Leah Copeland led the duo to break in on Labonte on a 2-on-0 rush in the middle of the third period with Copeland finishing with the Pandas’ second goal of the night.

“[Alana Cabana] made a nice play to get the puck up to [Copeland] and she passed over to me, and I figured the goalie didn’t have much of chance on the 2-on-0 so I slid it over and she got it in,” said Bourke.

“Our team’s known for that,” continued Bourke. “We always have strong third periods, so we fought to the very end but it’s disappointing we didn’t get the result we wanted.”

The Pandas will now face the upstart Ontario University Athletics (OUA) champions Queen’s Gaels to try and salvage a spot in the gold-medal game on Sunday.

“It’s the classic Cinderella story. They’ve got all the reason to believe they can be successful,” said Draper of the Kingston cardiac overtime-heroines.

“Our key is to believe we can rebound. I think we can play a little better than tonight and hopefully that Cinderella story doesn’t run through Alberta’s dressing room.”

To keep the Gaels out of the room, the Pandas will have to stay out of the box, something that may have given them the edge over the powerful Martlets on Thursday.

“We’re not done in this tournament,” said Bourke.

Leslie Oles, Chelsey Saunders scored for McGill with Kim Ton-That providing the empty-net insurance marker.

Alberta goaltender Kanesa Shwetz was strong, making 28 saves, compared to Labonte’s 14.

Game time for the Alberta-Queen’s game is set for 4:00pm on Friday.