Martlets take opener versus Pandas

The only Canadian Interuniveristy Sport (CIS) game the McGill Martlets have lost in the past three years came in last year’s national championship game to the Alberta Pandas. On Thursday night, they got a chance at revenge as they opened the 2011 CIS women’s hockey finals versus those same Pandas.

And the Martlets took full advantage of their second crack at the Pandas, coming away with a 4-2 win.

“It’s nice to get that one out of the way,” said McGill rookie Leslie Oles who had a goal and an assist in the game. “I’m rooming with one of the veterans and she obviously told me how much she wanted to beat them because lost in the finals.”

However, this retribution was far from easy for the undefeated Martlets. Despite jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1 –on goals from Oles, Carloine Hill and Cherlsey Saunders- the Pandas gave the Martlets just about all they could handle.

Things got especially dicey when Alberta’s Leah Copeland finished a beautiful passing play to make it 3-2 mid-way through the third.

“I thought we came out nervous, to be honest,” said McGill head coach Peter Smith. “But I thought we worked our way into and five on five the game was pretty even… [In the third] I thought we had a few breakdowns in our end and it cost us. Alberta’s a good team and if you make a mistake your going to pay for it.”

However, 3-2 was as close as the Pandas would come and McGill’s Kim Ton-That would add an empty netter to seal the victory.

“Everyone’s going to come out hard and Alberta definitely came out hard today,” said Oles.

Olympic gold medalist Charlene Labonte wasn’t tested much in the McGill net, as the Martlets won the shots battle 31-16. Labonte is one of three former Olympians on the McGill roster as defencemen Cathy Chartrand and Gillian Ferrari have also donned the red and white.

For the Martlets, this win marks step one on the path to proving that they deserve the number-one ranking and the “favourite” moniker that comes with it. However, after rolling through their regular season and playoffs, that’s nothing new for them.

“Every team that comes out to play us really wants to beat us,” said Oles. “So we had good preparation for that back in Quebec.”

The opening game win gives McGill the day off on Friday, however according to Smith, a win in game number one is especially key at a small, six-team competition such as this.

“At this tournament in particular, the first game is absolutely crucial,” he said. “To be able to come out and be successful is a real positive and we’re certainly going to appreciate the day off.”