Queen’s looks to keep upsets coming

Of all the teams at this year’s women’s hockey national championship, no one had a more surprising or thrilling run to the tournament than the Queen’s Gaels.

Coming into the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs as the number four seed, many thought the Gaels wouldn’t even get past their first round match-up versus the Windsor Lancers, who finished just three points behind them in the standings and had beaten the nation’s second nationally ranked Laurier Golden Hawks.

But that’s where the thrills started. The Gaels eliminated the Lancers with a 2-1 double-overtime win, which would prove to be quite telling of their run through the rest of the provincial playoffs.

The win over Windsor gave the Gaels an unenviable semifinal date with Laurier, a team that hadn’t lost a playoff series in seven years, not dropping a semifinal in the past 11. But that’s where the surprises were added to the thrills.

Queen’s took two more games, 2-1 in double overtime to stun the Golden Hawks and life themselves to the OUA final. There, the Gaels faced another series they weren’t supposed to win, this time versus the Guelph Gryphons, who pulled of a semifinal upset of their own, eliminating the second seeded Brock Badgers.

But one again Queen’s proved to have some magic on their side and they opened the series with yet another 2-1 win, but this one took a little longer than two extra frames. The Gaels and Grpyhons battled through six overtimes, marking the longest game in North American collegiate history. The Gaels would clinch series two days later with their shortest game of the post-season, just one overtime, winning 3-2.

“We beat some teams that were ranked ahead of us, and I think the manner in which we did it was pretty amazing,” laughed Queen’s head coach Matt Holmberg. “But we believed in ourselves, we didn’t think it was a surprising run at all.”

But after all those overtime will the Gaels even have enough energy left to play at nationals?

“That’s maybe something that’s in the back of our minds,” said Holmberg, who’s in just his second season behind the Queen’s bench. “But the girls rebounded from that one marathon game and came back and won a tough game to take the series, so I think once we get going we’ll be right back in stride.”

According to Gaels’ captain Michelle Hunt, playing in that six-overtime game wasn’t as taxing as it looked on paper.

“While it was going on, it didn’t even enter our minds how long that game was,” she said. “Every time we came in the dressing room between periods we all just kept supporting each other and said ‘let’s go out and get it.’”

With their exhilarating playoff run behind them, the Gaels now focus on making the most of their first appearance at nationals in team history. And if this scrappy Queen’s team gets the underdog label, that’s fine by them.

“We love it,” said Holmberg of flying under the radar. “We’re looking forward to getting the chance just to play these highly decorated, highly ranked teams, so underdogs or not, we’re ready to go.”

Queen’s will be the number-four seed at the tournament and play in a pool with the top-ranked McGill Martlets and defending national champion Alberta Pandas. The Gaels will play their first round robin game on Friday afternoon, taking on the loser between Thursday’s McGill-Alberta match-up.