St. F.X. heads for first CIS in school history

On Saturday night the mission for the St Francis Xavier (St. F.X.) X-Women was simple: Win and they’re in.

But did they ever make it complicated.

The X-Women battled the Manitoba Bisons — who were essentially playing for pride, needing an eight goal win to play for gold — to a 4-3 win. This game saw a bit of everything as the teams went back and forth, trading the lead twice and combining for 10 penalties and seven goals.

The dramatic win puts St. F.X. in tomorrow’s gold medal game versus the number-one ranked McGill Martlets.

“Dramatics are nice when you’re on the right said of them,” said St. F.X. head coach David Synishin. “But [the X-Women] just keep pushing, they don’t give up and they’ve got great character.”

The X-Women found themselves trailing twice in the first period alone as Manitoba’s Chelsea Braun opened the scoring seven minutes in. After St. F.X.’s Nicole Hansom tied it up, Rachele Bosc got the lead right back for the Bisons, giving her team a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.

In the second, the number-two nationally ranked X-Women seemed to take control, scoring twice, one from Shannon Crezel and another from Hansom. However, Manitoba’s Addie Miles tied the game right back up at two just three minutes after her team fell behind.

“It was an up and down game, [Manitoba] definitely brought the pressure,” said X-Women captain Suzanne Fenerty. “It was intense for sure, but we battled and came out with the win.”

Carolyn Campbell would give St. F.X. the lead with just over seven minutes remaining, setting up a wild finish that saw three penalties called, two against the X-Women, and Manitoba pull their goalie with 2:45 left. When the dust finally settled, the X-Women held on for the 4-3 win and booked their spot in the gold medal game.

“At this tournament, things get really complicated with the tie-breakers,” said Fenerty. “Really the only way to get to the gold medal game is by playing two solid games and that’s what we did and now we’ve got to turn it around quickly and get ready for tomorrow.”

Tomorrow’s gold medal match-up will mark a battle of the only two undefeated teams in CIS women’s hockey this season. Both McGill and St. F.X. cruised through their respective conferences, McGill coming into nationals at 24-0, St. F.X. at 29-0.

But McGill entered the tournament as the heavy favourites, not just because of their pedigree — this year will mark their fifth-straight CIS gold medal game appearance — but also because of their star-studded roster. In addition to having four players earn all Canadian status and one be named to the all-rookie team, the Martlets boast three players with national team experience.

Goalie Charline Labonte and defencemen Cathy Chartrand and Gillian Ferrari have all played with Canada’s Olympic team, with Labonte winning gold last year in Vancouver.

“We certainly know how good they are,” said Synishin. “We’ll have to play above our potential and play our A-plus game and see where the cards fall.”

In their previous four attempts in the national championship game, the Martlets have two titles, which came back-to-back in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The X-Women meanwhile have never even played in a CIS final game prior to this season.

Fenerty knows how much a win tomorrow will mean to people beyond her team.

“It would be unreal,” she said. “For the team, for the town, for the AUS conference, we’re just so happy to make it this far and get this chance, but we know we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Game time for the gold medal match-up is 7:30 at the Waterloo Recreation Complex. The bronze medal game featuring Laurier and Queen’s will go at 4:00, with Manitoba and Alberta getting the day started at 12:00, playing for fifth-place.

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