The Concordia Stingers are moving on after winning the battle of Montreal. With a game three win against McGill, they’ve made their way into the OUA East semifinals.
After a barnburning comeback victory the night before, another high flying, flashy shootout of a game wouldn’t have been out of the question.
Instead, the Stingers provided a tight, smothering, efficient game of fundamental hockey that would be any coach’s dream.
Two powerplay goals in the second period and a complete shutdown of their cross-town rivals in the third was a recipe for success.
“It was the way both teams had the game plans set up, like a chess match,” said Stingers defenceman Carl Neill. “There weren’t many goals going, not many chances. But when we got our chances we put them in, luckily, so for us it was about keeping their chances to a minimum.”
They certainly did that. McGill’s potent offence was stymied as Neill and the rest of the defence smothered McGill’s forwards, cutting down shooting lanes and moving the puck out of their end with composure.
That, combined with some key saves from rookie goaltender Kyle Jessiman and a strong puck management game from their forwards showed another side of Concordia that McGill just wasn’t ready for.
It may not provide a collection of highlight reel goals but the Stingers game plan and execution were textbook examples of how to win when it comes to tight, low scoring playoff hockey.
The fact that they could roll four lines and three defensive pairings that could handle this made it that much easier to do this throughout the series.
“Everyone chipped in,” said Stingers forward Tyler Hylland, who had three goals in the series. “We had guys up and down the lineup step up all series long. It wasn’t just one guy or one line. The two games we won, all the lines were going, everyone was playing well. That’s what you need in the playoffs.”
What’s interesting is that the Stingers started the series on the other side of a 2-1 loss at McGill. However, it was in the late stages of that game that they started to figure out what exactly they needed to do to win this series.
Stingers winger Chase Harwell noted that the team spent much of game one focusing on McGill and their game. They were playing a game based on McGill’s style of play, rather than focusing on what had brought them success in the past: their game.
From that point on, it was Concordia’s series. They controlled the play completely in the third period of the first game, outshot McGill by double in the second game, and fully stifled their rivals’ offence in the third. All by playing their game.
“We’ve been sticking to our game, focusing on ourselves and what we can do to beat them. We stuck to our thing and they couldn’t handle it,” said Harwell.
McGill couldn’t get under their skin in game three, but Concordia forced their opponents to take some penalties out of frustration.
The tight, efficient, in-your-face style of game that may not always be pretty was exemplified by Harwell who scored the game-winning goal off of a tough rebound.
Harwell was all over McGill both offensively and defensively. He found success on the powerplay and penalty kill, drew penalties, and threw a collection of hits that kept McGill players looking over their shoulders.
“He battled the whole series,” said Stingers head coach Marc-André Élement. “He’s a playoff guy, he blocked shots. I found he was the best player on the ice tonight. He was in their face, playing the right way. I’ve gotta give him credit.”
With this win, Harwell and his teammates found out that they can win big games whether they’re high scoring battles or defensive showdowns; a major confidence boost for them as they move further into the playoffs.
“We’re a young team still. Having both [experienced both high and low scoring wins] just adds to our experience, knowing that we can play in any [type of] game,” said Hylland.
They’ll need that confidence as they get set to take on the Carleton Ravens, the top seeded team in the division. It’s sure to be a difficult matchup with plenty of animosity. If there’s a team that rivals the bitterness of the Concordia/McGill matchup, it’s Carleton.
But the team is feeling confident heading in, and, for a few hours after the game at least, they’re soaking things in.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said Neill.
Photos by Laurence Brisson Dubreuil