The underdog upset has actually been completed.
The Concordia Stingers, who had just 31 points and 13 wins in the regular season, have swept the OUA’s top team, the Carleton Ravens.
These are the Ravens that shutout the Stingers in the first game of the year, finished the season with 49 points and just four losses, and were ranked as the third best team in Canada.
Not one word of that mattered when the Stingers took the ice Saturday night.
“The good guys came out on top,” said Stingers defenceman Carl Neill.
In an arena with a crowd that spent the night cheering and chanting (a few creative ones got thrown Carleton’s way, particularly by the Stingers football players in attendance), the Stingers’ play was as electric as the atmosphere that threatened to blow the roof off the Ed Meagher Arena.
Like last week against McGill, the Stingers were a model of efficiency.
They generated chances from different areas to keep the Ravens defense guessing, the controlled play with simple, smartly executed rushes, and they shut down almost every chance that came their way.
It wasn’t always pretty. It was always smothering, fast, and effective.
The team was roaring at every level of play. Their forwards were pushing the Ravens into their own end and forcing them to scramble. The D broke up play after play while joining the rush and goalie Kyle Jessiman showed up big (more on him later).
The second period against the Ravens may have been their best of the season. Three goals, over 20 shots, few chances against, and a sense of dominance.
“It looked like the ice was tilted in their end. The puck wasn’t getting out and we had a bunch of chances. When they did get a few chances, [Jessiman] stood on his head,” said Neill.
While the game was a good example of every player rolling, Jessiman and a few others shined. The rookie goalie shut down everything, earning chants of “MVP” from the crowd, particularly after two late saves in the second that both looked like sure goals.
The team’s second line was also unstoppable. Jean-Philippe Beaulieu played the game of his life, scoring two goals and stymieing Carleton chances all night. He, along with Chase Harwell and Felix Lauzon shut down Carleton while creating chance after chance offensively.
“I wouldn’t even say it’s the second line. I’d say it’s a 1a/1b situation. That’s huge for us. That depth is what you need in the playoffs,” said rookie Tyler Hylland.
Now the Stingers find themselves in the OUA East finals. Two wins from a spot at nationals. It’s been a bumpy road, but one that they feel has made them stronger.
They battled for their position in the standings all season, finishing fifth in the division.
The Stingers were plagued with injuries, losing both starting goaltenders, their top veteran forward for half the year, one of their top rookie recruits, and up to eight players on a given night.
They also dealt with several suspensions, including one to one of their top players in Neill. Adversity has been a frequently used word around the team.
“We were frustrated by bad luck. Injuries, suspensions. It felt like we could never get our full team out there,” said Hylland.
The team believed in itself though. One thing kept being repeated: “when we’re at our best we can compete with anyone in the country.”
It may have sounded off early in the year, but when they caught fire after Christmas, when the team was finally healthy and added Jessiman in net and Lauzon on the wing, it began to look more and more true.
They were competing with, and beating, top teams. All of a sudden the offense was potent and they were allowing fewer and fewer goals.
“[We’re] starting to play like the team that we are,” said Neill.
Now, they’ve solidified themselves as true contenders. They’ve beaten rival McGill in a close series and swept one of the best teams in the country. They’re riding the high of underdog wins against teams that they certainly don’t like.
The mood is great for the Stingers.
“This is one of the best years in my entire career,” said Sanche. “The guys are having fun and it shows on the ice. We’ve been having fun since after Christmas. Even when we lost four in a row. Then we just started rolling. The boys got onto the bus and they’re playing simple, great hockey.”
The Stingers will take on the Ottawa Gee Gees in the OUA East Final, a team they had a 2-1-0 record against in the regular season.
While they may not have entered the playoffs at the top of the standings, they came into the postseason winning four games in a row and six of their last seven. Back then, Hylland said that regardless of their position in the standings, teams knew they didn’t want to play Concordia.
Two playoff series and another four game win streak later, and the Stingers have certainly proven that they’re not a team anyone should look forward to facing.
Photos by Alex Hutchins